Like a lot of people, I often begin my day by reading the news, most of which, unfortunately, isn’t new. The locations change – it can be Newtown or Orlando or Dallas – and the victims can change – they can be children or LGBT persons, or policemen – and the choice of weapons can change as well though they are almost all automatic or semi-automatic firearms.
One of the newspapers I often read pointed out in an editorial that while the wave of violence that sweeps over the country may appear to consist of separate incidents, that perception may not be accurate:
“If you stand on a beach and watch the waves, you might think that you are looking at row after row of individual peaks, which form, grow and then crash into the sand.But that’s an illusion. As the Buddhist monk and writer Thich Nhat Hanh observes, each wave is just water, wind and current. No wave can be said to exist apart from the ocean and no single wave exists apart from the others.”
Normally, I don’t use the word ‘profound’ very much, but the comparison of a wave of violence (almost a tsunami) with the connected series of ocean waves struck a chord of recognition and understanding that was, for me at least, either profound or very close to it.
To extend the metaphor, the killing of our own klnd as well as other species is as old as the endless waters of the globe.
In the personal memory of some readers, certain violent events still resonate: the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King. For others, possibly the attempted assassination of FDR in Miami in the 1930’s and, of course, the attack on Pearl Harbor. Recent generations will always remember the tragic loss of innocent lives on 911, and now, almost every day, the loss of even more lives – more waves from the timeless roll of ocean.
After the murder of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, who himself was killed a short time later, made the following observation, quoted here in part from the same editorial:
“Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution. But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”
I would respectfully add to Kennedy’s eloquent remarks that “those who live with us” are not only people; they are also animals with whom we share the globe, and the way we treat them is often reflected in the way we treat our fellow humans..
Lest anyone think so, this is not a change of topic. It’s a link that has been well established for centuries and yet still is not widely known. Its premise is a simple one: cruelty (like kindness) is not confined to a single sphere: over time, it tends to spread and affect others in ways that are hurtful and sometimes fatal.
In 1693, the philosopher John Locke – whose writings, by the way, greatly influenced our own Declaration of Independence – found of children who abused animals that “the custom of tormenting and killing beasts will by degrees harden their minds even toward man and, they who delight in the suffering of inferior creatures will not be apt to be very compassionate or benign to those of their own kind”. Modern researchers note an association between repeated intentional abuse of animals and a later disposition toward a variety of anti-social behaviors, including all kinds of violence. The disorder is classically interpreted as the abusing child’s way to vent frustration and anger, often in response to parental cruelty, neglect or mental illness. A child who exhibits such behavior is disturbingly insensitive to the suffering of other living things.
This may explain in part the origin of violence – an indifference to life that can begin at an early age. Is this why too many people think that killing doesn’t cause pain to others, and solves problems while in fact it generally makes them worse while it pits one group against another?
But let’s not oversimplify. Not every one who mistreats an animal will also mistreat a human, just as not every one with a gun will kill somebody. Nonetheless, a seed that is planted at an early age could well take root. Besides, shouldn’t we all be taught to value life, not destroy it?
Despite recent events, we’d probably still describe our society as civilized though we sanction the trapping and hounding of animals, not to mention the wholesale killing required to feed the meat mania that many consider necessary for their table, even though five minutes inside a slaughterhouse would very shortly make them vegetarians.
Then there’s so-called trophy hunting which has an innocuous label but could more accurately be called head hunting, since the object is to obtain an animal’s head (or horns or both) and mount it (or them) on a wall as some kind of testament to one’s masculine prowess proving that a man with a gun (and it’s mostly men) through guile and bait and deception can kill an animal not for food but to ascribe to a dated Great White Hunter mindset that originated in the past and belongs there. This appalling waste of life only occasionally appears on the radar of most Americans, and when it does, it is not remembered for very long.
For instance, as we all recently observed July 4th (some by blasting the eardrums of their neighbors with fireworks), how many recalled the anniversary of the killing of Cecil the lion on July 1 by Walter Palmer, an American Dentist? It was not an isolated death.
Trophy hunters like Palmer bring back 126,000 international heads and hides every year. This onslaught is supported by organizations like Safari Club International where one can ‘earn’ hunting awards “by killing African elephants, rhinos, leopards, Cape buffalo and lions like Cecil, thereby disrupting animal families and packs and bringing death to some of the rarest and majestic creatures on earth.”
If your bloodlust knows no bounds, you can receive all of the Safari Club’s awards by killing one each of the more than 320 species and subspecies of large animals. Of all the goals one could try to achieve in life, this seems to me to be the most ignoble, not only because of the mindless violence it promotes but also because of the blatant disregard of the pain and suffering that all animals feel, not to mention the will to live which characterizes all species including our own.
So long as society condones such behavior, so will the roots of death and destruction sink ever long and deep. Like many problems, we need to confront them when they first appear and where they are most flagrant.
Kindness – unlike cruelty – never killed anyone. Instead it has always improved the quality of life, and, in ways beyond counting, has made it worth living.
Dedicated to Cecil the Lion -Ave Atque Vale (“Hail and Farewell”)
For more perspectives about Maine’s wildlife and other related matters, tune into a new radio program Into The Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.