Breaking the Cycle of Violence
By Sandra Hannen

The war on animals is one of humanity's best-kept secrets. Institutionalized and marginalized from human society, non-human animals today experience such inordinate amounts of suffering at our hands that it may truly be called a war, and a one-sided war at that. Our fellow members of the community of life have been reduced to the status of property and things, both morally and legally, at the disposal of humans. Regarded as having no inherent value per se, modern-day animals have been reduced to the role of our prisoners, our slaves, our entertainers, our companions, our museum exhibits, our clothing, and our food.

The extent of this transspecial violence is truly astonishing. According to the Worldwatch Institute, by the year 2025, a quarter of all species will be extinct in the wild, and precious biodiversity essential to our own survival will be lost with them. On the domestic front, in 2000 nigh on 10 billion farmed animals were slaughtered in the United States according to USDA statistics, and that figure worldwide is approaching 44 billion. In the U.S., an estimated 20 million animals annually spend their whole lives in barren laboratories to produce branded drugs and toothpaste. If we are largely unaware of this war, it's because the majority of these abuses are conducted by institutions and behind closed doors, funded by public and consumer money and fueled by indifference, ignorance and inaction, those paragons of passive violence.

How does the war on animals affect us? Anthropologist Margaret Mead commented, "One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it." Children certainly possess a natural empathy with animals. Yet some children's first encounter with another animal takes place on the dissection table. That these confusing messages have devastating effects on human society, and serve as a catalyst of human violence there is no doubt, for there is extensive evidence on the connection between animal abuse and human violence. If overt animal abuse has this kind of effect, the question we must then ask ourselves is how covert institutionalized animal violence and passive violence affect society.

Our lack of awareness of this hidden war is born out of our suffering from what the Dalai Lama terms "the illusion of separation": the belief that those towards whom we are violent in our thoughts, actions and deeds are separate from us. Contrary to this general perception, recent advances in quantum physics have demonstrated what wise people have been teaching since ancient times: we are all connected. What affects others affects us. The voice of wisdom inside us tells us that we all bear the burden of responsibility for the violence by which the world is consumed, for we all have violence in our hearts, we all commit daily acts of covert violence, from harsh words or thoughts to eating a chicken for dinner to watching performing elephants at the circus.

Ultimately, then, animals are human mirrors, and our treatment of them reflects our treatment of ourselves. Instead of fearing "other", it is time to embrace "other." We come to realize that extending our compassion to other species has the power not only to change our lives beyond recognition, it plays a vital role in reducing violence in society and could hold the key to our own survival. Martin Luther King Jr. put it best when he said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

What can we do to counteract this violence?

Gandhi was a huge proponent of compassionate action, or of what he called "dynamic harmlessness" (ahimsa). Just the very fact of possessing moral concern for others can prove a life-changing force. Acting upon this can move mountains. The choice before humanity, to quote Gandhi's words, is quite simple: "We have to be the change we wish to see." Unless we change individually, no one is going to change collectively. We can accomplish great things just by our personal choices. If we long for a peaceful world, we must be willing to do the never-ending inner work to reflect peace. As long as we destroy the environment and abuse our fellow members of the community of life, as long as we remain ignorant of the violence in our hearts, humanity will never experience peace. The choice is ours.

In the words of Charles Darwin, "The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man." Animal violence is not only unnecessary in the 21st century and unworthy of us as a species, it also greatly obstructs the path of peace. It's time to move away from what is beneficial for the individual and focus on what is good for creating a peaceful world. We are pioneers in what the Dalai Lama calls "universal responsibility," the cultivating of a sense of compassion for self and society, other species and the Earth. Ironically, the events of Sept. 11 have brought our great capacity for compassion for others into full view, as demonstrated by the enormous outpouring of public generosity and selflessness towards those affected by the tragedy. We need to harness this sentiment and vow to be guided by and infused with this respect and compassion for all beings and the Earth from this day forward.

Putting our all into rejecting violence to all beings and the planet and creating peace in our hearts is a positive, energizing action, an enactment of the highest good of which humanity is capable. Albert Schweitzer said, "Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace." The events of Sept. 11 provide one wake-up call that we cannot afford to ignore. We must end the war on animals and take the first step in breaking the cycle of violence. Each of us has the opportunity and the responsibility to choose the future. How can we begin this process? Decide on two days a week when you will not eat animal products. Voice your concerns concerning animal testing to manufacturers. Let us seize this challenge today to create a positive, nonviolent future for all of us - both human and non-human.