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Animals and Us

December 27, 2010

Animals and Us: Maintaining Hope and Keeping Our Dreams Alive in Difficult Times

by Marc Bekoff

Let’s make this the “century of global compassion, the era of empathy” and get rid of negativity once and for all

We live in a troubled and wounded world that is in dire need of healing. We all should be troubled and terrified by what we have done and continue to do. Humans are an arrogant lot and we have made huge and horrific global messes that need to be repaired now. The overriding sense of turmoil is apparent to anyone who takes the time to pay attention. Researchers and non-researchers alike are extremely concerned about unprecedented global losses of biodiversity and how humans suffer because of our destructive ways. We are animals and we should be proud and aware of our membership in the animal kingdom. However, our unique contribution to the wanton decimation of the planet and its many life forms is an insult to other animal beings and demeans us.

In a previous essay I argued that we need to be positive, that we need to keep working hard to make the lives of animals better, that we need to be proactive and keep our dreams and alive but focussing on what works. I concluded:

In the future there likely will be fewer people who will actually be able to make a positive difference in our relationships with animals and ecosystems. Joel Cohen (2009), head of the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University and Columbia University, offers the sobering fact that the difference in the population numbers between less developed areas of the world (the have-nots) and more developed regions of the world (the haves) will have increased from two-fold in the 1950s to about six-fold by 2050. This means that it is imperative – perhaps it is truly a moral imperative – that those who can do something good for animals and earth do it because the division between those who can and those are can’t is rapidly growing and this will be challenging to humanity as the ratio shifts. Of course, because not all “the haves” choose to do much if anything at all, it is even more essential that those who choose to do something do it for as long as they can and not succumb to the inevitable disappointments, frustrations, and burnout that are associated with animal and environmental activism. We can all make more humane and compassionate choices to expand our compassion footprint, and we can all do it better. 

As I’ve been traveling around the world talking about these topics and also meeting wonderful people working tirelessly and selflessly for animals and for humans I’m always so pleased. So, the challenge I would like to put forth is that we all must work together to make this THE CENTURY OF COMPASSION, THE ERA OF EMPATHY. And we can indeed rewild our hearts and build corridors of compassion and empathy if we commit to this goal. Others also have written about these topics with respect to our own species, and what is possible when we put compassion and empathy first and foremost (see for example, Jeremy Rifkin’s “The Empathic Civilization”, Dacher Keltner’s “Born To be Good”, and D. Keltner et al. “The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness”).

As I concluded before, we must all try as hard as we can to keep thinking positively and proactively. Never say never, ever. Perhaps a good resolution is that we will all try to do better for animals – both non-human and human – and earth and work for more peace and justice for all. We can and must keep our hopes and dreams alive and putting compassion and empathy on the front-burner is a must, and we must do it now. And we can much learn about how to do this from our animal friends. (see also and 

There is no room for hypocrisy or negativity so let’s put it all aside and move ahead together as a tight-knit community knowing how much work there is to do but also knowing and feeling that with a global commitment to compassion and empathy we can succeed in making the future much brighter for our children who so dearly need better models for positive thinking and hope. 

Reference: Cohen, J. 2009. Human population grows up. In Mazur, L. (ed.) 2009. A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice & the Environmental Challenge.Island Press, Washington, D. C., pp. 27-37.

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