It's Time to Buck Tradition
We can do better than enslave animals for our entertainment.
Posted Jan 24, 2020
We humans are deeply attached to our traditions. They provide continuity, community, and a sense of belonging. They often make us feel safe and secure. Take our traditions away, and many of us feel disconnected and unmoored.
We may know intellectually that some of our traditions are rooted in injustice, cruelty, and/or destruction, but we may still find them meaningful and enjoyable, simply because they are part of our personal histories and cultures and associated with positive feelings. If asked to reconsider these traditions, we may become angry or defensive.
And yet, shouldn’t traditions that cause harm and suffering be re-evaluated?
Let’s consider the general category of entertainment.
Many entertainment traditions that involved brutality toward enslaved humans, such as the gladiatorial battles in Ancient Rome, were ended. Over time, modified versions evolved and became their own traditions. We still entertain ourselves with fighting sports, but the participants are no longer enslaved (at least not legally) and can be well paid. Even so, these modified traditions are still being re-evaluated by people concerned that injuries suffered by athletes participating in certain sports are too severe to be ethically acceptable. There is always resistance to these changes, and yet, the long view reminds us that traditions regularly change as awareness grows and perspectives evolve.
Today, there are thousands of participants in brutal “sports” who have no say at all, no voice to beg for compassion, change, and legislation to protect their bodies. At this very moment, others are likely being choked, beaten, and brutalized against their will solely for the entertainment of others.
Who are they?
They are calves, bulls, and horses in rodeos.
Take a look at this short video.
There are many solutionary approaches to challenging and changing traditions that abuse animals in entertainment. Take circuses. Cirque du Soleil created shows comprised only of human performers, rejecting traditional animal acts. Their popularity grew so great and inspired so many other groups that between the activism of animal advocates and the success of these astounding human performances, traditional circuses that have relied on animal acts have begun to close up shop. We now have cruelty-free circus traditions to look forward to.
Sometimes it just takes a fresh perspective to reconsider how and why we celebrate our cultural heritage. If you have enjoyed rodeos, perhaps watching the video above was unsettling. My hope is that it was also welcome. Why? Because learning how you can live with more compassion can be compelling and enormously uplifting.
If rodeos were never your thing, you may be experiencing some righteous indignation that such animal cruelty persists, but abuses like these are everywhere. Each of us participates in animal exploitation through various traditions we may never have examined.
For instance, there is animal cruelty inherent in many common entertainment traditions including:
- Sport hunting and fishing
- Country fairs, which often include pig greasing contests, pig races, and animal displays
- The centerpiece of most traditional holiday meals and celebrations
If we are willing to look, we’ll find many opportunities to create modified traditions that are just as satisfying and enjoyable and provide all that the original traditions provided but without the animal suffering. For example, there are opportunities to be out in nature with our children hunting for a perfect photograph of a deer or canoeing on a beautiful stream or lake; to attend fairs that don’t involve caging, transporting, chasing, grabbing, and whipping animals; and to eat delicious plant-based meals during the holidays (including some plant-based meats that are largely indistinguishable from animal flesh). We just have to be willing to examine our traditions with fresh, compassionate eyes.
Sometimes, all it takes to buck tradition is to find a couple of family members and/or friends willing to look at our mutual impacts with the goal of deepening the true meaning behind what has become a norm. In doing so, we may discover greater joy and satisfaction because we are leading a life more aligned with our values. In other words, shifting a tradition doesn’t mean we have to lose ourselves or our communities. Instead, it can mean that we trade a small thing we do for a much bigger understanding of who we are: people who strive to do the most good and least harm to other people, to animals, and to the environment through our lives, choices, and ever-evolving traditions.