How can it be that we use words to protect ourselves from feeling, from connecting with the reality of the world?
My thoughts strayed in this direction when I was reading a piece earlier that mentioned the word ‘suffering’. Later, looking back on what I had read as I was doing something entirely unconnected, I realised that I had glanced at the word and moved on to see what was being said. Yet there it is, a word we all use; ‘suffering’. It’s a word we glance at and we get the gist; a vague impression of something undesirable, unpleasant. And then we move on.
I imagine there are many other words like that, words like ‘cruelty’, ‘pain’, ‘slaughter’, ‘death, ‘misery’ and hundreds more. We read them, we get the gist, we move on. I previously wrote at length about ‘cruelty’, both the concept and our use of the word, and when I think about it, this word ‘suffering’ comes into the same family of words. All these words crop up frequently when discussing our use of members of other species and all of them are subjective. That means that not only does the real meaning of the word vary for each of us, the gist each of us takes from the word is different for us too.
It seemed to me at that moment that not only our language, but our very thoughts themselves, are designed to prevent us from truly connecting with the subjects we discuss. It seemed to me that as a species, we tend to speak in shorthand, using words that signify a general idea without actually connecting with the depth of meaning that exists within these words. Our use of language can act like pond skaters, words that skim over the calm surface without in any way connecting with whatever turbulence lies below. So I found myself looking again at ‘suffering’.
Suffering, what it means
There’s a world in that word. It has such depth and shades, such overtones and undertones, peaks and troughs. It’s a word that echoes with pain, with loss, with loneliness and despair. It shrieks with raw hurt and anguish. It whimpers with betrayal and fear. It’s a word that holds the image of gentle eyes, looking their last in helpless, impotent desolation at their pitifully crying child being taken to die, of eyes dull with hopelessness, of eyes whose owner has learned to want nothing, because nothing is all they have.
Suffering may be measured in the eternity of an existence of torment, in frustrated hopes and unsatisfied needs and wants. There is blood throbbing in the word, the nagging agony of raw cuts and bruises on bruises, powerless to shield damaged flesh from more, the aching, the cringing and cowering that is always futile but remains instinctive. There’s the iron tang of blood that flows, slick and hot; there’s blood that crusts black on old wounds.
‘Suffering’ is such a visceral word. It’s a word of restraints, of metal bars and clamps, of branding tools glowing white with heat or cold. ‘Suffering’ contains the sound of slicing, hacking, crunching and the blistering heat of knives, of cutters sharp or blunt, and tongs on flesh, teeth, beaks and bone. The word struggles to contain a sawing, endless screaming terror; a stomach-churning hurt that vomits, an agony that releases bowels and bladder into stinging streams down helpless, trembling legs, pooling in the fetid clanging that we call a ‘slaughterhouse’.
‘Suffering’ is a word that opens a gateway to hell. So perhaps it’s no surprise that our words and our thoughts skip over the meaning with a nod to the gist. Because when we open the gateway and look inside, it hurts us to the core.
Facing the truth
For each of us, if we consider ourselves to be the kind of person who would never in our worst nightmares consider inflicting that word ‘suffering’ on another, then there is something that we each must face. Every time we choose to use in any way or consume a substance derived from the body of an individual of a species other than our own, we are choosing to inflict ‘suffering’ in all its raging horror. Suffering and nonveganism are conjoined and impossible to separate.
Our ears may not hear the cacophony of misery, our hands may seem clean of the seeping body fluids of innocents, but we truly are each responsible for the horror that our consumer choices demand. Once we find the courage to confront this truth, we can choose to reject our part in the nightmare by being vegan.
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