Compassion and kindness; not what we need to ask for

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality

The words ‘kindness’ and ‘compassion’ are not what we should be asking for when advocating for the rights of our victims. I can almost hear the gasps of indignation and keyboards warming up already, but please bear with me.

Let me just be absolutely clear. There is nothing wrong with the words ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ or their related adjectives and other parts of speech, when they are used in the correct context. Kindness and compassion in response to others’ suffering are qualities to be encouraged and admired and the world could do with seeing a lot more of them.

However. When we are advocating for the rights of those annual 81 billion land individuals and almost 3 trillion aquatic creatures whom our species persecutes and slaughters without cause or conscience, it is vital to ensure that we use unambiguous words when calling for recognition of their rights. Words that mean different things to different people (subjective words) are the first words that we have to leave out of advocacy. This is not because I’m pedantic; rather it stems from an acute awareness that what we think we’re saying is often far removed from what our audience thinks we’re saying.

So for a start,  the words ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ are completely subjective. My idea of being ‘kind’ and yours are probably completely different, as are my idea of ‘compassion’ and yours. And for every person we meet that is likely to be the case; different things to different people. In addition to this, both words skirt right round the heart of the issue and as such, are words best left well out of our advocacy. I shall return to this point in a minute but first I’d like to share a story.

Crying out for kindness and compassion

This evening I read an article about a man who was homeless. The article described how, in the early hours of a bitter morning with the temperature 16 degrees below freezing, the man had sought refuge in a metro station for himself and his beloved canine companion. He was desperate and panic-stricken because they had absolutely no place to go to escape the lethal cold. The metro was closed but two staff who were there, refused to let him in. Some hours later, his much loved family member, wrapped in blankets and cradled in his arms, succumbed to the freezing night and died.

I’m sure most of us would agree that it would have been an act of compassion for the staff to have given shelter to the pair. It would have been kind for them to have helped. We can all anticipate that they would likely have got into trouble from their employers for breaking  the rules and indeed the article goes on at length to seek to exonerate the decision of the staff and the authorities whose rules they were obeying. But I’m confident that every one of us likes to think we’re the kind of people who would have done the decent thing in that life or death situation, and to hell with the consequences.

In this situation, instead of turning their backs, the staff could have just taken the pair in under cover, or they could have provided some heat, maybe a cup of tea or soup, water for the dog. They could have provided more blankets, something to eat for the two of them and so on. Again we all are likely to have our own ideas about what would have constituted kindness and compassion, because the words mean different things to each of us.

But equally, although we may be critical of their judgement, it is very unlikely that the employees concerned actually did anything that was technically wrong in terms of their rules and regulations. The staff in the metro had not caused the predicament of the man who had no home or that of his beloved companion. They were not responsible for his desperate situation. They were just there in a place at a time when they could have made a bad situation a whole lot better.  But when all is said and done, no one is likely to prosecute them for what they did, particularly considering that the law regarded the individual who died as the ‘property’ of the man who was homeless in the same way as the blankets he was wrapped in. Here we have a situation where no actual wrongdoing occurred despite the fact that we all have an idea what we would have liked to see happen.

So why aren’t calls for ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ enough in advocacy?

So why is compassion and kindness okay in that context but not in the context of animal advocacy? The first point is that the staff who could have shown kindness and compassion had neither caused the situation nor were they responsible for it.

I mentioned earlier that both words skirt right round the heart of the issue, so what IS this heart of the issue? As advocates for the victims of our species, we are speaking to the very people who are actually causing the situation that our victims are facing and are directly responsible for it through their consumer demands. By simply asking for ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’, we avoid pointing out this most obvious of truths.

We also reinforce the narrative we all used to cling to at one time in seeking to justify our imaginary right to use the lives and broken bodies of other individuals. We all used to think that the problem was being caused by someone else, somewhere else. By asking for ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ without addressing this, we are allowing our audience to remain in denial as to their own pivotal role in the horrors being inflicted on their victims. Not only that, but we are using subjective words that do not specify what form this ‘kindness’ and ‘compassion’ absolutely must take.

So what form must this action take? The first thing we should be asking those who are directly responsible for the brutal use of members of other animals species through their consumer demands, is to stop doing it.

‘Compassion’ and ‘kindness’ do not lead to the understanding that every individual has the right to live without being intentionally harmed for our trivial interests at catastrophic cost to their own; they avoid mentioning that when we are not vegan, we are the ones who are doing this and that we need to STOP.

‘Compassion’ and ‘kindness’ do not lead to the realisation that members of other animals species value their lives as much as I value mine or you value yours, they avoid mentioning that that we are the ones who are using and taking those treasured lives in milking parlours, egg farms, slaughterhouses and labs when we are not vegan and that we need to STOP.

‘Compassion’ and ‘kindness’ fail to highlight the profound atrocity of exploiting the reproduction of defenceless mothers for their breast milk and eggs, the obscenity of slaughtering innocent families, the monstrosity of trading in corpses, in eggs and in body parts when every single thing that we do is unnecessary; they avoid mentioning that we are the ones who are demanding the death and violence through our consumer choices when we are not vegan and that we need to STOP.

‘Compassion’ and ‘kindness’ are words that focus on ourselves, and how we feel about ourselves and others without addressing the underlying responsibility for the actions that our shopping choices are demanding. As a non vegan for decades who was brimming  over with ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’, I know for a certainty that they are words that do not lead to veganism, only education about veganism does that.

So what words to use?

As advocates we are defending the most fundamental rights of our species’ victims; the right to live unharmed, the right not to be regarded as propertyand a resource simply because they differ from us. Because we have brute force and technology on our side and a horrific predisposition to violence, first and foremost, on  behalf of our victims, we must ask those who brutalise them to realise what they’re doing. And then we must ask them to stop.

‘The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us — to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money.

Once we accept this view of animals – as our resources – the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable.’

~ Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights

The bloodbath needs to stop because it’s deeply unjust. It needs to stop because our victims are sentient inhabitants of our shared planet who have as much right to live unharmed as we do ourselves; whose lives matter to them every bit as much as our own matter to us.

Whereas ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ focus on ourselves, and how we feel about ourselves and others, words like ‘justice’ and ‘rights’ are words that simply focus on the big issues of right and wrong. These are words that focus on those who are being persecuted. They’re humble words that speak to our conscience rather than our ego. They’re sincere words, honest words, and they shine with truth.

Truth is our greatest ally in the battle against the tide of gore and misery that nonveganism causes. Our first task is to shine a light on the truth so that those who are demanding the bloodshed can appreciate the role they are playing in the nightmare. Our second task is to be absolutely clear that the outrage of nonveganism is an affront to the values that every single one of us believes that we hold.  Having done that, we need to ask for it to stop, while still remembering that most of us were not always vegan; offering others any guidance and support that we might have appreciated ourselves when that lightbulb moment happened to us and we decided that we could not live another day without becoming vegan.

‘I am not well-versed in theory, but in my view, the cow deserves her life. As does the ram. As does the ladybug. As does the elephant. As do the fish, and the dog and the bee; as do other sentient beings. I will always be in favor of veganism as a minimum because I believe that sentient beings have a right not to be used as someone else’s property. They ask us to be brave for them, to be clear for them, and I see no other acceptable choice but to advocate veganism.’

~ Vincent Guihan, vegan author

We can do all that and we can still be kind and compassionate people throughout.

Be vegan.

Compassion is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
Kindness is the quality of being gentle, caring, and helpful.

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8 Responses to Compassion and kindness; not what we need to ask for

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  5. hellapurple says:

    Using the right terminology is paramount in animal advocacy.The words ‘compassion’ and’ kindness’ have absolutely nothing to do with furthering the cause of animal rights.For some inexplicable reason they have become the ‘in’ word,used ad nauseam, wrongly applied. Incidentally, ‘love’ is another one of those cliche’ words which can mean 101 different things to different people. When we stop using/abusing other sentient beings, we are simply doing the JUST, RIGHT and DECENT thing that can be done on an individual basis. Slavery wasn’t abolished because white people suddenly became so compassionate, kind and loving!Equally, if I don’t eat other human beings, does anyone call me kind and compassionate??If we are asking for equality across the board, we need to use appropriate ,meaningful,de facto language too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura B Aaron says:

    My job as a videographer for a PEG station, community TV, is recording municipal meetings. School board meetings happen twice a month with the first being attended by all SAU 9 principals for five schools.. Years ago, they were dealing with bullying. Then they moved into creating school wellness committee’s to deal with obesity ( but never the reality of what causes it )which they still have today. Next, the buzz word from the principals was training in “mindfulness” which gave way to the current mantra, we have to deal with children coming to school with “trauma”.

    Well intended and intelligent people in education settings having to find ways to educate ( indoctrinate which is why behavioral and health problems rise )students with the myriad of issues
    that make the costs of education rise, along with the health care costs associated with mental and physical disease.. They take the blue pill always, never facing that the empire their ideologies of commerce at all costs, manifest, IS children who bully, are unwell, and filled with trauma. If they listened for once, to what children have been and are exposed to in media, tv violence, US aggression all along the periphery, and how our own consumption habits created the mess, perhaps they’d not be so fast to say the pledge of allegiance before every meeting.

    They are enamored by technology, high test scores, and all their groups designed to grapple with so many issues, they remain in the dark that their own nation is so flawed, so violent and culpable, children feel, AND ARE, threatened in so many ways. They refuse to see that their own matrix manifest they work so hard to learn to eradicate.

    Not sure where I’m going with this but just an observation .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this, Laura. ‘Mindfulness’ is a great example of another subjective word that can be interpreted in a wide range of ways. I can see parallels in the situations you describe and can certainly think of others that are similar.

      There is a cultural tendency for idealistic strategies and ‘policies’ with buzz words that seem, on the face of it, to be tackling a range of issues in an openhanded manner. However by failing to spell out the root causes and hold up a mirror that allows each of us to appreciate our own role in causing the problem, it seems that such strategies have little hope of success, although those participating in the process will doubtless feel good about it. In the end the strategies can only serve to reinforce the notion that ‘others’ are causing the problem while ‘we’ are trying to fix it.

      In addition to this, there are many who are unable to appreciate that it is not ‘blaming’ to point out the specifics of an issue in a way that allows us each to appreciate our role in creating it. In fact, as a vegan looking back at the time when my eyes first opened to the truth, those who held up that mirror for me were doing me the greatest courtesy that anyone ever has.


  7. Shannon says:

    It’s easier to let others do the thinking for us. That way, we can enjoy what’s convenient and pleasurable without having to be conflicted by our morals. Willful ignorance is as much a survival strategy (it wasn’t always easy to eat) as it is a marketing tool.

    We are all generally kind and compassionate, and it’s time we thought for ourselves again. Times have changed; we can’t sustainably keep with the status quo of exploiting billions of others. Our very survival may be dependent on our waking up.

    Liked by 1 person

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