I often wonder how, when and why it became so easy for humans to kill things, often automatically and without even a thought. Is it a primal instinct or is it learned? Even worse; Is it taught? And I’m not just talking about killing other humans or animals. Do you kill bugs? Do you do it without thinking, like it’s just a normal action? Do you give a second of thought to the fact that you are snuffing out a tiny, little life? Everything is relative. The bug doesn’t know it is small. In fact, it’s only small in OUR eyes. Did you ever see the old t.v. show, where a woman is invaded by tiny little spacemen? They land on her roof in a tiny little space ship and invade her in her home. She is terrified, and does everything she can to kill them by swatting at them with brooms and such. It isn’t until the very end (I think the space men were all killed by her) that the camera pans to an area on the tiny space ship which shows its credentials and place of origin, “United States of America”. You see, one of our space ships visited a planet where the inhabitants were apparently giants (as compared to us). All along we’re led to believe that this woman is a “normal” sized human being invaded by abnormally tiny creatures, but in reality it was us just living our lives, just like the bugs are doing. The astronauts sort of got what was coming to them though because, of course, the first thing THEY tried to do when they broke into the “giant’s” house was to try to kill her with their little ray-guns! Didn’t even think about it. And while we’re on the topic of epic role-reversals that should make us think, let’s not forget the movie, “Planet of the Apes”. If you’ve never seen it you should, and if you haven’t seen it in a long time you should watch it again. It’s possibly more poignant today than when it was made!
Have you ever seen a child intentionally stepping on ants? Do you encourage or discourage the behavior? Do you even think about it?
The owner of a place where I work brings his dog in every day. The dog is a sweet boy but barks fairly often, as some dogs do. One of the male employees finds this rather intolerable and very sternly reprimands the dog (ironically he sort of barks at the dog). When this happened the other day, I said to the guy that it must be difficult to have such acute hearing as dogs do, and have to live in such a noisy world, hearing every little sound and not knowing if it is something to be alarmed about. Then I asked him if he ever thought about the notion that we constantly insist that our pets be quiet and not use their voices, but they have to listen to us yap all day. Not only do they hear us in person but also through the constant yammering of the tv’s and radios that are going on around them all day. His response was, “That’s true. But they’re animals”. I’m pretty sure he would have said “only” animals if he had thought of it. So, I guess he was implying that they are undeserving of the same respect we demand for ourselves? Sadly, an all too typical response from humans. I had to remind him then that we too are animals!
TV and the internet are full of stories of people who kill nonchalantly. I’m not talking about your odd “serial killer”; I’m talking about the guy up the street whose idea of fun is going into the woods and killing a deer or a bear; the fisherman whose idea of a good day is sinking a hook into the flesh of a sea creature, the bigger and more majestic the better; and I’m talking about the proliferation of persons on the news who so easily pull a trigger and end someone forever. Where does it come from, this mindlessness? How do people become so detached from emotion, empathy and compassion? Years ago, I was a Driving Instructor. One day I sat in my car outside a lower income housing development, waiting for my next student to emerge. Two woman were out front talking to each other, and a (just learning how to walk) toddler was inside a grass covered, fenced area. The poor little thing fell and started crying pathetically. Not only did the mother not attempt to comfort the child, she never even acknowledged her! She just kept talking to her friend like the kid wasn’t even there. It broke my heart and I remember thinking that this poor little girl didn’t stand a chance in life, that she was already doomed to an emotionally detached future. Does the ability to kill perhaps start in situations like this one?
Here’s another story from my past that caused me to respect life, no matter what the size: I guess I was a teenager and stayed up later than everyone one night, just watching t.v. The only light in the room was from the t.v., and it cast a path across the wood floor. I suddenly noticed a spider (I don’t know the proper name, but we called them “Daddy Long Legs”) cross the path of light in front of the t.v. Without even thinking about it, I got up and stepped on the spider, crushing it under my shoe. I cleaned its remains up off the floor with a tissue, but not perfectly I guess, because a few moments later a second Daddy Long Legs began moving across the same path. When it reached the spot where the other spider had been crushed, it went absolutely crazy. It started spinning around and around at top speed, circling the area, then spinning around and around again. I remember being stunned at its reaction, thinking that I must have killed his mate and he knew it… and he CARED! He was aware, and seemingly distraught. I felt horrible about what I had done. That moment changed me forever. It was the moment when I understood that all lives are important, that perhaps there is more awareness in each animal than we ever give them credit for, that we have no right to assume we know how, or what, or if they think, that I have no right to take ANY creature’s life, and that a small life is still a life and not small to the creature who is living it.
There are still the times when I have to kill things; I kill mosquitos because they can hurt my pets; I killed ants when they invaded my home in droves. Thank heaven I don’t have roaches, but if I did, I surely would be killing them. Sometimes it really does come down to self defense. But I don’t do it mindlessly. I actually do agonize over it. I actually do say a prayer to ask forgiveness. Maybe you think I’m crazy, but is it really such a bad thing to be a person who agonizes over the death of a living creature? Isn’t it preferable to being a person who doesn’t even think about it, or thinks about it but doesn’t care? There are people who actually laugh at the death of a helpless creature and consider it entertainment. I guess they go through life more easily, but is that who we want to be?
Who are the people that have the capacity to spend their life killing the animals that we then eat for food? They not only kill them but often abuse them repeatedly. Who are THOSE people?! Does it frighten you as much as it does me, that there are people so removed from feeling that they are able to spend day after day killing? Do you know that in China they REALLY DO EAT DOGS?! They have entire festivals based on eating dog meat? That they gather them up and pile them on top of one another, waiting to be killed and eaten? The dogs know! We know the dogs know what’s going on! Can you imagine what they must go through as they await their fate? Ask anyone who has ever worked in a kill shelter; the dogs know when their time has come, when they are being walked to their death. They struggle. They try to get away. The terror shows in their eyes. They often must be dragged to their place of death. So if the Chinese can do that to animals that we know have an emotional life, who’s to say that we are not just ignoring cows, pigs, chickens and other animals in the same way because then it’s easier to justify killing them?
I’ve always believed that one of the most important things to teach children is empathy. In fact, I think it should be mandatory teaching in every school from the youngest age possible. The ability to put one’s self in another’s place; to imagine how they would feel if, to imagine what it must look like to that bug when the big shoe is about to come down on it, to feel the fear, to wonder if those left behind might now painfully starve because there will be no one to bring food back to them, to imagine the pain an animal must feel when a metal trap clamps down on its leg or a bullet rips through its flesh, the fear it might feel when it sees the gun pointing at it, to think about what it means to end another human’s life forever, that they will no longer exist on this planet, to think about what it will do to that person’s family – these are the things our children must be taught. Sadly though, some of the teachers and parents have to learn it first.