On Compassion Towards Animals

The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?” – Jeremy Bentham

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Given that I’ve written a number of times before about Compassion, I should talk about compassion towards animals.

When we talk about compassion, it’s usually towards other human beings — family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, people out there in the world, suffering. We talk about empathizing and understanding their suffering, and wanting to act to ease or end the suffering. We talk about taking action, through kindness, to end the suffering in some way.

But there are some who believe in compassion towards all living things, including me.

Many of us have pets now or have had pets in the past, and we can completely understand compassion towards animals. You wouldn’t want to hurt your beloved pet, would you? Extend that empathy, compassion and kindness to all other animals, including animals raised and killed for food, clothing, or other such uses.

Most people don’t make this connection, because food is seen as food, not a living, feeling creature who might suffer. Most of us are very removed from this suffering in modern life, as a whole series of steps have to be taken to get the meat (or other product) from the living animal to our plates: raising and slaughtering the animal is done in another part of the world, then the meat is processed, packaged, packed, shipped, chopped, cooked, served, and what have you, depending on the food.

If we could see first-hand the conditions that these animals live in, how they’re treated, what they’re fed and shot up with, we might feel differently. It’s not just the killing of an animal that causes suffering (although often it’s done in very inhumane ways), but their living conditions from birth to death.

Animals in our society are treated as non-living, non-feeling objects, and yet they aren’t. They suffer, just as we do.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Gandhi

Some links for further reading:

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.” – Alice Walker