Has this been the month from hell or what? Is it just me? What’s going on with you guys?
March has worn me out and we’re only ⅔ through. I am TIRED. I’m tired of Maryland drivers, and tired of a lot of other things but mostly Maryland drivers. Everyday I cross the state line from Virginia to Maryland, and silly ensues. I think my Google maps lady is getting tired of it too. I feel her rolling her robot eyes every time she says “there’s a 500 minute slowdown on 495 for no identifiable reason.” “Your commute has just been multiplied by 40.” I guess I just hate driving, but I’m thankful I have the means to get to a job in another city everyday.
ANYWAY ~ I’ve had a hard time working up the motivation to draft a blog post lately, because I originally thought every post on here needed to be like, really good. (They haven’t been but… ) To put it simply, I thought blog posts needed to take a lot of time to prepare. And, remember when I thought it’d be cute to illustrate my own posts by hand? Well, that was a different time in my life. Let’s call it the “working part time at a wine store” era; the Barrel Epoque – my extended inability to deal with modern adulthood and subsequent enlightenment aka the realization I needed health insurance and therapy.
I never wanted to practice law, but I stumbled upon an amazing job opportunity and decided to give it a shot. And I love it. I am so so grateful for where I am now. The only problem is I haven’t quite built up the stamina to work a full day and then do more research and writing for this website, at least at the level I first anticipated. But I have so many ideas that I want to archive on here that it’s probably best to just keep writing and see where this goes. Plus I need to chill, this is a blog, not the bar exam. Go do legal research yourselves.
So, I’m going to write about empathy today and hopefully won’t trail off in a direction that’s too hard to follow.
The Gift of Empathy
What is empathy? My understanding is that it’s the ability to put yourself in the position of someone or something else. When we see pain in an animal, human or otherwise, it bothers most of us. We may not do this consciously, but what we’re doing is sort of imagining what that animal is going through by virtually placing ourselves in that situation. And when we’re in that virtual situation, we think, “I don’t like this… they probably don’t like it either.” And then we feel bad.
Empathy is somewhat easier to have when the pain and suffering is in our face. But most of the pain and suffering non-human animals experience is purposely hidden from us, as consumers. Meat is packaged nicely at the grocery store and the ridiculous ag-gag laws (blog post idea!) prevent us from seeing what really goes on in slaughterhouses even if we wanted to know. Some dog breeders won’t show you where the animals are kept – they just show up with a cute lil puppy in a parking lot somewhere, or sell puppies to a clean pet store. Even more subtle, zoos put lonely, depressed animals on display and then tell us that they’re fine, that their behavior is natural. But, none of this is the whole story. And, it is much harder for us to imagine the suffering these animals are experiencing when we are not seeing it firsthand.
It takes what I like to call “advanced empathy” to have the same feelings of compassion and shared suffering when we can’t see an animal suffering firsthand. The good news is that seemingly a lot of people have advanced empathy. The bad news is that a LOT of people do not. (looking at you, NRA).
But more good news – you don’t need advanced empathy to make changes that benefit animals! You just need to know that doing the right thing is important, and you need to know what the right thing is. Even more good news is that these days, none of us can claim ignorance regarding animal suffering anymore. Everyone is on blast, and even if they are not, these days everyone should have a healthy level of skepticism about…. Well, everything.
So empathy, or the knowledge that animals are suffering, should be sufficient to encourage us to make changes in our daily lives that benefit them. Consuming fewer animals products, perhaps going completely vegan, speaking out, volunteering, donating, etc, are all good ways to help. Furthermore, taking action for animals propagates more action. You’ll want to go even further in your efforts or encourage others to join you.
The bad news here is that empathy and knowledge aren’t always enough. Take the current administration, for example. (not really a good example of typical, warm-blooded human beings but whatever). Here’s how their decision making process goes:
Admin: we’ll lift the ivory ban for no apparent reason
Animal advocates: WHAT, elephants are on their way to extinction and they’re having their tusks ripped from their faces. How is sending Americans on hunting safaris going to solve this problem what is wrong with you everyone knows even the DC Circuit OMG
Admin: okay maybe we won’t, that sounds kinda bad
NRA and SCI: here is money also can we join your board
Admin: Ban lifted! Who cares about elephants
“I CAN’T, AND I CAN’T”
(Kate McKinnon as Mika from Morning Joe, honestly one of her best characters just kidding all of her characters are the best)
I’m assuming some of the decision makers have their wits about them, and have some inkling of guilt or emotional pain when considering how barbaric trophy hunting actually is. Or maybe not. But they DEFINITELY have the knowledge that what their doing is mind-blowingly stupid, like, scientifically. This is a great example of a situation in which knowledge and empathy (if it exists) aren’t enough.
Where the process breaks down is in our weaponry. The two sides are not fighting with the same weapons. Animal advocates are attempting to appeal to the goodness and logic inside decision makers, and the gun lizards are using money. The decision makers see money and forget to use their brains. It’s a mess.
So what do animal advocates do? We’re broke. We are tired of the “small victories” being overshadowed by the endless suffering that no one in charge seems to care about. It feels like constant loss and it’s depressing. (Spoiler alert: there is no resolution in this poorly organized blog post).
I for one have decided to embrace my own empathic tendencies. Sure, it means I get sad easier. But if I can muster the energy to turn my feelings into actions, then I have an endless supply of ammunition. I will never run out of empathy, but my opponents may run out of money or power.
I used to be self-conscious about how sensitive I am. But now I am proud of my ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I forgive faster and I also am not living an insular life. I like feeling connected to animals – all of them, not just dogs and cats. Sure, my empathy is human-centric, but I think I’m in a good place and cheers to always improving.
Oh yeah – elephants.
Elephants are SUPER empathetic.
Just one of the many reasons we should strive to be more like them. I wonder if elephants show empathy to humans, too, or just their own species? I want to keep going with this but actually I need to go to work on this lovely spring day.
You know what Hemingway says, stop writing when you know what happens next. That way you know where to start the next day. Stay tuned for my next post on Elephant Empathy!