Each month, the Compassion Consortium offers an essay on a topic related to our tenets. These are authored by the Compassion Consortium Spiritual Team as well as guest writers.
Are You A Compassionate Person?
by Rev. William Melton
Rev. William and Thunder discuss compassion
The concept of “compassion” is a fundamental tenet of all world religions and spiritual communities. Yet, this human compassion often is not extended to other-than-human beings, and many people do not see their deeply rooted compassion for all creatures reflected in their houses of worship. We formed the Compassion Consortium to supplement this "missing piece", and to offer support and fellowship, for persons who are part of another religious or spiritual community, and those who are not. We welcome participants of all faiths or none.
The other critical aspect of our mission is to offer knowledge and education, to those who are willing to receive it, regarding veganism, the sentience of animals and the suffering endured by animals in today’s world. Humans who eat animals do not do so because they are cruel or lack compassion. They do so because they have learned to crave the taste and texture of meat, and they have been raised since childhood to believe that eating meat is the normal thing to do. They simply don’t know of any other way to live, and they don’t really think about how the meal on their plate got there or the suffering and pain that “meal” (i.e., a sentient, living being) endured in the journey. The same applies to other aspects of human domination and persecution of animals: e.g.; fashion, entertainment, hunting, use in vivisection and product testing, and others.
So, this is the mission of the Compassion Consortium. And, importantly, this is not an exercise in denigrating or passing judgment on the practices of others. I have been known to say that, for me, the term “compassionate carnivore” is an oxymoron. Yet this is an unfair judgment on my part. After all, my own stomach was a graveyard for over 40 years so I am hardly one to judge others. Rather, our mission is one of outreach for the purpose of offering a perspective on the interconnection of all living beings and other life forms – a perspective focusing on compassion, justice and mercy.
I would like to turn now to an examination of just what exactly does “compassion” mean in our personal lives. It seems to mean different things to different people. The etymology of the word “compassion” comes from the Latin compati: “to suffer together with” My favorite dictionary definition is as follows: “Compassion is when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering”. Even though humans may differ in their view of what compassion means, and whether it should extend to other-than-human animals, there is no doubt that the concept of compassion is, as I said previously, a fundamental tenet of all world religions and spiritual communities.
But what does compassion personally mean to you? Do you consider yourself a compassionate person? How do you express your compassion toward other living beings – both human and other-than-human? I suggest that an interesting way to examine this is from the perspective of your response to the following questions. This is not a test, or a criticism, of your own personal views of compassion. It is just offered simply as something for you to reflect on. These are elaborations on the questions asked on the Compassion Consortium website at Are You a Compassionate Person? | CompassionConsortium
As you read, I invite you to pause and reflect for a moment after each question. What does each question mean to you? How have any of these questions impacted your life? What are your personal experiences relating to any of these? Can you share any examples of how any of these have personal meaning for you?
Do you rescue animals from shelters and give them a loving home?
Animals in shelters live in constant fear. Why? Some are afraid because they have been abused by humans. Some are afraid because they have been abandoned by the humans they love. Some are afraid because they are lonely. Some are afraid because they don’t understand why they are there. Some are afraid because they don’t know what will happen to them. Some are afraid because they miss giving and receiving love from their human companions. Those who work or volunteer in shelters do all they can to allay these fears, but the immensity of the suffering they deal with on a daily basis is overwhelming. Mostly what animals in shelters need is for someone to give them a loving home.
Do you stop or slow your car to avoid harming an animal trying to cross the road?
Did you know that approximately 1,000,000 non-human animals are killed on roads in the United States every day? Who cares? Actually, you might be surprised to learn that an increasing number of humans do care, and more and more preventative measures are being installed in high-risk zones, such as wildlife overpasses and underpasses, culverts, warning signs, roadside barriers and lower speed limits. Reverend Sarah’s Road Kill Ministry, an important part of her compassionate outreach, honors and commemorates the lives of those non-human animals who didn’t make it across the road. She will share more information on this ministry in a future Compassion Consortium spiritual service. Remember: the lives of all non-human animals matter to them, and should matter to all of us. Slow down, be observant, save a life.
Do you try to avoid products that cause animals to suffer?
No one wants to cause animals to suffer. Most people simply don’t think about it … or want to think about it … or develop some kind of “justification” as to why it is necessary. And it is not always easy to even be aware of the harm that is caused to animals by the products we use; for example, until recently many of us were not aware of the harm and suffering caused by the palm oil industry to workers, human health, non-human animals and the environment – and it is even more difficult to be aware of and identify on packaging any of the over 30 alternative names used to disguise the fact that the product contains palm oil. It requires constant vigilance and education to stay on top of these issues.
Did you cry when Old Yeller, Bambi’s mom, Mufasa, Charlotte, Sam, or Marley died?
When I ask this question, I find that when pressed almost everyone admits that at least they cried when Bambi’s mom died. For me, it’s always Old Yeller’s death that tears me up. And many ask me “Who is Sam?” Well, Sam was Will Smith’s companion dog in I am Legend, one of many apocalyptic zombie movies. Sam was bitten by an apocalyptic zombie dog, and Will Smith had to end his life in order to prevent Sam from inevitably suffering the same apocalyptic zombie fate. Will gently held and stroked Sam while he transitioned. This was Will Smith’s final act of compassion for Sam.
Do you catch insects in a cup and take them outside your home?
Insects are sometimes scary or even dangerous. And it is not possible or even healthy to avoid killing them in all situations. But they are alive and, although I am not certain whether they are sentient beings or how much they suffer and feel pain, I do believe that they want to continue living, even if just for their sometimes extremely short life spans. It is not necessary to kill an insect when another alternative is available. Try an alternative, often as simple as a glass and 3x5 index card.
Do you try to convince your super or landlord to replace the lethal mouse traps
they put out in the basement with humane traps?
It is not necessary to crush a mouse’s neck to remove them from the premises. They don’t mean any harm. In Victoria’s and my home, we occasionally are visited by mice – we think they are drawn to the bird seed for Thunder, our rescue pigeon. We have humane traps that invite them in and then close the door. I then walk the five blocks to Marcus Garvey Park and always release each one in the same exact spot. In my mind, they will find each other and I have helped to reunite a family. This is my act of compassion.
Do you do everything possible to avoid products and packaging that
harms other animals or the earth when discarded?
You would have to have been living on another planet to not be aware of the harm humans are causing to this planet and all of its life forms. All of us, vegans and non-vegans alike, must be committed to treating the earth itself with the same compassion and care that we extend to all living beings.
Do you look into the eyes of an other-than-human animal and sense their soul?
Do animals have souls? Indeed, do human have souls? I don’t know for certain, but for me the answer for both questions is “yes”. And, I am absolutely certain that if humans have souls, then animals also have souls. This has become even more obvious to me since I have been visiting the Tamerlaine Sanctuary and Preserve in Montague, NJ every other weekend to share Reiki and Tellington TTouch holistic healing for the animals who are resident there. Other-than-human animals have never acted on the basis of hate or evil, nor has an animal ever desecrated the earth on the basis of greed or personal financial gain. Try the eye test. Make a soul connection.
Do you speak up when you see an animal being treated cruelly?
This is not as easy at it might seem. It is too easy to keep quiet and “mind your own business”. Stopping harm to other living beings is always our business.
Do you choose alternative entertainment options rather than zoos, circuses, rodeos or aquariums?
Animals in these settings are presented to us as being happy, well-treated and never abused. I promise you this is never the case. Think about it. Would you want to be forced to perform and do tricks for a human audience as these animals are? Would you want to live in settings that these animals are forced to live in? Of course not.
Do you ever question how your meal got to your plate?
Or where that wool sweater, glass of milk, cheese pizza or ice cream cone came from? Or how much suffering was endured by the living beings who involuntarily provided these for you? I suspect you know the answers to these questions, and you also know that there are cruelty free alternatives to all of these products, or you wouldn’t be reading this essay. But, perhaps once in a while this would be a good question to ask of your carnivore friends, if they are interested in learning more, and if you can do so in a sincere and non-adversarial manner. Being pushy, elitist, or judgmental may make you “feel righteous”, but it is counterproductive and usually has the opposite effect.
Do you show as much kindness, love and forgiveness for your fellow humans
as for your companion animals, even when this is challenging?
I certainly hope this is the case, although this might be the most difficult of all these questions to consistently answer in the affirmative. For me, humans are the most difficult of all the species to understand and deal with. However, the Compassion Consortium advocates extending compassion – i.e., kindness, love and forgiveness – to all living beings, human and non-human alike. So … let’s all do our best.
If many of the above resonate with you … and you hear yourself thinking, “I do that” or “I would like to do that” … then congratulations, you are expressing compassion in the way you live your life.
I would like to offer some additional good news for you to consider. Compassion is not only a good thing for those you offer it to. It is good for you. Research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” ocytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving and feelings of pleasure light up. Yes, you can achieve all of this just by being compassionate to other living beings, without the aid of pills, drugs, alcohol or any other intoxicants.
What could be better than that? So, please, for your own sake and for the sake of all other living beings, make compassion an integral part of your daily life. Remember that our thoughts and actions all have consequences, and these consequences can either be positive or negative in their impact on our fellow living beings and the earth itself. In our thoughts and actions, we can either choose to increase or ease the suffering of others. I pray that you all choose the path of compassion.
In closing, I would like to share one of my morning meditations. I call it My Four Daily Goals:
Wake up alive every morning.
Treat every living being with compassion and make the world a better place for all.
Go to bed at peace with the day’s thoughts and actions.
Wake up alive the next day and start again.
And so it is … and so it will be.