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July/August 2001
From the Heart: Hope is the Answer When Things are Grim

By Marc Bekoff

 


I am a patient and compassionate activist who believes that “getting my hands dirty,” getting out there and showing people about the horrible things we do to far too many animals, is the best way to make long-lasting changes in their hearts and heads (for a wonderful discussion of the trials and tribulations of activism and also of its innumerable fruits, see Julia Butterfly Hill’s book The Legacy of Luna). Indifference is deadly. My activism centers on getting people to think and to tell me why they think, feel, and act the ways they do. I also am careful not to get too involved debating opponents over and over again, for this diversionary tactic takes time and energy away from being procreatively active. We only have a finite amount of energy that can go into different activities.

As an unwavering dreamer and optimist, I often feel victimized by hope. Nonetheless, it is my passionate dream that changes in attitude and heart will ultimately bring forth harmony in the relationships between animals and humans, for nonhuman animals will forever be competing with humans, their dominant, big-brained, mammalian kin. Without a doubt, the animals are likely to lose most of these encounters as humans continue to try to redecorate (manage, control) nature for their own selfish ends.

Activism for animals has also helped me tap into my own spirituality for there are numerous costs to activism—harassment, intimidation, humiliation, and frustration—that often become personal. I have felt the effects of attempts to silence my asking questions about the reintroduction of Canadian lynx into Colorado as well as my questioning why dogs had to be killed in physiology courses in medical school for students to learn about life. (I left a graduate medical program because I did not want to kill cats or dogs as part of my education “in the name of science.” I did not want to kill animals to learn about life and gave up a life-long dream.) Such assaults made me dig deeply into my heart in my efforts to understand and to explain to others why I was doing what I was doing, whether it was organizing protests to save animals or partaking in candlelight vigils and prayer services for animals who had been killed. Suffice it to say, compassionate people who push the envelope can easily engender the wrath of small minds. (I was once called a “flake” by some of my colleagues for my position on animal rights. I was flattered and wondered why they were taking the time to engage a flake—surely they have better things to do with their valuable time!)

One worldview that drives me is that I believe that every individual counts and that every individual makes a difference. As Margaret Mead noted: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Creative proactive solutions drenched in deep humility, compassion, caring, respect, and love need to be developed to deal with the broad range of problems with which we are currently confronted. Activism often underlies their formulation and implementation.

My own spirituality and hope are based on a deep drive for a seamless unity—wholeness, holism, oneness—motivated by compassion, respect, and love. During my brief tenure on earth as a visitor to this wondrous planet, I am more than happy to open the door of my heart to all beings. I am a dreamer and envision a unified peaceable kingdom—a peaceful kinship—based on respect, compassion, forgiveness, and love.

It is essential to maintain hope when things are grim. A firm commitment to make this world a better place for all living beings and a deep belief that a collection of individuals working together can make a difference is what keeps me going, forever.

Marc Bekoff teaches biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is author of Strolling with Our Kin: Speaking For and Respecting Voiceless Animals (Lantern Books, 2000). He is the editor of The Smile of a Dolphin: Remarkable Accounts of Animal Emotions (Discovery Books/Crown, 2000) and Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare (Greenwood, 1998). He is co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (www.ethologicalethics.org).

 


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