"Beefing Up" CompassionPosted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on January 30th, 2012
“Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind (sic).”
I consider myself a compassionate person. Yet, I know that there are situations in which I have let myself and others down, where the limits of my compassion have been reached. With that knowledge, I’m working on enlarging and strengthening my own compassion.
I have friends who are extremely compassionate toward other human beings. I greatly admire these people and the many ways in which they live out their values: they deliver meals to homebound seniors, mentor at-risk youth, reach out to people suffering due to financial hard times, foreclosure, homelessness, physical illness, depression, schizophrenia… The list is a long one.
These friends respect what I do for nonhuman animals and often ask about my work. Many of them live with companion animals, dogs or cats whom they consider to be members of their families. We share stories about our beloved dogs and cats and show photos.
But, in tell-tale moments, my friends will mention a delicious turkey sandwich they ate at a local deli, or the pot roast they had the other day. I wince and wonder: why the disconnect?* Why does compassion for humans and our companion animals not extend to compassion for the animals called “food?” (* I am equally saddened when an animal rights activist shows a lack of compassion for humans.)
I see a commercial on TV: a restaurant is advertising its steak and a photo shows a large pinkish-brownish piece of cooked flesh on a plate. In order to find that appealing, I would have to ignore the fact that the steak used to be a living, breathing steer. How can I? I have stood in slaughterhouses and watched, in horror and sadness, as steer have met their deaths. Slaughterhouses are cold, harsh, windowless cement rooms, with terrified animals, putrid smells, rivers of blood, hanging corpses; they are where violent death happens. I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want to bring about that death. These animals have done nothing to me to warrant such terrible treatment. They are helpless victims and I am powerless to stop the never-ending assembly line that spells their demise. Yet, I cannot, in good conscience, support a system that does something so inherently wrong to other living beings. The only choice I have is to opt out, and to speak out on behalf of the victims.
When I see the steak, I see the cow. When I see the drum stick, I see the chicken. The two are inseparable; that is how I define compassion.
The legal work that we do at Animal Legal Defense Fund can be hard-edged. We see animal suffering on a daily basis and we must turn our pain and anger into rational action as we assist in cruelty prosecutions and file civil lawsuits against animal abusers. But, at the very center of our work is a deep and abiding compassion that embraces both human and non-human animals.
Compassion is the wellspring from which all that we do arises. It is what guides our work to build a more loving world, by extending the limits of our own compassion and encouraging others to do so. Compassion is the duty from which we ought not to shrink. While writing this, I found a wonderful quote that gives me hope for the future. I choose to believe that the hearts of my fellow humans will open to embrace the lives of all creatures, that the current disconnect will not always and forever be the rule.
“For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”
P.S. If you are reading this and wondering how to put compassion into action, please consider going meatless for one day per week. It’s a small step, but significant.