Recently, I heard the piece quoted below and haven't been able to get it out of my head. An animal activist, Laura Moretti is asked this question and her answer is just took my breath away.
I always admire people that can debate topics that are close to my heart. I'm hopelessly inept at debating and have always avoided doing it because I get tongue-tied and brain-tied so easily. I don't like getting into political conversations, even though I have strong opinions, because I just end up doing a disservice to the the issue/person I believe in with my lack of ability to think on my toes. So when things start to get heated, I'll either try to change the subject or will unobtrusively leave the room to help with the dishes or some other innocuous chore. And sometimes it maddens me because I feel like I have important things to say, but I just can't seem to process information quickly. (I can process like a computer when I'm in a room of 26 third-graders for seven hours, but at the dinner table? Forget it.) I would have made a very poor lawyer.
But I'm grateful for people like Laura who are able to put into words what I often can not.
"Why do you suppose you like animals so much?" was the million-dollar question put to me Christmas Eve (and one I hadn't provoked). I knew my family was expecting me to say something like, "I like animals because they're cute and cuddly and furry and fun to play with." But instead I said, "I like animals because they are honest."
My observation triggered a facetious comment from one of my brothers. “About what?"--as if honesty were merely about telling the truth, and everyone knows animals can't talk! His notation was met with hearty laughter; for once, they thought they'd repaid me for all the discomfort I'd caused them at other family gatherings.
"I like that animals don't pretend to be someone they're not," I continued in my reply, hushing the crowd. "To quote a phrase, 'Dogs don't lie about love.' Animals don't fake their feelings. I like that they're emotionally fearless."
We were lounging on sofas and armchairs after our feast and present opening. Coffee was being served, so I seized the opportunity. "I like animals," I added, "because they only take out of life what they need. They don't abuse their environment, annihilate species, pollute their water, contaminate the air they breathe. They don't build weapons of mass destruction and use them against others-particularly members of their own species. I like animals because they have no use for those things, or for war or terrorism. They don't build nations around genocide."
My uncle seemed momentarily lost in thought. He had been born and raised in New York City. "That's because they don't know any better," a brother-in-law argued. "They don't do those things because they don't know how."
"A pride of lions doesn't get together," I countered him, "and decide how to exterminate zebras-their very source of nourishment. I don't think it's because they don't know how. I think it's because it's counter-productive." They laughed.
"I also like animals," I continued," because they don't punish themselves for their perceived inadequacies. They don't dwell on things of the past, nor use them as excuses for behavior in the present. And they don't plan to live some day in the future, they live today, this moment, fully, completely, and purely. I like animals because they live their lives with so much more freedom than humans live theirs."
"That's because they don't think," one of my cousins offered.
"Is that the difference?" I wondered. "'I think therefore I'm cruel, destructive, insecure, abusive?' You meant to say they don't think the way we think." The room had become strangely quiet. I was amazed at how closely my family was listening, despite the occasional grunt to the contrary.
"I like animals because they don't bow down to imaginary gods they've created, nor annihilate each other in the name of those gods; gods, they say, who are all-knowing and all-loving and just. I like animals because they only know how to give unconditional love and implicit trust. I mean, animals either extend those things to you or they don't; there are no shades of gray. They have the best of what makes us human and, as one observer put it, "none of our vices.'" "And thank God," someone injected.
"Lastly," I added, remembering why I was an animal rights activist, "Animals are the most victimized living creatures on earth; more than children, more than women, more than people of color. Our prejudice enables us to exploit and use them, as scientific tools and expendable commodities, and to eat them. We do to them any atrocity our creative minds can summon. We justify our cruelties; we have to or we can't commit them. I like animals because they don't do to themselves or to others the things we do to them. And they don't make excuses for unethical actions because they don't commit unethical acts."
"And finally," I finished, "I like animals because they're not hypocrites. They don't say one thing and do another. They are, as I've said, honest. Animals-not humans-are the best this planet has to offer." And, interestingly enough, despite my soapbox rant, not a one of them made a snide comment or a hint of laughter. The conversation actually rolled into shared stories of animals they've known, stories of animal loyalty and intelligence, their humor and innocence. And it was me who'd become the listener with the occasional comment: "Now, if only humans could only be, well, like animals." And that is why I fight the good fight; I rise on behalf of the best among us.