696 Compassion for animals may sound radical, but …

Welcome to summer! Today, thanks to biologist Marc Bekoff, ReadTheSpirit is launching several terrific weeks of stories about spirituality, the natural world and science—a perfect fit for this season when millions of Americans are exploring the great outdoors. Stay tuned each day, because we’ll also share lots of other news about spirituality, religion and values along the way.

Today, we welcome Marc Bekoff, the internationally known biologist who partnered with Jane Goodall to found a movement toward ecological ethics. If you’re trying to “place” his name, the answer is: Yes, this is the smiling, sharp-nosed, pony-tailed scientist you’ve seen on TV news shows, documentaries and cable TV. His work on ecological ethics moves us all in a direction where many top thinkers are converging. For example, we’ve already welcomed Holmes Rolston III, another giant in this same field.

Bekoff’s new book, “The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint,” reminds us a lot of Holmes Rolston’s work. One way Holmes Rolston likes to describe his own teaching style is: “Sneaking up on people and inviting them to get in a whole lot deeper than they ever thought possible.” That’s very similar to the approach you’ll find in Bekoff’s “Manifesto.” This is not an angry book. And, the ideas Bekoff shares are a natural extension of what most Americans believe and feel right now.

But, be forewarned! You may get in deeper than you ever thought possible as you start reading Marc Bekoff. To prepare for our interview with Marc Bekoff later this week, here is a brief excerpt of his “Manifesto” to give you the flavor of his invitation to readers.

Marc Bekoff’s 6 Principles
A Brief Excerpt From His “Animal Manifesto”

If animals can think and feel, what do they think and feel about the ways humans treat them? What would they say to us, and what would they ask of us, if they could speak a human language? Here is what I believe their manifesto would consist of:

  1. All animals share the Earth and we must coexist.
  2. Animals think and feel.
  3. Animals have and deserve compassion.
  4. Connection breeds caring, alienation breeds disrespect.
  5. Our world is not compassionate to animals.
  6. Acting compassionately helps all beings and our world.

Is such a manifesto radical? I think it’s common sense. These six items are also the six “reasons” we can use to expand our compassion footprint; they are an extension of the ideas about which Jane Goodall and I wrote in our book “The Ten Trusts.” Yet, even though these ideas reflect common sense, I think that they are often denied or resisted because people intuitively understand that following them—respecting what we see before our own eyes—would lead to radical changes in how we live and what we do. This is hard, but it’s not impossible, and we’ve done it before. It’s important to remember that people who are at first considered “on the fringe” and radical aren’t always wrong, nor is taking nature seriously sentimental, fluffy thinking. At first, hardcore scientists ridiculed Rachel Carson after she published “Silent Spring,” but her evidence and predictions about the horrible effects of pesticices and environmental toxins unfortunately proved to be true; since then, we’ve made major changes in our lives to help protect our environment. Many researchers criticized Jane Goodall when she first named the chimpanzees she studied; they didn’t believe she’d seen David Graybeard use a blade of grass as a tool for fishing out termites until she showed them a video of this groundbreaking discovery. In the early 1960s, the ideas that an animal had an individual personality (warranting a name) and could make use of a tool  (which only humans thought capable of) were heretical, crazy. Both are now commonplace, self-evident.

I have good company in arguing that animals, humans included, are basically good. University of California at Berkley psychologist Dacher Keltner … in his book “Born to Be Good,” also shows that the competitive, survival-of-the-fittest mentality is not who we really are or have to be to have a good life. It’s not really a dog-eat-dog world because dogs don’t eat other dogs. Being kind and good includes embracing cultural pluralism, which is a necessity in the diverse and often tough world in which we live.

We also know that we are influenced by the actions of others. If we see compassion, we are more likely to adopt it—compassion begets compassion, virtuous acts beget virtuous acts. Further, we receive what we give. If we employ compassionate proactive activism using humility, heart, and love, it can spread contageously, and we will have a good chance of pulling ourselves out of the deep holes we’ve been digging for our fellow animals, ourselves and Earth’s highly compromised ecosystems.

Read this entire series on Marc Bekoff and “The Animal Manifesto”:

  1. Excerpt of “Animal Manifesto” including the 6 main principles in Marc’s work.
  2. Highlights of interview with Marc Bekoff, Part 1.
  3. Highlights of interview with Marc Bekoff, Part 2.

Care to read more? Today, Dr. Wayne Baker and his OurValues.Org online magazine tackle the thorny issue of American values and the BP oil spill. Stop by and add your thoughts!

You can order “The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint” from Amazon now.

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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)



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