The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint - Marc Bekoff (2010)
INTRODUCTION. Our Common Bonds of Compassion
“Anyone who says that life matters less to animals than it does to us has not held in his hands an animal fighting for its life. The whole of the being of the animal is thrown into that fight, without reserve.”
— Elizabeth Costello, in The Lives of Animals by J. M. Coetzee
ANIMALS ARE CONSTANTLY ASKING US in their own ways to treat them better or leave them alone. This book is their manifesto. In it, I explain what they want and need from us and why they are fully justified in making these requests. We must stop ignoring their gaze and closing our hearts to their pleas. We can easily do what they ask — to stop causing them unnecessary pain, suffering, loneliness, sadness, and death, even extinction. It’s a matter of making different choices: about how we conduct research to learn about the natural world and to develop human medicine, about how we entertain ourselves, about what we buy, where we live, who we eat, who we wear, and even family planning. Please join me. The animals need us, and just as importantly, we need them. This manifesto presents a much-needed revolution — a paradigm shift in what we feel and what we do regarding animals — that has to happen now because the current paradigm doesn’t work. The status quo has wreaked havoc on animals and Earth. Denial and apathy must be replaced by urgency. If we all work to improve the lives of animals, we will improve our lives as well.
Of course, it’s hard to speak for the animals, but because they share so much with us, it’s not presumptuous to believe that what they want isn’t so different from what we want: to avoid pain, to be healthy, to feel love. Their feelings are as important to them as our feelings are to us. Even further, many living beings seem wired to do good and to make others feel good. The central theme of The Animal Manifesto is that animals, including humans, are basically kind, empathic, and compassionate beings. As fellow animals sharing a single world, humans can, and increasingly must, do more to act on behalf of our kindred beings. That’s a good part of why I’m an optimist. Goodness, kindness, empathy, and compassion come naturally, and they allow us to do what needs to be done, whether healing our conflicts with other animals or among ourselves. Despite enormous problems, there are some very promising trends that show that most people really do care. Goodness, kindness, empathy, and compassion are leading people all over the globe to talk about ways to treat animals with more respect and dignity and to lighten our carbon footprint, knowing that humanity’s fate — or rather, the planet’s fate and that of all the species on it — hangs in the balance and depends on our acting proactively now.
When it comes to protecting animals, we must think of expanding our compassion footprint, and then do something to make this happen. We lessen our negative impact on animals when we increase our compassion for them and strive to make the planet a peaceful, sustaining place for all beings. There are always trade-offs — some things work and some don’t — but if we put an animal’s well-being first, we can arrive eventually at the right decision. As with the environment, some of this involves society-wide changes. But expanding our compassion footprint is also a lot about the small decisions we as individuals make every day; bit by bit, we can continually work toward making things better. Will this require doing things that take us out of our comfort zone? Probably. But this really isn’t asking too much, since humans are constantly making impositions on animals and taking them out of their comfort zones.
Polls show that just as green awareness is blossoming across the planet, so too is a new understanding of our relationship with other species. The Green Movement is a concept actively supported by more than 90 percent of child-rearing families in America. To support a cause they care about, 66 percent of adults in one study said they would switch brands, and 62 percent said they would switch retailers. This shift in thinking includes animals. A 2006 study conducted by Lake Research Partners revealed that nine out of ten Americans believe “strongly” that “we have a moral obligation to protect the animals in our care.” The Best Friends Animal Society used this poll to develop its first Kindness Index, and noted that Americans are also “adamant about passing these values on to their children.” Best Friends said that most people were ready to help, but “we simply have to create the opportunities.” When those opportunities appear, people act. A 2008 Gallup Environmental Poll found that, over the previous five years, 55 percent of Americans said they had made at least “ ‘minor[lifestyle] changes’ to protect the environment” and 28 percent said they had made “ ‘major changes’ in their lifestyle.” In the same study, 65 percent of children aged six to twelve embraced the idea of linking a brand with helping to ensure the survival of endangered animals, and 78 percent of adults said they were more likely to buy a product that is associated with a cause they care about.
These polls confirm a society-wide trend that I’ve noticed in my own life with the strangers I meet. Often when I’m flying, or waiting in an airport, someone will strike up a conversation, and I’m always amazed and pleased at how interested they invariably are in animals and our impact on them. On one flight I happened to be sitting next to a woman who worked for a major software company. I was writing and spell-checking a manuscript, and she asked what program I used. I told her and said I was working on a book on animal emotions and that I wished that word-processing software would stop asking me to change the words “who” and “whom” to “that” or “which” when I refer to animals — because animals aren’t objects but subjects. At first she didn’t get it, but eventually she did, and she said she’d talk to the people at her company about changing their software. Whether she followed through or not, I was glad that she was open to seeing animals differently and that she recognized that the language we use affects our attitudes. Perhaps the next generation of spell-checking software will reverse its presumptions, prompting writers to refer to animals as “he” or “she,” not “it.”
Indeed, most people are simply accustomed to thinking and doing things the way they always have, without considering the effects of their actions, but when you call attention to them, and explain the facts in a nice, polite way, people often listen. Quite frequently, people are astounded to learn what really happens on the way to, and at, slaughterhouses; they simply don’t know. Likewise, many people don’t know what happens behind closed doors at laboratories and at sporting events. When what is hidden is exposed, it can become headline news. In May 2008, I was flying home from the World Forum for Animals in Barcelona when the story about the racehorse Eight Belles appeared in newspapers worldwide. Eight Belles broke her front ankles while running during the 134th Kentucky Derby, and this abused filly had to be euthanized — or killed — right in front of spectators on the racetrack at Churchill Downs, not off in some private stable. In the name of money, racehorses are often mistreated and pushed beyond their limits until they are injured, sometimes to the point that they must be killed, but the mistreatment and death of Eight Belles was so disturbingly public it couldn’t be ignored. On the plane, the guy sitting next to me agreed how horrible this was, and we had a great chat about animal sentience and animal abuse of all kinds. The man didn’t know the facts about racehorses, or much about animal abuse in general, but he said he wanted to raise his children in a kind and compassionate world, and the incident and our conversation led him to feel he needed to change some of his ways. Good for him.
Perhaps because I live at high altitude in what some people call “The People’s Republic of Boulder” — twenty-five square miles in Colorado surrounded by reality — some people regard my embrace of the compassionate and caring side of human nature as merely “wishful thinking fluff.” But as we’ll see, solid science backs my belief. In Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, Jessica Pierce and I argue that the same is true for animals — they have the cognitive and emotional capacities to make moral decisions and show kindness, compassion, and empathy — and we can learn a lot about ourselves by studying how animals negotiate their challenging and changing social worlds. The Animal Manifesto is a natural descendant of my books Wild Justice and The Emotional Lives of Animals, where I also discuss the “nice” side of animals. This “manifesto” takes what we’ve learned about the amazing animals with whom we share Earth and asks: What does that mean for us? And what should we do?
This Manifesto Isn’t Radical
Like any good manifesto, The Animal Manifesto is a call for action. I take the facts that have been established about animal sentience and emotions and look at how they affect our society’s current value system. In other words, I freely mix science with ethics, morality, and emotion. This call to action addresses a variety of groups, ranging from the general public to policy makers to those who live in ivory towers, from humane and conservation organizations to grassroots groups and individuals, and from those who make their living studying, displaying, raising, or processing animals to those working to make their lives better. We all need to raise our consciousness about the lives of our fellow animals and change the current paradigm, in which those who work on behalf of animals and the environment are seen as “radicals” or “extremists.” No one should be an apologist for passion and no one should be shamed for feeling.
Do we know everything there is to know about the minds and emotions of other animals? Certainly not, but we know enough to change our ways. Some scientists remain skeptical about the emotional lives of animals — but this view, which was once predominant, is dwindling rapidly. As we will see, it’s simply impossible to ignore the growing amount of solid science concerning animal sentience. We need to take the skeptics to task and switch the burden of proof, so that skeptics have to “prove” that animals don’t have rich emotional lives rather than others having to prove that they do. This is also part of the paradigm shift I argue for, in which the most “radical” stance becomes doubt.
Nevertheless, it’s important to address these doubts head on. Some say life is too short to mess with skeptics, but I feel that life is too long for the misleading skeptical view of animal sentience to continue because it allows for far too much animal suffering and abuse. Often the skeptics raise the ante so high that most humans wouldn’t qualify as feeling beings. For instance, some scientists dismiss anecdotes as valid proof (in any context), but I agree with my close friend philosopher Dale Jamieson that the plural of anecdote is data. Narrative ethology (a term coined by my colleague Jessica Pierce) is a perfectly good way to learn about the lives of animals. After I published my own observations of a magpie funeral ceremony — in which individual magpies paid tribute to their dead friend by standing silently around her, touching the corpse lightly, and flying off and bringing back grass that was laid down by the body — I had a slew of emails from people who had seen the same type of ritual in other birds in the corvid family: magpies, crows, and ravens. These stories, even from nonresearchers, are indeed data, and they challenge science to prove or disprove them. More than ever, controlled scientific studies are validating what our eyes clearly see.
Is it radical, then, to draw ethical conclusions from these facts? In 2009, when President Barack Obama nominated Harvard University law professor Cass Sunstein to run the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (which oversees the implementation of consumer, health, and environmental regulation), this was considered by some to be a radical move. As described in a January 2009 article in Mother Jones magazine, the Center for Consumer Freedom claimed that Sunstein is “an extremist” because, among other reasons, he once wrote, “There should be extensive regulation of the use of animals in entertainment, scientific experiments, and agriculture.” Sunstein also believes that “hunting for ‘sport and fun’ — not for food — should be ‘against the law’ and that greyhound racing, cosmetic testing on animals, and the eating of meat raised in inhumane conditions ought to be eliminated.” However, while Sunstein argues for extensive regulation of animal use and against sport hunting, he also “eats meat and has no secret plan to force vegetarianism on the American people,” and he has written that “it is excessive to ban experiments that impose a degree of suffering on rats or mice if the consequence of those experiments is to produce significant medical advances for human beings.” Is this a truly radical overall approach, to try to protect animals and their homes from unnecessary harm while not unduly burdening or endangering humans in the process?
More to the point, if animals can think and feel, what do they think and feel about the ways humans treat them? What would they say to us, and what would they ask of us, if they could speak a human language? Here is what I believe their manifesto would consist of:
1. All animals share the Earth and we must coexist.
2. Animals think and feel.
3. Animals have and deserve compassion.
4. Connection breeds caring, alienation breeds disre spect.
5. Our world is not compassionate to animals.
6. Acting compassionately helps all beings and our world.
Is such a manifesto radical? I think it’s common sense. These six items are also the six “reasons” we can use to expand our compassion footprint; they are an extension of the ideas about which Jane Goodall and I wrote in our book The Ten Trusts. Yet, even though these ideas reflect common sense, I think that they are often denied or resisted because people intuitively understand that following them — respecting what we see before our own eyes — would lead to radical changes in how we live and what we do. This is hard, but it’s not impossible, and we’ve done it before. It’s important to remember that people who are at first considered “on the fringe” and radical aren’t always wrong, nor is taking nature seriously sentimental, fluffy thinking. At first, hardcore scientists ridiculed Rachel Carson after she published Silent Spring, but her evidence and predictions about the horrible effects of pesticides and environmental toxins unfortunately proved to be true; since then, we’ve made major changes in our lives to help protect our environment. Many researchers criticized Jane Goodall when she first named the chimpanzees she studied; they didn’t believe she’d seen David Graybeard use a blade of grass as a tool for fishing out termites until she showed them a video of this groundbreaking discovery. In the early 1960s, the ideas that an animal had an individual personality (warranting a name) and could make and use a tool (which only humans were thought capable of) were heretical, crazy. Both are now commonplace, self-evident.
I have good company in arguing that animals, humans included, are basically good. University of California at Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner (who also lives in a city frequently associated with fluffy thinking), in his book Born to Be Good, also shows that the competitive, survival-of-thefittest mentality is not who we really are or have to be to have a good life. It’s not really a dog-eat-dog world because dogs don’t eat other dogs. Being kind and good includes embracing cultural pluralism, which is a necessity in the diverse and often tough world in which we live.
We also know that we are influenced by the actions of others. If we see compassion, we are more likely to adopt it —compassion begets compassion, virtuous acts beget virtuous acts. Further, we receive what we give. If we employ compassionate proactive activism using humility, heart, and love, it can spread contagiously, and we will have a good chance of pulling ourselves out of the deep holes we’ve been digging for our fellow animals, ourselves, and Earth’s highly compromised ecosystems.
We also know that it feels good to be nice. We’re often filled with warm feelings when we cooperate. Recent neural imaging research on humans by James Rilling and his colleagues shows that mutual cooperation is associated with activation of the brain’s reward processing centers, the dopamine system. Our brain releases dopamine when we cooperate, giving us instant pleasurable feedback and reinforcing the behavior. This is significant research, for it posits that being nice is rewarding in social interactions and might in itself be a stimulus fostering cooperation and fairness.
Surely, humans and other animals can be mean to one another. Nonetheless, cooperation and compassion are central to our own existence and to coexistence with other beings. It is for this reason that I remain optimistic that with hard work and patience we will be able to make the lives of other animals better as we expand our compassion footprint. Dacher Keltner uses the Confucian concept of jen, which refers to “kindness, humanity, and reverence” to discuss our “good nature,” and he offers the concept of the jen ratio to “look at the relative balance of good and uplifting versus bad and cynical in life.” This ratio is one way to measure our compassion footprint.
I hope academics, activists, and people interested in making the world a more peaceful and compassionate place will find this book to be of interest and inspire them to go out and do more for animals and Earth. I hope you find that my agenda isn’t radical. To this end I weave in the latest science from academic journals with anecdotes taken from the popular media, the people I’ve met, and my own life to make the case that we all need to do more to care for animals and the habitats in which they live. In the three years since my book The Emotional Lives of Animals was published, we’ve learned an incredible amount about animal sentience and emotions, and I want to share that. I also want to appeal to people who don’t agree with me, rather than preach to the converted, because that is where change occurs. Yet for all of us, the real challenge is living and realizing our beliefs in our actions; every day, we must try to do so, even in small ways, and even when it forces us to move outside of our comfort zone.
I’ve been thinking about animal minds — what they’re like and what’s in them — for many years, and I’ve really been writing this manifesto for decades. I have conducted a lot of research and engaged in a good deal of on-the-ground activism. My parents tell me that I’ve “minded” animals since I was about three years old. I intuitively knew as a child that animals are smart and passionate; it took decades of laborious scientific inquiry to learn how correct I was. Science is still trying to catch up with what so many of us already understand. It turns out that our intuitions are disarmingly correct, and we ought to give ourselves credit for this.
It’s also a matter of simply paying better attention. I well remember waking up one morning and deciding to put a window in my office that looked straight out at a tree. Now, twenty years later, I’m so happy I did this. At the time, my friend Tim, who put the window in for me, thought I was nuts. But my window doesn’t just look on a gorgeous tree. As I type, small lizards often walk up the bark, staring at me and doing pushup displays as if to say “this is my territory,” while beautiful blue Steller’s jays squawk telling me that this also is their home. Red foxes come by and pee on the tree, saying this is theirs. And chipmunks scamper up, stop, peer in, and continue on their merry way. What a gift to see them all.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Any argument for change is predicated on an evaluation and understanding of the way things are, and this I provide throughout. Every day I try to keep track of what’s happening in our world regarding animal welfare, scientific research, and everyday stories that illustrate the amazing intellectual skills of animals and their deep and rich emotional and moral lives. These I share with you, though I have to admit, it’s impossible to keep up with them all. For instance, within a few days in early 2009 I saw stories on the BBC news that at once showed the good, the bad, and the ugly of our current interactions with animals. I learned that the number of mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park had increased, that emperor penguins face extinction, and that global warming seems irreversible.
In June 2008 I had a similar good news/bad news experience. First I read about how the U.S. Forest Service was designating the first wildlife migration corridor through the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem to preserve an ancient pathway for pronghorn. Here was concrete evidence of humans “making room” for animals, letting them travel their established route instead of forcing them to search for alternatives. Shortly afterward, though, I read about a study of primates that found that 303 species — almost half the world’s primate species — are under threat of extinction because they are being eaten or having their homes destroyed by humans.
Within one week of March 2009 I learned that imperiled right whales seem to be recovering, and that for the first time since the 1600s, it appears that not one North Atlantic right whale died because of human activity. Plus I discovered that Russian authorities fully banned the hunt for baby seals less than one year of age. Then I read that fully one-third of bird species in the United States are endangered, and Africa’s first bird extinction is likely by 2013 (the Sidamo lark).
The ups and downs of what’s happening with the world’s species are sometimes confusing and emotionally draining. With global warming showing its dramatic influence all over the world, it’s hard not to feel pessimistic about the fate of animals who have evolved to fit the Earth’s many delicate habitats. For example, sheep living on the remote island of Hirta off the coast of Scotland have been shrinking in size, and researchers have discovered that the most likely cause is warmer winters that allow the smaller sheep to survive. Climate change is also affecting charismatic large mammals. In January 2009 it was estimated that about three times as many polar bears are in a fasting state compared with twenty years ago due to melting ice. In August 2008, ten polar bears were seen swimming in open water off the northern coast of Alaska, an unusually large number. In June 2008, a polar bear who swam a hundred miles in near freezing water was shot dead on his arrival in Skagafjordur, Iceland, because he was supposedly a threat to people.
I can feel the anxiety and fear a polar bear feels as she, and perhaps her offspring, slowly drown while wondering, “Where’s the ice?” I can also imagine what is going through the mind of an elephant being relentlessly pursued by people with automatic rifles in a truck, a coyote being pursued by shooters in an airplane, or a wolf writhing on the ground after being — trapped waiting to be shot or to starve to death, or waiting to be used as bait to lure other wolves in so that they too may be killed.
When we face the prospect of these species disappearing, the world stands to lose a lot. As author Richard Nelson writes about polar bears: “I looked toward her and away, careful to avoid what might seem like an aggressive stare. And I wondered: What does this polar bear know that I could never fathom — about traveling on the ice, living through storms, meeting others of her kind, nursing cubs in a snow cave, stalking walruses on the summer floes, and waiting for seals at their breathing holes? What understanding of the Arctic world is woven through the pathways of her mind? What could I learn in a lifetime of tracking polar bears across the ice, as generations of Inupiaq hunters have done? And what secrets could she reveal to us about this land now in peril?”
Focusing on what works and on our capacity for compassion is the best way forward. Part of what can drive that compassion is a new understanding of our close bonds with animals: they are compassionate, too, with rich emotional lives. Popular media regularly feature how smart and emotional animals are. For example, a May 2007 issue of Newsweek contained an essay about the emotional lives of elephants and how they deserve far more respect than we currently give them. We now know, from innumerable stories and research, that elephants suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but wolves also can suffer from PTSD. Wildlife biologists Jay Mallonée and Paul Joslin described unique changes in the behavior of Tenino, a wild female wolf, who was darted twice from a helicopter and put in captivity because she’d preyed on livestock. Tenino became hypervigilant, was easy to startle, and showed generalized fear, avoidance, and arousal, whereas the other wolves with whom she was kept did not show these patterns of behavior. We also now know that fish have distinct personalities; birds plan future meals and are more sophisticated in making and using tools than chimpanzees; whales have spindle neurons that are important in processing emotions; turtles mourn the loss of their friends; and mice feel the pain of other mice. Research also has shown that fish, lobsters, and even insects feel pain. In 2007, the New York Times published obituaries for two famous animals whose language abilities startled the world: Washoe, a “chimpanzee of many words”; and Alex, an African gray parrot who mastered English and could count and recognize different shapes and colors.
The mainstream media are also deeply concerned about what we’re doing for and to animals. As one example, in October 2008, the New York Times Magazine published a major piece of investigative journalism about the plight of farm animals, focusing on the horrible conditions at the Westland/ Hallmark Meat Company and Proposition 2, a bill then pending on the ballot in California that was designed to phase out some of the most restrictive animal confinement systems. At Westland/Hallmark, workers were videotaped using chains to drag sick and injured cows and jabbing them with electrical prods. As a result of this undercover work, the San Bernardino district attorney shut down the plant. In November 2008, the California proposition passed with 63 percent of voters saying, “Yes, let’s improve the welfare of factory farm animals.” This law now phases out some of the most restrictive confinement systems used by factory farms — gestation crates for breeding pigs, veal crates for calves, and battery cages for egg-laying hens — which affect 20 million farm animals in the state. Simply put, the law now grants them space to stand up, stretch their limbs, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Before the vote a New York Times editorial supported Proposition 2, saying: “To a California voter still undecided on Proposition 2, we say simply, imagine being confined in the voting booth for life. Would you vote for the right to be able to sit down and turn around and raise your arms?”
It’s impossible to follow all the news, new science, and evolving legislation that emerges, and I can’t survey it all in this short book. As a rule, I have chosen to mention stories and scientific data that are readily accessible to the general public and that speak to the big picture: who animals are; how and why we must understand, appreciate, and respect their amazing lives; and what, in fact, they want from us. While I can only provide snippets of these stories, by following the weblinks and publication information in this book’s endnotes, readers can find the originals for themselves to learn more. Information about animal behavior, animal cognition and emotions, conservation, and environmental ethics is appearing everywhere these days. On occasion, I must confess, even I find it overwhelming, while at the same time I’m pleased that so much is happening.
Each Animal Matters, Each Individual Counts
Human beings have a natural tendency toward kindness, but we also need awareness, education, honesty, and courage in order to translate that tendency into concrete action. Humans will act with kindness toward animals when we understand and respect what animals want, feel, and need, and when we believe that all animals matter, not only our close relatives. Humans will act on behalf of animal welfare when we expand our moral circle to include them at all times, not just when it’s convenient, and when we honestly assess our own actions.
Usually, our own needs are our main concern whenever we consider how we influence — that is, manage and control — the lives of billions of animals. It’s easy to think this way because we have, or think we have, more power, and it seems as if we can control and dominate other forms of life and landscapes as we want. In reality, as global climate change has made clear, we are less in control than we’d like to believe. But also, we sometimes mask the truth of what we are doing in bland euphemisms; often the words “manage” and “control” really just mean killing. One morning as I was riding my bicycle back into Boulder I saw a truck that was advertising “wildlife management,” and when I asked the man behind the wheel what he did, he chuckled and said, “I go to houses and kill whatever animals the people want me to kill.” I asked him, “Is that your idea of wildlife management?” He responded, “Whatever works is fine with me, and killing gets rid of the problem.”
What allows us to do the things that we do? How can we sit back and watch animals die? Sometimes good people do bad things to animals simply through a lack of awareness. Our alienation from other creatures allows us to treat them as objects. Those who stop to look and see animals differently are often transformed. When that happens, we can see all sorts of ways that we can act with more kindness toward animals within the context of our daily lives.
I wrote this book in cars, planes, trains, on boats, and even as I rode my indoor bicycle. I traveled to more than a dozen countries around the world, where I met amazing people doing incredible things for animals, often in very difficult circumstances. I’ll introduce you to many of these inspirational people who are doing what they do because they love to make a positive difference for individual animals and because they know that more compassion for animals also means more compassion for people.
The adage “Act locally and think globally” certainly applies to activism on behalf of animals. In Denver, Colorado, not far from my hometown of Boulder, I learned in 2007 that the University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center had killed at least 18 dogs and 191 pigs during sales “training” for Boulder-based Valleylab. This appalling form of vivisection was not for legitimate research. Local activists were led by Rita Anderson — a grandmother whose passion for animal activism influenced her grandchildren, who I once recruited to protest the proposed killing of prairie dogs on their school grounds — and they were instrumental in bringing this abuse to light and putting an end to it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when the issues facing animals are so huge, pervasive, and difficult to change. By carefully choosing where we put our energy, we can be more effective in creating change without burning out. However, even the smallest changes, those involving only one person and one animal, are still constructive positive steps toward a kinder world for all animals.
Our Compassion Footprint
This manifesto is a journey through six reasons why all animals matter, why we need to do better, and why we need to expand our compassion footprint. I thought of the phrase “compassion footprint” while cycling around Boulder. I’d been having a discussion with some friends about the notion of the carbon footprint and how that phrase had taken on a life of its own. I’ve actually heard people use the terms “carbon footprint” and “carbon credit” in tiny remote towns in India, Kenya, and China. It’s become a powerful global catchphrase for trying to measure the impact of our lifestyles on Earth.
As teacher and writer Todd Nelson has pointed out, “a ‘footprint’ is a good metaphor for our individual impact on the social or natural environment. It’s personal, tactile, organic, and immediately comprehensible. It’s elementary: we’re bipeds; we all walk and leave tracks.” Nelson writes about what he calls a “civility footprint.” He used to think that civility just meant being nice, as Mom used to say. As it turns out there’s a lot more to it — a more global consideration of being nice, attentive, focused, generous, humble, and thoughtful. Meanwhile, the Animal Welfare Institute calculates a “compassion index” for politicians, which they post on their website.
So, like our civility footprint, and unlike our carbon footprint, our compassion footprint is something we can try to make bigger. It’s a lens for evaluating our daily decisions. We can all make more humane and compassionate choices for animals. It’s typically pretty simple. For example, an eight-yearold boy humbly reminded me that when we buy something, we’re essentially saying, “It’s okay for the store to carry it,” and “It’s okay for the manufacturer to make whatever it is we buy.” Everything we purchase is a vote for more of that thing. As we’ll see, it’s easy to make changes in how we spend our money, which always sends out a ripple effect and influences the choices of others. Amirtharaj Christy Williams, a biologist with the World Wildlife Fund’s Asian elephant and rhino program, notes that “intelligent buying by western consumers, and informed policies from governments in areas where elephants occur” really do help in relieving tension between humans and elephants.
Coexisting compassionately with animals will make us better human beings and make our lives easier. Compassion can lead to justice for all. Compassion begets more compassion and unifies diverse peoples. The bottom line is that we can all do more in evaluating the choices we make. If we make ethical choices, then we can change the way business is done, because money talks. And of course, we should err on the side of the animals and take into account their best interests.
Some people ask, “Why are you working for animals when there are so many people who need help?” The answer is simple: Many people around the world who work for animals also work selflessly for people. Caring for animals doesn’t mean caring less for humans. Indeed, a major message of this book is that compassion begets compassion. When we learn to be compassionate to all animals, that includes humanity. Compassion easily crosses species lines.
I hope that if you’re ready to throw up your hands in frustration and quit working for animals or making choices that benefit them, that you’ll reconsider — animals need everyone to do what they can. It is essential that we realize that we are making a difference by helping one individual at a time. Eventually, step by step, we can create a world where ethical choices are commonplace and compassion is the name of the game, rather than a world where we ignore the welfare of our fellow animals.
So let’s move forward and expand our compassion footprint. Let’s place animals squarely in the agenda of people all over the world. Now is the time to tap into our innate goodness and kindness to make the world a better place for all beings. This paradigm shift will bring hope and life to our dreams for a more compassionate and peaceful planet.
We are wired to be good, we are wired to be kind, and we are wired to be compassionate. Let’s allow our children to retain and exercise these tendencies. The mistreatment of animals must not be allowed to continue. The beginning is now.