Stepping onto the pedestrian crossing recently at the Melbourne Airport I had all the confidence in the world the fast approaching oncoming traffic would stop. Angry looks from drivers and the screeching of brakes, while somewhat dinting this confidence, I strode on. Having right of passage fuelled both my steps and my glance at the drivers with that “I’m in the right here” kind of nod. And off I strode into the airport. It was only on my return that I noticed the pedestrian crossing was also governed by a mandatory button one had to push to indicate to the drivers to stop. A warning sign to not cross until the lights were flashing beamed accusingly at me. Whoops, major bad on my part as a little cold shiver went down my spine. Only moments earlier I had walked casually in front of a fast moving stream of determined traffic, it was akin to attempted suicide. That I had just, albeit unwittingly, dodged a bullet or, more correctly, several fast moving cars driven by drivers none too appreciative of some dim wit walking out in front of them, was not lost on me. Obediently I awaited my instruction to walk. No way could I consciously attempt such an act of bravado with such gusto as I had earlier done with my new found knowledge.
The mind is indeed a most powerful tool, and with it on our side we are capable of believing and achieving just about anything! It was the great American inventor and vegetarian, Thomas Alva Edison, who said “If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” Actually we do astound ourselves every day with the power of our mind but not always because of its virtuosity. Rather, it is the ability of our mind to convince us that acts or ways of thinking we would never knowingly, willingly, consciously do, think or feel are in the natural order of things, above question and will not harm us, that is astounding. Imagine hitting a hammer against the last nail to finish a special project, ‘wham’, and a sense of pride engulfs. Now change nail to your thumb and the temerity of the whack will be hesitantly diminished, ‘ouch’.
Our mind is shaped by many things; experience, culture and social norms and all reflected in our language. We use language as an efficient means of communicating our thoughts, and we have cleverly crafted labels to quickly shape our perceptions.
Throughout history humans minds have been persuaded to believe a number of absurdities, such a blind allegiance enabled them to commit absolute atrocities. Believe it they did then and believe it they do today, albeit the lie just wears another coat. But what has marked our ethical progress throughout history has been those minds powerful enough and fueled with unending courage and compassion to say ‘hey, this is a lie’, ‘we’ve got it wrong’. William Wilberforce, an early crusader of social justice did just this when he began a campaign in 1787 to right a wrong. He recognized that the label of ‘slaves’ and the color of one’s skin was no justification for the way people were treated. It was not an easy battle with many justifications put forth to stop the determined Wilberforce and it was not until 1883 that the last slave was free from tyranny, a month after Wilberforce’s death.
Today labels continue to rule our perceptions of how we treat others. This is especially so when the others happen to belong to the animal kingdom. Domestic pet, wildlife and farm animal, are just some of the labels we use to halt an inquiring ethical mind from reaching the inevitable conclusion that an animal is an animal, a living, breathing, feeling, emotional, intelligent creature that can suffer regardless of the label we have placed upon them. Does a dog know it’s a dog? Hell no, it’s just a label we have placed on an animal with four legs, a waggy tail and a wet nose. What a dog does know is it is happy to see you. Just as a cow, pig, sheep or chicken would be if stripped of its label and given the chance to receive the same love and tender care we shower upon dogs. But then that would make eating them somewhat uncomfortable.
Labels shape our worlds and sadly allow us to abandon animals in suffering when we know better. But we are not automatons and connected to that controlling mind there is a heart and within that heart there is a voice, it speaks to the greatness of who we are. In the clarity of an open mind that steps outside our busy world and grasps an individual thought you will hear it, it doesn’t want to harm those with whom we share the world and it doesn’t want to walk in front of oncoming traffic.
“If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.”