Cecil and his lioness, one of the last photos taken before his death.
“I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.” - Abraham Lincoln
An open letter to those who are outraged about the outrage over the killing of Cecil the lion:
I understand that the murder of Cecil the lion has gotten you upset. And not upset for the same reason others are upset. You’re not upset about the killing of Cecil, you’re upset that people are upset about the killing of Cecil.
I’ve heard your debate, “Why the public outcry over an animal when there are people dying in Africa every day?” I get it. I’m a vegan. And I’ve been an animal rights activist for 27 years. When I hear about the killing of Cecil, I too join with the public in a collective shaking of our heads, but like you I also assume that those who are angry or sad because of Cecil’s death are not making a connection—but not the connection between animals and people, rather the connection between animals and animals.
I’m sure even you would agree that it was a senseless act for Cecil to die at the bad-aim hands of a rich Minnesota dentist looking for his thrills. (Who, by the way, has a federal felony conviction on his record for a previous illegal hunt.) We can probably agree on that. Most of us are intelligent enough to understand that trophy hunting is really just a pathetic thinly veiled attempt at bravado. But here’s where you and I differ. Where’s the outrage over 56 billion farmed animals, no less beautiful and sentient as Cecil, murdered every year by humans? Where's the shock and horror that 3,000 animals die every second in slaughterhouses around the world? Where’s the connection between the animals these people call food and the animals they call pets and an animal named Cecil?
There is no difference except what we’ve been desensitized to believe and the hierarchy we’ve set up to conveniently maintain. Pigs are as smart as dogs. Proven fact. Yet we eat pigs without a second thought. Farmed animals we call “meat” are no less sentient than Cecil or Rover and Spot. Millions of dogs and cats are killed in shelters each year, one every 10 seconds. Where’s the outrage over that? Where’s the connection? So I get it. I can understand why your mind goes to “But what about humans?!”
Human beings are a part of the animal kingdom, not apart from it. The separation of "us" and "them" creates a false picture and is responsible for much suffering. It is part of the in-group/out-group mentality that leads to human oppression of the weak by the strong as in ethic, religious, political, and social conflicts.” - Marc Bekoff
Unlike your assumption, I can actually see what people put on their plates at mealtime. If meat and dairy go into their mouths, then they care less about farmed animals’ lives than Cecil's life, or other animals' lives. It's the same as seeing that if they have a dog or cat bought from a breeder, then they are unconcerned about the dogs and cats and rabbits killed at their local shelter. Their actions verify my assumption. And the fact that only 0.5% of the US population is vegan pretty much says it all. Most of the people who care about Cecil do not care about cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, geese and least of all, fish.
Your argument that people are caring about Cecil but not humans, however, is short-sighted. When you make the argument that people should care just as much about humans as they do a lion, you’re assuming they don’t. And you simply don’t have enough information to make that judgment call.
I’m one of those people that you could easily accuse of caring only about animals and not people. I’m a vocal animal rights activist. And we’re easy to dismiss. We’re easy targets because of Speciesism. Speciesism is what your argument is based on. It is the assumption that humans are superior to other species, namely animals. And because of that assumption they can do what they want to them.
“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” - Arthur Schopenhauer
You don't have the same gauge as I do to determine whether those who are outraged over Cecil's death don’t care about people. They may or may not care about people. I don’t know. And you can’t know. You can’t really know that those people aren’t doing what they can to also alleviate human suffering. You can’t be certain that they aren’t just as vocal when human rights are violated. You have no idea whether or not they donate their time or money to organizations working hard to help humans. You can’t possibly know if someone does actually care more about animal suffering than human suffering, unless each person tells you he or she does. There’s no fork for your argument. There is only your assumption. And assumption can be wrong.
I’ll use me as an example. My job is helping people. That’s how I get paid. Every day I wake up and I help people heal their addictions, lose weight and get healthy, alleviate depression, find their life’s purpose, overcome their fears, anxieties and phobias, heal their grief, find inner peace, and so on. I spent 15 years and a lot of money writing a book that very few people will read. Why? Because I wanted to help those few people. I even set the book price so that I only made .70 cents on it to just barely, hopefully, cover my costs of keeping the book online as a resource for those who need it.
I’ve spent countless hours recording hypnotherapy sessions on a wide range of topics so that some guy in Tonganoxie, Kansas who didn’t have access to a hypnotherapist or didn’t have the money for a session could download an MP3 and begin to heal his life today. I barely cover the costs of keeping those online. I spend hours each week recording a podcast in which I read and explain the Text of A Course in Miracles.
It’s sometimes a tedious and onerous task, and yet I do it without fail because I am committed to helping people. I don't get paid for it and I don't charge for it. I have volunteered not just for animal rights organizations but for organizations that help humans, specifically those who are the sickest and most outcast amongst us, going into the homes of those dying of AIDS. I have monthly automatic withdrawals taken out of my checking account, not just for organizations here in the US, but for two African based organizations helping women and children. I tell you this not to pat my back, but because I want you to know who I am. I want you to know that your assumption that an animal rights activist or a stay-at-home mom who is outraged over the killing of Cecil doesn’t care about humans has no merit in reality.
If you really took the time to get to know animal activists, or even that mom who is upset over Cecil's death, you would find that those working hard at animal rights are often the same people campaigning for and championing human rights causes. Because compassion isn’t myopic. It has a wide lens. It is far-reaching and encompasses all. The irony is that I’ve often found that those who are busy eviscerating animal rights activists aren’t really doing anything for anyone else either. Generally speaking, human rights activists and animal rights activists are cut from the same cloth. It’s those that aren’t doing much for anyone else that have a problem with either.
“To be 'for animals' is not to be 'against humanity.' To require others to treat animals justly, as their rights require, is not to ask for anything more nor less in their case than in the case of any human to whom just treatment is due. The animal rights movement is a part of, not opposed to, the human rights movement. Attempts to dismiss it as anti human are mere rhetoric.” - Tom Regan
And maybe that’s the nail on the head. Your outrage at people being outraged over animal issues is more about you than anything else. It’s nothing but projection. It has to do with your belief of what is possible for you. It comes from the lack of love you feel. But you are much greater than that. Your love is infinite. I promise you that there is enough love for everyone—human and nonhuman. There is an endless supply of love within you, and you are more than capable of giving that love wherever you feel called to give it. It doesn’t matter where you give it, just give it, whether to children or chickens. Give your love and service where you feel drawn to extend it. The truth is, there’s really only one of us here. As Einstein said, separation is an optical delusion. What we do to the smallest of us, we do to all of us. When you extend love to whomever in whatever form you can, you heal that separation. For what is true compassion but the ability to see another’s interests as not separate from our own?
The public outrage at the killing of Cecil is a collective safe place to release built up outrage at all the atrocities of the world against humans, the environment and animals. This incident has become a target for us to aim this wailing unconscious pain: angry at Walter Palmer, angry at those who are angry at Walter Palmer, angry at those who are not more angry, angry at those who don't see the connection to veganism, and so on. And Cecil is equally a safe place to collectively put the love and compassion we are afraid to show. For we have both within us. And at each moment, we can choose what we will express in the world. This is the silver lining gift of this event, which is why it's gone viral, it's spotlighting our collective wound, where we need to heal, and specifically the urgency to heal our relationship to animals and nature.
Looking into the subconscious minds of hundreds of people, I have learned that underneath all anger is sadness. But sadness is sometimes difficult to express, so anger becomes easier. This collective outrage is the sadness at what we have become. We have replaced love with fear, we have let greed, money, and satiating our appetites trump empathy. We were born compassionate. It’s our true nature. Put a child in a crib with a rabbit and an apple, and he will eat the apple and play with the rabbit. We have, in hypnosis terms, been programmed into mercilessness and indifference. I’ve heard it said that the most dangerous phrase is “We’ve always done it this way.” What if this way isn’t our true nature? What if all this outrage is really the outrage at ourselves that we have chosen wrongly? That we aren’t living up to our potential as a species? Isn’t that really what all this anger is about? We know deep down we could do better.
“Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.” - Theodor W. Adorno
I would argue that your frustration with people being outraged over Cecil is, underneath it all, a good thing. Even if it's directed at me. It proves that something isn’t right. And it's not. It’s just that you’ve misplaced that frustration. It doesn't belong on me. It's simply breeding more anger in the world, allowing fear to continue. I've always known as an animal rights activist that truly the only way to heal the suffering of animals, and the suffering of humans for that matter, is through love. Even when I'm protesting, it's done with love--love for humanity, love for animals, love for this world and love for life. I do my best to send love to the perpetrators of violence, to the Walter Palmers of the world, knowing that somehow they lost touch with their own humanity. When I protest, I am standing up for another way of living and being.
Love isn't threatened. Love is eternal. Love isn't depleted when it's given away, it has this funny way of expanding when it is given away, to both the giver and the receiver. Love is multiplied through its extension. So please understand that it doesn’t take anything away from you or from other humans or from the well of infinite love to give some to Cecil. We all benefit from every act of kindness, compassion and love. It's in everyone's best interest that you stop making people feel wrong for showing compassion.
“We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.” - Albert Schweitzer
Let Cecil's death bring us all closer to that love within us. We’ve lost touch with our true nature. I admit I could be more compassionate with people who tell me they love animals while eating a chicken sandwich. You see, Walter Palmer symbolizes all of us who have on some level moved away from our highest self. It doesn’t mean Walter Palmer shouldn’t meet the consequences of his actions. He should. But he mirrors our collective dearth of empathy, the tenderheartedness that is sorely missing in this world. And it’s easy to understand. This world hypnotizes us into fragmentation--that what we do here doesn’t effect there, that caring for one means not caring for another. But we must challenge ourselves to let go of the limits we have placed on love. Let go of separation. It won’t end with “or” it will end with “and.”
"Their (animals) liberation is also our own." - George Bernard Shaw
PS. Oh yeah, and it's time to ban trophy hunting.
In dedication to Curtis Washington.