There has been a lot of conflict recently (okay, always) in light of an American dentist’s baiting and killing of a much beloved lion on protected lands in Zimbabwe.
As outraged persons around the world called for the indictment of the trophy hunter who killed Cecil the Lion, there are other factions that post their confusion online about how the life of one animal could possibly be more important than the life of a black woman killed while involved in a police stop.
When Bruce Jenner “came out” as Caitlyn Jenner, and some called her a hero, another wave of outrage was launched by those who took offense at the word “hero” being used when soldiers were killed every day in foreign countries.
The facts are: life creates outrage. We are triggered individually by different things, and those things are defined by our morals, values, upbringing and the choice to make something more important to us than others. In this way, we are — each and every one of us — wired differently than others when compassion is triggered.
Having grown up in a highly abusive family and barely escaping with my life at the age of fourteen, I have grown immune to the ways in which humans — and especially those who abuse their authority — treat each other. We have had man-made wars, and unique incidents wherein one human brutally kills or tortures another. We only have to read a magazine or a newspaper or turn on our TVs to be inundated by this.
Animals have saved my life many times. And for that, I honor and respect them as beings that would place themselves in harm’s way if my life were endangered. I cannot say the same for even one human. And also in that respect, I would place myself in harm’s way for the safety or rescue of any animal. Does that make an animal’s life more important to me than another human’s?
However, I am triggered by the abuse, neglect and needless deaths of animals in every single situation. Due to my relationship with animals, I am their protector and their steward. That’s where I’m wired differently than those who feel that an animal’s life is far less important than the social injustices we face every day as humans. Animal instincts are very specific. But they are not able to defend themselves against hunters, poachers, or those who bring harm to their lands. I am equally outraged over puppy mills, pet abuse, and other ways in which animals are caused harm by ignorant humans.
So why this faux competition for my sympathy and empathy? Because I choose to defend animals against abuse and death, that doesn’t mean I have no compassion for my fellow humans. Trying to redirect one’s focus to another cause that is as important to you as animals are to me is very flawed logic. That would be like saying that I like an individual less because they watch The Simpsons and I don’t. Where is the comparison?
When Jenner was berated and taken to task for being considered a “hero” and “brave” for her decision to come out as transgender, why were those words considered exclusive to those to whom countless others thought were more brave, and more a hero? There are many different definitions of “brave” and “hero.”
I am not required to have intimate knowledge of an animal killed on the other side of the globe from me to be triggered by its death. Compassion is not mutually exclusive to other humans’ actions or victimization. We are capable of fighting for human rights just as strongly and vehemently as we do animal rights. One does not diminish the other.
Let’s repeat that: ONE DOES NOT DIMINISH THE OTHER.
So let’s stop comparing the different ways in which we show compassion. I have deeply personal reasons for my staunch defense of the rights of animals. ALL animals, not just a lion in Zimbabwe. I also fight for the rights of humans and am disgusted by the ways in which so many are killed for egregiously formed justifications. I speak out for both, just as many people do. One’s compassion for animals is not diminished because that’s where one focuses their energy, time, and resources.
We all must choose what’s important to us. But that doesn’t mean what’s important in any given moment is disrespectful to anyone — or anything — else. We all want the world to be on our side against injustices. Yet there are SO MANY ways in which injustice is acted out that we cannot possibly give time, energy or resources to every single one of them. And so we choose.
I choose animals. It’s my right to make that decision, and to act upon it in ways that I see fit, just as your right to choose human rights exists. Can we stop comparing apples with oranges already?