Finding the Positive
“We, as animal welfare stakeholders, agree to foster a mutual respect for one another. When discussing differences of policy and opinion, either publicly or within and among our own agencies, we agree to refrain from denigrating or speaking ill of one another. We will also encourage those other individuals and organizations in our sphere of influence to do the same.”
(Paragraph 4 of Guiding Principles, Asilomar Accords)
We live in interesting times. Seems the go to stance in religion and politics these days is to react in anger, hate, and denigration to any view that we personally do not share. I have certainly been guilty of this during this far too long presidential election season. The same has been true in the animal welfare field for many years. The above statement is from a document that was worked out in 2004, indicating how pervasive this reaction was and still is within the field. “We are right” the “other” is wrong, has been the mantra all along the continuum of animal welfare concerns and thought, from the humane rancher to PETA priorities. Rescues, shelters, bloggers, individuals and other groups, all have participated at times, in searching out ways to criticize and denigrate others who are also trying to help. Sometimes it is to draw attention to oneself and how “right” we are. At other times, it is to draw attention to that “other”, and how “wrong” they are.
I witnessed a brief moment when such was not the case within the animal welfare field. In the summer of 2007, I and thirty-two other representatives and clergy members from a myriad of different religions were invited by the Best Friends Animal Society to gather at their compound in Utah and work on a “Religious Proclamation for Compassion Toward Animals” (signed in Washington, D.C. in November of that year).
This diverse group, representing Protestant Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Jainism, Mormon, Catholic, Hindu and several other traditions who also had a concern for animals, started our work with what I thought was a rather strange starting place. About the only contribution I made during that extended weekend was to move the discussion away from the old question — “Do animals have souls?” I merely suggested that individuals and organizations can decide for themselves whether or not animals have a soul or spirit, our task is to make a statement about how animals should be treated, regardless of whether there be a soul or not. Animals have nervous systems. They eat, think and breathe. They feel pain.
It is here that the whole group agreed, and we were able to move past that one question and to focus on what reasonable responses might be to reduce pain and suffering of animals. Yes, we hit other obstacles such as animals as food, as entertainment, as research subjects, service providers, and the rest of the various ways we as humans interact with animals, both positive and negatively. We succeeded in working out language that was specific enough to point a direction, but general enough to be acceptable to the many different traditions. It was a wonderful exercise in diversity within community.
For the Asilomar Accords to have been forged by diverse national animal welfare organizations and groups, each with their own agendas, belief systems, and priorities is a testament that this diversity within community can be attained, even if momentarily, by recognizing that none of us would be in this field if we did not at least like or have concern for animals. Instead of trying to find ways to criticize, maybe we can find ways to help. We know that positive reinforcement works in behavior training classes with dogs. Perhaps if we treat each other in the same positive manner, all will benefit, especially the animals. It is time to be thankful for each of our efforts to help those who cannot speak for themselves.