Every December I sit down and reflect on the past year and what's coming up as we enter the New Year and it came to me that revisiting and updating a short essay I wrote with renowned primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall in December 1999 as we were heading into a new century could provide a good beginning and some much needed hope. This essay, called the "Twelve Millennial Mantras", that in many ways remains timeless, eventually served as the basis for our book, The Ten Trusts: What We Must Do to Care For the Animals We Love. Indeed, all animals, human and nonhuman, and their homes and habitats, will benefit from the efforts, no matter how big or small, of those who can do something to make a positive difference in difficult times.
The Twelve Millennial Mantras:
One: Compassion and empathy for animals beget compassion and empathy for humans. Cruelty towards animals begets cruelty toward humans.
Two: All life has value and should be respected. Every animal owns her or his own life spark. Animals are not owned as property. All living creatures deserve these basic rights: the right to life, freedom from torture, and liberty to express their individual natures. Many law schools offer courses in animal law. If we agree, we would interact with animals in rather different ways. We shall need compelling reasons for denying these rights and ask forgiveness for any animal we harm.
Three: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Imagine what it would be like to be caged, trapped, restrained, isolated, mutilated, shocked, starved, socially deprived, hung upside down awaiting death or watching others slaughtered. Biological data clearly show that many animals suffer physically and psychologically and feel pain.
Four: Dominion does not mean domination. We hold dominion over animals only because of our powerful and ubiquitous intellect. Not because we are morally superior. Not because we have a "right" to exploit those who cannot defend themselves. Let us use our brain to move towards compassion away from cruelty, to feel empathy rather than cold indifference, to feel animals' pain in our hearts.
Five: Human beings are a part of the animal kingdom not apart from it. The separation of "us" from "them" creates a false picture and is responsible for much suffering. It is part of the in-group/out-group mentality that leads to human oppression of the weak by the strong as in ethnic, religious, political and social conflicts. Let us open our hearts to two-way relationships with other animals, each giving and receiving. This brings pure and uncomplicated joy.
Six: Imagine a world without animals. No birdsong, no droning of nectar searching bees, no coyotes howling, no thundering of hooves on the plains. Rachel Carson chilled our hearts with thoughts of the silent spring. Now we face the prospect of silent summers, falls and winters.
Seven: Tread lightly. Only interfere when it will be in the best interests of the animals. Imagine a world where we truly respect and admire animals, feel heart-felt empathy, compassion and understanding. Imagine how we should be freed of guilt, conscious or unconscious.
Eight: Make ethical choices in what we buy, do and watch. In a consumer-driven society our individual choices, used collectively for the good of animals and nature, can change the world faster than laws.
Nine: Have the courage of conviction. Never say never. Act now. Be proactive, prevent animal abuse before it starts. Dare to speak out to save the world's precious and fragile resources. Live as much as possible in harmony with nature, respecting the intrinsic value of all life and the wondrous composition of earth, water and air.
Ten: Every individual matters and has a role to play. Our actions make a difference. Public pressure has been responsible for much social change, including more humane treatment of animals. "Whistle blowers" have courageously revealed intolerable conditions in laboratories, circuses, slaughterhouses and so on, often at the expense of their jobs.
Eleven: Be a passionate visionary, a courageous crusader. Combat cruelty and catalyze compassion. Do not fear to express love. Do not fear to be too generous or too kind. Above all, understand that there are many reasons to remain optimistic even when things seem grim. Let us harness the indomitable human spirit. Together we can make this a better world for all living organisms. We must, for our children, and theirs. We must stroll with our kin, not walk away from them.
Twelve: A millennial mantra:
WHEN ANIMALS LOSE, WE ALL LOSE. EVERY SINGLE LOSS DIMINISHES US AS WELL AS THE MAGNIFICENT WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE TOGETHER.
The Ten Trusts
As I mentioned above, these twelve mantras served as the basis for "The Ten Trusts", as follows:
One: Rejoice that we are part of the Animal Kingdom.
Two: Respect all life.
Three: Open our minds, in humility, to animals and learn from them.
Four: Teach our children to respect and love nature.
Five: Be wise stewards of life on earth.
Six: Value and help preserve the sounds of nature.
Seven: Refrain from harming life in order to learn about it.
Eight: Have the courage of our convictions.
Nine: Praise and help those who work for animals and the natural world.
Ten: Act knowing we are not alone and live with hope.
Where to from here?
In so many ways these Mantras and Trusts still remain today as useful guidelines for action, and while we've made a good deal of progress in many areas of animal protection and animal conservation and in helping humans in need, much more needs to be done. We continue to learn about how our own well-being is tightly linked to the well-being of other animals and their homes, and that we and other animals display a wide range of positive emotions including kindness, compassion, and empathy and that it's natural to be good, cooperative, kind, empathic, and compassionate (see also Psychology Today blogger Christopher Bergland's essay "The Evolutionary Biology of Altruism"). A relatively new and growing movement called compassionate conservation also stresses how we must tap into our natural goodness and help all animals, nonhuman and human, who need our support (see also).
We also know that we must work very closely with youngsters all over the world and Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots groups are doing just that and much much more. Dr. Goodall's message that every individual makes a difference rings loudly and clearly and we must remember this because every person working within a unified community can truly make the world a better place for all beings. A free online book called Kids & Animals: Drawings from the hands and hearts of children and youth shows just how much youngsters care about all animals, human and nonhuman, and their homes and habitats.
In an essay I wrote last year around this time called "Rewilding Our Hearts: Maintaining Hope and Faith in Trying Times", I reiterated the message that there really are many reasons for hope and that we must remain positive as we head into the new year. I also focused on animals who had been abused beyond belief and who recovered as models for resilience and faith.
We can learn a lot about being positive from other animals and there's always Jasper, a recovered Asiatic moon bear, about whom to think for inspirational lessons about remaining positive even in difficult times. After years of horrific suffering Jasper remains the spokes-bear for forgiveness, peace, trust, and hope (see also). A forthcoming kid's book called Jasper's Story inspires hope for future generations by telling Jasper's story to youngsters on whose goodwill we will all depend in the future. Jasper, like the dogs, cats, and many other animals who also need us, make us more humane and thus more human. The true spirit of humans and nonhumans, our inborn nature, is to help rather than to harm.
The ideas behind rewilding our hearts stress that the time is right and the time is now, for an inspirational, revolutionary, and personal social movement that can save us from gloom and doom and keep us positive while we pursue our hopes and dreams as a unified global community. I remain even more optimistic that we can do much better as we move on into the New Year.
The activism engendered by rewilding needs to be proactive, positive, persistent, patient, peaceful, practical, and passionate. I call these the Seven P’s of Rewilding, and because it will come from deep in our heart the rewilding movement will be contagious and long lasting because no one should feel threatened. We know that being positive and hopeful are important for getting people to care and to act and that concentrating on successes, what works, is important for overcoming hopelessness. We need to be persistent and “stick with” our beliefs and ethical principles with deep passion and follow up with positive actions. Pessimism is a turn-off and we need to look on the bright side and talk up successes. It’s also important to “be nice” to those with whom one disagrees and to talk with, not to or at, others.
(Re)connecting with nature and other animals can surely help us along in providing help to all of those individuals who dearly and sorely need our support. So let's join hands and face up to the task at hand as we move into a challenging future. Never say never, ever.