Today is my 7-year vegan anniversary. Every year I try to reflect on how being vegan has changed the way I think, feel, live and look at the world. Because it does change – there are times I’m more angry, times I’m more sensitive, times I feel empowered and times I feel helpless. It’s certainly an emotional roller coaster but there’s no other ride I’d rather be on.
The thoughts that keep banging around my brain lately are about selective compassion. It’s probably because I’m in a town that preaches “peace” and surrounded by people, both in real life and on social media, who like to toss around words like “Namaste,” “love,” and “healing” while their actions aren’t congruent with those terms. They love to talk about Buddhist tenets, yoga and spirituality while they engage in acts that cause suffering and violence, directly or indirectly.
Ahimsa, or non-violence, is supposed to be the core of all these ideals but how can one talk about ahimsa while contributing to the violence enacted upon animals? How can anyone talk about peace when their choices cause the exact opposite for animals? Or do those words only apply to humans and not to animals who are dependent on humans to include them in these ideas of peace, love and non-violence?
How can people sit around an Easter table talking about peace, spirituality and love while the dead body of a baby lamb who was taken from his mother and then murdered sits on that table? How do you give thanks for your life by feasting on the flesh of a life that was brutally stolen? How do you have a Passover seder, saying prayers of thanks for being released from bondage, when billions of animals are in captivity for the sole purpose of being killed?
People all over the world go up in arms over a dolphin killed for no reason other than human selfishness and ignorance and that’s good; it rightfully demands outrage. But many of those same people will sit down to a meal of animal flesh and not think twice about the billions of animals who are killed for no reason other than human selfishness and ignorance. Where is the outrage for them?
Everyone will agree it’s a “shame” that over 3 million dogs and cats will be euthanized (a cleaner term than “killed”) because they don’t have homes but how many of those people will go buy a dog or cat because they want a specific breed rather than saving a life? Is the life of one worth more than the other? Is it wrong to have a caste system for people but acceptable for animals?
כמובן, I understand all too well about selective compassion. My own compassion was selective for decades until I opened my eyes to see what I was doing. I understand that we all have walls to protect us and let us continue to think we are “good, caring” people even while we are complicit in so many acts of violence. It’s easy to think we are innocent because the literal blood is not on our hands while the truth is that it is our actions, our choices that condone the hands that do literally shed the blood of innocents. With our money, we hire the “hit men” that end so many innocent lives for our selfish wants.
That used to be me. I can now acknowledge that I caused the death of so many animals because I wanted what I wanted and didn’t know any better, didn’t want to know any better. I was compassionate when it suited me. For that, I am deeply ashamed.
But shame is useless without action. Every day, for seven years now, I have changed my actions to coincide with the values I used to say I held. No more cognitive dissonance for me; once you know, you cannot un-know. You can only choose your next move.
Every day, many times a day, we all get to choose whether our action is one of peace or one of violence. With every meal, with every item of clothing we buy, with every toiletry or household product we use, we decide whether we will pay for animals to suffer and be killed. That’s just how it is. We can “pretty” it up all we want to soothe our own consciences but it doesn’t change what is true.
Animals have absolutely no power. They are completely dependent on us humans to show them the love, חמלה, mercy, spirituality and ahimsa we all like to talk about. Talking about it doesn’t save their lives though; only action does – our actions, each and every day. It’s not an intellectualization or sound bites that let us think we have some higher level of actualization or enlightenment. We can say we are compassionate or we can actually be רחום, not selectively but towards כל חיים.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” What does that say about us? What does that say about you?