Are We Really So Different?Posted by Angelina Martin, ALDF's Bookkeeper on August 10, 2012
Sometimes an event comes along that can change how we view the world. Sometimes it might lead us to a greater connection to self or maybe even, if we are so fortunate, a common connection to those around us. In working through many anthropology, psychology, sociology & a few science and religion related books, I’ve come to understand how humans might be the one species who see themselves as separate from the whole picture. We view ourselves and our experiences as unique. I feel, however, as many do, that it is our similar experiences which can connect us and lead us to a greater understanding of one another, including other cultures, animals, etc. and hopefully, may lead to greater compassion for each other on an everyday level.
I recently went tent camping with a friend in Tahoe. Upon arrival at camp and while enjoying the smell of the trees, the sounds of the river, and greeting our fellow neighbors, we began to unpack. I felt at ease and a familiar sense of well-being came over me. While setting up our campsite, I found myself smiling as I watched several chipmunks greet us with enthusiasm. As a non-experienced human camper, I absently left a supply bag on the ground and one chipmunk already had his head in it, poking around to see if he could find any available treats. His face and body had disappeared inside the bag, leaving only his tail exposed. Just then, another chipmunk saw him and ran toward him as fast as he could. He grabbed the other’s tail, startling him to jump up and screech loudly. I giggled a bit in remembering how many times I had done that very same thing. I was always hiding behind the corner to yell, “BOO!” when an innocent person walked by. It’s not that I was a brat on purpose–as a child I just couldn’t help it. I looked at the chipmunk who frightened the other (and who was now grooming himself) and thought, are they really so different from us? Though I will most likely never really know if that was the chipmunk’s intent, I still felt a connection to him all the same. The question lingered throughout the evening and as the words were slowly etched on the pages of my journal, they disappeared by the dissipating fire light.
The next morning as my friend and I were enjoying our coffee, a fellow-camper’s young son came out from behind a bush. It was obvious he was lurking, but for what reason I did not know. I watched him, watching a large blue jay in the tree overhead. He turned and though I could not clearly see him, pulled out a readymade sling shot and with a small rock, loaded his weapon. The blue jay stared down at him from the branch of the tree with a look of bewilderment in his eyes. The blue jay did not flutter or move, he sat there seemingly calm. As the boy arched his arm to fire, my friend spoke up intently and said, “Please don’t do that!” That was all she needed to say. The boy turned and looked at her, his face red now with assumed embarrassment and frustration. She looked at me with tears in her eyes. Anger rose up within me. What just happened? I could only remember that look in the eyes of the blue jay. I knew all too well that look of bewilderment, that innocent look into another person’s eyes not realizing that they would ever do harm to you.
You see, 10 years ago, I had moved into a new apartment complex and awoke nine days later with the maintenance man standing over me, watching me sleep. When I opened my eyes, I swear I almost smiled at him. I found myself staring at him in disbelief that there would ever be a person in this world who would want to harm me; who would have the intent to kill. I was fortunate; I survived without incident as a simple call to 911 on my cell phone saved my life–the same way my friend’s voice saved the blue jay. That bewildered look in the blue jay’s eyes, was it a similar connection to the one that had been in mine? The question came up again, are we really so different?
I looked up to the tree branch and the blue jay was still sitting there. I watched him as he flew away, feeling a connection to him and more significantly, feeling a greater connection to the world around me. If we shared a common experience, a common look, I will never know for sure. But what I do know is that the connection, one of many over the course of these past few years, has changed me forever. Connections made through the animals in my life have brought greater trust and strength in recovering from tragedy. I am learning to live again. Working with the dogs at the local shelter has taught me some of the greatest lessons in recovery, but only within the wisdom that they share from the depths of their own hearts, can we truly understand how they feel and what we can do to help them. It can heal our own hearts as well.
To understand life through another’s eyes, or to walk a mile in their shoes, is one of the greatest gifts. It does however come with consequences and those consequences could lead to our own fundamental change. So we may no longer be able to tolerate gestation crates for pigs or battery cages for hens in factory farms and may choose a different diet. We may no longer tolerate animal testing and may choose cruelty free products. We may no longer tolerate someone’s child killing a blue jay for sport. We may choose to change our lives because of our awareness, because of our knowledge. And because within our ability to connect with others, we might have to have enough compassion to feel what they feel and to recognize how they might be suffering at our own expense.
Once we step foot in the knowledge of how other’s live, we may gain a greater viewpoint of the world, indeed. And we just might take steps toward others, connecting with them, instead of seeing ourselves as separate and our experiences as unique among ourselves. We just might be able to treat others, animals included, as we would want to be treated. For my life to come, this is my greatest hope. And I choose daily to live my life, inspired by those who surround me–be it a vegan human being or a beautiful blue jay. There is still so much to learn and I am grateful to have so many opportunities to do so.