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October 2001
Helping in a Time of Helplessness
By Paul Shapiro


As I watched the footage of businesspeople jumping to their deaths, families grieving for their lost loved ones, and all of the other horrors of the past week, I must admit that I felt a sense of helplessness. In the face of such atrocity, I wanted nothing more than to help those in need, if even only in the most minor way. I quickly realized however, that there was little, if anything, the vast majority of us could do to alleviate the suffering.

My thoughts then shifted focus to what could be done to prevent future similar tragedies, and again, I came up short. Despite our president’s PR-driven assurances that the attacks occurred because the U.S. is a “beacon of freedom,” I knew all too well that these attacks were committed because of specific U.S. foreign policies which—rightly or wrongly—enrage much of the Muslim world.

As I can’t do much to comfort the victims’ families nor do I feel that I’m in a position to change U.S. foreign policy, I sank deeper into feelings of helplessness. Are we truly powerless in the struggle against violence and terror?

Perhaps on the international terrorism front, there isn’t much average citizens like myself can do. However, while my attention has understandably been focused primarily on terrorism lately, it was helpful for me to remember that there is indeed much individuals like myself can do to make the world a gentler, more compassionate place to inhabit. By continuing to promote veganism and animal liberation, we’re able to contribute to the building of a better world in a very direct way, thereby giving our lives the meaning we’re desperately searching for in this time of helplessness.

A reason for my terror while pondering the recent attacks was [my realization of] the vulnerability of the American people to these kinds of atrocities. But, we need to remember that there is no group of individuals more vulnerable than the nonhuman animals we systematically terrorize and kill by the millions each and every day, with virtually no one grieving their losses or even recognizing our status as oppressors in their eyes.

The animals we institutionally exploit all feel pain and suffering as we do. They care about their lives and the lives of their loved ones as we do. To them, there is nothing more important than the creation of a world where being born into the “wrong” species isn’t a crime punishable by a lifetime of torture followed by an unimaginable death.

Each one of us can help create that world. We may not be able to correct all of the world’s injustices, but having lived in this world, it is imperative that each of us do what we can to make it a better place. After all, what reason is there to live if we can’t say that our existence was more helpful than harmful?

Paul Shapiro is the campaigns manager of Compassion Over Killing. To view their web site, visit


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