A week ago, we had a workshop at school led by one of my colleagues who had been at Utøya for a three-day workshop with some of our students. The workshop was about the importance of doing what we can to preserve democracy. We worked in groups and one of the activities we had was to range cards with different social issues from the most important to the least important for us. The point of the activity was to try to agree on where to place the cards. At the end of the activity, we were invited to reflect on how the communication within our group was. How did we discuss this? How did we come to an agreement?
One of the cards was about animal rights. For me, that would be one of the cards on top of the priority list, and I was surprised to learn that for most of my colleagues it was at the bottom. The thinking behind it was that we need to first make sure other issues that are related to human rights and interactions are taken care of before we think about animals’ well-being.
To begin with, I chose not to be too insisting within my group, because I didn’t feel like starting a big discussion with my colleagues. I think I was also a bit self-conscious of seeming ‘strange’ for being so engaged in the well-being of animals. At some point, however, I decided to cautiously explain why I think we need to take care of animals. My main argument is that they are vulnerable. Nobody else can defend their rights if its not those who have invaded most of their natural habitat and see some species as products instead of living beings. During the last few years, I have learned how in order to produce food faster and more efficiently, we treat certain animals in ways we would never treat our pets or even less human beings. It surprises me that we chose to believe that animals don’t feel. I recently read an article about fish farming. Salmons die because their hearts explode, and researchers want to find out why. When I shared this with a friend, she matter of factly pointed out that this happens with chickens too because they are bred in such a way that they grow too fast and their hearts can’t keep up.
I shared these examples with my colleagues at my table and said that I usually try not to push my opinions on other people. A lot of information is so accessible nowadays that I believe everyone is entitled to make up their own mind. However, one of my colleagues told me that he appreciated I had shared my views and what I know with them because he didn’t know any of this. He still believes human rights should be addressed before animal rights, but his curiosity was awakened.
Another colleague pertinently asked why to choose one before the other. Why not work towards both goals at the same time?
This activity and this discussion kept me thinking about two things. One, the fine line between sharing our views and opinions and pushing our views and opinions on others. I tend to avoid engaging in heated discussions about what I think or what I believe because I don’t see the point. I think that the best I can do is to make more conscious decisions. Try to be aware of how my choices and actions affect others (including animals and the environment) but avoid lecturing others about it. After all, I know very well that I still have a long way to go when it comes to making choices that do not affect others in a negative way. Every once in a while I discover another aspect of my lifestyle that has a dark side for someone or something.
The other thing that I have been reflecting on is how some of the systems we have created to improve our quality of life have also a dark side. It seems to me that there is such a big distance between the source of the products we need to survive and ourselves that we live unaware of what it takes to get them. Who suffers for our benefit? It can be the natural environment and it also can be other human beings. Directly or indirectly. We need to wake up. We need to start consuming more consciously. I know by experience that it is difficult to make drastic changes, but we should at least aim for some. One change at a time. Choose better. Ask questions.