The Mice in the Sink– and Us

In “Mice in the Sink”, an essay exploring empathy in non-human animals, Jessica Pierce leads off with a provocative incident witnessed by CeAnn Lambert, head of the Indiana Coyote Rescue Center. Lambert found two baby mice, exhausted and terrified, trapped in the sink in her garage. She set a bowl of water in the sink. One mouse drank immediately, but the other was too weak to traverse the short distance to the bowl. The stronger mouse, however, devised an ingenious way to help the weaker one. It moved the piece of meat Lambert had also put in the sink close enough to the second mouse so that the latter could nibble it. When it had done so, the stronger mouse moved it closer to the water until it took another bite. Step by step, it led its weakened partner to the water to drink. By the time Lambert placed a board against the sink wall, both mice were strong enough to scurry up it. In her essay in the latest issue of Environmental Philosophy, Pierce calls this an example of heroism. What would you call it?

Here is an experience related by a woman who made a career of taking in injured bats and rehabilitating them in Eugene, Oregon. She was affectionately termed the “Bat Lady” by the school children whose classrooms she visited. She relates how she was cleaning the wounds of an injured bat-an obviously painful process. As she began to work on a severely injured bat that was struggling in fear and panic, there was another bat in the room who had undergone the same treatment and was now healed. As the new bat began to fight, the veteran bat made a sound. Instantly the newly injured bat become perfectly still and let the human handle it in any way she chose.

If we recognized that there is a place in the animal brain that is linked to empathetic reaction, as Pierce details in her article, perhaps it would change factory farming techniques that radically harm the health of ourselves and our environment together. Caging chickens so close together they practice cannibalism and restraining cows in such crowded conditions and filth they need daily antibiotics not to succumb to disease are two practices I am thinking of.

Indeed, ever since Francis Bacon, the purported father of modern science, stated that the wily scientist ought to “pin nature to the experimental board to torture her secrets from her” (language he got from the witch trials current at the time), experimentation on natural creatures has been licensed by the idea that nothing else in the world feels anything but us. At least other natural life does not feel anything deserving of our consideration, that is. That’s what doctors used to say when they circumcised male babies without anesthetic: their brains weren’t developed enough yet to feel the pain.

If we accepted the fact that animals of all brain sizes not only feel pain, but feel the pain of others, we’d have to revise Herbert Spencer’s misuse of the idea of Darwinism as the struggle in which only the “winners” survive. We’d have to go back to Darwin’s original sense of things, which emphasized cooperation rather than competition in the development of interdependent natural systems over time.

Evidence of this type is all around us– if we give up our sense of privilege in our work with other natural creatures– as do the scientists writing in Linda Hogan’s, Intimate Nature. Jane Goodall had an ongoing struggle with her scientific peers, who argued that her naming the animals she worked with made for “subjective” results they could thereby dismiss. She argued that good science takes all our senses: including empathy. This does not mean that the animals she studied lived an idyllic existence– though they have much to teach us. She found among her chimpanzees individuals who acted on their community mates with compassion and altruism, and others who acted with hostility and violence. The point is that the natural world is a complex affair when we allow it to speak for itself.

I would go so far as to say that anything we think we have learned about natural behavior using caged animals is not about natural behavior at all-but the human-created results of animal behavior under stress.

At the very least, we miss a great deal by telling our scientific story within such cages. For decades, geneticist Barbara McClintock worked without the support of an official research position, her work denigrated by her colleagues-until she won the Nobel Prize for the work that she derived from “listening to the corn”.

This is not a new way of looking at our world, but an old one. Among the Sahaptin-speaking people on the mid-Columbia River who lived at least 10,000 years in their home, the term, waq’ádyšwit, meaning “life”, was the “animating principle or ‘soul’ possessed by people as well as animals, plants, and forces of nature”. Waq’ádyšwit “implies intelligence, will, and consciousness” and since it existed in all natural things, it was the moral basis of the reciprocal partnerships between humans and their land. This is Eugene Hunn’s description of the belief system of these peoples: “People, animals, plants and other forces of nature-sun, earth, wind, and rock-are animated by spirit. As such they share with humankind intelligence and will, and thus have moral rights and obligations as PERSONS”.

“The earth is alive”, said Esther Stutzman, echoing this view from the perspective of her Western Oregon tradition: “It has a heart.” The indigenous peoples of Northern California likewise believed that the entire land was alive with spirit. In the early 1900’s, linguist Jaime de Angulo wrote of his frustration in trying to get a classificatory word for “animals” as opposed to humans in the Pit River language. His consultant, Pit River elder “Wild Bill”, told him there was no such term in the Pit River language, since there was no such distinction between humans and other natural beings in Pit River culture. When pressed, the only equivalent Wild Bill would give for “animal” was a term that meant “world-all-over-living”-a category which embraced all natural things, including what the white men called animals, what they called humans, and even what they saw as objects. In Wild Bill’s words: “Everything is living, even the rocks, even that bench you are sitting on. Somebody made that bench for a purpose, didn’t he? Well, then it’s alive, isn’t it? Everything is alive.”

Everything, that is, has a will and purpose of its own. Even those creatures we might dismiss in Western culture: like mice and bats. Like the water we mistreat, according to Takelma Siletz elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim. Or the salmon whose honoring she has recently re-instituted along with the ancient ceremonies of her people. “Grandma Aggie” Pilgrim’s insight is that if we restore our reverence to these aspects of the land that sustains us, we will treat them better: not using the water, for instance, as our “garbage dump”.

Wild Bill went on to contrast this worldview with that of the whites: “White people think everything is dead… They don’t believe anything is alive.” As a result of living in a “dead” world, he concluded, “They are dead themselves.” I once had a student of Pit River heritage in one of my classes at Linfield College. He related how an elder had told him that in traditional times, humans had been able to speak to the animals. Some might still be able to do that-if we were ready to listen.

His elders urged Lower Chehalis elder Henry Cultee to dive in the rivers to train for his spirit quest “when the water was alive”- when it was full of power and spirit. “The eyes of the world are looking at you”, they would tell him. Thus the multiple eyes of the natural world assessed his behavior-and ordained the length of his life and that of his people here with it. It was a survival technique increasing human awareness of the natural world that worked for Cultee’s ancestors for 10,000 years.

I led off this essay by asking how recognizing a world with a will, consciousness-and the ability to feel empathy toward others-might change our behavior toward it. There is a linked question. How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world?


You are always welcome to link to this post.  Note it is copyright 2008 by Madronna Holden. Feel free to contact me if you wish to cite it rather than link here. Thank you.

The Sahaptin material cited above is from Eugene S. Hunn and David H. French, “Western Columbia River Sahaptins”, Handbook of North American Indians 12, and Hunn, Eugene S., with James Selam and Family: Nchi’i-Wána “The Big River” Mid-Columbian Indians and Their Land (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press: 1990).

The Pit River quotes are from Bob Callahan, ed. A Jaime de Angulo Reader (Berkeley: Turtle Island Press, 1979).

671 Responses

  1. I was actually just thinking the other day about whether or not “heroism” occurred in nature. The mice and bat stories are very intriguing.

    My other thought was, if atheistic evolution is correct, shouldn’t this eliminate creatures that take risks to help others? If two mice were being hunted by a hawk and one “volunteered” so the other may live (of course, I don’t even know if that’s feasible, but let’s say it is), wouldn’t this tend to remove the genetic impulse for “heroic martyrdom” because it would remove itself quickly from the gene pool?

    The issue of animal pain is perplexing, but in his The Problem of Pain, I think C.S. Lewis does an admirable job of addressing it. Normally the issue is avoided because it is so complex to deal with in a philosophical/theological sense.

    • Take a given population of animals, some of which are altrustic, others of which are selfish. Those members that are altrustic will give up resources for the good of the group, increasing the amount of selfish individuals by allowing them the resources to reproduce. However, an altrustic individual may pass his/her altrusism onto offspring, and, in keeping with its personality, may sacrifice itself for the benefit of its offspring. The offspring then has a better chance of survival than that of selfish gene.

  2. I think accounts such as these should be told over and over, until what is buried in our subconscious, begins to emerge. It takes courage to apply “non-scientific” principles to studies, but if they are factored into the hypothesis and accepted, perhaps we’ll see more humane treatment of test subjects, and radical reactions by groups, such as PETA, will no longer be necessary.

  3. The subject of animal cruelty and empathy in animals has been one that I have always been throughly interested in. I have been a vegetarian for most of what I can remember because the thought of me even indirectly inflicting pain on another was too much for me to handle. I have read many stories much like the story of the mice. One in which a hunter killed a buck that was standing next to a doe…even after having shot the buck the doe did not move. Upon further inspection the hunter came to the conclusion that the doe was blind and was being lead around the forest by the buck. As far as considering the mouse heroic I would not use that word per se but feel that the mouse recognized the hopeless state of the other mouse and decided to ensue that mouses survival because his own survival also counted on it. I believe very much so that if the world gravitated toward a more empathetic society that the world we would witness around us would be hugely different. This change in peoples perception and their actions would directionally affect the quality of life that would be experienced by all. This is something that everyone should be compelled to work towards.

  4. Thank you for your comments, Kate and Ashley. I like the idea of the telling particular stories over and again (perhaps to replace the stories of human dominance we currently tend to tell?), Kate.
    Ashley, you have an essential point here: the way we perceive and treat other species is reflected in our treatment of other humans. So if we had more empathy factored into our worldview we would recognize the empathy that other species express as well. Astute point!

  5. I think that as children, our imaginations allow us to believe anything is possible. We talked to a number of imaginary friends and beings. I had an imaginary dog and horse that played with me and my real dog and horses. I believed in the Velveteen Rabbit story, and thought that every stuffed animal that I had became alive when I wasn’t around. As I got older, I stopped believing that everything was alive. It wasn’t until recently I really began to believe that everything is alive and that everything has a soul. I have a similar appreciation for the same things that I did when I was a child. It is almost as if I have come full circle. It is imperative that we treat everything as if we had the ability to hurt its feelings because if we do, we will all live in a more considerate world.

  6. Thank you for sharing this interesting part of your personal journey. I think your last sentence is especially well taken.

  7. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes! I believe that all creatures great and small have thoughts, feelings, distinct personalities and language. Having been a close care taker to animals of all kinds, both wild and domestic, I have witnessed this time and again. I have carefully considered the stories of the bats and mice above and believe they feel emotion and pain as humnas do. Just because we aren’t able to directly understand what any given species may say, we can certainly discern through body language and actions what emotions are being felt. We also can witness the communication between animals in any given situation. We have also found ways to communicate with each other and form close bonds. Scientists such as Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey who communed with the Chimpanzees and the Gorillas, they can certainly attest to all that I have touched upon. Creating empathy is the key to improving the situations of all living things.

  8. If we can have friendship and a helping instinct, so can other living beings. Their desire for survival and cooperation at times outdoes our own. While we as civilized humans are increasingly widening our love for “individual freedom” and refuse to smile as we pass each other, the animals as ever, continue their instinctive bond and given the chance, will outrun any person in the white coat in one concerted push.

    Strangely however, our desire to get away from each other, leads us to the need for bond and respect for the animals. Hence, people’s wish to live alone but for their animals. We feel more empathy for animals than for our own species, which although good in a way, hides the underlying disappearance of love, warmth and respect that a human family must have in order to function outside the family in a positive manner.
    We can have plenty of respect for animals inside our houses, but if we suppress our kindness and respect for our neighbors and those we call “strangers”, our empathy may not hold true for too long. For, without quality human interaction and relationships, whatever goodwill we develop for other living creatures will be meaningless.

  9. Hi Sayed, a point well taken here with respect to pets– which are sometimes treated better than our fellow humans.
    That, however, is not the whole of the story. There is the mistreatment of animals in factory farming and the degradation of wild habitat. Note also that the hierarchy that places humans (some humans, we might add) above other living creatures also plays into racism: thus members of devalued races have been called “animals”– which only works to objectify them when animals themselves are degraded. It would not work, for instance, in an indigenous society in which wild animals are honored as teaching us more about our own human potential.
    You put your finger on a key problem here: the problem of insider and outsider– in a hierarchical system which labels the “other” or stranger as devalued and objectified, one upon whom it is legitimate to wreak violence. This is one of the reasons why Vandana Shiva makes an eloquent argument for a “democracy of all life” as underlying world justice.
    Thanks for bringing up these thoughtful points here.

  10. Animals are amazing – my mastiff had puppies this last summer and at about the same time a stray cat had kittens in my backyard and left them. I was frantic, I didn’t know how I was going to try to bottlefeed these kittens or keep them warm and that when Brandy’s maternal instincts took over. She actually nursed them and kept them warm. It was absolutey amazing, brings tears to my eyes just writing about it. I’ve always known that animals have feelings as you’ll see in my lesson 5 assignment. As for the horrific treatment of animals that are raised as food, I think we need to sensitize people to animals rather than the desensitization that’s been happening due to animal research and the need to grow larger and slaughter more animals to sell for a profit for so many years. I really think stories like the ones above should be put out there more for so many more people to read. Emails are a perfect way to have stories like these passed around, I see lots of animal wonders go through my email and I forward them on becuase they are so spectacular.

  11. Hi Renee, thanks for your comment.
    I have heard many stories of female mammals nursing mammals of other species. I hadn’t known there were stories of animal wonders circulating the web. Interesting. There are a good many stories of this type expressed by the personal experience of female scientists in Intimate Nature, reviewed here:
    Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonders has a powerful essay (because it also addresses human potential for good and bad action) on a bear that nursed a lost child and kept it alive in Iran. There is much worth looking at on her website:

  12. I find the story of the two mice to be very intriguing. I do believe that everybody in the world sees everything as either dead or alive. As the article was explaining, the white man typically sees things as dead, however, the more knowledge of nature that a person can gain, the more they will start to see everything come to life, even the inanimate objects such as rocks and benches. I can relate empathy between animals in nature on a very personal level as I have experienced it first hand numerous times. I work very closely with horses on a daily basis and have witnessed first hand mother horses really protecting and “babying” their foals after a significant injury or traumatic event. The other example that comes to mind would be how often times dogs have a very keen sense of judgment. I have had two dogs in my life that I swear have been able to read humans better than most other humans can and have actually saved my fathers life. My current dog was able to tell when my father, who is diabetic, was low on blood sugar in the middle of the night and actually tried to wake my dad up. When he was unsuccessful, he woke my other dog and together they woke my dad up until he was able to realize what was going on before he went into a comatose state. I really do believe that heroism exists in places other than human nature and I also believe that everything, including animals have feelings of empathy, pain, and are capable of loyalty. There are many diverse and political issues regarding animal abuse such as the slaughter houses and chicken coups that go way beyond empathy and human nature. I believe that since everything is essentially alive, animal abuse is just as bad as abuse in humans. I am an avid hunter however, and I believe that killing animals for consumption should be done in a humane fashion with respect to the animal and I also believe that Native Americans were aware of heroism in animals in mother nature and that animals and other inanimate objects had feelings and this is why it was so important to perform the spiritual ceremonies after making a kill.

  13. Great response, Amber. Thanks for all these personal examples throwing more light on this issue.

  14. Reading this article was quite an eye-opener for me. In my opinion, we live our daily lives completely unaware of the living nature around us. We merely treat animals as well as our resources as objects. You mentioned the chickens that are so crammed in their cages to the point they kill each other, and cattle that must receive daily antibiotics so they can survive dirty living conditions. We treat these animals as a food source, not as members of a living, breathing nature. We dump trash and waste into the oceans and in our water supply with the intention that it will just go away. We have the mentality that we can throw away resources such as clean water and food and just replace them when it’s convenient. This reinforces the idea that nature doesn’t feel. We treat is as if Mother Nature is an inanimate object meant to be dominated and controlled by humans.

    This article reminded me of the old wives’ tale that fish don’t feel pain. I researched some websites to see whether or not this was true. I came across a site with the research findings of a doctor at the University of Wyoming. He concluded that since fish lack a “complex, enlarged cerebral hemisphere” and frontal lobes, fish “do not have the neurological capacity to experience the unpleasant psychological aspect of pain.” He continues that since fish are unaware of their existence with a brain that “is simple and efficient, and capable of only a limited number of operations, much like a 1949 Volkswagen automobile.” He compares the human brain as to being a modern, luxury car with “all-wheel drive, climate control, emissions control, electronic fuel injection, anti-theft devices and computerized systems monitoring.” Because humans possess a complex brain, capable of experiencing pain, responding to psychological stimuli, and totally aware of their existence, I guess humans have the right to be the dominate creature in nature (totally sarcastic). He even says that fish don’t suffer when they are caught by a fisherman or captured by a predator.

    By treating nature as a weak being, we will continue to exploit our natural resources and cause further damage on our environment. What really caught me off guard was the quote by Wild Bill saying “White people think everything is dead….They don’t believe everything is alive. They themselves are dead.” How very true!! The last part gave me this eerie feeling about how true Wild Bill’s quote is. If we don’t wake up and acknowledge our earth is a living, breathing organism, life will spiral downhill. Everything is connected and when we destroy one part of it, everything else will follow either immediately or in the future. We are already seeing the effects industrialism and the advancement of technology has on our environment. Some people are able to recognize the impact of our consequences. Money is what runs our world, causing greed and the desire to obtain and control nature. Fish may not be aware of their existence, however, are we as humans aware of what we are doing to our planet?

  15. Sources:

    Dr. James B. Rose. University of Wyoming.

  16. Hi Ashley,
    I really appreciate the care you took in reading and responding–and in finding this article. It seems to me the height of arrogance to assume that because another living creature doesn’t think like us or have our particular brain structure, it can’t feel. That is a bit like saying that those who cannot speak our own language (say, English) cannot speak.
    This excuses all sorts of unethical–or at the very least unthoughtful– behavior toward our fellow creatures. It distresses me that someone with the authority of a university degree should misuse it in this way. I understand there is some research currently being done that indicated that fish are a good deal smarter than we used to think.
    I much prefer the approach of those who live in close day to day contact with the natural world on a partnership basis: if we DO have a larger and more astute brain, doesn’t this mean we should therefore be the ones to work to communicate with other creatures on their own terms?
    It seems to me that would be a real sign of our wisdom– our ability to extend ourselves in empathy to the life around us.

  17. Going back to my childhood in a resort community, I became very familiar with the “visitor” mentality, as opposed to the “resident” mentality.
    The attitude (consistent with the dominant culture/western worldview) that many people exhibit when they arrive at a place, make a mess, and then leave it behind to be forgotten in time reminds me of this topic.

    My thought is even in regards to animals, there is an owner vs. visitor mentality at work.
    Many people who eat chicken and beef regularly are pet owners. They pamper and spoil their pets, treating them as members of the family, while turning a blind eye to the cruelty that exists in the livestock operation that is supplying their dinner. They even go so far as to label themselves an “animal lover” but the term is often reserved for animals in their daily lives, with personality and familiarity.

    I believe that removing people from the proximity of animals fosters an insulated perspective that reduces the animals to commodity status.
    If we moved the chicken cages into their backyard, I suspect the level of empathy would change somewhat. I am not sure that people basic respect for animas is so much to blame as the perception that “someone else” is responsible for empathizing.

    Most people I know who live in rural areas and are exposed to animals both domestic and endemic have a genuine respect and empathy for both.

    When rats get in our attic, I use a “humane” trap to catch and “relocate” them outside at a distance from our house. I was doing this because my wife didn’t want animals killed in our house, but I also felt empathy for a fellow animal trying to find a good home for its family.

  18. I think you are right about the “visitor” mentality. There is compassion as well as thought in this response! Thanks, Jay.

  19. I think that the acts described in your essay are exactly the kinds of things that people need to hear. I wonder how we got to this place of superiority, and how this ability to treat living beings so terribly has developed. As you mention, the idea that all beings have souls, empathy, and intelligence is not new, but how did we move away from it so completely? Couldn’t we foresee where that sort of outlook would end up?

    I do think that the story of the mouse helping the other mouse is heroic, and I’m sad to say that I even found it surprising. I really would never hurt a living being, and feel that I do really try to treat nature with respect, not overuse, and certainly not abuse her creatures, but I don’t know that I would have thought that one mouse would recognize and assist with another’s need.

    I feel that the ballot measure that just passed in California concerning less restrictive areas for chickens (primarily), but also pigs and cows, really exemplified people’s thoughts on the matter of the huge mistreatment of these animals, as discussed in your essay. I read many of the arguments against it, and they were all completely centered on the fact that the passing of this measure would raise costs, possibly close down henhouses, and all this at a time when the economy is hurting. It seems that many people just couldn’t get their heads around helping another being, when it would have possible negative effects on their lives. It did pass, and I think that’s a great start, but I thought the fight against it was very sad.

    I think that the recognition that we live in a world with feelings, rights, and needs would greatly change our behavior towards it. There’s a need to realize that humans can’t do it alone, and shouldn’t even want to. I think it would be amazing for our own quality of life, as well. So many more things to connect with, recognize, and learn from.

  20. A compassionate comment, Erika. I appreciate the perspective on the ballot measure in California. Both interesting and important.
    It does seem to me that our own quality of life is at stake in an interdependent world. I am assuming that those against this measure didn’t talk about the health problems to humans of eating animals raised so restrictively.
    It also seems to me that we can make a pretty solid case that the ways in which our communities encourage us to treat other creatures is directly related to the ways in which we treat one another.

  21. This comment is in response to Dan Fitzpatrick’s comment above, regarding evolution and heroism. I actually took a course in social and developmental psychology a while back, and learned that empathy and compassion are actually dominant survival responses, in comparison to other self-serving behaviors, which serve mainly to promote one’s own survival. The reason for this is that empathy actually does promote one’s own survival (I hope I didn’t just disprove my own point by saying that). See, by a stronger mouse aiding a weaker mouse by moving a piece of meat the stronger mouse is actually exhibiting a behavior which will benefit not only the weaker mouse, but also himself. There are many reasons why the empathy exhibited by this stronger mouse benefits the stronger mouse. Just a few examples are that the stronger mouse has just made a friend (in the weaker mouse) and this “friend” may help him out in the future. There may also be other mice that find out that this stronger mouse is helpful, and will therefore help the stronger mouse when the stronger mouse is in a bad situation and he needs help. Quite possibly, the stronger mouse realizes the principle of reciprocity and therefore realizes that acting in a compassionate manner is the most beneficial. Maybe the stronger mouse even just benefits from aiding another of his own kind for the feeling that he gains from commiting such a heroic act. Maybe to this strong mouse the act is not heroic, and is merely a responsibility. (I have many many thoughts on this that could just end up winding in circles). Also, I must mention that heroic acts do not necessarily have to include life or death situations. Therefore, it is unrealistic to assume that heroism would quickly remove itself from the gene pool if it was the dominant response. I also do not clearly see how your comment involves atheism, as evolution of certain non-human animal behaviors occurs regardless of a human’s belief on the origination of this planet.

  22. The idea concerning good science to require empathy reminded me of an idea presented in “Ecology and Traditional Thinking,” an interview with Skokomish elder Bruce Miller where he argues that not only do humans have no place valuing one life over another, but such an idea is unnecessary. The correlation I drew was that in both situations we need to recognize that we live in harmony with everything around us, be it plant, animal, or Earth and we need to act accordingly. In a perfect would with that idea in mind, I would respond to the question posed that recognizing a world with will, consciousness and empathy would significantly change our behavior and push our society to behave as a real community. People would freely give with the intention to do good and improve the quality of life of those less fortunate, more simply put, people would genuinely care about each other. Plants, animals and other gifts taken from the earth are taken in moderation, appreciated and people strove to give back in recognition of the gifts they receive. Not be a cynic but I don’t see such a change happening though I strongly feel that showing empathy and consciousness toward each other would go a long way to improve everyone’s quality of life.

  23. Firstly, I think this post does an excellent job of discrediting the worldview of domination, which affirms the idea that non-human animals do not have souls, and therefore do not exhibit feelings. Clearly, the acts exhibited by both the mouse and bat illustrate the notion that animals do have feelings, and are able to percieve and understand more of human behavior than we normally think.
    Secondly, though I agree with the idea of “Waquadswit,” in that I view all animals, nature, and people as possessing life, or a principle soul, I do not necessarily believe that white people think that everything is dead. I think that this belief is simply another stereotype concerning human beliefs. I know that I personally don’t view everything as being dead, and do not like being grouped in with “white people” who cannot view the world in a “live” sense. While I acknowledge that I do not have a good sense of “satori” or the Zen Buddhist aesthetic concept of unity between man and the environment, I do view the world as being alive, to the extent that I am capable and aware. I have cultivated an appreciation for all non-human animals. I recognize that non-human animals do have feelings, feelings which I may not necessarily understand, but nevertheless I recognize that the feelings are prevelant.
    Third, I definitely agree with the idea that what we have learned about natural behavior using caged animals is not really about natural behavior, but about how animals behave under stress. I remember reading in Dwellings (Hogan) a while back a story about a horse who had apparently learned the basic elements of language, although afterward the trainer who claimed to have taught the horse language found out the horse had in fact been mimicking human maneurisms the entire time just to respond in the way that the human desired him to respond. Thinking back on this example almost makes me laugh because there really is a communication and understanding, associated with feeling, that non-human animals hold that humans will likely never understand.

  24. Ben, thank you for answering the posed question in such visionary terms– even if vision is a far cry from our current reality, your vision is itself empowering– and can lead us to the first step which is, as you indicate, treating one another as if we truly recognize how we share the circle of life.

  25. Denise, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings here. I can certainly see your sense of care for a living world. As you point out, it is important to remember than not all people follow the ethical standards or worldview of their culture– that includes, of course, native peoples as well as modern westerners. I should add that Wild Bill made his remark nine decades ago in the context of a grammatical discussion with a linguist– remarking on our objectified and (too often) objectifying language. In this sense, those who wish to see our world differently (in a wider, more empathetic, more inclusive, more vital way) must work against the structures of our language which is linked to our worldview. It was for this reason that a Chehalis grandmother urged me to “get the words” of her language, for it communicated her tradition in a way that English simply could not.
    Interestingly, modern poet-translators like Jerome Rothenberg see English language transformed into a less objectified possibility in poetry.This is seconded by a Navajo child who could make no sense of the English she was attempting to learn until she heard a poem. “Everyone here speaks in poetry”, she said, when this avenue of “translation” became clear to her.
    I want to set your response in a bit of context– while at the same time acknowledging your point about the right to and reality of dissent from a dominant cultural paradigm.
    On a concluding note, I have seen more and more of my students exhibit the care and sensitivity you rightly claim as my decades of teaching continue: at least from my perspective, there are many more of you today than there were thirty years ago. It is my hope that we can read this as indicating that as we become more concerned about our shared earth, we are learning a more vital language of life.
    Thank you again for your thoughtful comment. It is my sense that only out of dialogue does any idea become clearer– this is certainly true in the more ancient way of communication between humans– in oral traditions.

  26. There is this old saying that states something about when you are looking for a mate you can tell how a person is suited to raise children (male or female) by the way that they treat their pets. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t love and respect their pet just as they would with anyone in their family. I always cringe when I hear people say that animals do not have feelings. I have a golden retriever that acts shameful when she is in trouble, happy when she is greeted, playful at times of fun, she gets sad and whines when she is left alone, and is brave and protective when strangers approach. If she didn’t have feelings then what is it that I am witnessing? I am not a vegetarian and I won’t say that I can’t or won’t eat meat. I think that it is essential for humans to partake in the sharing of life that animals provide for us. It’s how we respect that gift and what we do after we recieve it to show gratitude for that gift that defines the type of person we are. It would be ideal to imagine that we live in a perfect world and that no being, human or not, would not suffer and were never to experience pain. But the truth in the matter is that it does occur and what you do about it in your interactions with the environment and nature, including all animals, determines what type of person you are and how you treat other people. If ever humans came to the realization that everything was living I think that it would almost be impossible to do anything. It would be a world of mass paranoia because eachtime you took a step you would be inflicting pain upon what was beneath your feet. That may be taking it to the extreme but people do need to realize that there are living things besides humans that inhabit the earth and we are obligated to live harmoniously amongst them as we all share the same home.

  27. I do think this post does an excellent job of showing that there is a problem with how we, as members of a Western tradition have been brought up to see the world. We have always assumed that nature was there for our benefit, that animals were meant to be domesticated and slaughtered to feed our families. It is much easier to accept that you are killing something that doesn’t have emotion or feeling than it is to kill a creature with humanlike thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I believe that Wild Bill’s notion that white people see the world as being “dead” is more true than it would seem. While it is true that we know that animals are alive before they are killed, the fact that most people don’t accept that nonhuman animals have “souls”, something that makes a body more than just meat.

    If tomorrow, everyone were able to accept that everything on this planet is just as alive as anything else, and that humans are not the dominant species for any other reason than for our insatiable appetite for destruction and moral validation, the world would be a different place. We would no longer be able to justify using lab animals for experiments or keeping domesticated animals in cages until we were ready to slaughter them. There would be no need for people to fight for animal rights, because humans and nonhumans would be on level playing ground, and everyone would have the same right to respect as anyone else.

  28. Hi Debbie,
    Thoughtful response: your dog has obviously found a good home! I’m not sure that it would lead to mass paranoia if we understood the earth beneath our feet were alive. Suppose we looked at this totally differently, and thought of walking as though we honored the earth we walked upon?
    I do agree that it is often true that the ways in which we treat the living world upon which we depend for our lives is comparable to the ways in which we treat other humans.

    Thanks for your comment.

  29. Hi Mehgan, very nice perception about domination here. I like your vision of a different world–and the reason why it is not the one we currently inhabit. Though your vision may seem far from the present, the very fact that you have envisioned it is one step in the direction of having it come to be. The first step toward change is holding what we truly want (and should be) in our hearts and minds. Thanks for sharing what you hold in this way.

  30. I found this article to be a great example of just how much compassion their can be between humans and animals and between different types of animals. Animals are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for and have the ability to sense what a person is feeling. I, for one, have a cat that starts chasing her tail, doing back flips, and running into walls whenever I am feeling sad. She never does these things unless I am having a bad day and once I have started laughing she quits (it is like she is trying to cheer me up). I have read that many pets do similar things when the people that care for them are feeling down or alone. It is terrible that people do not consider the different emotions that animals feel or that they don’t think that animals do not have any brains. You gave wonderful examples in your article about how intelligent animals are. For example, the mice taking care of each other to stay alive in the sink and one bat letting the other know that the “Bat Lady” would not hurt it. These show just how intelligent animals are and how comprehending they are.

    Sadly, many people view animals as just another means of food and don’t care how they are treated (as long as they don’t have to see it). While animals are a means of survival for humans, their treatment does not have to be cruel. If we treated animals like equals as many other cultures have done then we would have much more respect for the animals and be much more grateful for the food that we have. Many people in the U.S. have no comprehension of where their food is coming from. They just know that if they show up at a grocery store or order a hamburger at a fast food restaurant that they will magically receive meat. For the most part, they don’t consider where the meat was from, whether it was injected with any chemicals, how the animal was treated before slaughter, etc. In cultures where animals are important to their culture they know the answers to these questions and therefore have a much closer connection to their food and a better connection with the animals around them.

  31. Thank you for a touching personal comment, Samantha. Sounds like your cat wins the cat-clown performance award!

  32. I really enjoyed the article “The Mice in the Sink-And Us”. I have always been intrigued with the certainty that animals can communicate and speak to each other. And the idea that we too once a time could communicate with them is quite amazing. I think the concept of our connection to other beings amongst this world is remarkable, we bond we could possible have with animals and how they could very well sense our empathy or lack of it is impressive. The story of the stronger mouse helping the weaker one expressed the reverence and compassion that one had for the other, and in turn they both survived. The unfortunate truth about western worldviews is that, that very compassion is not as common as it should be. Not often do we find ourselves looking out for anyone but ourselves. It is sad to think about that and even worse when animals have more respect for each other than some humans out there.

    I personally have never really been an animal person, don’t get me wrong, I always had respect for them, but I just never thought of ever owning one or being close to one. A few months back my fiancé and I got a puppy. I was amazed at how he knows your emotions and your moods just by observing you. He would sit with me when I was stressed or overwhelmed and when I am getting upset he starts to groan a little as if he is telling me that it will be okay. This article and as well as taking my philosophy class and having experienced owning a dog, I have realized that we are extremely connected to nature and the other beings around us.

    Earth is definitely alive and every being that is in it does deserve and have rights and obligations just as we do. Why should be feel that it is okay to mistreat another living being in the world and not expect them to be irate with humans, if we as humans mistreat each other or disrespect on another, we are not to kind to each other in return either, so what difference would it make with animals. Many tend to forget that animals too are living creatures created for many reasons. As Wild Bill said, “…people think everything is dead… They don’t believe anything is alive. As a result of living in a “dead” world….They are dead themselves.” And that is sadly how many are living and that is how our world will become one day if we don’t change.

  33. Hi Francine, thank you for such a thoughtful response.
    Certainly, not fully appreciating the liveness of our world is our own loss as well as leading to some tragic consequences.
    Sounds like your dog is doing well training his owner!

  34. In ancient times, I believe that people were less tied up with the ways of the world. There was no internet, television or radio to fill the minds of people with non-essential things. Their life demanded that they find food, shelter, water and essentials for survival. Although this took time, it also allowed them to become intimate with the surrounding environment. They had to observe the ways of the animals and had to attempt to understand the ways of nature in order to survive.

    Today, we are caught up in a fast moving, information filled society. In our haste and stress filled atmosphere, many people have become arrogant and self centered and no longer have time nor take time to observe nature. Why should we be the only creatures that have feelings? The example of the mouse helping the other mouse shows that animals have the will to live. It also shows that they are capable of love. All creatures great and small live in their own world and hope to survive, just like ancient man. For that matter, survival is important for our own society. In order to survive, compassion and love are critical to our survival.

    If we treat animals with compassion and respect, they will return it in the best way they can. Animals can and do talk to us. Somehow we know when the dog or cat wants to be fed or petted.

    If we, as humans, can slow our lifestyle pace down enough to look around and become one with our surroundings, we will feel a completness with the world around us. It is only then that we will understand that we are one with the universe.

  35. Hi Bruce, thank you for an insightful as well as compassionate response here! More of this kind of thinking would certainly change our world for the better.

  36. This article is about women to have empathy for all creatures. I have done the same thing; I saved a baby mouse from drowning, a baby duck who was injured and rejected by its mother, as well as a baby chick, the list goes on but it’s who I am. It is part of life and we all need to appreciate all things in nature no matter how big or small or how insufficient people may think they are all things matter. I think that women tend to be more nurturing than men and many women have empathy like this towards all living things more so than me because it does matter.

    • Hi Dianna, thanks for your comment and your expression of care. I do think we might want to give one caveat here: if women are more caring, it is in part because our society discourages this kind of caring in men. I must say there are men who are caring in this way– especially in those societies which link nurturance and power– but also, among men who break the mold in our own society.

  37. This artical is so interesting. To think that animals have empathy would be an amazing break through that might change a lot of things in the world. I think we as humans underestimate the intellect of animals and therefore believe they don’t have feelings as we do. Women have always been known to be more nurturing than males which is another reason why help animals when they are in trouble when men see it has interfering with nature. Hopefully the break throughs that woman are making with the ecofeminism movement will open the eyes of all people to the reality that we need animals and nature so we need to take care of them, they don’t need us.

    • An empathetic reply, Danielle, thank you. I would add a small rider to any “women have always” statement– this is true in a culture in nurturance is chalked on the “feminine” traits column (and also devalued). But there are also other cultures–and men who have refused the labels to honor their compassion for other creatures.

  38. I am intrigued by the Darwin take of this essay. We have all been taught “survival of the fittest”. As if life is all in a competition with each other, and only the strong survive. It was interesting to think of “cooperation rather than competition”, which had not occurred to me before. We’ve all seen instances where animals help one another…we’ve probably all seen dogs within the same home help each other, or animals within a herd help each other.

    But .. does this cooperation exit outside of a bond? Be it genetic, or emotional – without it does the same cooperation exit, or are we stickly back to competition? If two baby mice had fallen in the sink an hour before, would there still be heroism? Was that cooperation based on a bond, rather than blank compassion?

    • Hi Angie, thanks for your comment. I’m not quite sure what you mean about two baby mice falling in the sink “an hour before”–and what kind of bond are you thinking of instead of “blank compassion”– compassion without a bond? Do you mean, had they been raised together or something? You might be interested in Alfie Kohn’s work on the “brighter side of human nature”, which indicates that the smallest children express compassion toward others before they express competition-and it is competition rather than cooperation that takes cultural training. The point in terms of human society is that for the million years or so homo sapiens has been on earth, the vast majority of human societies survived through cooperation (such as the cooperation that created culture by passing knowledge between generations.)
      Darwin is talking about the interdependence (cooperation) in natural systems; interpreting “survival of the fittest” as some beating out others came with the interpretation of Herbert Spencer’s application of the term to the ways that Western hierarchical society operates. Interestingly, those indigenous peoples I worked with in the Pacific Northwest saw nature as presenting a model of cooperation and reciprocity– not competition. Social ecologist Murray Bookchin noted, for instance, that since all of us both feed and are fed by others in an ecological system, there is a very basic equality there.

  39. It shouldn’t be so hard for people to believe that animals may have empathy for each other, after all we see species that mate for life, or form family groups, or live in complex colonies. If we admit to ourselves that animals are complex creatures, and deserving of respectful treatment, it would be much harder to justify the way we treat them. Strangely we make an exception when it comes to pets, as if the act of adopting them into our families bestows upon them a soul. The truth is we haven’t granted our pets anything they didn’t already have, we just refuse to recognize it everywhere else.

  40. These were heartwarming stories. The mice story shows that sometimes those that seem down and out need a little more encouragement to get back up and continue on with life. I particularly liked the part that trying to learn natural behavior from a caged animal is really just what the animal looks like when stressed. It’s a very good question about what life would be like if we all had empathy for each other. I think people wouldn’t be nearly as stressed out and even if something terrible happened it wouldn’t hit them as hard because people around them would have empathy. Sometimes having someone acknowledge that you are having trouble helps lift the burden and shortens recovery time. Animals are very good at this. Always willing to comfort someone who is crying. People really can learn a lot from animals.

  41. As I was reading this article I began thinking of the many stories fo animal compassion and empathy that have been reported through the years. Animals who have nursed the young of a different species, animals (pets) who manage to get help for injured humans, and service animals trained to help people with disabilities. The story that came to mind first was the toddler who had fallen through the fencing of the zoo into the gorilla compound where a female gorilla carefully picked up the child and took it to the entrance so that zoo personal could safely reach the child. All this while protecting the child from the dominant male. There is definitely compassion in the animal world. Through scientific research it has been proven that many animals have intelligence and work together . When I think of animal research I do wonder how it can be successfully accomplished without interference in a laboratory setting or “caged”. environment. Scientists have stated that field research yields a more reliable picture of the behavior or topic of interest. Laboratory conditions not only produce stress but the are not the natural environment so how can the animal act naturally? What about the research with the elderly and the ill that has proven contact with animals to be benefical to the health and well being of the human?

    A comment on the ability to speak with the animals as was prevalent in “traditional” times. Often we hear of pet owners who have connected in this manner but there are also those who work in the wild or with animals they do not own. I believe it is quite possible for this “human/animal” connection to exist. In that case if “we” could feel the joy as well as the terror of animals around us would we treat them differently? In many cases absolutely! Would that cause people to refain from hunting? Most likely not ,however, it may cause those to hunt for food only and not for sport. Most people in the Western culture are too far removed from nature and the environment to maintain a connection. We purchase our food and clothing in stores thus do not need to hunt and forage. The act of hunting and gathering leads to knowledge of the environment that would influence how we react to the plants and animals seen on a regular basis. Protection for the sake of reciprocity would occur if nothing else. We would wish the food and clothing source to flourish in order to replenish our supplies so care and concern for the environment would rise to the surface.

    I think that being in tune to one’s surroundings can only serve to incease the quality of life for that person and the environment.

    • Hi Colleen, thank you for a thoughtful and compassionate response. Trophy hunting as opposed to hunting for subsistence seems to violate the ethics of compassion with regard to animals. There are many constraints and ways of honoring hunted animals among indigenous peoples: they include not wasting anything, letting the strongest (and females) go to secure future crops, limiting takes (some more in some years than others– there were sophisticated ways of assessing an appropriate sustainable take of fluctuating animal populations), and honoring the animal in question (protecting their habitat, for instance). There was also the understanding of reciprocity that follows a natural model in which all are both eaten and fed by others. This I also think responds to Andrew’s response here. Val Plumwood has an interesting idea about looking at humans as part of the food chain, similar to that which I have heard voiced by indigenous elders: that we are in effect “borrowers” of life from the natural system in the same way that we borrow a book from the library. Plumwood, who barely escaped a crocodile attack (see her “Being Prey”) and buried her son, does not speak abstractly. Neither does the Apache woman who stated that for all the years that she has taken from the natural system with her life, she is grateful her death will allow her to give back. Of course, this does not work if we embalm bodies with poison…

  42. If we looked at everything that we encounter with empathy we would treat our entire universe differently. We would have compassion on all things. We would recognize that all animals, human and non-human feel pain, can sense emotion and have some form of communication and therefore we should treat them with the respect that they deserve. Just because man is at the top of the food chain we should not feel that we are superior to all other creation or have dominion over all. How we view life, how we treat it, what we take from it and what we give to it will have a reciprocal effect for many generations. The old saying “do unto others as you would have done unto you” is a very fitting saying. If we treated others, human and non-human, as we would like to be treated our universe would be a much more harmonious place to live. Just as a sidebar, if you ever have the opportunity, if opportunity is what it could be called, to visit a poultry farm or a cattle lot you would be a vegetarian for the rest of your life. The living conditions for these poor animals is deplorable. Most people would not believe that a modern society could treat their animals so horribly, especially, when we visit our local grocery store meat department and see all of the sanitary looking packaging that the meat department displays our meat products in. Another thing I have noticed is when you go to the grocery store you no longer can see the butcher cutting up the meat, the butcher is somewhere behind the meat department wall. Could this be another way to sell more meat, if you can’t see it being processed are you more apt to buy it?

    • Hi Pam, thanks for your response. It is interesting that we hide the slaughtering and butchering of meat and yet cut up human bodies in full view on the widely watched CSI. I think that we must draw a serious line between factory or industrial farming with its vast mistreatment of both the environment and the animals it raises with other kinds of treatment of animals raised for food. We might add that besides the mistreatment of animals (chickens in spaces so crowded they cannibalize one another, for instance), and the feeding of antiobiotics with food to stem diseases of those in such unclean and crowded conditions (with obvious results for human health) and the use of pesticides to attack insects preying on animals in such conditions, there is also the fact that animals who are fed grain that might go for human consumption are eating higher on the food chain in terms of energy than are grass fed animals–and this process contributes substantially more to global warming than does the equivalent consumption of vegetable matter. Though personally, I sometimes (though pretty rarely) eat fish and meat, I certainly respect those who are vegetarians, given both their compassion and their contribution to eating lower on the food chain/with lower carbon emissions.
      You might also be interested in my response to Colleen here.

  43. These are all heart warming stories about compassion, some make sense to me and some don’t. I understand having compassion and respect for animals and the environment, these are worth while goals to achieve, but how is a predator-prey relationship viewed here? There has been talk in some of the responses about being vegetarian because of the effect on the animals that we eat. I do not view “meat eating” as an offense against animals, to me it is more like a predator-prey relationship. Please don’t take this the wrong way, in no way am I for the way some of the factory farms treat the animals. In my view the animals should be treated with respect and given “good” lives from birth until the day we eat them. This respect for where our food comes from is an attitude that I am working to build with my children, and it is a view that should be taught to everyone. We raise our own chickens, and they are treated with every respect on our property. My family is thankful for the eggs we get from them, and we have a good deal of respect for the animal because of that. There is great pride taken when my five year old comes with me to the chicken coop to gather the eggs, he is always excited to find them. When it comes time to eat them, he knows where they came from because he picked them up. This is a lot more than most other five yar olds understand.

    As far as the article itself is concerned, there are some good points that get brought up in it. One part of the article mentioned “Darwinism”, and it was mentioned that cooperation rather then competition is what drives relationships in the wild. To some extent I agree, cooperation that is for the greater good exists. For example, honeybees gather and store food collectively for the greater good. There isn’t one honeybee that has his own horde of honey, they all dip from the same pot. But in my opinion, competition is a greater part of the natural environment than cooperation. There are limited resources for many animals, the strongest will eat first. The will to survive is stronger than almost any emotion or value. All you need to do to see this is turn on “Animal Planet” and watch a lion chasing a herd of Zebras. The fastest, strongest ones out run the lion, and the lion targets in on the weakest one in the herd.

    As far as the indidgenous peoples respect for the environment and the animals within it, it is admirable and everyone should strive to attain that level of respect for the others that inhabit the earth. Do you think they are vegetarians? I don’t. They know and respect our relationship with the animals, which includes eating them. Eating them is not a sign of disrespect, it is more an understanding of the circle of life.

    • Hi Andrew thanks for the very thoughtful comment. It’s great that your family eats both ethically and healthily–and I bet they have some fun in the process (chasing chickens and collecting eggs).
      I do have some comments on the use of animal planet or modern nature programs to illustrate competitive behavior in the wild: you may aware that these programs might be critiqued for slanting their materials to fit the tastes of modern audiences. In fact, many physically “weaker” animals have considerable status and are protected by their peers– but they must have other things to contribute, such as elder wisdom. For instance, a smaller and weaker but older dog introduced to a pack will assume more status than the robust younger ones. In this sense they value elders in parallel ways to humans. You might also be interested to know that animals who are predator and prey often play together when they are not feeding– and there seems to be some choice in the prey about being eaten. That is, some cue that passes between predator and prey (that is somehow built into the chase you see on animal planet): for predators will pass up prey (even physically weak prey) who behave in a particular way. You might look up Lila Leibowitz’s physical anthropology text: she has many such examples, including the one where two female lions who refused to breed in the San Diego zoo finally did so when introduced to an old lion (whom human handlers simply intended as a companion), whom they had to take turns bracing so that he did not fall over in the act. It turns out the placid red deer of Ireland (remember Bambi and all that Western folklore about the young stag replacing the old one amidst great pathos?) breed while the aggressive ones are fighting each other, thus effectively taking the aggressors out of the gene pool.
      I am not saying that nature “proves” anything about human nature: that thesis has ample problems of its own. What I am saying is that we choose what to view (and count as important) when we view animals in the wild or otherwise, and it is important to note that whereas modern Westerners use “nature” to support their views of competition, many indigenous elders seeing nature as modeling the cooperative ethic they themselves follow.
      Check out my replies to Colleen and Pam as well: this is a very interesting discussion!

  44. I have received some very provoking insights on heroism from herbalist Susun Weed’s book Healing Wise, which have greatly influenced my attitudes about this culturally respected ideal. Labeling the actions of the healthier mouse as “heroic” seems like an inappropriate anthropomorphizing of these animals. I fully believe that animals and all living things have the capacity for empathy for their own species and for other species, but I think that the only animal that develops hierachical and dualistic thinking (which creates the ideas of “hero/savior” and “victim/saved”) are humans. As noted in the above comments, size or physical strength does not correlate to dominance or authority in the natural world. Granted, the situation with the mice is more of an emergency situation where mere survival was the only focus, and the actions of the one mouse clearly did “save the victim”, but I caution against spilling out our human constructions such as “heroism” onto the rest of the natural world. So, to answer the question in the essay, I would not call this act “heroism.” I would call it cooperation and empathy. I think there is more evidence in the natural world to support the idea that partnership and mutual aid are the foundations of survival across all species, rather than competition and dominance.

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective, Rachel–and your personal answer to the question posed here. As you point out, rather than anthropomorphizing heroism (as something expressed in wartime, for instance?) perhaps we could learn something about the connection between heroism and empathy from the natural world. I like the indigenous idea that the natural world may teach us how to become fully human as in this statement featured as a title of a book on Australian Aboriginal views of the land: “dingo makes us human”.

  45. I believe that all living things have empathy and compassion for one another. Even in our Western dominated culture we have empathy, were just more likely to turn a blind eye and to cling to ignorance, so that we don’t have to change. I believe that if people saw first hand what goes on in commercial chicken factories, or the effects of pollution that they would react. That their internal sense of what is right would overcome the learned behavior of looking the other way. The story of the mice does not surprise me, although many animals establish a hierarchy of domination, empathy and compassion for other living things seems to overtake domination in the natural order of life. Like many people in this class I raise chickens, and although they have a pecking order I have seen the strongest chicken pair up with the weakest chicken in order to be its protector.
    If we lived in a world that we recognized as having a consciousness and a will, not only would our quality of life be changed, but who we are and how we see the world would be changed, the human animal would be a different being. If we were able to have the same level of empathy and compassion for the world as a whole as what we feel for one another, as what we feel for our kin then how could we acts selfishly and abuse the world?
    We have seen how Native Americans like Henry Cultee treat the world and can understand that it is a learned behavior. We are intelligent and know that we are capable of teaching ourselves and our young that we are not separate from the natural world, and yet we keep looking away….
    Overall, I believe that our quality of life would be far richer if humanity as a whole could embrace the world as living.

    • Thank your for your own empathy as well as thoughtfulness here, Kristian. Many interesting points here– as about your chickens. In a parallel vein, I have heard that researchers witnessed killer whales saving the lives of baby seals when they are not hunting. It seems to me that the natural world is mysterious–and entirely more complex than we give it credit for in a simplistic predator-prey hierarchy.

  46. The observations of CeAnn Lambert and the “Bat Lady” are intriquing to say the least. While the mouse’s attempt to help another mouse to drink is a clear example of empathetic behavior, it is also a sign of rational thought. How else would the mouse know that by moving the meat, he would not only get his buddy closer to the water, but also nourish him in the process? And the bats are either telepathic or extremely adept at communication to be able to let one another know that this human (Bat Lady) means no harm.

    If we are to believe that “the earth is alive”, we must also believe that, at the very least, ALL living things on earth are endowed with empathy, and thereby, emotions. As Dr. Holden points out, animals such as cows and chickens are not treated in concert with this way of thinking. I also think of the mistreatment that pigs endure, and this is a creature that is widely viewed as among the most intelligent.

    This is yet another conflict between Western worldview and indigenous worldview, and once again the natives are much wiser from their years of experience in co-existing with nature. Showing empathy and practicing reciprocity with the natural world will also help in human to human relationships. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that certain ethnic and racial groups were not presumed to have empathy and emotions, let alone flora and fauna.

  47. This was a wonderful article, detailing the finer points of non-human empathy and our need to be aware of it. There seems something wrong to be referring to all other sentient species as “non-human”, as if being human places us on a higher level. I can’t help but think about the book “Jurassic Park” and the notion that we humans like to do things just-to-see-if-we-can. It is quite saddening–and maddening–that the human species, one of the only creatures on our planet that are able to alter our environment to better “suit our needs,” still finds it necessary to poke, prod, split open, and kill so-called lesser creatures, just to see what will happen.

    Our culture has such little respect for, well, the rest of the world, especially beings that have an empathic link to its brethren and/or it’s habitat. I’ve heard so many people mock the notion that all things have an inherent energy, a life force–from snow-capped peaks to rocks buried miles below the surface–yet how can they deny the power and energy of a wildfire? Or the wisdom that lay within boulders that have watched the sunset for over a millennium?

    We are fools to think that the earth has no soul.

    Thank you for sharing, Prof. Holden.

    • Thank you for reading and responding to this, Stasey. I hope we will someday grow enough as a species to understand that there is (as you indicate) a fundamental link between compassion and knowledge. After all, isn’t knowing another really inevitably linked to establishing a close relationship with them?

  48. As I have read this article and read the other posts I am reminded of my US History class. (If we look, all things are related) I was thinking of how slavery affected the quality of life in the early US and how because of the hierarchy in our society it allowed for serious mistreatment of other humans. Then there was the differential treatment of women. Did we really believe that there were other people who were more or less worthy of equal respect? If we saw this value system amongst our selves (humans) what kind of value system did we have in place for animals and other living beings? I guess we can see the answer to that in the buffalo slaughters of the “winning of the west”. But are we like that today, have our perspectives changed in regard to the living world?
    I think bit by bit we have, I see hope in the activism of animal rights organizations and largely in the education of our young people that the world we live in contains many things small and large all alive. If we continue to realize our place in a living world our quality of life and the quality of others lives would improve in ways we have yet to experience.

  49. It always surprises me when people are astonished when they observe certain emotions in animals. Emotions such as empathy and altruism are common in many animals and especially mammals. Of course all mammals have emotions. It is all in our brains after all. A mouse has almost all of the same parts of the brain that humans do, just not as developed. But that doesn’t mean that it is not there.

    It’s true that not long ago we thought that non-human animal’s and newborn baby’s brains were not devolved enough to feel pain, but now we know better. I wonder if the same thing will happen with our opinion of “nonliving objects.”

    • Thanks for the comment, Jessica. Your last point is especially interesting– there are many from non-Western cultures who would say we already know that “non-living” nature has its own spirit and agency. Just because it is not the same as ours (as you point out in the case of the mice), does not mean that it does not exist.

  50. How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world?

    In reading this essay, I was greatly encouraged to take more stock in my own life and in the lives of others, human and animal. It seemed to me that by being compassionate to these other animals, as the mouse hero and bat nurse do, we can achieve a better feeling about our own lives and take advantage of that great feeling we get when we “do something good” for another.
    To answer the question, by incorporating our compassion and understanding for the way the world works in our daily lives, we gain further knowledge of our own world’s existence and what we can do to keep it safe. This may take 5 seconds or 15 minutes to really achieve, however, I believe we are better people for this understanding and can not only help each other but those things animate and inanimate.

  51. I found this essay interesting. It is true that each of us interact and value with and animals differently. I have known a few people who dislike animals, others that have intense love for their own, and others who don’t care. It seems like a humans involvement of their existence can be reflected in their ability to interact with nature, humans, animals. If someone is shut off or isolated what does that mean? I new a few guys in high school that did some horrible things to a cat. I could not understand their reasoning. It sickened me to even comprehend why or what moved them to do such things. As I see them now years later it is clear internally many things remain the same. They did not understand the value of the cat of the life around them.

    • Hello Kaaren, thanks for your comment. In a hierarchical society those who feel that they are “above” others (as in humans above animals) like those boys feel justified in whatever they wish to do to those below. I do believe that the ways in which we treat our natural world is reflected in the way we treat other humans– I am assuming that when these boys grew into men, they remained troubled.

  52. I liked the stories of the mice and the bats. I think that non-human animals have emotions and thoughts of caring just like humans do. For example when I give on of my dogs a bath, the other two sit outside the door and cry. I think this is because the one in the tub is crying and the others understand the discomfort she is in. I think we often underestimate all animals abilities to understand pain and suffering. We think they are driven by survival instincts alone and therefore cannot contemplate anything beyond reproduction. I have watched animals mourn the loss of a baby or of a friend. I have seen animals die shortly after their owners. I do not think this can be attributed to anything other than loneliness.
    I feel sorry for the farm animals that are confined to small cages and I wonder if they have any sense of family. I wonder if since they are so genetically manipulated if they have any genetic relations near them. For example I was told the turkey we buy in the grocery store are really like a turkey/chicken cross. I wonder if these animals have the same emotional connection to the world. Does their brain shrink? Like if humans were genetically manipulated for a specific job, would the area of the brain that controls emotions shrink and the person become less caring? Not that I would approve of it, but I am curious.

    • Hi Ann, thanks for your compassionate sharing of your experience with non-human animals. Thoughtful examples of the qualities of animals that we can only considerable comparable, in some way, to human feeling. I don’t know the answer of the results of genetic manipulation, but it is something to ponder. I think any animals we use for our own purposes deserve the courtesy of a satisfying life. The way chimps have often been treated in this regard is unforgivable– but such ill treatment is now against the law in Spain, where the legislature passed a law giving the great apes rights similar to humans.

  53. In our culture, we treat humans as if we are above other animals, and we even have a hierarchy within the animal kingdom. We keep dogs and cats as pets, and realize that they have emotional needs. We realize these needs and treat pets as companions. However, we don’t think twice about squashing a bug, or swatting a fly. While some animals obviously are more sensitive and have more emotions, we only take into consideration the more obvious ones, like the animals we keep as pets.

    Obviously, as seen in examples from this passage, animals have emotions and the ability to be compassionate to fellow creatures. I wonder if we were more aware of this, we would think more about our actions? Because it is so easy to go grocery shopping, and see prepackaged meat that looks like food and not like it was once an animal, we do not think about where it came from. Most people do not think about how meat got to our table, or connect that to an actual life that we are taking.

    Even if we were to be a little bit more aware, and compassionate, we could at least push for better treatment of animals on the farm. It is COMPLETELY unethical to raise animals, many of which we have altered to be as fat as possible, and only have body parts that we can eat, and then keep them in overcrowded cages. We are now able to raise “meat” and not actual animals, it seems. It is a gross, unregulated industry. If we were to treat the animals with dignity and let them roam free, at the very least, they would at least have some sort of a life before we took it away from them.

    I wish more people could put themselves in these animals shoes, or to be more compassionate. I like that in this entry, there are a few different views in which all things have souls. If we were to believe and act on this today, we would be much more caring, and certainly less careless about such issues as eating and raising meat.

    • Thank you for your caring response, Erin. I appreciate your personal care. It is certainly true that we have no right to waste these lives that we raise for our purposes: and in fact, the least we owe them is a decent life in return.

  54. To awnser the question at the beggining, i would call that having a heart and caring enough about a living creature to take time out of your day and save two life’s. I thought this was a great story i enjoyed it very much, it made me think what i might have done. Though i would like to think i would have done the same thing im not sure i would have, which then made me feel like i had no heart or being able to care.

    This was an enlightning essay and i do feel that his has opened my eyes just a little more than it was before. To believe that everything is alive and everything is there for a reason to serve a purpose; how could you not treat everything with care and love if you believed this. I believe that was the point in this essay, we must undertand that everything on this earth is here for a reason and was not put here for nothing or te be treated wrongly. Respect, respect, respect….

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Christian. It is a great exercise to imagine ourselves in situations like this to see what we might have done–as who knows what situations might come up for us int he future.
      I like your ending- respect!

  55. I believe it is normal for people to want to help people, for people to want to help animals and for animals to want to help animals. I believe, that in our core being, that we desire these things in life. Now, I also believe that we can choose to “ignore” these responsibilities and Core Values in each of our lives. Usually, ignoring these values and responsibilities result in more money in our pockets or a nice animal mount on the wall for the purposes of pride (among other greedy ideas).

    Once again, as I have posted earlier, I just “wonder” what precautions could have been taken to prevent this new Swine Virus as related to money and industry? Are we interrupting nature processes with animals where we are now seeing the results in the health of the worldwide?

    Food for thought,


    • Thanks for your comment, Paul. I think that a system that rewards greed (as you indicate in this instances) results in crises both for the earth that sustains us and the human populations that live there. As for the swine flu, I just saw an article from SCIENCE written a few years ago that suggests a correlation between the confinement and increased vaccination of farm animals and spurring viral variations of the diseases these animals carry.
      Further, since pigs have been the vehicle of the three flu pandemics in this century, it does not seem entirely wise that we are now cloning litters of pigs with a gene that causes trouble in using them for human transplants turned off. That is, we are designing pigs whose genes specifically allow them to leap the species barrier.

  56. Dr. Holden,

    Thanks for your followup comments. I will have to research that article in SCIENCE later today. It does seem that there ought to be more cautionary steps available and to be taken surrounding these “cooped up” animals.

    Paul Nash

    • You are welcome, Paul. I certainly agree with you–in fact, I think they shouldn’t BE cooped up in this fashion, that is “factory farming” has not only ecological but ethical problems attached to it.

  57. This article reminds me of an article I read recently concerning the behavior of bees. The lady who was studying them was amazed by how complex their social behavior was for such small and seemingly “simple” creatures. Her hypothesis points towards a brain that works like a quantum computer, but maybe there is something more to it than materialistic science can get at. This article also reminds me of my girlfriend who does a lot of work with kids with autism and has be researching how autistic children often make incredible connections with animals and seem to be able to communicate with them in way they can’t with other humans. Maybe that’s one reason they can have such trouble with communicating with other people, because they can perceive both sides of the natural realm and have an intuition that might thus rightly lead to mistrust the human tendency to treat their surroundings inappropriately as “dead.”

    • Thanks for your comment, Mark. Some perceptive observations– we certainly limit our own thinking when we objectify the rest of the world. Your last sentence is especially interesting. It sounds like the children your girlfriend words with are fortunate to have such a sensitive adult around them. You (and she) may know about Dr. Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who is developing quite a reputation for proposing humane treatment of animals that non-autistic researchers have totally missed.

      • Is she the professor at Colorado state who developed the squeeze shoot? I have a good friend who has taken some classes from her while getting his masters in cattle nutrition.

  58. I led off this essay by asking how recognizing a world with a will, consciousness-and the ability to feel empathy toward others-might change our behavior toward it.

    My responses seem to be somewhat repetitive, so as to gain a new perspective on this issue, I asked my daughter how she thought this change in recognition could change the world. She stated that by changing our own perspective, we can see and understand others with different perspectives and begin to have respect for other living beings. Profound thought, I think.

    That statement and the story about the mice made me think of an encounter which I had. One day, while out in the lawn, I came across a funny looking mouse by the outside shed. It was at the corner of the building and I bent down to look at it. It was a shrew, I think and it took straight up on its hind legs, looked me right in the eye and threatened me. I imagine she had babies around somewhere. And it reminded me of the feeling of standing up in protection of my family of what seemed to be a giant.

    There is a linked question. How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world? Again, I asked my daughter what she thought. We would change because we would be listening. Dogs can talk among themselves and they know what the other is saying. But if they warn us of something, we have to be listening to them and respond; interact. When we listen, we begin to understand other living beings and that they have plenty of intelligent things to say. By listening to others, we save ourselves. We need to change our perspective to willingness and communication. Wow!

    When we understand that everything is alive and gives to us we can then appreciate it; reciprocity. I believe all living things feel. Even the Earth is in constant motion with the cycles of life that are alive and feed live; like water and the rock cycle.

    This was a very enlightening article and I was glad to open up a line of communication.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Tina, thanks for sharing an inter-generational comment here! I do maintain that learning is always a two-way street and our children are here to teach us as much as to learn from us. And perhaps in a culture in which teach them objectification of the world as they grow, they have more insight and compassionate regarding a living world that is still alive to us. Your daughter is of course echoing the wisdom of many indigenous traditions that emphasize it is the responsibility of humans to learn the languages of other living things– and this can teach us many essential things about being human!
      Humans listening to the rest of life and exhibiting their respect for it. Imagine!

  59. Thank you for your encouraging comments here, Professor. In a time where our communication is stressed with outside influences, it was good to hear her intelligent comments.

    • Indeed it was, Tina. And you must be doing something right as a mother to help keep her spirit alive and alert!

      • Thank you for the compliment. There was some commercial some time back about how teens have it harder today than any other time in the past. And she agreed. And, of course, I disagreed because that’s what we do these days. My argument was, “what about the girls who lost entire neighborhoods of people they had to bury during the Black Plague? And what about the girls who traveled across the Great Plains and buried their siblings to cholera? And what about the slaves who built the pyramids?” Anyway, you see where I’m going. Here goes my adaptive process…:) But, I think that young people today see a lot of destruction in their world…the breakdown of the family (not ours thankfully!), environmental issues, the lack of respect between people…I think it weighs on them quite heavily and should be recognized and acted on.

        • I second your points on this, Tina (spoken as the true expert here– a mother!) I think that one of the gravest responsibilities we have is to care for our young. Tragically, not one that we are taking entirely seriously as a nation– or a human community.

  60. This is a great article and a subject that is very important to me. Anyone who spends any time working with animals will testify that emotions are present. I work mostly with local animal shelters, so I see a lot of dogs and cats and the occasional goat or other discarded odd pet. People mostly see the animals with fear and anger, but what they don’t see is that fear changing to gratitude and happiness. Animals are extremely expressive if you just pay attention. My own dog wears his emotions on his sleeve, his ability to express his emotions is unbelievable. This has made him extremely successful as a therapy dog working with children. Children haven’t learned yet that animals don’t have feelings and are just dumb animals. His work has shown many children that he can comfort them when they’re sad and share in their happiness.
    I don’t blame science for its incapacity to see animal emotion, I blame the controlling force that was originally behind modern scientific practices. In my opinion Christianity and other similar religions are to blame. Heads of churches always put themselves above everything around them. They were made in god’s image not the mice or the bats, so they were in turn superior. Religion oversaw the start of the scientific world and corrupted it to show no empathy towards the non-human inhabitants of this planet.

    • Hi Tim, thanks for sharing your experience with animals and animal shelters. To me, the word “discarded” animals is particularly pointed. I think that as you indicate working with these creature can teach us much about being human. When we discard humans, we see comparable fear and anger that can also be transformed by decent treatment. It’s too bad that we don’t all skip the learning about “dumb animals”– it must be very rewarding to work with your dog as a therapy dog.
      On the question of religion– I agree with you to a point. I think we must separate the institution of religion from the spiritual impulse (including Christianity). The tragedy is twisting the human impulses for reverence and belonging into something that supports domination of others. I have also seen Christianity motivate tremendous generosity and love toward others of all species.
      And whereas the cultural mentality that sees the world as a collections of objects for human use is a real problem, not ALL sciences follows this idea. In fact, science can be on our side in gaining environmental information if we assess whether it is really serious science and not influenced by its funding sources, for instance.
      Check out the sites links here for “integrity in science” and the “Union of Concerned Scientists”.
      Thanks for the personal engagement and care you express here.

  61. I find it so amazing how animals and nature can relate and communicate with each and pick up on human emotions. The natural world and non-human creatures deserve so much more credit than society gives them.

    I think we do not even understand most of how natures and animals relate and communicate.
    I think that if modern society looked at the earth as alive and treated it with the respect that it deserved, it would be a much better place.



  62. If these little mice had been “men in sink” this would have been a very compassionate act and one that would have been dubbed an act of heroism. I think Pierce is right in that it was an act of heroism. Because we can not communicate with animals does not mean they can’t show compassion and empathy for one another just as we do.

    My quality of life would be the same as it is now. I really don’t understand what Wild Bill meant when he said that white people think everything is dead. I have always thought everything around me was alive – to think any other way would be depressing. To love life is to enjoy everything living all around you. I think we are being stereo-typed here.

    I am not a vegetarian but meat has always been the last thing I eat on my plate, however, after reading this article I can see me eventually giving up at least red meat and chicken eventually.

    • Thank you for your comment, Pam. I think that Wild Bill is referring to those who see the world as “objects” or the “dead people” that the linguist was trying to get him to give a grammatical equivalent for. I’m glad you see the world differently.

  63. How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world?
    I believe that our quality of life would be reawakened if we realized that our daily lives take our place in such a living world. I see the world as living and all that is in it. However, I believe what Wild Bill was saying about “white” people seeing everything dead is most of the things a person owns in a home is already dead. Furniture, phones, books, appliances, and so forth. When a person looks around the walls in their home, is anything moving except for the television and even that, one can perceive as dead since it is only an object once it is turned off. The life has been taken out of earth to make the materials. I was watching a train go by with car loads of trees on it. And it seemed as though the train was a mile long watching all those trees just moving on by, knowing that eventually they would be used for whatever. I believe we can be dead to everything around us because as our daily lives has it, we are too busy to really see that the world is “alive”, at least if I don’t move out beyond the structure of my home. The world is a beautiful place with so much life but I have to look at it to see it then I am no longer blind.

    • Thank you for you caring response, Tina–and all the images of the modern age that portray a dead or deadened world. A powerful last sentence: blinding ourselves of the life of the world is our loss– as well as, tragically, the world’s, since that view licenses such destructive human acts.

  64. Last year a good family friend of mine who operates a large ranch in Eastern Oregon took me on a tour of the property he operates on. He owns or rents over a million acres northeast of bend, on this land he has about 1000 mothers. The cattle are free range, which is a great advantage for the rancher because its far less maintenance than the more conventional stockade techniques. However, the price of this method is the loss of dozens of cattle to predators. When the laws changed years ago about how people can hunt cougars their numbers skyrocketed in this area.

    When I was on this tour of the ranch we saw the aftermath of an cougar attack. I was told that when a cougar attacks, its typically at night and they go straight for a weak calf. When this happens, the mother usually does nothing to protect the calf. Because of this increasing threat a small herd will sprint away when they even see a cougar often leaving the weak calves behind.

    This is not compassion. If it is true that animals are capable of experience empathy then they are equally likely to experience cruelty. I saw firsthand how competition exists in the natural world. If we recognize that we exist in a living world we must also realize that animals (including humans) must destroy and consume in order to live.

    • Thanks for your comment, Matt. Thoughtful point, however, I don’t think you saw firsthand how animals must “destroy and consume”: appropriate consumption in the natural cycle is not destruction. What you describe is a complex situation in which we need to make some careful distinctions if we really want to gain a handle on what is going on. Firstly, the evidence suggests that cougars are NOT increasing in human habitat (or habitat that was originally theirs but that we now want for ourselves) as a result of changed hunting rules, but because we are encroaching more and more on their habitat. Secondly, domestic cows are not wild animals and not ALL animals are compassionate in all circumstances– certainly including humans. I would argue that there is a way of taking only what we need with compassion for the animal (if we are a meat eater), which is not the same as factory farming. There are ways of treating the cattle we raise for food and milk with more or less compassion– in the case of your friend, free range cattle that are grass fed are better for the environment in multiple ways. And I would argue that they have a better life than factory farmed cattle as well.
      That said, domestication also dulls the brains and senses of many animals. Perhaps you are aware of a study recently released on chickadees, in which chickadees in a zoo were far less adaptive and had less learning capacity than did those in the wild. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to release animals back into the wild from captivity and have them make it.
      Have you ever watched a herd of wild elk closely? When there are young, there are guard mares that help signal the herd of danger and watch over the nursing calves and their mothers. I found this fascinating to witness in a herd I once came on in the wild.
      I think we cannot call what wild predators who live in systems of natural balance do “cruelty” when they take what they need to survive. I think we can call humans “cruel” when they torture and systematically abuse others of all species; and they are (inadvertently?) cruel when they over-consume to the detriment of so many other species.
      But not all humans have done this: some have been smarter about fitting into natural systems (and fighting the “human instincts of self-destruction”- see a recent comment I made to Tina Barker on this point)/ If you haven’t already, you might be interested in taking a look at the page on “Indigenous peoples” here, as well as the essay on “misusing Darwin”.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      Here is an excellent overview of the controversy regarding the re-introduction of wolves into Idaho–and compromise reached between ranchers and wildlife advocates:

      • The necessity of the cougar is only one part of the story. What I intended to bring focus to was the actions of the mother. When a mama cows see a cougar they will not protect the calf, but will run away. They know that a cat can take down a full size cow just as easy as a calf. Do those actions not have a lack of compassion?

        Going back to the story of the mice. If the lady put the board in the sink so that the stronger mouse could get out, wouldn’t the stronger mouse just leave without the weak one?

        • Thanks for the follow up comment, Matt. I understood your point about the cows: that is why I mentioned the difference between domesticated and wild animals– and the fact that not ALL animals are always compassionate.
          Wouldn’t we expect the stronger mouse to leave as you point out? That is what the researcher expected, but in fact it didn’t– it stayed to help the other at some risk to itself was what she observed instead. And thus she wrote up this rather astonishing fact (at least astonishing to those of us who assume the stronger will always help himself first in the natural world).

        • I would really like to see an experiment done that would see what would happen in say, 100 cases that are the same as this. Of course it is hard to do this in the natural world because experiments are usually done using “lab rats” in not natural circumstances. I believe that more times than not, the same thing would happen because I believe they truly do have compassion.

        • I think the point is that there are things we can “prove” because they are statistically significant and things we think we can control: and then there a watchful observation of more than human others as more than human others. I can’t prove that my friends of thirty years would act a certain way under certain circumstances– and I certainly wouldn’t want to put them in a lab to find out– if, indeed, I ever thought one could learn about them in this artificial environment. But I would stake anything on the basis of the faith I have in the way they would treat another in need, based on the ways in which they have been so generous with me over the years.
          There is an emphasis on trying to prove something– epistemology in philosophy or scientific theory. And then there is the emphasis on a different kind of knowing that brings us a very different kind of faith in our world.
          Thanks for you comment, Kelly (I suspect you heard this from someone else as a challenge as to whether one should take such stories as the mice in the sink seriously).

  65. If people perceived themselves as part of a “living” world, I think it goes without saying that people would treat animals, the earth, and each other with more care. You bring up the point that people treat animals very badly because we often don’t consider that they have feelings and a soul. I think it is funny that people will cage chickens and allow terrible living conditions for cows, but people feel much differently about the treatment of domesticated “pet” animals, like dogs and cats. The “cute and cuddly” animals are cared for while the “food” animals are commodities. What an arbitrary and unfair distinction. I think it was in the UN Forum where I recently read a statement something like, we need to protect all animals, not just the charismatic ones.

  66. How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world? I think it would increase our quality of life dramatically if more people recognized that they lived in a more vibrant place. In thinking of people I know who are unhappy, it seems to be my friends who lack something meaningful to believe in, be it religion, nature, or a fulfilling career. It feels like, for some of them, this lack of meaning is entwined with their belief that they are living in a somewhat dead world.
    If the world was seen as wholly alive, then people would have infinite possibilities in the connections they could make with this living world. They could feel something in the wind, smell something in the trees, and gain a sense of belonging when they observe other creatures. I think that this change in how they see the world would definitely imoprove their quality of life by giving them a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.

  67. This has been one of my favorite essays so far. The interactions animals and communication they share is amazing. From our point of view it may just seem like a fluke or just a happen stance, but I think it scares us to believe that animals are capable of feeling and acting on an emotional level as we are. I agree with “wild bill” in a sense that everything around us i alive, the world we live in feels. Though one part I couldnt say I quite agree with is the notion that his example of a bench being alive. I belive at one point it was alive but its feelings have faded. Dont get me wrong I think the world and nature around us had emotions and feelings. I just believe that after its life has been extinguished that it loses those feelings. Overall I agree with his out looks on the world and to answer your question what I would call that actions of the mouse earlier. I would call it companionship, you wouldnt leave a friend behind in a dire situation.

    • Thanks for your compassionate comment, Kevin. Thoughtful point about the bench. Perhaps (if it is a wooden bench), the least we can do is honor the living trees that contributed their lives to it. Yet there still are many peoples who believe that they lend their spirit to a thing by making or using it. Haven’t you ever felt this about something belonged to another?

  68. I find it difficult to believe that anyone cannot see the world as being “alive.” I am especially reminded of this during the spring, when the leaves return to the trees and the songs of birds fill the air. Considering my position on this issue, I find it extremely hurtful that others would consider wildlife and nature in general as non-living “objects.” For all of the misleading roads it has taken us down, modern science has consistently shown that more animals can sense pain than we ever realized. While a tree might not “feel” pain in the same way (or does it), are there not harmful effects on the ecosystem when a forest is logged for timber products? It is important to empathize with nature and all creatures (human and non-human alike). It provides a better appreciation for one’s surroundings and results in a better quality of life for everyone. That’s pretty hard to beat.

    • Thank you for sharing your powerful personal stance here, Allison. Good point about science. Let’s hope that we are able to use it for the benefit of all natural life– perhaps to make up in small part for the ways in which it has been been manipulated and destructive in the past.

  69. How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world?

    Quility of life, as we know it in our Western society, isn’t really quality, it’s just quantity. More is better with us: Bigger TV, Bigger paychecks, better cars, expensive technology and clothing, bigger closet… bigger cancer, bigger fat-stores, larger rates of depression and medical issues from stress, more filling lonely voids with things that don’t matter.

    As it stands now, we think we are the solar system revolves around us, and that nothing matters but our “quality of life”. I think that if it was universally accepted that everything had to be respected equally, that we AREN’T the center of the universe, then we might start to finally see that all of these things we are working ourselves to death for are really very unimportant. We might see the world as a big family, sort of like some people/s have done for centuries. They seem pretty happy to me, living in harmony with everything around them. Now THAT is quality of life.

  70. In my eyes she was a hero, most people do not think of mice as living creatures who deserve a chance to live. They just see them as pests so they kill them. I used to always have to wrestle with my cat to get the mice away from her so I could take them to the woods and let them go. I feel that every creature has a purpose so they have just as much right to live as anything else. The bat story was so touching. It is so neat to see an example of the fact that animals are intelligent and can communicate amongst eachother. I hope one day I’m prevledged enough to be called the “some kind of animal” lady.

  71. The stories in this article reminded me of some animal encounters that I have had when I was growing up. We had an open carport that was walled on two sides. during the spring and even into the early parts of summer, birds would get trapped and disoriented inside when they got stuck in the windows during migration of just chasing bugs. I recall many times where I would climb up high into the rafters near the windows to catch the birds and free them. There was a particular scrub jay that became a regular to the backyard after a rescue. He was unique in his behavior towards me and I could always distinguish him from other jays. We also had a opossum that hung around after our dog trapped him in the backyard. He was fine, he just played dead and she left him alone. But, we began to see him regularly and we realized he had an affinity for orange halves. Just another backyard friend. 🙂
    This was a great article.

  72. “The Mice is the Sink” story is a great example of the empathy and compassion all humans should express toward any living being. Being brought up Christian, I have a strong respect for living creatures because God created them and showing respect to them is showing respect to the creator. While I agree in respecting all living forms of life, I also believe that God created certain animals for humans to benefit from nutritionally. While I am a strong supporter of meat and its nutritional benefits to a well balanced diet, I am against the practices of factory farming. I think stronger regulations are needed and quantity aware consumers are key. We need to eat more balanced meals to bring down the demand of meat so that manufacturers can choose more humane ways of bringing meat to our tables.

  73. For 20 years or so PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has been displaying pictures of monkeys, dogs, and other animals as their bodies are being used for scientific experimentation. The animals appear to be making grimaces as their faces contort from the pain. I once saw a photo of a monkey strung up for experimentation its insides exposed to the air. It is an incredibly powerfull image and I remember it still after only seeing it once probably close to 20 years ago.

    • Thanks for your comment, Richard. I can’t imagine that those subjected to such experiments would not feel the pain, no matter how we read their faces. Obviously something resonates with us across species that we might attend to.

  74. As I was reading this article the word respect kept surfacing. Our Western Worldview of animals as being without a soul has led us to believe that animals are a lower life force and because of that could not possibly have cognitive thought processes. I was amazed that we once felt a baby would not require any anesthetic to be circumcised, as it as though their brains were not developed enough. This thought process has given us permission to treat animals as if they were things and not living beings. Which in turn has given us permission to treat animals with less respect and sometimes with no respect. The indigenous peoples had a reciprocal relationship between man and animal. When man would kill for food, they in turn said a prayer of thankfulness for the gift the animal just gave them. They respected the life that was just given. There is no respect for the food we eat. We have desensitized ourselves from the actual production point of how our meat is raised and slaughtered. All we see is the nice packaged product under the clean, lights of the grocery store.

    I had always maintained that worldview where animals were expendable and were here for my enjoyment until we acquired our collie when my son was six months old. This dog either thought that Reid was her son or her own best friend. I watched this dog protect my son for nine years before she became ill. She would place her body in front of his anytime she saw that he could be in danger. They were inseparable both day and night. I am sure people can tell many stories of the relationship with their animals. It reminds me of the readings we have been doing where the Africans and the Lions understood each other and actually had their own language to communicate. All the indigenous peoples seem to maintain this symbiotic relationship between man and nature which in turn has created a respect not only for animals, but also nature.

    You ended up your article with the question “How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world?” To answer that I would have to go back to the word respect. It would engender a new respect not only for our animals, but for every living thing on this planet as we would see ourselves as an equal, not a conquerer. As an equal we would treat the land and the animals with the same respect we give our kin which would produce a sustainable environment.

    Our worldview has lead us to becomes desensitized to the plight of animals. This lack of respect for animals and their “feelings” is paramount in how we raise and slaughter all our meats.

    • It is interesting how animals teach us about themselves–and ourselves as well, Liz. I think respect is certainly–maybe for ourselves as well as for the animals that sustain us physically and emotionally. Desensitizing ourselves in the way you indicate makes it our loss– for we live so much more a constrained life without feeling for the lives who share our world with us.

  75. Great essay. Some people think plant or animals don’t or can’t speak to us. Ok…they don’t in words, but actions and their physical being speak louder than words. We are so involved with ourselves or do not want to admit they are telling us something…most likely, hey…fix this, or help. It has been proven through research at our very own “Oregon State University” that aspen and willow trees of Yellowstone National Park need wolves to survive. Here is a link for more information on the research done by Ecologist William Ripple from Oregon State University:

    • Thanks for the link, Patrick. I think we have know this for some years now. I’m hoping the wolves will get better established. I’m betting that you also know that aspens as huge plants, since what looks like whole stands of tress are act actually linked underground.
      It is always a boon when you can be proud of your university for the work they are doing, yes?

  76. I didn’t start learning these concepts and ideas until well into adult hood and as a result have regrettably made many mistakes with how I have treated the earth. Perhaps if we could teach our children about these concepts we might be able to make a difference at least on some level. In school our children are taught about tolerance, racism and equality. These values should be expanded to include the earth and all living things. If we all had learned at an early age these animals were not merely objects but living, breathing and feeling non-humans perhaps things would be different.

    • Thanks for your compassionate response, Anedra. There is some work being done on the need to bond our children with the natural world– to prevent “nature deficit disorder”. You are not responsible for the culture you came into, but all of us are responsible for making sure our children grow up smarter than we are (isn’t that the purpose of culture- to pass on greater and greater knowledge to the next generation?) How to get along in the world that sustains us would seem to be a pretty big arena in which we ought to be accumulating knowledge.

  77. The story of the stronger mouse helping the weaker one was great. Most of the time it is believed that only the strong survive and they leave the weak behind. This helping of the weaker mouse allowed them to both get out on their own. I completely agree that we need to respect “animals” as we respect humans. I agree with the Buddhist perspective on not eating anything that was harmed, it passes that bad energy onto us. The fact that chickens get treated so poorly and cows and other meat are given large doses of antibiotics is a warning sign. No wonder we are having issues with “superbugs”. We eat that hurt and all those antibiotics. Something to think about.

    I think quality of life would change greatly if people were more conscience of animals. If we respected them and gave the space needed to coexist happily together I don’t think we would be so fearful. Just as your student had said, he knew of elders that could speak to animals. I know this is possible, and that is right that people maybe just need to listen more.

    • Striking image in “eating the hurt” of animals that have been raised in such painful situations, Lorena. This has physical underpinnings: the stress hormones are very high in such animals and they must stay in their meat when consumed. If compassion for the weaker among us is a sign of ethical behavior, mice evidently have something to teach us!

  78. The first connection my mind while reading this essay was the lyrics of the song “Color of The Wind” from the Disney movie Pocahontas. Specifically two verses:
    “You think you own whatever land you land on
    The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
    But I know every rock and tree and creature
    Has a life, has a spirit, has a name”
    “The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
    The heron and the otter are my friends
    And we are all connected to each other
    In a circle, in a hoop that never ends”

    I always remember this when I come across the topic as animals, plants etc being “lesser life forms”. I feel like anyone who has owned a pet knows that animals both recognize and understand emotions and have feelings of their own. I remember having a pet goldfish in which I saw a distinct personality, and goldfish have like a 3 second memory span. So surely if my lowly goldfish had a personality other life forms do to.

    As I was reading this essay I was testing out my feeling on how I know animals comprehend and feel the way humans do. And I thought of the dog that my boyfriend adopted from an animal shelter. The dog was a beautiful Bernese Mountain dog named Simba, that was incredibly well trained about 5 years old with no health problems, he had been chipped but the owners listed no longer lived at the address and left no way of contacting them. We could not figure out who had left behind such a wonderful dog. As we got to know Simba we noticed that any movement at a certain location behind his head would cause him to turn around and snap at you. It became evident that he had been repeatedly hit from this angle and he now had a learned defensive response. It was so sad to this dog carry around this burden and pain. To me it is an excellent example to show that animals certainly do feel.

    The last thing this article reminded me of was the movie “Toy Story”. After watching the first time I went home and tried to treat all my toys with respect and give them equal attention. For me the movie did such a great job of illustrating the emotions lives of toys that I was certain my toys could feel such things too.

    All in all I think that there is life in everything, because everything on this earth has a purpose

    • Thanks for sharing your personal feelings on this point, Anna. It is sad about your dog– I hope he is unlearning this response– but sometimes such dogs can be very dangerous, since they are responding to conditioned behavior you may not expect.

  79. I enjoyed this article. I find it fascinating to hear of the stories where beings show compassion for one another. It is proof that humans are not the only beings on the planet that contain the ability to care, but that we are simply the beings that hold the most power over others. Whether or not this is a proper stance for people to hold is in question. It seems to me that we could learn many things from every corner of the natural world. Animals are not mindless, and the fact that some cultures do not seperate human life as higher than the life of a natural thing is wonderful. I feel that this is a good position and value to hold.

    • Thanks for your comments here, Katie. I certainly agree that we could learn some important things in this way– one wouldn’t have assumed one could learn compassion from the example of mice–but there it is. I love the title of Deborah Rose’s book on Australia, Dingo Makes Us Human. This reflects an idea in many non-Western societies that we become fully human and learn our potential from larger than human aspects of the natural world.

  80. It is naive of us to think we are the only ones alive in this world. The living things and non living things have spirit. This is how we should look at every thing on earth. We tend to classify things; that’s in our raising and education. We place certain species above or below others. This places more importance on some compared to others. This system has faults because contrary to a species, size, or place in the food chain we are all dependent of each other. I do not see myself doing the mice in the sink bit but I try to treat everything fairly. The mice would have to leave the house one way or another.

    • Thanks for your comment, Al. I will your statement about the just plain naive stance of trying to see ourselves as a species outside the chain of life. As for the mice–we all make decisions about how we want to share (or not share) our space each day: the issue here is, I think, whether we make them with consideration and respect– and without the unwarranted pride that sometimes causes us to overlook such consideration.

  81. I’m not sure that I could see inanimate objects of the world as living things. I wouldn’t even know how to consider them that way. For instance, a park bench could never be a living thing to me because it is made out of a dead thing. A bench (or some of them at least) is made of wood, which is a dead tree–once living, but no longer. To consider a bench as a living thing seems impossible when it comes with the knowledge that it’s really just the remains of a living thing.

    • Thoughtful, Sarah. We might also look at it this way, as did the people of Northern California– it carries the spirit of the living tree it once was as it carries this history. Many woodworkers see the spirit of the wood they work with in this way. There is also the idea that we impress ourselves on what we make: thus some traditional weavers (including pioneer quiltmakers) left a loose thread or flaw in their designs to let their spirit escape when they passed the quilt on. Can you imagine how NIMBY would fall by the wayside if we each envisioned the idea that a part of ourselves goes with whatever we make, use or throw away. Just some ways of thinking about this.

  82. It is interesting when I hear that animals have “human-like characteristics” and so should be treated with more respect. While this is better than thinking animals are not sentient, it still reflects a human-centered worldview. Animals are not special because they have characteristics of humans, but because all creatures share the same feelings and emotions and nonhuman animals can relate to the feelings that humans have.
    I love the connection in this essay of the empathy shared between many different species of animals. I think that if more people realized that all animals share these characteristics, then we could move forward with taking steps against animal cruelty in factory farms and in laboratory settings. In one class i took, a student compared the factory farm cage that a pig lives its whole life in to a human having to live his or her life sitting in a school desk. As far as lab animals go, mice are the most used experimental animal and yet they are not included on the list of animals that are protected by the ethical guidelines. I hope that these stories of empathy can help people realize the connections we have with other species and put an end to this treatment.

    • Great point about human-centeredness, Lauren. I think there is no excuse for deleting any animal from the list of those protected by ethical guidelines. You might be interested to know that in many cultures, it was thought that animals taught us how to be fully human–another take on your human-centeredness here.

  83. The stories of the two baby mice and the bats are intriguing examples of how animals will reach out to each other when one is in need. As i read this, I wondered if this would also be the case not only in a species but between two species. It seems that just from observations, animals no matter the difference in species, recognize the needs of their other companions. The story of the two baby mice is especially touching in this regard. Their ability to not only sympathize with the pain of others, but also try to alleviate it, is something that many humans would not even do for other humans and certainly not for nature.
    One thing troubles me about this article in regards to utilizing the animalistic world for research purposes. How are we to practice medicine without animal research to confirm that a pharmaceutical/biomedical device works or not? By recognizing that animal’s feel pain and adopting both the kindship/partnership worldviews, we must also be accountable for our treatment of our earthy companions. There are, unfortunately, barriers to practicing and incorporating this view in the medicinal world, and if one were to publish his research on a pharmaceutical, it would only be taken seriously if he had proven it with animal research. Animal research is inhumane, however, and thus, there must be other viable options for testing these substances….or maybe the key is to go to herbals to prevent from such diseases.

    • Some points to consider here, Kristen. Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder begins with an essay in which a bear saves the life of a baby by nursing it in the deserts of Iran. It would not be the first time such instances have been recorded in human history.
      You might be interested to know that the Spanish parliament granted rights to great apes comparable to humans– so they can no longer be used for research purposes in any different ways than humans can. Of course, we need to clean up our act in this regard as well: there is a rather horrible history of the use of humans in prisons and mental institutions for experimentation.
      As for medical research: as Lauren pointed out in the comment just ahead of yours, there are ethical guidelines for the treatment of animals in research–but they don’t include all animals–or go far enough, from my perspective. I think one think is certain, research on animals to develop cosmetics is totally unwarranted. I do think we need to do some hard thinking about alternatives in medical research: you mention herbs, which have historical usage as their “research”. The Chinese had a cultural horror of dissection–so they learned anatomy through the energy meridians of living humans. There are many things happening at the cellular level that may make experimentation on animals obsolete.

  84. We, as modern humans generally believe ourselves to have intrinsic value, value in and of ourselves, value merely by existing. This is in complement to our commonly held western view of non-humans as merely having “instrumental value”, or value that can only be measured on the basis of the utility they provide for mankind. Testing on animals for the benefit of humanity is justified in this way. Obscene conditions for animals raised to feed humans are justified in this way. However some have toyed with the idea that one could distinguish degrees of intrinsic value based on an organisms experiential richness and self concern. Thus we rank higher than mice, and mice over mosquitos (or so the thinking goes…) etc. An interesting proposition, if not a dangerous one, and clearly there are no such accepted “schedules of intrinsic value,” but there is evidence all around us that such distinctions are made on a regular basis, for instance, the anti-bacterial soap next to your bathroom sink. For most indigenous traditions, intrinsic value is conferred to everything on the planet, things we would typically consider inanimate objects and sentient beings alike. Do not get me wrong, I do not believe in animal cruelty in any way, shape or form – particularly not the current way in which most animals are raised for slaughter. I am merely playing the devil’s advocate. If it were possible to save the life of a mouse by conducting tests on a mold spore in a petrie dish, would it be morally apprehensible? And if it were possible to cure a human by conducting tests on a mouse, would that? Would you kill a poisonous spider crawling in your baby’s crib? Is it even possible to make these value calls when EVERYTHING is alive? And if it isn’t… what on earth will you do with your antibacterial soap?

    • The extent to which our allocation of intrinsic versus instrumental worth to some beings in our world rather than others is based on cultural prejudices is indicated by the ways in which some humans are also considered to have little intrinsic worth–or we wouldn’t use child labor to harvest our chocolate in Africa, for instance. Soldiers who fight for us may be honored in the news, but are devalued once they come home (by lacking proper medical care): the majority of the homeless in some states are veterans–in others they are children. I don’t think this signals intrinsic worth. What I do think is that as long as we have a worldview which justifies the instrumentalization of any lives for our own, we will have resulting ethical dilemmas.
      And what on earth do you do with your antibacterial soap is certainly not buy any more if you read the report on the link on proper use of antibiotics in the Tuft University website linked here (under consumer info).

  85. I find the idea that everything which has a purpose is alive in the natural world, very interesting. Everything in nature has a purpose, its no wonder we (humans) are so lost, we are constantly searching for our purpose as individuals and as a society. Is it we who are dead? I feel that we will only truly understand our purpose by reuniting with nature; no creature has a purpose by itself. Our lives only have a purpose and meaning in the larger context of the world that we live in. This is similar to the idea that many things in nature are more than the sum of their parts. There is something unique that is created within each community level (landscape, cityscape, region, etc.) that is not found at other levels. Understanding that is we take ourselves out of the natural community we lose something, which is why we must (as you say) “give up our sense of natural privilege in our work with other natural creatures.” I believe that by working with nature, learning from nature, and empathise with the natural world we will find our purpose.

  86. One statement that comes to mind is a phrase, by Wendell Berry, from the class discussion for lesson five: “We shouldn’t eat anything we aren’t willing to pray over” (Madronna Holden, PHL 443 Class Discussion 5). The implications of this are profound in that it speaks of all beings having “intelligence…will…and consciousness.” Just as this article does, it speaks against the thought of animals as objects for human use. It says above that “experimentation on natural creatures has been licensed by the idea that nothing else in the world feels anything but us.” That is a lie that we have made ourselves believe so that we can continue to objectify organisms, for our own gain, with a clean conscious.

  87. I think it is first nature for a lot of people to react with empathy towards animals in distress. I can remember many times when a person has been worried about the safety of an animal, and then they are reassured by another person or by themselves that, “It’s alright, it’s just an .” The situation may not always be so plain, but I think the basic idea is quite common; people suppress an initial feeling to help animals through logic or scientific knowledge that they are other. Another common thing to hear is that we should not interfere with the natural order of things — ironic when you think of how much implicit impact we reek on the ecology.

    When people witness an event like that with the mice it can be very meaningful. When someone merely hears about it, especially in our culture, skepticism is often expressed in the way of something could be explained if they observed it themselves, or that the person reporting it is just silly. I think our culture does not want to believe that animals have the sentience we do, especially while enjoying the benefits of the chicken meat farms and others.

    • Interesting point about our natural compassion, Michael. Do you know the work of psychologist Alfie Kohn? He has amassed a good deal of data that indicates that you are exactly right– that compassion is our first human impulse– or at least it is that with the youngest babies–and it takes a good deal of cultural training to take this response out of ourselves and replace it competition. Meisner (Power at Play) talks about how this happens for men in our culture through sports– when they are supposed to lose compassion for themselves as well (told “just play through the pain”) Meanwhile we have pharm ads on tv that market false compassion– telling us we shouldn’t have to have any pain ever!

  88. I agree that what we learn from caged animals is not natural behavior, we are indeed learning only what creatures do in cages, which could help us determine what they do in nature when cornered, but not what they are like in nature when they do not feel threatened. Western science has always taken this route and it is tragic, we do not realize the life in these creatures when they are in such a state. We turn them into objects to poke and run tests on, we do not just try to communicate with the animals, we assume they can’t communicate, but clearly according to these stories, they communicate quite well with each other. I don’t know if I really believe that humans could at one time talk with animals, but it would be incredible to experience!

    I do however accept that animals can have empathy for one another, the story of the mice in the sink is very touching, and taught me something about animals I didn’t realize; that they can realize the suffering of another animal and try to alleviate it, and in such an ingenious manner too! If only every person shared this natural instinct…

    Wild Bill’s words struck me as well, I had never considered that indigenous cultures would consider a bench as being alive, I had figured that they would see rocks as alive, but not lumber from a tree that was killed, treated, shaped, and put together in a new way. This really got me thinking about whether everything could be alive just because it has a purpose… It is a very interesting concept, when I dabbled with some… magical mushrooms, I felt like this, I thanked my house for letting me live in it, and keeping me safe, I thanked my bed for being the most comfortable place in the world etc… I’m not going to try and say that taking psychedelic mushrooms is good, but it is interesting that at that point, and certainly never before, I realized what Wild Bill was conveying.

    • Hi Paul, good point about what we learn about natural creatures being “cornered”. It is not only suffering we inflict on others by assuming we can learn about them as caged– but a great loss of knowledge that we might otherwise learn about both them and ourselves.
      I don’t know if we can talk to animals, but they can certainly communicate with us if we know how to listen– and observe them in their free– self-initiating state. I have been fortunate enough to have some pretty remarkable experiences in this context–and I think we should offer children, for instance, the opportunity to spend as much time in the wild as I did as a child.
      I don’t think there is anything superstitious about thanking the things that shelter us–just a way of honoring them.
      I think what looking at our “things” as alive does do is break down the dualism in capitalism (and NIMBY) which says that a “thing” is a thing, so that we should not care about the living people who fashioned it or the natural life from which it was ultimately drawn.

  89. This essay was really interesting to me. The part about the Eugene lady that helps out injured bats and how they seemed to communicate to each other in order to calm him down is an idea that I have always read about but have never really believed. This lesson mentions how some indigenous peoples believed that animals had souls and feelings. This story definitely supports their beliefs.

  90. We, as human beings are quick to to assume that we are superior to all other beings on the planet. While it is true that we possess a mental capacity that is higher than that of wild animals, this does not mean we cannot learn from them. Aside from bats and mice, we can also see this compassion exhibited by dogs and other domesticated animals.

    As humans, we tend to undervalue the liviing creatures around. So much so that we do not consider the ramifications of our actions on them. By learning to accept that animals do, in some sense, have “feelings” we can begin to live in a state of harmony with them. Until such time we will continue to have disruption of natural habitats and such.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Arjun. There are many cultures who would say we do not have a higher intellect, but a different one. It is only higher in that we can do certain things better than other animals. I think the intellect that does give us great power to influence the lives of other creatures around us should entail more responsibility to use that power well. Thanks for your comment!

  91. The story of the mice at the beginning of this post brought another word to mind, other than heroism. I ascribed the actions of the stronger mouse to compassion. This seems to be a loaded word this year, after the confirmation of Judge Sotomayor. Never had I heard the concept of compassion so degraded. How is that we can praise acts of compassion among mice but when it comes to compassion for others within our own species, let alone within interactions between humans and other species, the word compassion becomes a dirty word?

    • I don’t know when compassion– or vulnerability to others became “dirty” words–words indicating weakness and failure to be tough-minded. Perhaps at the same time that societies like Western industrial society began to emphasize economic competition rather than community and sharing. Thanks for your comment, Tabitha.

  92. I wonder what our world would be like if we all tried to behave altruistically, as the rat had done. The idea that in order for us all to survive, we must help one other to survive promotes positive energy. We cannot continue to survive without regard to the other societies, species and natural world. The competitive ways of our culture are the cause of our natural environment’s downfall. One day, there may just be nothing left to fight and compete for. The oppressive society that is in place requires that there are some that are on the bottom. They are viewed as weaker, and not as valued in our society—not as fit to survive. Those attributes that place them in the hierarchy are man made values. The survival of the fittest could be viewed differently. Not as one who is ahead or above someone else, but instead the fittest is helping others, and bringing others up, as well as protecting and preserving all that is found naturally.

    • Thoughtful question you pose, Erin. We certainly have something to learn from the more than human lives that share our world. Great definition of the idea of “fittest”– there is another essay on this site that ponders how we should look at “fittest” evolutionary terms–as those who “fit” into the natural cycle rather than besting and replacing others.

  93. I have never heard of a story quite like this before. It seems so amazing to me that a mouse would do this for it’s fellow friend. Thinking deeper into this and putting myself in a similar situation, I believe most human beings would have the decency to provide for fellow friend in need in this type of situation. But, I’ve never considered animals doing the same thing.
    Learning that ecofeminism is the equality of all things is pretty profound to me. Although I’ve heard of ecofeminism before I never truly understood what it meant. The more that I read about it, and read accounts like this, I am able to understand how we are more equal to nature than I always thought. For an injured bat to make a noise that could quiet the other bat is truly impressive and stories like these need to be told more often.
    In the discussion notes it says that “there is an intrinsic relationship between the way in which we treat the natural and world and the way in which we treat one another.” I am noticing this to be more and more true. I am truly enjoying learning about ecofeminism and I feel a certain responsibility to spread the knowledge that I am learning and stories such as these along to those that may not know of it.

    • Thanks for you comment, Kelly. Obviously, if a mouse and a bat can shows intelligence and care for others, we humans have some lessons to learn from these other creatures. I’m glad you are retelling these stories–and noticing how the way we treat the natural world and the way we treat other humans is related. Indigenous peoples in the NW learning reciprocity and sharing from their observations of the natural world. I think it is time to understand what we are missing when we see the natural world as something to control rather than rather than shared life to learn from.

  94. I was deeply moved by this essay because I had never heard of mice acting this way towards each other. I love nature shows, going to the zoo and generally being around animals, so to hear that they not only care about one another but have the smarts to devise a plan to get a friend/relative to eat and drink water is pretty enlightening. I’ve always been under the impression that if an animal was hurt or dying then the other animals would leave it to fend for itself and the healthy animals would move along. I have seen many instances where a mother will die trying to save its young so if this was the case in this particular story, then I’m not surprised. In saying that though, I am crazy surprised at the bat incident. I have to assume here that the bats weren’t related to one another, so to have one bat tell another bat, hey it’s ok you’re going to get healthy here, is AMAZING! This is why I feel more comfortable out in the woods compared to in the concrete jungle!

  95. I love Grandma Aggie, she is an incredible human being. I can remember her telling people, “just call me Grandma”.
    This article reminds me of Grandmother Spider.
    Grandmother spider came to visit us last spring. She set up house in our kitchen window. Her web started out small, as she was too. So small that it was hard to identify her. Well for me it was. Caleb knew she was a Garden spider. Over the weeks we watched her web every morning. She would build a new one every night and the designs were more and more beautiful each time. Visitors would come and try to grab our broom to clean the window. They would be all freaked out, and Caleb would say “NO! that is Grandmother Spider!” During late summer her web was huge and covered the whole window. Her coloring was beautiful with yellow and black. And she got really big. That is when those darn fruit fly’s came. They would be there in the afternoon and by night fall all of them would be gone. “See” Caleb would say, “she is showing her thanks for giving her a safe place to live”. One morning when fall came, Grandmother Spider was gone and her web was too. I worried that Caleb would freak out because he had gotten so attached to her. But he just looked for her and said, “Hey Mom” Grandmother Spider went to join her ancestors…Thank you Grandmother Spider”

    • Hi Val, thanks for sharing this delightful story of Grandmother Spider–and Caleb- with us. You obviously have a gifted child–and one who thrives in the sensitive care of his mother.

  96. I enjoyed this essay because I think it talks about a very important shift in perception between our traditional western culture and the reality of the natural world. After thinking about it, I totally agree that everything in the world is alive, and I also believe that living things deserve respect. It might sound weird since I have been alive for almost 35 years now (!) but I have never actually put those two concepts together before. As I think back, I don’t think I’ve been deliberately disrespectful to the earth, but I have not been deliberately respectful either. Now that I realize the “aliveness” of the natural system, I feel bad that I have not given it the respect it deserves. I think it is one thing to enjoy the natural world, which I have definitely done, but another thing entirely to treat it as a fully living organism, deserving of the same kind of respect that we all deserve.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. Great perspective about putting together the recognition of the life of the natural world and the need to respect it. My sense is that enjoying the natural world can be increased several times over by realizing that we are interacting with other lives–and acting accordingly.

  97. What a wonderful story to start this out! In one of the places I’ve worked, we had a rat that loved children so much, she would beat up other rat mom’s and take their babies. Didn’t even matter the size of animal, either! Anyone who has pets and connects with them as more than a pet for a purpose knows there is some sort of 6th sense they can detect, especially if we are upset, don’t feel good or whatever.

    I’ve never understood the significance of animal testing, especially if it is something to relate to us. What animal is living a “normal” life caged and fed? But then how many years did it take zoos to figure that out, especially when the breeding programs weren’t all that successful. I think it arrogant of humans to think we are the only smart species. So we are the only ones that can do calculus (though I STILL haven’t figured out why we have to). big deal. And we can build the atomic bomb. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Maybe we should start paying attention. Also, what good is a dead specium? Even if we figured out how to kill it. I’d think the harder job figuring out would be how to keep it healthy, happy AND ALIVE!!

    • I appreciate your personal enthusiasm for living creatures–that rat sounds like quick a kick! It is obvious that such creatures, as you indicate, teach us something about the diversity of thinking rather than constituting the arrogant hierarchy with ourselves at the top. All in all, I think it is not so very smart to think we can only learn from our fellow creatures when we control them. Thanks for the comment, Christy.

  98. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that animals are equal to people. Although I do think that they have as much of a soul as we do. We all came form the same source and are made of the same building blocks and in the end we all become part of the cycle of life again. For this reason I agree that we should have respect for all living and nonliving creatures of the world. Everything plays a part in the complex ecosystem that we all are a part of. Your reference to Darwin’s original idea of cooperation might be all we need to live in harmony with the world. We don’t have to stop farming or raising animals for food. We don’t have to stop doing everything that we are doing. We just need to realize that we are part of the balance in the world not just the recipients of the goods and resources. We have to respect the resources so that they are capable of providing for us and so that they can fulfill their role in the ecosystem. We also need to realize that we don’t know everything about the complexities of the ecosystem. If we don’t we will be doomed to put ourselves into extinction.

    • Thanks for your comment, Zane.
      We all, that is, share the spark of life? It seems that humility is a very important aspect of what you are suggesting. Can we respect others in their own right, as well as those who provide for us. Is this what assuming their place in the ecosystem might be all about?

  99. This response is not so much a story of how animals may or may not have empathy (though I believe they do) but rather a human animal having empathy for a non-human animal. In this case, it just happens to be a mouse.

    The other morning my kids and I were walking around our neighborhood, when my daughter spotted a cat ready to pounce. My daughter yelled, “Look, it’s a mouse!” In the background, in the opposite direction the cat was looking, we could see a tiny mouse huddled in front of a garage. The mouse was so still, we weren’t sure if it was alive. At that moment, for some reason we couldn’t understand, the cat turned around and saw the mouse.

    The cat walked up to the mouse and pawed it a bit. The mouse seemed disoriented, but it eventually made its way up a tall but very unstable bush. The cat just hung out below, very nonchalantly walking around the area where the bush was. We could hear the mouse squeaking up in the bush, so we made our way over to see it.

    That poor mouse was in a precarious position: doing the splits between two very thin branches with a cat waiting patiently below. At that moment we all had empathy for that little mouse. It was shaking up in that bush, and we could tell it wouldn’t last long on those branches. We could all sense its fear. My kids started saying, “That mean cat,” but I told them that it was just doing its job. Still, we couldn’t imagine standing there watching that mouse get caught and eaten, so we tried with all our might to chase the cat away, long enough for the mouse to get down.

    The cat never moved too far from that bush. It was distracted by other things (like leaves) for a short time, but it continued back to that bush every so often. The mouse never moved (except for all the shaking it was doing). At some point, we realized staying and trying to help was futile. The cat and the mouse were going to do exactly what they were meant to do.

    We left with the hope the mouse got away. My kids said the mouse reminded them of Despereaux (The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo). In the book, Despereaux falls in love with a princess and eventually saves her. The book’s last chapter ‘happily ever after’ ends like this: “And what of Despereaux? Did he live happily ever after? Well, he did not marry the princess, if that’s what you mean by happily ever after. Even in a world as strange as this one, a mouse and a princess cannot marry. But, reader, they can be friends.

  100. is a link to a graphic video of the cruelty shown to sick cows going to slaughter that made headlines last year. Acts like the one above and the baby seal clubbing (for the meat, since we all eat baby seal meat) are things that we allow in society because a lack of understanding of the relationships with animals. If people were to treat animals as equals we would have to respect the cycle of life. This would not mean not eating meat but respecting where it came from. If animals could feel and communicate it is frightening what they may share.

    • I also lived in Yellowknife, NWT for four years, dominated by Inuit and have never once noticed the “seal meat” section in the store. The argument that people eat this is misguided.

      • I think this is weird argument about eating the meat of baby seals that I have not heard, Patrick. Actually a number of people traditionally ate seal meat, but not baby seal meat (which is not, however, as bad as the way in which veal-baby calf– is created– we just won’t go there.)
        It is, as you point out in your previous comment, time to pay attention to our actions. If animals give us life, the least we can do is give them a decent life in return.
        And I think you are right about what animals might say to us– in fact, I do think they can communicate with us (though of course not in English)– but we need to pay attention for that to happen.

    • Thanks for your comment. Actually, the baby seals are clubbed for their fur– which is a big item on the Canadian fur market– the baby seals (as I understand it) have a softer fur than adults.
      I agree that this is inappropriate and a waste — not to mention, cruel.

  101. I have never understood the cruel treatment of animals, but humans treat other humans cruelly as well, so I guess I shouldn’t expect anything different treatment for animals.

    I liked the idea that the Pit River people don’t differentiate between all living things and don’t have a word for different word for “animal.” I can’t imagine western culture having that kind of connection with the natural world.

    Wild Bill’s comments about how white people think everything is dead made me think of a recent ritual I participated in to thank the trees. One of the guys helping my husband and I frame our house told me I needed to cut a bow from a spruce tree to attach to the top of my house after we finished building our roof. He told me it was to pay respects to the trees that were killed to build my house, so that it would not fall down. I quickly cut a small spruce bow and he tacked it up at the peak of the roof and I said my thanks to the trees. I didn’t think my house would really fall down, but I did want to thank the trees because when I actually had to cut some down to build my house I was truly sad. It is like buying chicken in a package at the grocery story. You don’t really have to face the fact that you are killing a chicken. When you go to the lumber yard and buy a piece of wood, you don’t have to see the bird or animal’s home you cut down, or the end of the life of a beautiful tall tree.

    • Great example of honoring the life that shelters us–in building your house, Christina. It seems to me the least that spruce bow can do is make you more appreciative of your home. Your example illustrates precisely what we are lacking when we don’t now the stories of the products that we buy. Everything we use comes at some point from a natural source.
      And I do think it is often the case that the way we treat humans is (for better or for worse) very much like the way we treat the more than human world.

  102. We must continually remind ourselves that we too are animals. It seems that because our wild relations do not speak a language based in Latin, Sanskrit or Kanji they must not form tangible thoughts as well. The mouse example is a perfect demonstration of carrying out a plan and showing compassion by caring enough to create the plan in the first place. Too many scientific studies using lab animals find that an inadvertent consequence is an emotionally reactive animal. Linda Hogan explains this when giving the example of chimps who learned sign language who categorized different scientists as ‘kind” or “mean.” It does not make sense to consider the thoughts and feelings of our deaf or mute, but not also the signings of a chimp forming coherent sentences.

    Where could science go if we changed our methods to learn from nature, who evolves to perfect and unify the biospheres within it, instead of trying to prove our separation from it?

    • I certainly agree with you, Jessica. Just because animals aren’t speaking English (though we have taught some a few words), it does not mean they are not communicating–and communicating with us animal to animal. Powerful last point that you have: what a sad and ultimately self-defeating task we make for ourselves in trying to prove ourselves above the natural world (which we can only do by proving ourselves separate from it). Thanks for your comment!

  103. It is an interesting idea that expressions of cooperative society, such as heroism, can be present in the behavior of all animals as well as between humans. An evolutionary perspective explains why this level of cooperation occurs amongst the members of a species but not between different species. On a lesser level, the unintentional efforts that occur between species arise as another form of cooperation, or interdependent behavior… As humans, we take our consciousness of this dynamic and exploit it to the point that the results benefit nothing but ourselves.

    In response to your final question in the essay, “how would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world”, it is difficult to ponder. It would most certainly result in a level of harmony that very few if any of us could imagine. I think that the way we experience the world has everything to do with how we react to it and where we find our own place to be. As humans in a Western culture, we have many advantageous abilities which position us to compete for dominance over the natural world and imagine that we ultimately have power to control the natural order. In reality, and in relation to one aspect of an indigenous worldview we should explore, we are arrogant to assume that we have the power or the right to exert dominance over the world when nature will always win out. Someday, we will die. Floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes wipe us out. People can starve, murder each other, and generally produce the mechanisms which expedite our demise on a global level — for all life besides our own. We seem to demand dominance as a reflection of our fear of how small we truly are. It is comforting to realize, therefore, that we are part of a living system that is bigger and more significant than our own individual existence.

    • You are right about the benefits of cooperation in a biological and evolutionary framework, Kirsten– in Western society we have been so sure that nature operated like our own competitive society, we haven’t looked into this enough. I talk a bit more about this here
      It is ironic if, as you observe, we demand dominance “as a reflection of our fear of how small we are”– for in asserting such dominance (and thus our separation from the natural world) we make ourselves even smaller as we remove ourselves from the whole circle. Certainly we make ourselves lonelier.
      Thanks for your comment.

  104. I grew up with science. My hero was Roy Chapman Andrews. I learned, and was repeatedly taught, that to be a valid result, it had to be a measurable one. We weren’t churchgoers, nor was I allowed mythic explanation (Tooth Fairy, Santa), so at no point did ‘faith’ occur to me. One just needs proof.

    This is what I see in library culture as well. How do we measure success? With hard data. How many people took that computer class, how many people came to story time today? When we have limited resources, we have to choose wisely how we spend them. Base decisions on numbers… it’s effective.

    To learn, and to try to believe that the impossible sometimes happens, hurts my head. Bats that tell each other, “Chill, she’s gonna fix you up,”, or baby mice that make elaborate, multi-part strategic plans to save their weakened kin… this is the stuff of fiction. As fiction, I enjoy it. As a moral lesson, I get it. I’m just not sure I can reconcile the warring philosophies within me. How can one accept things on faith when one is not trained to do so?
    I believe I understand what Wild Bill is talking about; I agree that I’m ‘dead’.

    • Thanks for your comment and self-reflection, Patrick. I don’t think it takes faith: just plain old observation with our eyes fully open to see such things happening with mice and bats and the rest of the lives with whom we share our world. I wonder what you think of this– though I wouldn’t want to make your head hurt more!

      • I thank you. That was just what I needed. I think I’d forgotten the part of me that used to see wonder. Apparently a tiny sliver of it is still there. I salute those yellowjackets.

        • Thanks, Patrick. And do you mean the mice and bats and the yellowjackets–as per the essay here that begins with a story on yellowjackets?
          I think it is a hopeful sign that wonder still remain in us!

  105. This story, with the mice in the sink, reminds me often of debates I have had with others. Many people often argue that animals do not have feelings, and that they are selfish. I disagree. This story with the mice support that. And I think anyone who has a family pet would also say that animals can feel, can feel empathy towards others, and can love.
    I have seen truly heroic acts from pets, and they can sense when we are sad, happy, or even sick. They can have anxiety if they are unsure of when we are coming home, or can become depressed when their owners die.
    I found it very interesting that animals DO communicate with us to, and they WANT to communicate and understand us. My dog loves learning new commands, and new ways to tell me how she is feeling, or what she is thinking, or even finding out how I FEEL. They want to be understood, and they want to understand.
    I also noticed that when I am with someone that has never had interactions with animals, or have had a pet, they are usually not perceptive to listening to the world or other people also. They are not in-tune with the world. They seem to think the only way to communicate is through speaking. They forget to listen. And they forget to listen to things other than human language. They have no perception of the natural language of the world.
    These people have no concept of what the rock’s story is next to their front porch. Of how the winds shaped it, and how it was formed. These people have no appreciation of any stories of the natural world.
    It is also interesting that I have noticed these people also seem to not have good people communication skills. They do not percieve the body language of the person, or the tonality of their voices.
    I think if poeple did recognize that everything is living around us, the world would be so beautiful, and so loving.

    • Thanks for sharing something of your experience of the animal world– of which we are also a part– Danielle. I think you have something in your observation that those uninterested in learning the story of the landscape in which they live and the more than human lives that reside there are also not very good at communicating with other humans. There is much that the natural world in which we co-evolved can teach us about our human potential!

  106. What amazing stories! This whole section has been extremely thought provoking. There definitly needs to be a stronger relationship between animals and humans. The mice in the sink story particularly struck me as fascinating, though I am not sure why. As I sit here writting I am observing the phenomenon myself. My dog is not feeling well today and my cat who usually jumps all over her and plays with her instead went up and started licking her face. He then curled up next to her and the two of them are sleeping together. He instintualy knows that she does not feel well and is doing what he can to soothe her. Why can’t most humans relate to animals and acknowledge their feelings?

    • Thanks for sharing your own example of animal sensitivity, Ashley. It would be good if we took to heart the model of sensitivity to one another’s feelings as you indicate here!

  107. That is amazing how the stronger mice helped out the weaker one. I feel that we as humans could learn so much more from animals, particularly their behavior. Animals are always helping others out. When a work kills say an elk, it howls to let other wolves know it has made a kill and for them to come share. When a flock of geese are feeding there are always a couple of “lookers” with their heads up and looking for predators. We need more “heroes” in today’s world. Too many people are always waiting for someone else to step up or are only looking out for themselves. The stronger mice easily could have hoarded the food and water to himself and let the weaker one die but he didn’t for whatever reason. This story was a great example of how people need to lead their lives.

    • I like the lessons you saw here for humans, Mitch. The natural world is full of such lessons if we watch for them as did indigenous peoples– but since we too often dismiss the natural world as below the human one and/or interpret it as violent and senseless, we don’t learn about it–or ourselves. Thanks for your comment.

  108. This blog reminded me of an article I read on ABC News. Here is the link:
    It is called “Do Boiling Lobsters Feel Pain?” There was a study some scientists had done about whether or not boiling lobsters feel pain. The scientists came to the conclusion that animals without spines or invertebrates do not have as complex a nervous system, so they feel no emotion. Lobsters thrash in a pot because of their muscle contraction, not because they are feeling pain, or so the scientists believe.
    I’m skeptical about this myself. How do they know that the muscles are contracting, not only from the heat, but the pain as well? They can’t really get inside the mind and emotions of a lobster, can they?

    • I am skeptical of this sense that lobsters don’t feel pain just as you are, Jennifer. It is just too convenient. For many year the AMA maintained that male babies could be circumcised without an anesthetic, since their nervous systems were not “developed” enough for them to feel pain. Doctors no longer support this view–and it’s time to give up the one about the lobsters as well. Why not err on the side of caution in preventing potential pain to our fellow creatures?

  109. I think that I have an excellent example of birds feeling empathy for each other, but some people will find it disturbing, so for this I am sorry. I have read that Canada Geese find a mate and will stay with them until one of them dies. As a waterfowl hunter, many times I have seen one of a pair of Canada Geese shot by a hunter, only to then watch the other goose fly down to the dead or wounded goose and stay by them, usually until scared away by the approaching hunter. I know hunters who will not shoot at a pair of Canada Geese flying alone because this image is too haunting to them, and too frequently observed. For me, the living mate of the dead goose is clearly showing empathy for the other, while some humans have changed their behavior as a result.

    To answer how our quality of life may change if we recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world, I am sad to say that for some people who through ignorance or choice live in a “dead” world, nothing will ever change. But for those who are willing to admit that they do not know everything, or at least everything that they have chosen to consider important, there may still be hope that our entire natural world may some day gain the respect it deserves, and we may actually take steps to preserve it.

    • Thanks for sharing this example, David. It is poignant that in their loyalty, the geese touch some cord in hunters who therefore refuse to shoot them. I think that most of us view the world as alive as children–and therefore that mind/ability is still somewhere inside many if not all of us–and that losing this makes for a lonely spot within that many also would be happy to fill. So I am not so pessimistic about changing the worldview of the average westerner– though it will not be easy!
      Thoughtful comment!

  110. Right away when I began reading this article my mind went to one of my favorite shows “Animal Cops – Houston”. I do not understand how a human being can force two dogs to fight each other to death. And it kills me that once we save those dogs from those terrible people, it’s the dogs that have to be put down. Sometimes the owner gets away with the cruelty, yet most times all they get is either a fine or a slap on the wrist. Lately, they’ve been getting jail time.

    If anything, we are supposed to take care of the animals in our care. Dogs, cats, horses, birds, etc. Chickens resorting to cannibalism, cows getting antibiotics – that’s horrible. But adopting an animal from a shelter just to neglect it or force it to fight another animal until one of them dies? That is plain monstrous. Something needs to change, and it needs to change now. Ghandi once said “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – and i think more people need to adopt this as their own.

    • I appreciate your compassionate response for our fellow creatures, Becky. It certainly seems that those who think of themselves as “higher” than animals are the least good at proving it!

    • I agree Becky with Ghandi’s quote, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” It seems so much easier said than done. I love animals and it even makes me cry when I see the birds rescued from the oil spills. Although I don’t intentionally go around hurting animals (I have hit a deer and a porkipine in my car), or fighting dogs to the death, or farming chickens, etc., I buy the eggs that come from those chickens and the milk that comes from those cows. How can you not, except to grow your own? Which, where I live is nearly impossilbe. I hope I am in the early stages of becoming aware of it all. Next is to actively, daily, do something about it.

      • It is a discipline to follow our values–but one with which we truly honor ourselves, I think. One thing we can do is get to know those who provide us with milk and eggs–and the conditions under which these animals are kept.

  111. I believe that animals have emotional feelings and that they also feel physical pain, even lobsters. People only will say that an animal can’t feel pain as a convenient excuse for others and they want to believe it themselves to put their guilty minds at ease. My girlfriends dog lost her litter of puppies (they froze to death) and the dog moped around for months toting around a beanie baby dog as her substitute puppy. Sometimes I wonder if the cows in California are really happy cows. I’m sure you’ve seen one of those milk advertisements. California cows may get to roam in green pastures but they still get their newborn calves whisked away from them within hours of birth. This is how the dairy farmers get their animals to keep producing milk. The calf then gets put in a tiny stall and gets fed a milk mixture that is made from powder and water. If it is a male calf, it will get slaughtered for veal in a few months. If it is a female calf, it may grow to maturity to start the process all over again. How can California cows be happy when they get their helpless calves taken away from them? Humans treat domesticated farm animals like a commodity. Mallard ducks also mate for life. One morning on my walk to work a female mallard was dead on the side of the street and her male partner stood next to her dead body just looking at her. He stood there for at least 4 hours before a city worker came to remove the road kill. It was so sad. Everyone in my office building witnessed it if they came it to work from that direction. The mouse in this story could be considered a mouse hero (mighty mouse to the rescue!) if it risked its own life to save the other though I am not sure it did. I don’t think that the lady had the heart to kill either one of them.

    • Thanks for all these examples of bonding in more than human animals to add to the examples in this article, Kelley. I think you are right–this scientist was of a compassionate type or she wouldn’t be passing on this story as she did.
      A thoughtful comment!

  112. Would I call the mice in the sink story heroism? I think to the mice it absolutely was. From that perspective she saved them, that is a hero as far as I am concerned. I am more likely to call it compassion, or empathy. Being able to put yourself in one’s shoes is an amazing way to help heal the relationship between animals and humans. If the situations were reversed we would want assistance from another would we not? Everything has it’s purpose, everything has it’s place and who are we as people to devalue the life of a mouse or a bat.

    • Thanks for your comment, Emily. Perhaps compassion is its own type of heroism– or at least incites it?
      All living creatures do indeed have a valuable place in natural cycles– a place we can honor through our compassion– asking the important question you raise– what would we ourselves do in that place?

  113. I am constantly amazed by our consumer culture – amazed in a bad way. We have been raised and conditioned to think that some things are worth keeping and saving and others aren’t worth anything and should be thrown away. We have been taught that some things are valuable, but the things we chose to value are usually things with monetary value. There are many people who don’t value trees unless we can cut them down and sell them. They don’t values rocks unless they can sell them to people or build something out of them. There’s a reason we have the saying, “what’s in it for me?” It is this idea that keeps most people from doing wonderful selfless acts for living things other than humans. We seem to have a superiority complex over animals and plants that hinders our ability to empathize with them.

  114. I enjoyed reading this article very much. I found it most interesting. To think that one could stick by the comment that “nothing else feels anything but us” is ludicrous, and far too presumptuous for even a scientist or doctor to declare. No scientific or surgical experimentation could possibly insinuate what a living thing might be “feeling”… emotionally that is. Doctor’s and scientists SHOULD however be familiar with the general anatomy of living creatures, and acknowledge the fact that any human, animal, or otherwise with a nervous-system constituting part of their physiological make-up would indeed feel physical pain unless the nervous-system is somehow impaired by injury or birth-defect. Thus, for a doctor to state that a baby cannot feel circumcision is a little ridiculous.

    Emotional pain cannot be evaluated by studying the nervous-system, however. Emotional pain is not the same feeling for all. That is, emotions vary and one might describe their sadness quite differently than what another might describe theirs. Physical pain is simpler described and the feeling of a migraine or broken limb would probably be easier compared by two different people with the same problem. emotional pain originates from perhaps deep within the brain and cannot be altogether discovered or understood for exactly what it is or how it is expressed or even who/what can express/experience it. As far as I see it, anyhow.

    It is quite a mystery to me to read of the mouse and bat incident from which “heroism” is indicated…. Two incidences where non-human animals conduct empathy for another animal. As I am a firm believer in Natural Selection and Darwinian Theory (for the most part), I might call these acts of “heroism” unique, intriguing, but perhaps almost also somewhat fabricated, or rather exaggerated. That is, I understand wild animals to live instinctively and competitively and yes “cooperatively” as well, but not “cooperatively” in the way some might link it to these stories. That is, the way it was indicated in the article.

    Wild animals are forced to live selfishly in order to survive and reproduce, and thus allow their species to prevail for further generations. We humans are no longer living instinctively because we do not need to compete for survival and we do not need to be selfish to prolong our race. Rather, we humans need to do quite the opposite, for our selfishness will kill us and all other life, in the end. Yet, we are still selfish because we can be. Animals MUST be in order to survive and continue their race. Whether they have the capacity to or not, they cannot afford to empathize with another animal or help a weaker one without it benefiting them in return, which is where “cooperation” comes in.

    Darwin’s or the natural concept of “cooperation” refers to animals living in sync with one another for, yet again, survival. For one animal to help another, that animal must be getting something out of it. There are different types of “cooperation”. That is, one animal might benefit from another at the other’s expense (a parasite and its host for example), while another situation of “cooperation” would entail a mutual benefit between the interactions of two animals. Nevertheless, acts of “cooperation” in the wild world, are ultimately acts of necessary selfishness.

    Considering a k-selected species, a mother defends and nurtures her young so that they can grow and reproduce as well, and thus continuing their species. However, this is a little different than the afore-mentioned situations of “cooperation” between two separate animals. That is, a mother and her young (particularly k-selected species) render a natural bond, one that might be unusually strong, to the point where a mother might sacrifice her own life for the life of her young, or to the point where a mother will mourn the death of her young, not physically bear tears, but rather sulk and cry in their own mournful voices, which would indicate this empathetic ability in animals and where it perhaps began.

    Perhaps the mouse in the article was having a motherly urge by wanting to help nurture the other mouse back to health. Then again, mice are r-selected species rather than k-selected species, which means that their bond goes only so far with their young. They feed them milk, and once they are old enough to see and eat on their own (which is not long) they release the teet and fend for themselves. So, for a mouse to do this for another mouse sounds to me a little far-fetched, but not impossible… for there are several stories I have heard or read about which have awed me and tugged at my heart-strings. Such as the story of the mother lioness trying to nurture a baby gazelle… which should have naturally been seen by the lioness as a food source… but instead she formed an unnatural motherly bond with it.

    Even though I might be a firm believer in the fact that all wild animals must compete to survive, and live selfishly to prevail (except overly-selfish homo sapiens), I cannot deny that they also have the ability to feel emotions as we humans do. These emotions generally come second to their innate desire to survive and reproduce however. Perhaps when they are in an environment where competition isn’t needed, the empathy reveals itself, but such an environment hardly exists (but in the domesticated world of humans).

    What it comes down to I think is that Nature is a mysterious and wondrous thing. No matter how many studies we perform, we cannot predict her… we cannot know everything about her. There are unexplainable bonds between animals which make no sense at all when it comes to science and the laws of natural selection… but they exist and have been recorded. Animals have acted out of what seems to be love and emotion, though scientists might try to deny it, nor can they explain why some random animals behave such ways when it defies Darwinian laws and the like. Some see it as heroism, some see it as a fluke in Nature, some see it as a miracle. I see it as a beautiful enigma never to be solved, but rather to be admired and appreciated.

    • Thanks for your comment, Cherrise. This is obviously a topic about which you have some personal engagement! I appreciate your thought here. It is possible to categorize nurturant and/or empathetic behavior according to positive results in gene conservation– but that paradigm does not always fit the data– as you illustrated with respect to the mouse/bat incidents. There is an alternative to throwing out data (in this case, incidents recorded by trained biologists) which does not fit the paradigm–and that is, to enlarge the paradigm.
      You have laid out the sociobiological argument for evolution and the necessity for competition as a natural process. This is actually not a “given” in current science–but a controversial theory that is much debated. Note the attitude toward the incidents of the mouse and bat behavior dictated by this theory– they must somehow be misrepresented.
      This is commensurate with Kuhn’s history of science (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions), in which he notes a consistent trend. Those who hold firmly to a particular paradigm have characteristically thrown out the data that contradicts it UNTIL there is a cultural/worldview shift that allows them to change paradigms and include the new data.
      The essay here on “Misusing Darwin” has a bit of the counter-theory and data to the sociobiological theory of evolution you are working from here.
      So the real challenge would be: how might we understand the mouse and bat behavior? And/or how might we sharpen our observations and the structure of our observational circumstances (e.g. wild rather than caged animals) to watch for such behavior ourselves?

  115. it is amazing how we can find many examples of heroism among animals in nature. Recently, the human are mostly selfish and they think only from their box own . Heroism in nature is a new lesson that human can apply in their life to benefit each other and all survive.
    Unfortunately, what happens today is that everyone is thinking from h/er own box by seeking only for their needs and they never think about others. I have a story which can illustrate the meaning of thinking only inside your box, there was a man in the airplain and he had one empty seat next to him. At the same time there was a couple looking for two seats close to each other but this man who had an empty seat, he did not say that there was one seat because he was thinking from his box to be more comfortable during the flight, while the couple did not get two seats by each other, and was uncomfortable during the flight. Thus we should learn from those creatures and do as they think out of their box.

    • I like your idea of using heroism in nature to model something we humans might learn, Duaa. Getting us out of ourselves, as you indicate, helps us grow larger in heart and mind. Thoughtful example– it is not only heroism but unselfishness that we might learn from some of our animal companions on this shared earth?

  116. This was very interesting. It’s definitely new concepts for me. It’s hard for me to think of EVERYTHING as being alive. I can definitely appreciate the natural world and all of it’s functions and the life that is there. That is undeniable. But the chair I’m sitting on right now? That’s a step I’m not sure if I’m ready to take yet. This is a wooden table that I’m sitting at so it came from a tree which was once alive. It’s remains are serving a purpose, but the tree died. I don’t know. I believe in the Bible and there is a verse that even the rocks will praise him when the time comes. I know that he created all that there is in this world and that his fingerprints of life are all over. There is a distinction though between us, the children of God (humans) and the rest of the world. we are the ones with souls and the capacity to experience the spiritual realm and eternal life. I appreciate the life of animals, nature and the interconnectedness that we all share, I see God in all of that, but I see him the most in people, I can’t deny that. I don’t want to rebel against everything I am about to learn in this class, but there are a few parts of my value system that I can’t give up.I love my dog, but she will never mean as much to me as my friends. I just can’t look at a mouse and value it at highly as I value a person that I pass on the street.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts here, Alyssa. I appreciate your sharing your personal values here– I think that the views of Thomas Berry (which you comment on here) give us a way to bridge your Christianity with what you just read here.
      One thing he writes is that the different aspects of natural life are not (or should not be) in competition with one another for value or worth: they are each valuable in their own way and their own place in natural cycles. That is how he understands the intrinsic value or rights of the natural world: a river does not have the same place or value as a rock nor does a mouse have the same place or rights as a human. A river would not wish a rock’s rights– nor a mouse, a human’s rights.
      And as for the biblical approach, I am thinking of another loving grandmother I worked with named Nina Baumgartner, who was both a Lower Chehalis traditionalist (living at Quinault) and a Christian. Her favorite phrase from the bible was “My help is in the hills”. And she once said this eloquent thing to me, “If we forget to praise God, the trees will do it, waving in the wind, and the ocean will do it, rolling on and on…”

  117. This article reminds me of when I worked in the oilfield. On one particular day, we had to tear a bunch of insulation off some pipes to replace it. Hiding in the insulation I found a number of litters of baby mice. I was so worried about the baby mice, that any ones I found I carefully scooped up and moved off to the side. (in hopes that the mommy mouse would be able to find them). I even cried when I found a few baby mice that red ants had already found and were eating!

  118. Although I have many issues with the historical accuracy and the portrayal of Native Americans in the movie Pocahontas, I love the song “Colors of the Wind.” This essay made me think of a particular part of that song, whose lyrics are “You think you own whatever land you land on, the earth is just a dead thing you can claim. But I know every rock and tree and creature, has a life, has a spirit, has a name.” Most, if not all, of the Native American tribes with which I am familiar feel this way. In some tribes, the spirit of a person can occupy an animal. In some, animals can act as “totems” of sorts, and can protect or turn against humans based on their actions. In others, animals can have power beyond what humans could even dream. In almost every tribe (if not all), animals are to be respected for what they give to humans, and thanks are given to the animals when they die to feed us, clothe us, or provide us with tools or skin. It saddens me deeply when I think about companies using animals to test makeup or chemicals, knowing that they administer these chemicals until a lethal dose is found that kills at least half of the rabbits, rats, or whatever they are using. Watching life be so carelessly thrown away like that is sickening. I don’t need to be more “beautiful” at the expense of the lives of animals. That rabbit that died in a lab might be the animal that was supposed to save your life one day. Who knows?

    (Please forgive me if I’ve rambled too much. It’s 2 AM here, and the bed, it calls to me.)

    • Hi Amanda, this does not seem rambling to me– but I am glad you finally left us for bed! Thanks for the overview of the ways in which animals are recognized for their intrinsic value and spirit– from which you have gained some insight from your own heritage, I know. A powerful point about “watching life be so carelessly thrown away” — this should be “sickening” to anyone whose own spirit is still in touch with the circle of life that sustains us. I love your last line, that we never know when “the rabbit that died in a lab …was supposed to save your life one day.” There are many wise traditional stories that make that point, some of which are outlined here.

  119. In all honesty, I used to hesitate to believe that animals had the linguistic sophistication to communicate any empathetic feelings amongst one another. Although I still wonder the caliber of linguistic capabilities in animals, I do not doubt that they can provide one another with messages outside of hunger, anger and so forth. After watching a Jane Goodall movie about her experience with chimpanzees I was forever convinced that I am equal to a chimpanzee. It is amazing to hear similar discussions with the bats and mice in this story. Overall, I find it to be a humbling story. On another note, over the course of my discoveries I made the decision to become a vegetarian. It is infuriating to me that such circumstances are permissible.


    • You might be interested to know (if you don’t already) that Spain agrees with you in your statement that you are equals with the chimpanzee– they have passed a recent law giving great apes the same rights as humans. Those who share this earth with us surely have much to teach us about being fully human. Thanks for your comment, Dana.

  120. We do hear stories of empathy among animals, including the story of Owen (a baby hippo) and Mzee (an old tortoise). There are many stories out there of nursing mother animals adopting an orphaned baby of another species (cats adopting puppies, dogs adopting kittens, etc.). Those are often chalked up to “mother instinct” rather than “empathy,” but is there really a difference between the two? In all honesty, I’m not surprised to read about the mice or the bats in this essay, because I believe animals are just as capable of empathy as humans are, and in many cases, they may actually be more capable of it than we are.

    I have a son who is developmentally delayed. When he was a baby and toddler, he was overly sensitive to noise and would often retreat to his bedroom if things were too loud in other parts of the house. His little sister was born just before his second birthday, and like all newborn babies, she didn’t like having her diaper changed. She was quite vocal about her opposition to the procedure. Instead of running away, Spot (the nickname his older brothers gave him before he was born) would come over to his sister and sit by her head while she was being changed. For whatever reason, this quiet companionship was enough to help her calm down, and she would stop crying when her brother was near. If he was nearby when I started to change her, she wouldn’t cry like she normally did. No other sibling had this effect on her, and to this day (Spot is almost 6 and this little sister is almost 4), they are very close. We don’t know what the future holds for our son. The doctors can’t figure out what caused him to be so different from “normal” children, but to me, that doesn’t matter. He is a loving and kind soul, and he empathizes with other beings (human and otherwise) in his life. That’s more important than intelligence in my point of view.

    • I have seen the picture of the hippo and tortoise who made an alliance in the aftermath of the last huge Asian tsunami. Pretty amazing, Roxanne!
      However we label this care for other creatures is less important, as you indicate, than the act itself. Your son is obviously very fortunate to have you for his mother–and that goes both ways, since he is obviously has a good deal to teach those around him if they care to pay attention–as your family has. Congratulations on honoring this (I am sure, sometimes also difficult) gift!

    • The hippo/tortoise relationship has pretty much made the rounds in internet photos. Interesting thing about words in calling this “mother instinct” rather than empathy, Roxanne. Great example with respect to the “intelligence” of your developmentally delayed child: I agree that this is an exceptional something as important as if not more important than intelligence.

    • And your son is indeed fortunate to have a mother who loves him for the gift he is to our world and your family, Roxanne.

  121. This was a very interesting essay but also one which left me wishing for some video or other kind of proof concerning the story of the bats and the story of the mice. Perhaps it’s because I’m a skeptic but I’m having a difficult believing that a bat can understand that a woman was trying to heal them and so communicated to the other bat something to that effect and the bat then calmed down and let the woman treat it. However, if I take these stories in a more figurative than a literal sense then I believe, for me at least, there’s a lesson to be learned.

    How do we think of animals? Do they exist only to serve us? Do we “owe” them anything? Let’s face it, with most of the animals eaten in this country today the animal is seen as nothing more than a crop but one which ripens in a feed lot rather than a field and I imagine it’s life receives about the same amount of empathic consideration on the parts of those who harvest and consume it. This is a vastly different relationship to animals which are consumed than that of most indigenous cultures. The further away one is from the process which is required to harvest the meat of an animal then I believe the less significance the life of that animal takes on. A hunter who hunts and butchers an animal to provide sustenance for a family or a community is going to have a much closer relationship to the animal than someone who receives all of their meat from the supermarket. I’m reminded of someone I used to work with for many years. When he was 19 he took a summer job in a slaughter house. He worked there for the entire summer but afterwards he said even the smell of raw meat is enough to make him nauseated and he’s been a vegetarian ever since. He was directly involved in the “factory” type process which brings most meat to our tables and that was enough to make the thought of eating meat anathema to him.

    • Hi Jeff, these stories can elicit the skeptical responses to those who think of animals in very different ways. The interesting thing to me is that they were observed by animal scientists. You have a thoughtful alternative approach: factory farming has serious problems however we see these stories.
      And there is more work being done on intelligence in animals that reeveals they are far smarter than we previously have given them credit for. Perhaps you know of theories that indicate certain plants and aniamls domesticated us rather than vice versa.

  122. Yesterday I was catching up on some Big Cat Diaries I had recorded. On one episode Honey, the cheetah, had caught a gazelle late in the evening and her four babies and herself were feeding late. The next day the film crew could only find Honey and three of her babies. The crew followed Honey as she searched for the fourth one. She searched for a good part of the morning till she found its body. She spent some time with it. In the same episode a similar thing happens with a lone lioness, however she actually cleaned the dead baby and her other two babies laid on their brother. Such attitude towards lost babies can not be from something with out a soul.

    If we did look at everything as if it was alive, I feel that we would treat things better (the majority of people would). Quality of life would improve, however I think that generations of the other belief will be hard to change, as the main Christian religion talks about clean and unclean animals, animals for sacrifice and that man should have dominion over the animals of the sea, air and land. Such views just reinforce the man over animal view.

  123. It’s interesting how non-human animals and human animals interact in Western culture. A heroic mouse is only seen in movies, and may even be considered literal opposites. Yet, they exist. And they do so right under our noses.

    Tunnel vision is what I visually picture Western culture of being. Too focused on improvement and domination, that the small occurrences that happen in our sinks are overlooked or passed off as fiction.

    Taking a step back and being able to view the world for what it is will allow us to reevaluate our worldview.

  124. I don’t think that we give animals the credit that the deserve. Especially animals like mice and bats that many people are afraid of. It was amazing to see how the mouse and the bat comforted the other animal near it. I believe that animals have communities and connections much like humans do. Because really humans are just animals.

    The point about how we don’t really know animal behavior because mostly animals are studied in pens was interesting. I never really thought about how animal behaviors change when they are taken out of the wild. It seems that Goodall had the right idea. Instead of bringing the ape to her she went to it.

  125. I think this article brings to light many issues facing us today and changes we see in popular perceptions towards animals as a result of modern scientific research. For example, the languages of dolphins and whales have been analyzed for years, and are starting to yield data that can help people decipher their methods of communication. There are gorillas that have learned to speak hundreds of words in sign language and even go so far as to paint works of art. Whales have been discovered to teach their migration patterns to their offspring, much the same way a human would teach their child. Over time, the difference between animals and humans continues to get blurred and we become less and less able to separate ourselves from other creatures. Language, which was once thought to be a characteristic only possessed by humans, has now been demonstrated to be used by many animals within nature. Parrots that were once thought to only mimic sounds of human language have now demonstrated that they can actually perceive and make judgments regarding use of the language in a similar way a person would. Some parrots have even been documented using full sentences and using human language to communicate differences in shapes, colors, and other quiz questions. This proved that the parrots could not only understand the questions being asked, but also respond by vocalizing human language.
    Many of the atrocities committed against our fellow inhabitants of the Earth have been made justifiable by our beliefs that animals don’t experience pain, feel emotion, or have rational thought. But as anyone with a pet dog knows, this is plainly not the case. Factory farms make use of this ignorant traditional mode of thinking in justifying their brutal treatment of animals and disrespect for the dignity of animal life. By viewing animals as objects to be killed indiscriminately, we only demonstrate our own inability to accept the obvious. In my opinion, it is the factory farmers that are being irrational, as any rational person would find all forms of needless brutality and mistreatment to be pointless and unethical. If killing can just as easily be performed in a painless way, why would someone simply choose the more brutal method? If animals are to be raised for food and butchered, then I feel this should be done in the most humane, natural, and healthy way possible. This should be done not only for the animals themselves, but also for those of us consuming the animals. It seems ironic to me, that we would consider so lowly the very thing we will consume that will make up the material substance of our own living bodies. Why would we join ourselves metabolically and genetically with creatures we find so detestable as to not even be worthy of a painless, respectable, and honorable death. In my opinion, this form of factory farming, is disrespectful to the animals, bad for our health, and adds unnecessary brutality and suffering to the world.

    • There is great information on animal abilities here, Joshua, as well as astute analysis of the treatment of the animals we raise for sustenance– that is, what does it say about our own view of ourselves that we so disrespect that which we become our own “material substance”.
      Why would we indeed chose to join with creatures we find so detestable that they are not even “worthy of a painless, respectable, and honorable death” unless we have a very low opinion of our own bodies?

  126. I have always considered everything a living thing. And animals are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. They are able to adapt to the environment yet this seems to be an issue with humans. Even if we go camping, we still use supplies that we bought to make camping easier. And I will admit, it’s been a while since I’ve been camping and I hope to do some camping this summer, but I’ll be using all those accessories to make camping easier. It’s amazing how wild life can live without any tools. Especially when I don’t see any of the deer that pass by our yard carrying a backpack. How do they do it!!!!!

  127. I have recently become very interested in this topic, and have been reading “When Elephants Weep,” “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” and “Animals Matter.” We accept that animals have very similar physical, neurological, sensory, and brain physiology as we do, yet we refuse to accept that they experience emotion the same way we do. If a dog lays his head on your lap when you cry, we assume he wants food… we associate these behaviors with physical responses, rather than consider that they may be experiencing similar emotional responses as humans. The story of the mice in the sink is an example of altruism in my eyes. The stronger mouse did not gain anything from helping the weaker mouse. It was not an example of survival of the fittest.

    I also really liked the comment in the article about observing caged animals. I feel very similar in regards to zoos. People argue that it is a good way to learn about the ways in which wild animals interact in the wild…it is a learning experience. However, all we are learning is how wild animals attempt to cope with incarceration.

    • Thanks for sharing both your compassion and your logic with respect to our physiological similarties to animals, Dana. I think it is a great loss when we think such creatures unworthy of serious understanding on their own terms.

  128. I think many people would be shocked after reading these stories of animals helping other animals out. It seems that most people dismiss animals as “lesser beings” and just assume that they are beasts that only think about survival for themselves. By really looking at how animals behave, rather than just assuming that they are dumb creatures we would probably see more instances such as the case with the mice. If people were to realize that animals are more then just simple creatures for our benefit I feel that they would hold them in higher regard, and be less likely to exploit them.

    • Nice thoughts, Travis. I agree that our looking upon any lives as “lower” than ours licenses our exploitation of them. The more research we do, the more (unexpected) intelligence we find them expressing.

  129. I can appreciate the Story of the Mice in the sink, however I find myself skeptical of the event itself.
    I am open to the idea that all things have a purpose and a will, however, conscious empathy which humans possess, is something that I feel we are the only ones to possess. The mice, in a lab setting do not have the attention span of more than a few seconds. The fact that the mouse was able to plan this task which would take many minutes maybe even an hour would be overwhelming to the mouse.
    I do not doubt that the animals around us feel pain or have the ability to know what is happening around them. The idea that they can consciously plan and extend their mind to the existence of others is something I find pushing my own experiences and observations.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Tony. Critical thinking is always welcome, but I think you need some support for your thinking here. You can disagree with the conclusion that the observer reached about empathy in animals (which seems to be what you are skeptical of), but disagreeing with what they observed is something else again. Since the observer was a scientist, you cannot by rights throw out the data. Simply saying that the task would be “overwhelming to the mouse” is not sufficient, but needs support. This was not a lab setting– and perhaps your statement says more about what the lab setting elicits from a mouse than the nature of a mouse’s abilities.

  130. I think the mention of how doctors used to circumcise male babies without anesthetic because “their brains weren’t developed enough yet to feel the pain” is a great parallel to draw to our current beliefs about animals and empathy. It is important to remember that many things we as Westerners now accept as facts were once considered theory and speculation and that many things that were in the past considered true have been proven false. Just because the science “proving” that animals have empathy isn’t widely accepted doesn’t mean that future generations won’t readily accept this to be true. I think it important to remember that, when it comes to the natural word, we should not dismiss something simply because we as humans do not understand it. The mice understand why they act the way they do, we simply have to respect it.

    • I agree, Katy. The mice certainly understand something we don’t seem to. Perhaps someday we will be smart enough to think outside the human so that we might gain such understanding.
      Just because we don’t understand this (or it doesn’t fit our notion of ourselves in our separation from other animals that animals can do such things) is no legitimate reason to reject the behavior of other species.

  131. If a researcher had no empathy for what they were researching then I see no point in reading their results. One could not understand a bug without putting their self in the bug’s point of view and understanding it’s struggles.

  132. I believe as human beings we have a tendency to dismiss things felt by others because it doesn’t directly affect us. I know in taking a health and wellness course it is documented that sufferers of lower back pain have been known to undergo surgery that often worsens their back, but actually feel relieved because of the scarring. They have a visual representation to their pain, and it helps to cause others to better relate to their pain. I’m not entirely sure we discount the pain and suffering present in the animal world because we don’t believe it possible these creatures can feel. I believe we discount them because ultimately we don’t really care what they are feeling. We see them as being inferior beings and thus we aren’t concerned over their suffering in the least. We can barely show compassion towards our fellow man, why would we think the natural world would be any different?

  133. This is an interesting essay but I believe we should treat animals with care and respect regardless if they are empathetic or not. Also, these are just a few examples of possible situations where animals have shown empathy but what if animals are soon found not to be empathetic. Would that mean it’s okay to harm animals and treat them however we want? Non-human animals, plants, and water are just as important to this earth as are humans. If we hardly treat our own human race respectfully even though we are all empathetic what’s to think we will treat non-human animals differently if we knew they were empathetic. I think we should adopt the thinking that everything is equally as important and should be treated equally regardless of feelings, thoughts, and empathy.

    • I think you have an important perspective here, Dylan. We do not have to prove animals empathetic in order to treat them with respect. It is also true, I think, that if we see them as lesser creatures we are more likely to mistreat them.

  134. When I was a child my sister and I had gerbils. One of them fell ill, and my parents were sure it would die. For a week or so the healthy one would feed the sick one and clean out the nest. It was truely amazing. After a week the sick one emerged, but could only turn in right circles. We assume it had some kind of stoke. They both lived long lives for gerbils and they cared for eachother until they died.

    I think that all life forms, animals and plants, can feel empathy and understand when pain is near them. I think that we just need to slow down and pay attention to notice.

  135. I found this essay very amazing. We often seem dismiss animals, especially small animals such as mice, as non intelligent and unable to communicate or take care of one another, except maybe for mothers nursing their young. When I read this story, it provoked to emotions to me tremendously. The first, was amazement. I could not believe that mice, which probably have the brain size of half of a pebble, are capable of such caring and planning. Some humans wouldn’t think of the strategy of luring the sick species with food, until it reaches it’s destination (the water). In addition to this, I was unaware that bats could communicate with each other. Not simple communication, such as follow the leader, but complex communication, telling it to calm down and that the giant creature touching you will help you.

    The next emotion I felt was deep sorrow for animals. If these animals are smart enough to help one another, communicate complex messages, then they can sure feel pain. I know meat is a giant part of our diets, but there must be more humane and healthier alternatives to the way we treat animals. It is obvious animals are much smarter then we give them credit for.

    • I found what this researcher observed of the mouse pretty amazing as well, Daniel. I appreciate your compassion in moving from the intelligence of animals to our responsibility to treat them humanely. The next steps after organic production is not only certified “sustainably raised” beef but “humanely raised” beef and eggs. I think this is an important step in the right direction.

  136. Pierce’s description of the mouse’s action as heroism is interesting to me– yes, the mouse showed heroism in its regard for its comrade, but I doubt that the mouse was doing anything outside of what was second nature. On the other hand, take that mouse’s actions in today’s world where much of the vivacity of non-human things goes unnoticed and yes, such an act seems quite miraculous. It draws our attention to the characteristics of animals that are so human-like. For me, I considered whether there was something to be learned from the two mice: they showed teamwork and cooperation that human egos often prevent from happening.
    To answer the questions regarding the recognition of a world where creatures are empathetic towards each other, I think that an awareness of this would change our perspective by instilling a greater regard for species aside from ourselves and a greater appreciation for the complexity of other beings. When you are able to recognize characteristics in an animal that people also share, then you are more apt to feel a connection to them and have more concern for them in general. This can be applied to any living thing.
    If more people were able to recognize and feel the empathy that exists between all living things, I believe that quality of life would improve as a whole. I think it would improve because of a greater concern and awareness of the ecosystem in which we live and the life that surrounds us. A walk down the street would be transformed with this new recognition– a new set of eyes would allow us to see the empathy and feelings of animals and plants and be considerate towards the environment instead of recklessly trying to overtake it.

  137. I think empathy between humans and animals is important, but organizations like PETA take this idea too far. It is ridiculous to think that animals could have the same rights as humans because they aren’t at the same level of consciousness, it just wouldn’t work. But I do believe that there are connections between humans and animals and between animals and other animals that science hasn’t discovered, and may never understand.

  138. I really enjoyed this essay, it provides wonderful examples of things that I whole heartedly believe in – that animals of all sizes feel pain, that they express and react to a variety of emotions, and that they are capable of empathy. While it is hard physically to observe these traits watching animals in their natural homes, it would seem very difficult for any species to form communities/packs/herds/etc without it. Imagine the violence and disorder if each individual were truly only out to protect number one. The problem is, as the essay indicates, when we put these species into cages or simulated natural environments, we have no way to determine which is true and which is a human-initiated reaction. Interesting how some of our most important lessons are learned completely on accident – by catching a glimpse out of the corner of our eye, or by stumbling upon it accidentally. This goes to show the potential of taking the time to make these observations in their natural setting.

    • I am glad you liked this, Kate–and that it bolstered support for your sense of the other lives that share our earth with us, Kate. I absolutely agree with you about observing animals in a natural setting. I can’t imagine getting to truly get to know them any other way.

  139. I didn’t need the first two paragraphs of this essay to know that animals understand us. It only makes sense that if they understand us they would understand each other. But the specific examples where very heartening. The reason I know animals understand us is from the cats and dogs I have had life partnerships with over the years. My first cat, after I got married, was supposed to be my cat and we went to the shelter to find a dog for my husband who had been raised with dogs. The cat couldn’t care less about me and slept on my husbands chest every night where the dog, who had kennel cough, had me up every 4 hours giving him medicine the vet said probably wouldn’t save him. It did and he was my devoted companion for ten years. Hannah, my current canine companion, was given to us by her previous companion who didn’t appreciate her protectiveness. She is a Jack Russell Terrier and we all thought she’d take to my husband who brought her home. She ran to me as if I were her mother and has acted like my mother ever since. She won’t let my youngest daughter yell at me, she won’t let anybody raise their voice, she even growls and shows teeth (while wagging her tail) when my husband comes to bed. He gives her a good night kiss and then alls well. She also knows when I’m not feeling well. If I go into my room, she is right there with me, she will even forgo going out to eat or potty if I don’t get up. She has made me more aware of how I need to keep her needs in mind even when I can’t take care of myself. I didn’t understand what “factory farming” is so I went on line and looked it up. What it described is horrendous! How can anyone do that to helpless animals? Whether they think the animals capable of feelings of not, don’t they have any feelings? I knew there was something different about beef that hasn’t been raised with antiobiotics but never knew what it was. Now I am glad that I have always gone for the non-antiobiotic beef. Maybe if everybody does the factory farms will find they have no market and have to go back to farming in a more natural way! I believe as more people are educated on what they are eating, the change to more natural farming/gardening is a very real possibility.

    • Thanks for sharing your delightful stories of your relationships to the dogs and cats in your past lives–and your present one, Cendi. I agree that factory farming is horrendous: the documentary Food, Inc. will put anyone with a conscience– or a heart– off of eating factory farmed meat.

  140. Yesterday I was playing ball with my dog and a big shadow passed over us. It was a golden eagle! There are so few of them around here that I consider it to have been a huge gift to have witnessed it gliding around. It circled for several minutes, my eyes locked on it most of the time. They are seriously huge! Last evening I was standing on the bank of the creek that runs by our house and saw the first bat of the season. I always get a little jolt of joy when I see bats swooping around. I read your essays and think about them for a day before commenting. This essay kept coing back to me when I was watching my nature shows. It’s interesting that we humans so easily discount the pure joy that ‘others’ bring to us. If an animal doesn’t serve a viewable or serviceable purpose, it can so easily be discarded. How insane to discount the good bats do beside keeping insect populations under control. Animals and plants feed our souls. When we lose sight of that we are diminished. I’m not sure why we humans are so afraid of accepting the capacity of feeling and emotions animals are capable of. I believe it’s because we would then have to amend our behavior to reflect that understanding, treating animals with respect and dignity.

    I am especially emotional about this today as someone planted poison in the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness area. No doubt to kill coyotes or wolves but a woman lost her dog. My heart breaks for the loss of the dog but also for the animals that are so vulnerable to human cruelties. I find that I am no longer able to eat meat. I can’t be a part of supporting cruel behavior. That I have been able to ignore my part in supporting animal cruelty til now is a tribute to corporate marketing and my disconnect from how food got on my table. Thank you for your beautiful essay and the power of what is being taught.

    • I very like your reminder about the “pure joy” the presence of wild creatures bring us in their presence. Their wildness makes their presence a gift since we do not control it.
      Thanks for sharing your own commitment to kindness to other lives, Sue.

  141. Reading this puts me in between a rock and hard spot because I do believe there is a moral reason to respect other living things, but I will not go as far to say that there is a comparable “human type” emotion that is close to ours (divine or not). This dilemma is worsened by the fact that I cannot define where the line is between instinctual animal behavior and a “higher behavior” that shows intelligence only unique to humans.
    Another large reason I believe in showing respect to all living things is because it is the right thing to do. It is healthier, physically and mentally. I cannot think of any reason to be different. So in other words, we can kill the animal to eat it, but there is no reason to torture it first. Maybe is this type of policy were to be implemented into the type of industries that extract natural resources, dramatic reductions in their impacts on the land would occur.

    • Taking a stance of respecting other lives while not anthropomorphizing them does not sound like being between “a rock and a hard place” Zachary. Where I would differ, I guess, is relegating “higher behavior” to humans only. I am not quite sure what you mean by this, but I think that all species have their own ways of being in the world and as Thomas Berry so astutely put it, a mouse being would not wish to be a human. I also think that there are many qualities of intelligence and presence in other creatures that relegating ourselves to a “higher” position may cause us to miss.

  142. I think that if everyone were to embrace the idea that everything around us is alive, our quality of life would improve. In our class we have read a lot about having a mutual respect for nature and I think that welcoming the views mentioned in this article would help us to have more of that respect for the natural world, which in turn would lead to less destruction and improve the quality of our lives.
    I have also heard somewhere that elephants will mourn the loss of members of their herds and return to sites where these lost members died in remembrance of them. I truly believe that animals do have more feelings than those that most people are aware of.
    I also thought that this essay brought up a good point when talking about the research results scientists have gleaned from caged animals. No matter how closely scientists try to replicate an animal’s environment, I think that more often than not those animals recognize the differences. So doesn’t that discredit some of the things scientists have found? I think it does. It also makes me wonder about the animals that are kept locked up in zoos.

    • Thanks for a comment that reflects insight on a number of levels, Amy. I don’t think we need to prove that the world is alive to take benefit from that stance: a central point for me is how such a stance would change our behavior. How would we then begin to act and pay attention to all the life that share this world with us–and its interconnections in ecological systems.

  143. I do believe in the fact that animal have emotion and can do some heroic things. I had an example today. We have some feral cats that we feed. I heard a fight last night, went outside, and didn’t see anything. I went outside the next morning to sit and drink my coffee. I noticed that one of the cats was letting me get extremely close. As they don’t usually let me get close to them, I was a bit perplexed. I went on drinking my coffee, and the cat jumped on my lap and started meowing constantly. I got up, and he took off running to a corner of my yard, and just dropped like he wanted to go to sleep right there. I got to the corner, and I saw that he was lying against another feral that had been injured. He was the one that I had heard in the fight the night before. He got up so I could take a look. The other cat would not leave the other’s side.
    Another example is one that I heard on TV. There was a fire on a man’s property. An officer saw the smoke, but couldn’t tell where it was coming from. He saw a dog acting weird in the street. As soon as he pulled closer, the dog took off. The officer followed him only to find that the dog led him right to the source of the fire, his owners shed.
    Animals do have a mind of their own. They need to be treated with respect. Many people do believe that animals don’t feel anxiety, pain, or sadness. These are the people that don’t need to have pets, or even be near animals. We have to understand them. They try to understand us. It is simply ludicrous to think that animals don’t feel. Animals do have intelligence, will, and consciousness. Those who believe they don’t are as Wild Bill said “they are dead themselves”.

    • What wonderful examples of animal intelligence, Scott! Thanks for sharing these. I keep thinking of all we miss out on when we assume the stance that objectifies the world around us, being “dead” to its life and wonder ourselves.

  144. How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world?

    When the question is posed this way, the reciprocal benefits become apparent. Our quality of life would improve. We would gain a true sense of self and achieve a richer more whole feeling. If our values are properly in line with our daily personal choice we can begin to feel a connection with the world we live in that makes our lives worth living, it gives us a purpose, like he bench that Wild Bill talked about. Without a true purpose, we are dead inside. Once we realize that the every part of the world around us is alive and deserving of the same respect that we as a society generally reserve for humans, our lives become worth living and the world we live in is protected, honored and valued as a result.

    • Great response, Molly. I especially like your conclusion to your list of changes in our lives that might flow from our recognition of our place in a living world: that we would also recognize that we are part of something larger than ourselves and find a sense of purpose. I can imagine how secure and fulfilled we might feel if we knew we were passing on a vital world to our grandchildren as well. Thanks for your comment.

  145. There are plenty of examples of heroism among non human animals in my experience alone. Just recently one of our Koi fish was dying. The three fish we have in our fishtank have been together forever. We have had them for 5 years. The largest fish kept swimming under the dying fish and kept trying to encourage him to try and live.

    No doubt, there is a place in thee animal brain that makes connections to others.

    Wild Bill sadi, “As a result of living in a dead world…they are dead themselves.” He was referring to humans believing the plants and animals were objects to own. The native think that in order to own something it would have to be dead.

    I do believe that everything is animated by a spirit and that they should have moral rights but I think we should also have an obligation to them. To treat them like equals although not as humans.

    • Thanks for your compassionate comment, Jeff. I read somewhere that fish are more intelligent than we tend to give them credit for (that is, we in the modern “scientific” world). Certainly those who treated the salmon with such respect and affection watched for their intelligent behavior: there is an old Chehalis text (1926) that talks about the salmon’s social structure-which the local people need to honor if it is to lead the others home (and into their territory). It talks of observing a “lead fish” swimming upriver a ways and then returning for the rest of the group and if that lead fish is not free to do its duty, the others will not make it upriver.
      This was not in an area where the salmon had to jump but in relatively still water where it would be easy for the fish to do this.

  146. In regards to animals having the ability to feel and the desire to help each other, I don’t find that idea surprising at all. You can watch something as simple as a colony of ants and see that they will work together for the benefit of the entire colony. Why else would you see them taking food back to their mounds? They could very easily eat the food where they found it. I have birds, a muluccan cockatoo, an african grey and a quaker parrot. The quaker and the african grey were both rescued from a bird sanctuary. The african grey is a female, dna tested to make sure. When the quaker, who happens to be the smaller of the three moved in. The african grey would take her food. I thought it was the neatest thing. It wasnt as if she thought the quaker was her baby. It was more like a house breaking event. The african grey talks pretty well also and would tell the quaker, “Hey Bird”, in a deep masculine voice.

    • And this must be your original comment captured on this site in spite of your error message! I am leaving it up since it is just a bit different from your second try.

  147. I just typed a response to this article and it gave me an error message. Oh and of course lost all of my typing. Let’s try this again.
    I have three birds and I was explaining the reaction of the one bird when I bought home the third. The third bird, a quaker parrot, was a resue bird from a bird sanctuary. Upon bringing her home the second bird, an african grey, would take her food and tell her in a deep masculine voice, “hey bird!’. Almost like a person taking a house warming gift.
    The stories in the article didnt surprise me. We can look at an animal as simple as the ant. They way in which they work together to provide food for the entire colony shows that there is some understanding among them.

    • I am sorry this happened to you. I know that must be very frustrating.
      I sometimes type to a doc file and then past so I won’t have to retype if something happens in terms of a computer glitch– though I have found this to be a very reliable site compared to blackboard (maybe I shouldn’t put that in writing lest my experience get worse?)
      Thanks for sharing your experience with your birds (and for taking in a rescue: far too often folks think they would like an exotic pet and then aren’t up for the commitment– and African greys can outline their human owner).

  148. I agree with the statement that most humans believe the world around them is dead. More specifically I think the majority of humans believe everything is dead but themselves. That is just not the case. I believe saving the baby mice or the rescuing bats aren’t acts of heroism, but acts of kindness and respect for other living things. Recently in the news I’ve read of a bobcat taking care of orphaned kittens. We’ve all read stories about dogs taking care of baby bunnies or dolphins forming a ring around an injured surfer until he can get to safety. These are acts of kindness and respect towards other living things as well. These animals are capable of recognizing when another life is in danger or in need of help just like we are. There is clear intention there, there are thoughts and emotions. If they can feel compassion in the same way we do, they should not be passed over as insignificant or dead unless we are going to also consider ourselves insignificant and dead.

    • Hi Jennifer, I think that not only should we not pass over animals as unfeeling, but this does a disservice to our own capacity to learn from them. Obviously some of the examples of compassion brought up in these comments indicate that humans might learn a great deal from the other lives with which we share our world. Thanks for your comment!

  149. I recently watched a video that is circulating right now where one dog is hit by a car on a busy roadway. A second dog seeing him in trouble, braves the racing cars to drag the first dog to safety, not with his mouth but with his forearms. I have lived in close proximity with animals, especially dogs, all of my life. The belief that they didn’t have souls was one of the first I rejected as a child. How can our definition of soul transcend the way these animals act toward one another? My definition of soul shifted to encompass all life.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Ashley. And I am sure that when your definition of “soul” shifted in this way to apply to the living world, your sense of your own soul was enlarged accordingly.

  150. I enjoyed the reference to treating even mice with dignity as beings with feelings. So many people have negative thoughts about living with mice. The woman who works in the cubicle next to me is always expressing her negative thoughts about the mice in her apartment. They have killed endless mice in the short time they have lived there; they live next to an open field and their house is the first stop to potential food. I have lived in my house for 24 years and never seen a mouse in the house but I do live with five cats. My point is there is a way to co-habitat with the natural world. I see ants come into my house once a year like clockwork due to the lack of water outside. I really don’t do anything to get rid of them, I just figure at some point they will go away.

    This article made me realize that my house is a living breathing entity. I have no screens on the windows or doors and things are always coming and going. As I write this I have flies, bumble bees and yellow jackets buzzing in the windows. I make a conscience effort to let the bumble bees out because I am worried about their survival and I catch and release birds with the pool net but everything else is on its own. My house is a world that is alive. It breathes – no radon poisoning, mold, or hanta virus here. Maybe the eyes of my world are looking at me.

    • I like the way you look at your house as a living, breathing entity, Renea. It is alive as our all habitats– unless we want to take up residence in a coffin. I am sure that your cat had something to do with your lack of mice. And one should keep all food sealed up in containers mice cannot chew through, as well as all entrances sealed up. And when mice do get in, there are very inexpensive cheap and effective live traps. Just be sure that you release a trapped mouse far enough away so that it will not simply come back.
      But back to your house: in the latest post on this site, Grandma Aggie speaks of thanking the “one-leggeds” (trees) that contributed to her house. Once we make the effort to honor the stories of all the lives that contribute to ours, we realize our house is indeed “alive”.
      Maybe the eyes of the world are looking at you, indeed!

  151. Our quality of life would immensely change if we were to recognize our world as a living world. This is one of my favorite article of yours that I have read, probably because I can relate to it closely. Growing up around wilderness I have grown empathy in non-human animals, it is the main reason I am a vegetarian. For the corporate world to treat animals in the inhumane manner that they do, I am extremely sorry for. However I gain a level of respect for families and businesses that raise crops and livestock in an organic fashion providing a life closest to a natural one.

    During Earth Day I was walking through my college campus and was handed an article on the mass produced meat industry. It sickened me as I read it. To be ignorant of how and where your food comes from affects not only the food itself, but the consumer as well. Harmful chemicals are injected into the innocent livestock that have been brought to life for the sole purpose of their own slaughter. The life they live is hopeless and uncomfortable to say the least. I showed a couple of my friends this brochure and I was shocked to see the response they gave. They simply laughed and threw it back in my face. They also began criticizing me for my vegetarian beliefs. I was angered to the point I could barely defend myself.

    If people were to be more knowledgeable to subjects about our natural world, I believe there would be a change in our industrial world which would create for a healthier and happier quality of life, but there are always those few, that chose to ignore the facts and continue to live blindly in a dead world, objectifying non-human animals. Animals deserve the rights that persons do, without them, this world of ours would not exist, and objectifying those that cannot defend themselves is inappropriate and cruel.

    • Thanks for sharing your obvious personal engagement and your compassion for more than human lives,
      Angela. I know it is sometimes hard to share information with others who seem happy enough living with the industrial worldview. I also know that there is a tendency on the part of some to downplay information that is uncomfortable to them. I see it as a hopeful sign that this information is getting more and more widely known. If you can ever persuade your friends to watch Food, Inc. with you (it was recently shown on PBS), it might be an interesting experience.
      I agree that there is absolutely no excuse for cruelty to those lives that not only share the land with us– but sustain us with their own lives.

  152. I have no doubt in my mind that our quality of life would drastically change if we were to recognize and embrace our daily lives as part of a living world. To begin with, we would not be in our current state of global ecological crisis (at least not for much longer). Recognizing and embracing a world that is alive and not dead implies certain moral obligations. We value an alive world and the result is that we cannot just take and take and take. Doing so is murderous and would lead to self-destruction because that life which we depend on for our own we take away. We just as well are taking our own lives, or at least our meaningful lives. This is reflected in Grandma Aggie’s insight “that if we restore our reverence to these aspects of the land that sustains us, we will treat them better: not using the water, for instance, as our ‘garbage dump.’” What a beautiful world to live in—one full of reverence for life made up of all things and rich in relationships and nourishment. This world would not only be sustainable but also fulfilling. Our quality of life is interconnected with the quality of all life. When we improve the lives of others—all others, human and non-human—natural reciprocity will see that our own lives are also improved. But to experience unhindered reciprocity in nature we cannot deny the lives of non-humans. Such understanding must infiltrate the way we do all things, especially in such cases as those mentioned in this article about factory farming. This means we must be willing to give up certain privileges we have wrongfully given to ourselves; not an easy task. Many have built their lives upon a “dead world” and to recognize it as an alive world would be detrimental to their way of life. No doubt I have built my life this way to some degree, and think it’s safe to say that many others have also to varying degrees. To grow up in mainstream America I believe we all have to at least somewhat. So how do we start to change without destroying our entire foundations? It seems we must renovate piece by piece until the whole is complete and alive. Factory farms are one such piece. Conspicuous, over-consumption is another. With each piece we restore and move forward and we reignite the bonds between all occupants of Earth. This is why I believe if we realize our place in a living world our quality of life would inevitably improve.

    • What a beautiful world to live in indeed, Kirsten– one that is sustainable and fulfilling because of our reverence for it. And I think it is a world we can visit not only in vision but in possibility. Humans have lived with such reverence in other cultures: there is no reason we cannot do this again, though it will certainly take some changing of our goals and current lifestyle.
      Improvement of the lives of others is a powerful act– one that is dependent, as you note, on honoring the lives of the more than humans who share our world with us.
      With each bit of knowledge and ethical response to that we are moving forward, as you note. Thanks for this comment and being part of this essential vision.

  153. I’ve always hated rodents; mice and rats especially. I was the type that would cringe and scream when I saw a mouse in my garage. They looked like small, disgusting, strange monsters. They were diseased and were around only to spread their disease by attacking us. My cringing of them still exists and will continue to be there. As much as I hate them I do see their empathy for each other and I’ve sort of developed my own empathy for them. They’re out to survive and function just like us. Much of our society doesn’t feel the pain of animals and obviously the earth so we definitely could learn a little from them, because feeling the pain of others motivates us to help. Being a hero would naturally feel good. For the some of us that can’t feel their lively hood, well they’re just stone cold. Being a villain comes to my mind for these people.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience–and the ways in which you turned it to compassion. And for a totally different perspective you might be interested in reading a very short story by Ursula LeGuin called “Mazes”– it is a scientific experiment with mazes told from the perspective of the rat who is made to run them.

  154. I don’t know how anyone who has spent any time with an animal can deny the fact that they are emotional empathetic and capable of love. I believe that people that say they don’t believe that animals have emotions are just lying to avoid the responsibility that would ensue. If people really believe that animals feel fear, pain, sadness happiness and love, it means that we MUST do all that we can to alleviate their ongoing suffering and pain at our expense. This is a big responsibility and one that many people don’t want to accept.

    On a side note. This makes me think of the way in which animals are slaughtered in this country and if you have ever seen footage of cows moaning or pigs screaming while being pushed through the kill shoot you cannot deny that these animals are completely terrified. This terror and negative energy ends up in the meat for us to consume and I wonder what kind of effects this has on the population. Thinking of this recently prompted me to join a meat CSA, where I can pick up my order in town on the weekends from a local farm. Their animals are humanely raised with room to roam, and they are slaughtered on site in a calm and consistent environment.

    • Hi Laida, thanks for your comment. Perhaps people who say that animals have no feelings are not so much lying to the world as to themselves– in the throes of denial, since they have closed their eyes to what they might see on closer observation. Such denial is, as you indicate, a way to shirk responsibility for our actions. And though that is a large responsibility, it makes us larger– how small we become by hiding our eyes rather than looking at the marvelous world of which we are a part.
      I am heartened that there are farms who are working to be both sustainable and humane: I cannot think of a better way to repay those who give their own lives to sustain us. Congratulations on your putting your values into action on this point.

  155. I agree that if humans as a whole had a more empathetic world view we would be treating everything better. I think that if people had the view that everything in the world is alive and has purpose we would certainly be closer to living along side everything opposed to dominating everything.

  156. Animals have a remarkable level of intelligence that humans do not give them credit for. If we used resources to develop our relationships with these creatures, instead of developing over their habitats, we would achieve a greater understanding of how we can live in unison with them as well as the planet.

    The stories of the mice and the bats are a window into the world these creature exist in. Just like humans, they care for one another, and can help each other to succeed. Although these are valued human qualities, they are often overlooking in favor of a more capitalist approach. We would do well to see that in the natural world, these are the values that are upheld, not ones of personal goals and wants

    • Great point about the benefits of developing learning relationships with our fellow creatures rather than developing over (and thus obliterating) their habitats, Rick. These creatures who so well know their place in the cycle of life might even teach us, as you indicate, something about creating a caring society as opposed to one ruled by personal gain.

  157. At times it is rather easy to forget that there is a life, a soul, a consciousness that exists among other species. That we as humans dont exist in a vacuum.

    Though there are times, like the spill in the Gulf, that we have no choice to remember, that our actions affect not just ourselves, but all those that have to share the earth with us. Some joke, in natural disasters, that it is Mother Nature fighting back. Why is that a concept that only has belief in a joke? If you prescribe to the fact that all things in nature have a soul, then it is just that much more believable, isnt it?

  158. I find myself at somewhat of a crossroads here. Inherently, I find that treating all life with dignity and respect are worthwhile endeavors. Yet, I am perfectly willing to live my life without asking the tough questions, such as where does my chicken and beef come from, how was it raised, how was it treated? While I still have not come to the conclusion that animals have souls, I believe that treating all life with dignity and respect actually adds value to our life. This is how we were made to be in this world, in perfect relation or harmony. We have gotten ourselves well off track.

  159. (PHL 443 Student Reply) What I found special about this article was the idea of the mice and bats communicating and caring for each other in ways that we often deem as “human” qualities. This shows that compassion and empathy are not limited to us, but are in fact qualities that all life forms can express. The act of the mouse slowly caring for the other instead of leaving demonstrates a deep compassion for the other being. Also, the bat communicating with the other reveals a more complicated dialogue process that we do not give them enough credit for.

    • Indeed, Heather. I think we need some more careful observations of the lives that share our planet with us– both in terms of knowing them and in terms of things we might learn about ourselves.

  160. I really enjoyed reading this essay, and it definitely gave me a lot to think about. The story of the bats in rehabilitation and of the two mice stuck in the sink definitely reminded me of the beauty that is life, and I will think twice before I vacuum up a spider next time. I especially liked the indigenous perspective that all of creation (including rocks and plants) and not just sentient beings are considered to be alive and filled with spirit. If the dominant western culture adopted this perspective with respect and empathy for all aspects of nature then I think the world would be an incredibly different place. Lastly, this also brought up some questions for me concerning contemporary natural resource and land management practices, specifically regarding non-native and invasive species and how these types of human created issues should be addressed.

  161. There are just countless stories concerning animal behavior that prove that we are underestimating the abilities and understanding of the creatures we share the earth with. I feel that most people believe in the idea that animals are lower life forms so that they feel justified to treat animals anyway that they see fit. I completely agree that we do not know much about the “natural” life of the animals we observe in captivity. This discussion reminds me of a fabulous book I read recently called “Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows: an introduction to carnism, the belief system that enables us to eat some animals and not others” by Melanie Joy. The book provides the reader with a very interesting view on how people have calmed their conscious into thinking that our destructive traits are okay. I think that if we rethought our relationship with animals our entire society would change drastically for the better. I feel people would become more respectful, more respectable, less vain, less greedy, and much less violent.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Ashley. I think we cannot dispute that added compassion toward the more than human world would boost our compassion “muscle” for use with others humans. As long as we have a worldview which sets us above other lives, I think we will struggle with issues of justice and conscience. And as an aside, we will lose some of the wonder of a world in which we don’t know everything but might observe and learn from other lives. I hadn’t heard about this book but will keep my eye out for it.

  162. I really enjoyed this essay. I can understand the concepts of animals understanding when there is danger and where it is safe. My parents have “housed” several herds of deer over the past 20 years. Not by force, but because the deer have learned it is a safe place to bed. It first began with large bucks coming in during hunting season, then slowly the does started coming around and just within the last few years, fawns now play joyfully in my parents backyard. How wonderful it was as a child to learn respect for animals, domestic and wild. They do have souls and the capacity for empathy and judgment. At the same time however, we also must remember that life sustains life.

    • Thanks for sharing your family experience, Megan–and your empathy for those more than human lives that, as you note, help sustain ours- that contribute not only to our physical but psychological well being.

  163. This is a great read! Being an animal lover I found it so interesting to read about the treatment of the bats and the maltreatment of cows and chickens. I thought it was so interesting that animals can feel their pain, and the pain of others. This is definitely something I can relate too. I have two golden retrievers at home. They are two boys, from the same litter and have spent every single day together since they were born. A couple of years ago, one of the dogs started barking really loudly and made my parents go outside to check them out. One was lying on the ground and the other was sitting next it to barking. Thinking something was wrong, they took them to the vet. The one that was lying down was having an internal stomach fissure and if it was not for the other one barking, my parents would have waited to long and it could have become severe. I like to think that my two dogs communicated with each other, however it is very possible that they were feeling each others hurt and pain.

    • Jessica, your story of your two dogs is very neat. I remember when my mom’s little 15 year old pug dog Sammy started developing heart problems and had trouble making it outside. He was also going blind. The other two dogs in the house who were younger than him began walking in front of him and behind him to help him outside to the bathroom when he started having trouble. I could tell they were leading him by his sense of smell. They were very kind to him and would not let him go anywhere alone.

      What was really special about Sammy in the way he thought with his brain the way we think only humans do, is that I know almost certainly he could tell time. At least he could tell when it was a specific time. He used to get out of his bed right at 5pm, look at the clock on the wall for a while and then go to the back door and wait for my mom to come home from work. He did this for years! Because she knew he would be waiting for her, she always tried to come home on time. When she would pull into the garage, he would then start spinning around at that back door until she came into the house through it. I have no idea how he ever developed the relationship between the hands on the clock and my mom coming home at that time from work, but he did this everyday and we used to show people who visited his “trick.”

      • Dogs are social animals like humans–and it is wonderful to hear these stories of the ways in which they support the weak and vulnerable among their members. Delightful idea about telling time- but there may be a connection between your mom and Sammy that is being expressed here. In one experiment dog owners came home at varying times that even they did not know about ahead of time (the experimenters decided this), while a second experimenter, who also did not know the ETA of the owner, stayed with the dog. They could always tell when the owner was due because the dog changed its behavior when the owner was a few minutes from home (even if they arrived by taxi, to disallow for recognizing the sound of a particular car).

    • Thanks for your response from the perspective of one who has empathy for the non-human animals with which we share our lives, Jessica. Great story of the way in which the one dog noted the problem the other had and took action to secure help!
      I think we hardly know what goes on in the minds (and hearts) of such creatures: surely it is not something we can reduce to a lab experiment.

  164. What a sad existence, to believe that humans are the only living things on this planet. To live on an Earth that has no soul, no heart, with animals that are just objects. Indigenous people understood that they were not the only living things on this planet. They understood that they were only able to have a fulfilling life if they listened to the animals and the earth. They are alive and have much to tell us. I really like how one of your students from Pit River heritage talked about how people use to be able to speak to animals and how some could still if they were only willing to listen. We must be willing to listen because only then we will realize the irreplaceable role animals play in our daily lives.

  165. I think a world with more recognition that we arent the only living things on this planet, and we arent the only things that can feel empathy, that is a world i want to love in. A world of compassion to all its inhabitants. But in realty people hear this idea, and think it is ludacris. They don’t believe that anyhting else on this planet can feel pain physical or emotional. I do believe that there at least needs to be more respect for other life forms on this planet, and more poeple like the two in the stories mentioned above.

    • I find it ironic that some think this a “ludicrous” view (the one that sees more than human life as worthy of compassion), since this implies that those who hold the “realistic” view are somehow more pragmatic. But those who hold the objectifying view are destroying our beautiful and precious world– thus I question which is the more practical and realistic view. The world of compassion is also the one I want to live in. Thanks for your comment, Brandon.

  166. When I read about the mice in the sink, I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been before I had my own mouse experience about three years ago. I was working in my parent’s backyard doing some gardening in the late afternoon when I noticed my mom’s cat playing with something under the bushes. Going over to inspect her, she had a mouse cornered, and that mouse look very scared. I chased the cat away, picked up the little guy, looked him over, and thankfully, he was fine. I rubbed his head, and then hid him under their shed, hoping he would be safe.

    I couldn’t believe it when a few minutes later, he came out from under the shed, climbed on top of my boot and held onto the laces. He stayed there the whole time I was gardening. It cracked me up. I must have walked around very carefully with that mouse on my boot for about two hours. Later I got him some bread and water and he ate the bread right from my hand. In the evening I hid him back under the shed.

    My mom told me to write a kid’s story about that mouse, which I did. I saw that little mouse a few more times when I gardened at my parents’ house too, so I think he learned to stay away from that cat.

    I definitely think we would respect nature’s little critters a bit more if we knew they could have empathy, thankfulness, thoughtfulness, could suffer pain, and could be scared. They do share feelings we humans have ourselves. I see it everyday in my very humorous dogs. That day with that mouse taught me something for sure about how animals think.

  167. While I agree with the majority of this essay I do not completely agree with the statement of EVERYTHING is alive. The story being told about the bench being alive, I do not agree with. I agree that once the trees that the bench was made out of was once alive but now the tree has been chopped down and it no longer alive. Yes the bench has purpose but just because it has purpose does not mean that it is alive. My computer that I am writing this on has a purpose but it is not alive, it is plugged into a power source.
    I also believe that every living being no matter how small their brain can always feel pain, and that empathy is not just a human feeling. There is no reason to believe that if we are capable of feeling emapthy that other animals would not.

    • It is good to hold to your personal values, Briana, even as you understand how others see things. And I know computer engineers who talk to their computers–and swear it helps!
      Thanks for sharing your perspective on empathy.

  168. Yet another interesting article. The question you ended with, “How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world?” is particularly interesting. Like the anecdote which Pierce shared concerning an empathetic mouse, though it often seems mysterious to me, the natural world can be surprisingly simple if we attempt to view it on its own terms. Living in a modern materialistic world where a new iphone is more marvelous than the notion that the heavy elements which exist in all living bodies, and the Earth itself, were forged in the center of a collapsing star, is problematic for at least one reason. The ‘new’ iphone will soon become antiquated and carry a sort of negative connotation for those who do not keep up with the trends, while the truly miraculous natural world, and the laws we have identified to describe its constant change, never become less marvelous.

    If we could collectively find preserving this natural wonder which we exist in and participate with I have to believe that we would treat it with much greater care.

    • Taking the “natural world on its own terms” is a key idea here, as you indicate, Thomas. I like your comparison between things that endure and those that do not (in fact, are created NOT to endure). Seems the best use of our intelligence to go for the enduring ones.

  169. When we see the world around us as dead, we pay no thought about the damages that we inflict upon the world because it doesnt “feel” the trash or the destruction. If we were however to adopt a more personal connection and understanding with the earth, and indeed every living thing, we would find that we would treat it as a being alive and capable of pain, love, etc. which would imbue in us a sense of empathy and responsibility for our actions, both positive and negative.

    • There is a direct link between seeing the world as “dead” and (as you note) feeling the license to treat it however we wish. I agree with you about the link between personalizing the living world and treating it well– this are certainly things that went hand in hand in many indigenous societies.

  170. I think it is really important to focus on the part about researching caged animals. How much can we really learn about an animal and its behavior if we only see its adapted responses to it new (stressful) environment. And really, how would you feel if you we locked in a cage and continually poked and prodded? Whose to say that many of the observations that have led to scientific fact aren’t widely skewed because of abnormal behavior from the “subjects” in their new/stressful situation. How can we trust the results in laboratory research on animals?

    • Thanks for adding your perspective to this point, Jessika. Great points!
      We wouldn’t think we were unveiling the real qualities of human nature in a prison yard, for instance.

  171. The paragraph that described the un-natural settings for animals we study, which may have an effect upon our results got me thinking of what other applications we use animals for testing. I have been involved with people who conducted medical studies with the use of lab rats and mice. These studies were primarily focused on behavioral effects of certain drugs that would go on the market for humans. What I found interesting in the tests was the level of effort put into maintaining environments that would not skew results. Personally I found this a bit ridiculous due to the fact that each “subject” was living a life withing a confined space with many other roommates; was constantly being lifted and placed in completely new environments; and was stored in a room echoing of foreign animal sounds. I know this wasn’t exactly a study to determine how mice themselves act, but it seemed to me there could be no true baseline of normal behavior determined (even when drugs weren’t present in their systems) unless an understanding was given to what could naturally pass through the mind of something as simple as a mouse or rat.

    • Thanks for sharing this example of the ironic “objectivity” in attempting to avoid skewed results– at the same time that basic intervening human behaviors and their influence on an animal’s behavior are ignored. But then, the ways in which pharmaceuticals test all the results of their drugs are not exactly exemplary–as we have recently found out in the ghostwritten research article scandal (see the essay on BP here). Good perspective, Mathew.

  172. I completely agree with the idea of heroism amongst animals. On three different occasions when one of our two dogs have gotten sick, the way we have known is because of one dog tending to the other. Right now for example, one of the dogs has an ear infection, and he hates having it cleaned, it really hurts him. The older dog always comes over when it is time to clean the youngster’s ears. He nudges up to him and licks him, which calms down the young one, and then he let’s me clean them out.

    I don’t understand how people cannot really see this amongst animals, their natural affinity for each other, and for those around them. In many ways, I think people purposely de-humanize animals simply because they are so unhappy in their lives, they want someone they can treat terribly without feeling guilty about it, when their lives would be enriched by embracing the animal they abuse.

    • Thanks for your compassionate post, Kamran. I suspect that your sense of why people objectivity the creatures with which we share this world is too often true. Would it not be better if we modeled our behavior on such compassion as they model– and you point out here?

  173. I like the tone this essay immediately sets by using the phrase “non-human animals”—we too are definitely animals! Having two dogs, I have since the mice/bat example of “heroism”, or compassion as I sometimes think of it, when one dog has been sick or injured and the other constantly stays by their side, aiding in recovery with their love.

    I think non-humane farmers and try to disregard and ignore the fact that their cows and chickens have spirits too. Otherwise, how could they pump their chickens so full of hormones that their breasts become too large for them to walk? It is such an anthropocentric view to think that “nothing else in the world feels anything but us”. At the end of the essay, the question is asked, “How would it change our quality of life to recognize that our daily lives take our place in such a living world?”. Taking this further, I think another question is how would our actions change if we viewed the earth as alive?

    • I very much like your further question deriving from my own here: how would our actions change if we viewed our world as alive (and non-human animals as comparable to us from the standpoint of feelings?). You are not alone in adding your example of your dogs here, Breannon. There are many remarkable examples among the comments to this essay. Thanks for your comment.

    • Did you ever see the footage of the dog pushing his companion (both dogs had escaped from the pound) to the side of the road after he had been hit by a car in the middle of the freeway? No one can convince me that that didn’t take some genuine empathy and heroism on the dog’s part.

  174. In considering what is alive and what is not, there really isn’t a satisfactory definition of “alive.”

    Our ability to determine intelligence is limited by our understanding of each others language, and first impressions are difficult to overcome.

    Often, when we can’t understand someone we think they are stupid. Think of the occasion when you have overheard a clerk talk down to a person that doesn’t speak English.

    Even the clerks body language shows disdain. However, when an English speaking person of a similar race steps up the whole dynamic changes. Perhaps we are more empathetic within our own language.

    We know animals communicate intraspecies. This would make empathy not only possible, but probable.

    How would it change my life to think of the world as a living world? It would change my understanding of ownership and I would spend much of my time expressing thanks to other beings whose sacrifice allows me to live another day. This leaves very little time to acquire other beings (consume) and that is a good thing.

    • I think Wild Bill’s sense that what is “not alive” is an “object” is an astute response to the dilemma of defining the difference between alive and not alive, Barbara–and it implies that what is alive should be treated as a subject rather than am object.
      Good point about our lack of understanding leading to labeling another as “stupid”.
      I like your response to the question at the end of this essay: living a life based on gratitude would, from my perspective, lead us to live a full life indeed. I am thinking of the words of Meister Eckhardt– early Christian mystic– who said that if we ever only said one prayer, and that was “thank you”, it would be enough.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • You bring up a good point regarding the human challenge of accepting that which we don’t understand. We may not understand the language of non-human animals, however that does not mean we’re by any means superior to them.

      I like your response of giving gratitude, rather than focusing on increased consumption. The bumper sticker “we’re all in this together” comes to mind.

      • It is at least a challenge to accept what we don’t understand given the worldview which prompted Francis Bacon to state that we should pin nature to our experimental board and “torture her secrets from her”, Breannon.

  175. Empathy and abstract thought in animals has been something I’ve been interested in for many years. We know that dogs, whales, cats, elephants, primates and other animals display “human” traits like playfulness, need for comradeship and strong emotions such as happiness, fear and even depression, yet we’re quick to dismiss that such traits are in fact universal and not simply limited to the realm of humans. It is this devaluation of life that hurts our relationship with nature by putting us in direct competition with it on the basis that we’re singular and “superior” to non-human life.

    • I completely agree with you. We are not superior as if we were, we would not be in the mess we have made for ourselves and everyone else on earth. We have become so distracted by trying to achieve our “idea” of happiness and perfection that we have lost site of what happiness and perfection really is.

      Its being in balance and peace with nature, and the world around us, all aspects, accepting what cannot be changed, and working with that, just as animals have responded to urbanization, to sprawl, infringement on their territories; we must be able to accept “what is” and not try to manufacture some canned version of “better than is”,

      I cannot go to zoos. Ever since that poor little boy fell into the gorilla exhibit a few years back and the male silverback gorilla carried the boy to a safe place away from the other younger interested gorillas, and rocked him gently until the keepers could get to the boy, I wonder how people can still consider an animal lesser than, and lower and less worthy.

      • Indeed, my perspective is that we are living with the results of the “dominator paradox”– we think dominating others gives us power, whereas it only brings us self-destruction in the end.The story of the gorilla is yet another one to add to the long list of examples in response to this essay–which perhaps deserve a post of their own in a collected form so that everyone might have easy access to them.

    • In our world, there shouldn’t be anything that is superior to anything else is a falsehood that is commonly exercised today. A competition against nature will never end in a good way. Just as you say, certain animals display certain “human” traits. I think that this is why Animal research is such a difficult topic for many-no one wants to harm something that reminds a person of themselves.

      • Thoughtful point, Andrew. I also find this hopeful in that new designs for experimentation are coming about. For instance, instead of chemotherapy, we might use epidemiology stats to prevent cancer by inhibiting the toxins that cause it– which, as the current President’s Cancer Panel just emphasized, noting that cancer is overwhelmingly caused by toxins in our environment.
        As for one take on tough choices in future biomedicine, you might be interested in the interview with medical anthropologist Margaret Lock in this series on “how to think about science”.—24-listen/
        Thanks for your comment.

  176. This essay details one of the single most embarrassing perspectives human beings have; that we are above other animals, and they are not intelligent, cannot feel pain, and do not feel for one another. These are all conclusions we have drawn through studying the physiology of these animals from our attempts at interpreting their behaviors. Then we compare their traits to ours, and decipher some result based on man made theories’. We are really fooling ourselves to think that we are better than another living creature because we have built this material world around us that we cannot imagine anything else being capable of creating. We have established standards for ourselves and then have applied them to all living creatures; like it’s a universally understood truth.

    I have had two standout experiences with horses that make me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that animals are empathetic and care for those who care for them. When I lived outside of Days Creek in Oregon on a family ranch, I was lucky enough to have an Arabian Mare at my disposal; and I love to ride. Her name was Abba, short for Abbazabba.
    She and I roamed the hills all over the ranch, and one day, early in the morning, we came upon a large area covered in rather dense blackberry bushes. When we got about 10 feet away, the bush directly in front of us started to shake, and a black bear popped its head up and looked right at us while chewing berries. Abba and I both were taken aback, and we immediately turned 180 degrees around and took off in a full gallop. I was on a single track trail and quickly connected onto the firebreak and we kept on galloping afraid of the bear following us. There was a swale that had developed from some natural watershed drainage out of an adjacent earthen incised channel that’s erosion was aided by serious rainfall and when we came to this swale, Abba lost her footing, and I flew over her right whither, did a full front flip and landed flat on my back with the wind knocked out of me. Abba had torqued to the left in order to not fall on me as I was coming off of her back, and she ended up falling on her left side. Because I had the wind knocked out of me, I could not move for some time, and had my eyes closed; I was still afraid of the bear being right where I was if I opened them. I heard Abba get up, and then I felt her breath on my face, she was sniffing me to see if I was OK. When I opened my eyes, she had tears rolling down her face over her nose and they were landing on me. She quickly started smelling every part of my body- maybe trying to smell blood, and I jumped up and started checking her all over as well. I gave her a huge hug and she hung her head over my right shoulder and rested it there for a good minute, we had regained our faculties by that time, remembered the bear almost at the same time it seemed and then walked swiftly back to the barn and I grabbed my cousin to help me make sure both Abba and I were all right. After that, she and I were inseparable.
    I live close to a barn here in Montara, and my friend got a new very young horse; a 5 year old palomino quarter horse mare, that I take care of often. Bundi, the palomino was trying to test me when I was taking care of her for the first time about. She would not let me clean her stall and would keep sticking her bottom in my face when I would try to clean it, and she would not let me get close to her right hind hoof to clean / pick it.
    The horse in the stall right next door to Bundi is an 11 year old thoroughbred that is 17.2 hands and a dapple grey named Magic. He was a race horse and won many races; when he was jet black in color and was then named midnight or something like that. Magic is like Ferdinand the Bull; he loves to stop and smell the roses and is very much the over seer of what goes on at the ranch. I have heard him talk his other neighbor Jack the chestnut quarter horse through a stressful experience with a crazy German Sheppard; it was amazing to watch. I take care of Magic when his “mom owner” goes out of town. So he knows me, and we like each other allot.
    When Magic saw the trouble Bundi (the palomino quarter horse) was giving me, he walked over to the hot fence in between the two paddocks, and gave a deep inhale and a long blustery blow, and Bundi responded back to Magic with a short snort and blustery blow, and he responded back, sharper and louder than before. Bundi stopped with her turning sharply to put her rear in my face while I was cleaning the stall and gave me no trouble with my asking for her right hind hoof again.
    To this day, Magic says something to Bundi every once in a while to get her back down to her level, and she listens and it is amazing to see and to be a part of. She now is working on voice commands with me for lunging, mucking and cleaning which is really great. She has respect for me, as I do for her, we get each other and she has taught me quite a bit about myself, as has Magic.

    • I like your reflection that this is an embarrassing trait in humans– this kind of projection onto others what we see (or miss) in ourselves, Lizzy. Thanks for sharing your remarkable experience with horses. In all the years I grew up with horses, I never heard of a horse crying– what an amazing experience. I can see why you and Abba bonded after this (and obviously, before it as well). The communication you experienced between the other two horses bears some similarity to the bats in this essay. We know so little about the conscious of earth’s others when we assume the limits of their consciousness as we compare it to our own. I think it would be a much better strategy to try to learn from them instead.

    • Wow! What an inspiring story- thank you for sharing. I practically got tears in my eyes as well when reading about your horse hovering over you with tears rolling down his face. I agree, I think animals certainly can feel empathy and horses are particularly magical.

  177. I love, love, love the readings from the website Our Earth/Ourselves, especially this essay, Mice in the sink and us. Empathy with non-human animals and other life forms has been a part of my life from birth, it seems, though this can be truth for all humans. Ecofeminism is a supportive platform from which to express this empathy and intrinsic relationship with Earth and the Cosmos.
    I have chosen, as a major pathway during this lifetime, to be a bridge between species. My family, when I was a child, would laugh at the lengths I would go to save animals, bugs and plant life and my claim that they talked to me and to each other. My mom found a mouse in one of our closets and I went to great lengths to entice the terrified mouse into a shoebox before she could get the broom. But not before the mouse climbed up the inside of the pant leg of a male friend trying to help me in the rescue, who screamed! Hearing about the efforts of the mice siblings to help each other was so very wonderful. I never grew out of this compassion and now family considers me quite odd and eccentric, which I consider a compliment.

    • Thank you, Maureen, for sharing your delightful journey of self-expression–and the spunk to keep at it, doing what was in you to do despite what other humans (if not other animals) thought of it. And I am glad you like the readings here– in the old traditions, an audience helps make the story, so there be ones here without readers.

  178. After reading this article I was left thinking how different we would build and construct our buildings and technologies if we took the health and feelings of animals seriously. I have often thought of how different the world might be if we thought in this way in regards to children, but by expanding this thought to all beings humans have a sense of responsibility towards changes that image even more. Many of our technologies serve a very limited roll even in our own lives being for very specific purposes such as cars which are merely for transportation and cell phones which are merely for communication, yet they can effect a whole environment in a much broader way through infrastructure, pollution, noise, or highly concentrated sources of energy. They remind me somewhat of prescription drugs which have a very specific target and a list of side affects which are seen as accidental and not connected in any way to the essential character of the drug. If we were to focus more on how our creations fit into the whole environment and not just one aspect of how they benefit us, there would be very interesting changes indeed.

    • You have hit on a key difference in terms of approached to the environment, Andy: either we can attempt to make it adapt to us, or we can adapt to it. As you indicate, the latter indicates a more holistic view and I think adopting it would not only bring about substantial changes in the right direction: it would ultimately benefit us, as well.
      The problem of NOT utilizing the holistic perspective in an interdependent ecological system is that it obscures the fact that we harm ourselves as we harm others and benefit ourselves as we do likewise.
      Thanks for your comment.

  179. I personally had an experience, at a young age, which made me feel like animals do have empathy. I was only about eight or nine when it happened and I’ve never forgotten this event. It was common for me to go out on my grandparent’s property and walk alone for hours with a short rifle (i.e. .22 or air rifle). One day I saw two quail on the path in front of me and I was told that they were very good to eat. I thought I would be respected for bringing these birds home and commenced with the hunt. I chased them close to a pump house but shot one before it could get away. To my complete surprise, the one that got under the small structure came back out to get its partner. I couldn’t believe that this tiny bird returned, even with my presence so close. It didn’t seem to care about me being there but displayed a sense of sadness for the other animal and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I even started to try and scare it away because I felt so bad about what I’d done. It wouldn’t leave, even with the obvious threat of my presence looming over it. This story came back to me while reading this essay. Wild Bill’s, Pit River elder, explanation that there is not a term that defines a difference between humans and other natural beings. This indigenous view of living creatures is new and interesting and I’d like to believe that I began to share in at least a portion of it after this youthful experience. But, it’s still difficult for me to relate to the notion that humans and all other creatures are equal. I’m sure this is problematic because I have spent my life assimilating to the culture of my society but I’m still open to change. I completely agree with Wild Bills statement about being dead if you don’t perceive the world around you as living. I remember a sick feeling coming over me after I witnessed the little bird’s plight. I could feel death close by and I new the true relationship between life and death for the first time. I admit that there have been many times I’ve spoken with the creatures around me since that day. I even felt a sense of connection with the trees.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience with those two birds, Ryan. There is another comment from a hunter here that records how common this experience is among hunters– that one goose or duck will not leave its partner–and some hunters will not shoot certain birds for that reason.
      I was reminded in your description of your experience of the ways in which the natural world teaches us (if we are in any way open to this), in spite of our bumblings. I am certainly feeling this in learning about the honeybees I have placed in my yard this year.

      • I have seen hunted ducks mourn one another first hand and it is a very tragic and sad event. The remaining duck circled the area where its mate was killed and continued to make a devastating cry. I can’t imagine hurting another animal on purpose or with no regard for their feelings, but many people actually believe that animals do not have feelings like we do. Many people believe that animals do not feel pain or sadness the same way we do, so they can justify killing them.

        • Thanks for sharing your own experience that many have expressed here: given this, it must take substantial denial for some to say animals have no feelings, Jamie.
          Sadly,we are seeing the results of ignoring such information from the world around us.

  180. I believe if we starting treating all creatures and “spirits” of earth with some empathy there would be a better quality of life. We could see the true beauty of the earth. We could learn more in a peaceful way rather try to force experiments on the living things that we share the world with.

  181. I know of people who kill any creature in their home or near their home. They feel that it is their right to kill these animals and that they should not be forced to live with mice, snakes, bugs, etc. This right to kill is not a new idea, but disturbing none the less.

    Why is it that we as humans feel entitled to kill any living thing? I completely agree with the essay in regards to how we treat other living things. We abuse, exploit, torture and think nothing of it. We hunt animals to extinction and then reintroduce them, only to hunt them again. It is almost as if humans have a need to kill, some disturbed part of our brain that tells us it is ok to kill animals whenever we want. I personally have witnessed young boys and men kill animals just because they were there with no remorse or regard for the animal. Is this normal behavior? Why do we accept this type of behavior in our society. I think the first step to changing this way of thinking is to educate children on the value of all living things, not for what they can give us but rather just for being.

    • Thoughtful point to consider, Jamie– in terms of where we obtain our sense of “license” to treat other lives in these ways–especially when we consider that it is not a “given” in all human cultures–not to mention, the ways in which our impulse to kill/control natural lives for our own convenience is becoming part of a self-destructive cycle in terms of our destruction of the ecosystems we need for survival.
      I don’t think it is “normal” to kill in this way: certainly, it is not natural. I don’t know of any animal species that kills others just to exert their power of them (not to eat them or defend territory,etc.)
      You have an excellent point about social acceptance (and even encouragement) of such behavior: this needs to change!

  182. At face value, animal testing can be a sad thing. However, animal research has led to countless medical accomplishments including advances in cancer rersearch and organ transplants. Without the use of animal testing, there would have been no way to achieve these advances in medicine. The alternative possibility to get to the same result would have been to use human test subjects. Which would you rather have, animal test subjects, human test subjects, or be hundreds of years behind in medical research?

    • I think there is another way of locating at this rather than as animal testing versus no animal testing, Andrew. How can we gain the information we want in a way that does not cause suffering to animals. Rupert Sheldrake makes the point that the system of animal experimentation in based on death and dead animals rather than live ones. By contrast, Chinese society developed acupuncture by assessing and observing living systems such as our own bodies.
      The complex herbal remedies developed (and the basis of much current pharmaceutical knowledge) by many cultures (there are currently certified herbalists in Europe) do not require animal deaths to develop them.

  183. I don’t think it’s any secret how I feel about animals, big or small, “pests” or not. I even go as far as to take those disgusting and inhumane glue strips they sell to kill mice at stores like Target and I hide them someplace else in the store so people can’t find them. Mice will get so desperate to get off of those they will chew their own limbs off. It’s an abhorrent and awful, disgusting way to die. I’m almost in tears just thinking about it.

    All of this just reinforces your point, Prof. Holden, why do only humans get treated like humans? Why are humans the only ones with rights? A couple of teenage boys somewhere in New England covered a puppy in paint and put it in the oven to die slowly and painfully those sociopathic youth only got a few years in a juvenile institution. If that had been a baby, they’d be in prison for murder. IT’S THE SAME CONCEPT! And it only escalates from there. Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and many other prolific serial killers started with animals. Anyone who preys on the helpless, whether that be a child or an animal should be imprisoned. Instead you can get more time for smoking marijuana than torturing and maiming an animal. What kind of world is this?

    Where did our compassion go? Why do mice and rats and other rodent-type animals have to be pests? Why can’t we live in cohesion with them? Make some reinforcements to keep them from ruining your home and get on with it, don’t kill them with inhumane and sadistic traps. We have a rat that has lived under the bush in our yard for years and not one tenant here has ever asked our landlady to kill him, despite his tendency to crawl throughout certain pipes and exhausts around the building. We gave him a nickname and let it go.

    I might have already told this story, but nevertheless it’s important. Last summer I was only working two days a week at one of my jobs. There was a baby raccoon who had been orphaned wandering up the steps to the conference room and back down in the middle of the day. This had been going on for five days without any action from my colleagues. I couldn’t believe it and I was distraught with worry for this baby raccoon. I called the local wildlife rehabilitation center and asked what to do. They told me to catch him and bring him on out to them.

    After my shift ended, I went home and grabbed my dish gloves, a big beach towel and a rubber crate. I was ill-equipped to capture a wild animal, but I made do with what I had. I poke holes in the rubber tub and put a soft blanket inside of it. Then I went back to work and set about trying to capture “Ricky” the raccoon.

    I had to trick him into the crate, but I caught him. My boss and other coworkers couldn’t believe that I was doing this. What if I got bitten, what if he clawed me, etc. What if he died out there and you all did nothing? I took Ricky out to Chintimini and they kept me posted on his progress. I also donated the $50 to “sponsor” his provide care while he was out there. Chintimini and other wildlife rehabilitation centers provide a great service and great compassion in a world that is cold and callous.

    It is our job as the dominating force in this world to show care and compassion for all of earth’s creatures. But when I think about the very few people who feel the same was as us, it breaks my heart. I feel hopeless because there are so few people who care anymore, so few people who understand that these things have souls just the same as you and I.

    • Thanks for your obvious care here, Crystal. It is great that some creatures with so little voice in our culture have an advocate in your. There are humane mouse traps; no need to make creatures suffer if we don'[t want them around.
      I would take your point further and say that a society which allows the torture of some animals also tends to protect the rights of only some of its human residents. In short the ways in which we treat the natural world too easily and too often is replicated in the ways in which we treat one another.
      I am sorry that you feel hopeless. Your own actions model care for others–and I think you will find plenty of company in your care on this forum.
      On the other hand, there is no excuse for the ways in which some treat those they consider “lesser”than themselves, human or otherwise. I think we need a solution that gets rid of both the better-than attitude–and the license that goes with it. We need a change in worldview to one like that which you yourself express.

  184. You told the story of two mice in this essay: a stronger one who helps his weaker partner get a drink of water. You asked at the end of the story how the reader would characterize the intentions of the helper mouse. I would say it was altruism. Everything I learned in biology would indicate that the stronger mouse should have taken a drink then taken the meat and run with it, but he didn’t. If he exists only to live long enough to reproduce, he wouldn’t have given the much needed food to his weaker partner. This story proves that there’s more to a mouse’s existence than just biological imperatives. And if this is true of a mouse, it follows that it must be true of all of nature’s creatures.

    I have a Senegal parrot who yells at my cat. Seriously. Senegals are smaller cousins to African Grays, and they share some of their linguistic talents, as well as their intelligence. It started with her copying me. I would say to the cat, “Hey! Harry!’ when he would scratch on the couch. Soon after, every time Harry scratched on the corner of the couch, Lucy would say the same thing to him. One day I saw Harry scratching on the wooden door frame and before I could say anything, Lucy was yelling, “Hey! Harry!” Now I rarely have to say anything to Harry about scratching anything he’s not supposed to because Lucy usually gets to him before I can. It’s one thing for Lucy to mimic my language but I think it’s something altogether different that she uses the language in its proper context.

    • Thoughtful comment, Barbara. Perhaps what this story tells us is that we need to reassess our definition of “biological imperatives”– in the essay on misuse of Darwin here, there are many instances of the cooperative impulse being expressed in the natural world– and the self-destructive results of acting in merely a competitive manner.
      The story of your parrot is delightful–I got a laugh out of it. There is some research on the ability of parrots to learn and appropriately use our language. I think one thing we can learn from this is that we can’t assume that animals are dumber than we are just because we can’t speak there language.

  185. It always amazes me that some people will assert that non-human animals don’t have personalities, feelings, souls, empathy, etc. This idea that humans are the only beings on the planet with reasoning and feelings with all the evidence to the contrary just seems foolish. I guess minimizing the “higher-minded” traits in other animals, like empathy and reasoning, is the only way we are able to convince ourselves that we truly are the “most fit” species on the planet and and therefore deserve to dominate over all other life.

    • I think you are right, Darcy, that this view of other lives gives us the license to behave towards them in any way we wish. My sense is that is a lose-lose proposition all the way around.

  186. The question do I have the right to kill or harm an animal that lives in my house is a hard one to answer. On the one hand, it is your home and you have every right to harm the animal, but by doing this, you are undoubtedly causing pain to the animal. Therefore, it depends on how you view animals and their place in nature. I have a lot of respect for a person that is going to help two mice get water. I myself have never done anything along those lines, but after hearing some of these stories I will no doubt think twice about helping the struggling animal. Are humans above animals? We both feel pain don’t we, so therefore we should help each other out, just like the yellow jackets did in your other story.

    • Thoughtful assessment here, Kyle. We each make these kinds of decisions every day. It seems important that we make them with knowledge of the choices we are making.
      And about being “above” others, we might consider whether those willing to hurt other lives without a second thought are really “above” them in any meaningful sense of the word.

  187. The stories of the mice and the bats reminds me of certain birds that obviously mourn the loss of their partner by calling out and circling the body. I have always felt that animals have the ability to feel and have witnessed the expression of empathy towards humans and other animals. Our quality of life would be improved for those of us who would truly understand and felt that everything is alive. There would be a greater respect for our natural resources and a general sense of caring more for the land.

    • Your example of these birds’ behavior echoes the experience of a number of hunters, according to comments here, Kara. I think we cannot be reminded of this too often to hep us, as you note, improve our quality of life, as well as our respect and caring for the land as we acknowledge the vitality and life of the natural world.

  188. I actually think that people today have a great amount of respect for animals and their consciousness. How else do you explain the success of the TV show The Dog Whisperer or the rise of pet spas and pet psychics?

    All joking aside, however, I think there are many people who genuinely believe that their pets have some sort of cognitive ability, yet these same people have difficulty making that same sort of conclusion about animals that are raised to be eaten. People will fight to bring awareness to cruelty to animals and donate money to the Humane Society to save puppies and kittens, but they don’t think twice of the torture endured by chickens or pigs.

    To say that a chicken or a pig has consciousness is not to say that no one should be allowed to eat them. The predator-prey relationship is an important one to keeping the environmental balance. Native Americans in general were not vegetarians. They did eat meat, but the livestock was allowed to live naturally until it was hunted or it was time for slaughter. It is not unreasonable to believe that we could live that way again. In general, Americans eat far more meat than their bodies actually need, and the meat they eat is packed with chemicals, pesticides, hormones, and unnecessary antibiotics. Re-organizing the way the food industry in the US deals with the raising and slaughtering of meat in the US would not only go a long way towards making a difference in the environment, but also in the health of our citizens.

    • Thanks for sharing the values of holism and balance in this assessment, Roman. Sadly, the dualistic worldview allows us to partition our standards for those in the privileged group from those in the group of animals we treat as objects at our service.
      In terms of balance, acknowledging our present and past reliance on meat (that cellophane wrapped package in the meat tray at the supermarket was once a living animal) at the same time that we express concern and implement ethical standards for the way in which animals that feed us are raised is an essential point.
      The good news is that concentration on the latter is good for both our health and that of the environment.

    • Great post Roman.

      You make a very important point that many Americans treat their pets (puppies and kittens) like family, or better in some cases, but have complete disregard for the lives of food animals.

      I saw an episode about pigs on the Discovery Channel a couple of years ago and learned that pigs are very intelligent and show empathy and compassion to other pigs and animals especially when they are living in unstressfull conditions (ie not in tiny cages or crowded pens).

      As a culture, I think that we would definitely increase our compassion for all life if we raised and slaughtered our meat animals in a more natural environment.

  189. Considering the feelings and ultimate “aliveness” of everything would seriously enhance our human experience. This life-in-everything is really not just a spiritual observation, but a scientific one. We can easily recognize that all things are merely made up of energy, just as we are, and that same energy is all there really is. Perhaps, at first, that doesn’t sound too magical, but when you think about it, and what that means, you can realize that this is the “oneness” that is spoken of and felt by millions of “awake” beings everywhere. Treating all other forms of life with respect is therefore the same as honoring and loving all that you are.

    • Great points, Michele. Thank you.

    • Interesting take on it. I just finished writing how I don’t believe in the “aliveness” of everything unless it breathes and grows but after reading your comment I can see a different take on it. I definitely agree with you in that treating all forms of life with respect is the same as honoring and loving all that you are. thanks for creating a new awareness for me:)

  190. I feel like I could do an entire doctorate dissertation and then some on the topic of recognizing the world as being entirely alive – every bit of the earth, grass, soil; every little bio-and-ecosphere.. ! It would completely change U.S. society as we know it, if we were to fully recognize the ‘soul’ in all beings – dirt, rocks, ‘wild’ and domesticated animals, other humans, plants… We’d truly have to start living in partnership, and therefore, become more appreciative of all living beings… more empathetic and altruistic, more understanding… we’d have to give up the idea that we can own anything non-white, hetero, adult, and male (at first I was going to say ‘non-human’ but clearly, we all have an extensive and continuing history of even considering many humans as… less than living? not worthy of empathy as the same beings as ourselves, who feel (even if they cannot yet form words) and deserve the same as any other person or living being.

    And the Pit River student? I really believe he was right… when you truly bond with another animal, and enter into a partnership of respect with it, it might not speak our language – but it certainly talks to us and communicates.

    • Thanks for your eloquent response, Lauren. You might indeed write a whole dissertation on this– after all, whole cultures have based thousands of years of living with their lands on it.

  191. Let imagine that the Creator decided to change history. He made bird to become the smartest and most powerful creature on Earth. Human was just like other species; its destination based on the decision of bird. How would human feel if bird use human to do scientific experiments? Probably, it was not fun at all. Fortunately, human was the most intelligence and strongest. We gave ourselves a superior position while treating other as inferiority. That is just so wrong. I have never gone to fishing since I never thought that deliver the pain is fun. It is true that, at evolution perspective, non-human animals are not as good as we are. However, they still have feelings. It is injustice to treat others badly just because they don’t evolve as fast as we are. This essay reminds me about Imperialism in 18th century and Fascism in 20th century. Imperialists and fascists use the idea of survival of the fitness to conquer the world and kill many people.
    Everything is interdependent. Even the Sun is depending on other factors of the Universe. It is unreasonable for human to treat un-human animals as “others”. Again, the ecosystem is created by everything single thing that existing on Earth. No one is dominating the whole thing. If one is destroying others, it is destroying itself. If we consider about how others feel when we make decision, it will change our behavior toward nature.

    • Good perspective of what it would be like to change places with some of the other creatures we interact with: that, it seems to me, is a true test of compassion. I think it is also injustice to treat others badly because we are strong enough to get away with it. I wouldn’t apply the term “evolved” to any cruel or thoughtless acts.
      You are absolutely right about the importance of remembering the interdependence of all life–and choosing our actions accordingly.

    • Vu, you bring up some very good points. Many human actions do not resemble an evolved civilization. Even the concept of civilization itself has been used to devalue other cultures and people, as well as colonize the world through the use of violence. None of this resembles anything remotely close to civilized action, which is why we must question our definition of civilized. That is exactly what ecofeminism, as well as many other movements, do. We need to redefine what it means to be civilized. According to many, it means treating other cultures with respect, treating animals and nature with respect, being peaceful towards each other, understanding our interconnectedness, as well as many other things. We must continue supporting truly civilized behavior, as well as questioning behavior which does not seem to show compassion and empathy for others.

      • An ironic use of the word “civilization” that becomes tragic when it becomes a license to wipe out other (and true) civilizations, as you point out, Kelsey. We must indeed re-define what it means to be civilized: just as we need to re-define “progress” and “development”.
        I love your own definition of civilized as treat other humans, nature, and other species with respect and compassion as we honor our interconnection. And we need to stop rewarding things like greed and violence. Questioning such behavior is the first step.
        Thanks for your insightful comment.

  192. The story of the two mice is prime example of heroism because the ability to feel empathy towards others and work towards helping them is often considered the mark of a heroine/hero. It seems we often disregard the possibility that animals, especially smaller animals, have the ability to display these traits, however, which we reserve only for the most admirable humans. I’ve seen ants in my backyard exhibit amazing cooperation and unity in order to build a nest, as well as carry each other when one is hurt or tired (my best guess as to why they would carry one another). Not only do animals exhibit these traits, but average people do too, and on a regular basis. Many stories of people jumping in front of a train or tackling a mugger to help someone else are shown on the news, but when asked about the event the heroine/hero usually says they were just doing what anyone else would do. I think we all (animals and humans alike) have it in us to empathize with others and help them; it’s just a matter of doing it. Greater empathy could not only contribute to reaching the goals of ecofeminism, but also to making the world a more compassionate place.

    • I like your definition of hero here, Kelsey- empathy toward others and working toward helping them as opposed to the “heroes” of certain action movies that express their “heroism” by beating up everyone else in sight (“bad guy” or not). In a society based on competition, the one who overcomes another is considered a “hero”– time for all of us to learn something better from our animal kin on this earth.
      And it is time to better acknowledge the “everyday heroes” among humans that you point out as well.

  193. I don’t understand how anyone can say or think that animals other than humans don’t think or feel. i have always thought that all animals feel in one form or another and maybe some more extreme than others but nonetheless feelings and thought are definitely there. my dogs and cats have personalities and they let me know when they are upset, sad, happy and so on- just like my kids. when my babies were born, my female dog showed emotion and feelings toward them and treated them as she did her pups- she protected them and wouldn’t let others get close. to me that shows a great deal of emotion and feeling. the bat example in the article is amazing but not surprising.
    the only thing that i might not agree with is that objects- things- have feelings or are alive. i’m not sure if i truly understand what was meant by that because to me- things that don’t grow or breathe are not exactly alive. did Wild Bill mean it more as a metaphor of some sort or does he really believe that? I’m not saying it’s not true- i’m just saying that i don’t think that i believe that.

    • Hi Ely, thanks for sharing your own beliefs here.
      Wild Bill’s statement of things like a bench being “alive”– with the example that it made for a purpose is parallel to the carving of a heart and lungs in a canoe by the Chinook–because to them it breathed and its heart pumped as it flew through the water. And whatever we believe, these people were able to navigate the bars of the Columbia that wrecked explorer ship after ship–and continues to stymie our navigation today so that incoming ships need to be towed or otherwise guided through. Who is to say that in the old days men (and women) and their canoes did not together read the river in order to navigate it, speaking as live things to one another (river, humans, and the canoe as the instrument between them).
      There is the placing a missed stitch in the weavings of women in several cultures to allow the spirit of its human maker to escape before it is given away. Many indigenous people gave away or destroyed the belongings of someone who died with the idea that spirit of the deceased had marked them with his or her own life. And there is this: two atoms that have once been in contact hold a resonance to one another, so that you can move one across the world and touch it and the other responds. In some traditions, natural things like stones that Western culture sees as “objects” are alive in the sense of owning stories and sharing power (there is one tradition that stones have stories of their own– humans just live too brief a life to understand them– or at least, we have to slow way down to be able to listen to the story of a stone).
      Is this “only” metaphor– or is metaphor itself in the stories we tell an ancient form of resonance and connection that reflects the way the world itself is held together?
      And thanks for your question– I loved replying to it!

    • Nice post. To add I have seen other animals interact with humans. I think that anything you can bond with will interact in a positive way with you. We look at animals as having feelings. What about plants? What about a log? What about the earth and sky? I believe that everything feels for things. That is just me.

    • I agree with your point about your animals. My two dogs are part of the family and definitely let me know when they are not happy. On your point about object though I wonder if it really that crazy of an idea to imagine them having some sort of consciousness. Sure the moon, stars, or even trees don’t have a brain but don’t plants react to thing such as music? Is it that unlikely to think that there could be something on a cellular level or even a level that we are not aware of yet? After all we have only been aware of cells for a very short time. .

      • Very thoughtful considerations, Phillip. There is some data that trees of the same species in native forests register a response when large numbers of their kin are cut down: does this mean they feel this? Not perhaps like humans do, but I am not sure we can discount the liveness of our world on the basis of the fact that its life is not exactly like our own.

      • While personally I feel like everything does have intelligence in it’s own form and the society has a long way to go in learning about the complex and derived forms of intelligence species have I wonder if proving intelligence or empathy matters. I don’t understand how people can go to work and kill animals for research, or abuse other species, and then go home to their pet puppy. I don’t think I will ever understand the complex belief system that allows one to love their pets but not care for species that act similarly to that pet.

        • You have an important point in indicating we should have an ethical standard with which to treat our fellow creatures whether or not we are able to “prove” their intelligence and empathy– though for me stories like this help me broaden both my imagination and my ethics with respect to these others.

  194. The example of the stronger mouse solving the problem of getting the weaker mouse to the water showed that even the youngest animals have compassion, it is not a learned behavior, and it is not exclusive to humans. I know animals feel compassion and are sensitive to the suffering of others. My pets have always shown me how to be a better person…

    • Thoughtful points, Sheryl. I am not sure that the younger mouse could not have already learned something from his/her upbringing. Even the youngest babies have began their socialization with the nurturance of the adults around them. But your point is well taken that we don’t have to be human to express empathy–and we have much to learn about empathy from the more than human world.

  195. When I was a boy I once noticed a couple of bees flying around a soda can that I had just finished drinking. One of the bees flew into the opening of the soda can and me, being a boy, felt it my duty to trap the bee inside so I flipped the can upside down. I then watched for several minutes as the other bee flew around the can ultimately landing on top. I was sitting next to the soda can and could hear the bee inside of it. It seemed to me that the bees were communicating with each other as I would hear the bee inside make a noise and then hear the bee on top of the can seem to respond repeatedly. I think although small that this was a important realization in my life as I turned the can right side up with an idea that even the bees had bonds of family or friendship and would stay around even when in danger. I deserved to be stung but what I got was a great realization that I didn’t have before.

    • Thanks for sharing this story– it sounds like you were listening to/learning from the natural world at a young age, Phillip. Certainly, there are many lessons in compassion we might learn from that world– if we but listen–as you did.

    • Your story is revealing of your awareness at such a young age. When I read your story I thought how useful it would be as a childrens story. Perhaps you were stunk in another energetic way by trapping that bee, but sharing your story now has a moral many other little children would perhaps find very useful 🙂

    • Great story which we all can learn from! It would be great if we all could take these small observations and use them to educate people about the importance of admiring and respecting nature. I think we all think of large animals like lions and bears when we think of families, but in reality all levels of animals and nature have bonds and relationships. It would be interesting and beneficial to design our animal management plans on simple ideas such as your realization instead of data and computer models all of the time…we might succeed by simply listening to nature!

      • Indeed– everyone loves your story, Phillip! Bees are nothing if not social insects–as you point out, we can learn from these social interactions everywhere in the natural world.

  196. Mice have been proven to be very smart and innovative. It has always disturbed me that science has often used mice as test subjects in such areas as cancer labs. To use mice as test subjects and manipulate their genes and environment all in the name of science and the advancement of human health. Rather than try and understand disease holistically, western science looks to toxic chemicals and drugs to heal people from what ails them. The example described here of the mice caring for each other and discovering ways to help each other in a time of need reveals how intelligent small little mice are. It reveals that we can learn things from the mice such as compassion and thinking outside the box to explore larger problems. Rather than use mice in labs we should witness how they discover a way around what may seem to be obstacle. I believe all plants and animals have a spirit and have an inherent right to be treated with love and respect. Animals are treated as a commodity to be bought and sold for economic purposes all over the world. I have a friend who rescues cats from people who breed them in small cages. This is a cruel way to make a profit for the cat’s life in the dark and often infested with fleas and in their own feces. I think everyone should watch “Food Inc” so they can at least know where their food comes from and the conditions chickens are raised and slaughtered. They live in dark cramped conditions in fear and I believe the energy of fear is passed to the person who eats the meat of the chicken. If people would slow down and start reading more blogs like this they might stop to consider animals have a soul and are powerful teachers if we listen.

    • Thanks for sharing your insight and compassion here, Angel. I like the fact that you see animals not only as teaching us about themselves– but modeling creative problem solving approaches. In many indigenous societies, there are stories that indicate how non-human animals teach us to become better, more ethical and more creative humans.
      I also think that the fear you speak of is transmitted to those who consume such meat: there are clear hormonal correlates to stress that are in the meat of the animals raised under factory farming conditions.

      • It is quite interesting that indigenous people see animals in a different way than a typical American does. Animals are resourceful and educational in a sense that we need to pay more attention to them. Many Americans see animals as just a source for foods. Which yes it can be true but everything we can get from eating an animal we can get elsewhere. Why not utilize ever resource and educate ourselves by understanding everything else?

        • Thanks for your comment, Jen. How does looking at other lives as “resources” for our use–even with the best of intentions– cause us to treat them differently than if we were to honor them as lives in their own right?

  197. We reside very much in a living world, if we just take the time to notice the life.That Ms. Lambert noticed the mice, then ventured to help them, then observed one helping the other is indicative of the care we all need to take to really notice our world. That the Pit River people would think that humans used to be able to talk with animals is to me really an indication that they took the time to notice, to observe, to learn from the animals. Jane Goodall is an expert in this as well, as she takes the time even to name the chimps, because she is observing them so carefully and getting to know them so intimately.
    When we allow ourselves to live in a dead world of concrete and steel, plastic and packaged foods, we lose the ability to talk with nature..

    • We only deaden ourselves when we fail to be present, as you note, to the vitality of the living world around us, Reb. You might enjoy an edited collection called Intimate Nature, in which a number of women naturalists like Goodall share their experiences with other species.

  198. Some of the narcissistic tendencies in our culture appear to promote the centrism that seems connected with thinking that only humans feel pain. The more that isolation and self-fulfillment dominate people’s lives, the less they think of helping someone else out. When those same people are in the mice situation, they might be trying to climb out of the sink rather than helping the other mouse get to water.

    • I like your insights here, Amanda. I would only consider at greater length the definition of one term: I don’t think there is much true “self-fulfillment” in an ethnocentric or egocentric life. In fact, I think it is the lack of ever feeling truly satisfied or full that drives the consumption machine– as well as our continual competition with one another.

  199. I find the story you relay about CeAnn Lambert and the mice very touching. The fact that she opted to help the mice rather than killing them gives me a glimmer of hope that humans can actually treat all animals empathetically. In addition, the fact that the stronger mouse ingeniously helped the weaker mouse strikes a deep chord and serves as proof that they are sentient, thoughtful beings, such as ourselves. Thank you for the heartwarming story!

    • You are certainly welcome, Nicole. I find this story heartening as well!

    • Nicole, I completely agree with you. Sadly,I think a lot of people, would have just killed the mice. Yet this woman actually wanted to help them. It does give me hope that humans can treat animals and nature empathetically. I like your point about how the stronger mouse helping the weaker one, it does show how they indeed are thoughtful beings.

      • There is something to be said for a scientist in this case: whose propensity to observe just what those mice were up to with their unique behavior got the better of her! If we were just to watch and listen to our world, that might lead to immense learning.

  200. What I loved about this essay, was that I don’t feel so “crazy” because I feel that everything is alive. I’ve always felt that way. Just as in “the bench is alive” I’ve always felt that things are living because they serve some sort of purpose. I wonder though, if we began to view our world this way, with more of a connection to nature, would this cause us to lose our technological advances that we have achieved? Although I love being able to have the convenience of technology, some of it is undoubtedly bad for the earth. If we felt more connected to it as if it was alive, I feel that those conveniences of technology would disappear. However, I do suppose it could also cause us to find a better way to sustain the earth along with the technology. Also, the story of the mice in the sink was just too cute.

    • You do indeed have plenty of company in your sense that everything is alive, Michelle.
      I think we need to define what we mean by “advances” here– if our technology is dependent on objectifying the rest of life, I think we have some problems. Technology simply means “tool”– there are all kinds, and my sense is that if different values guided it, we might have more appropriate and sustainable technology.

  201. This essay really made me think about how things are ran in the world, such as the chickens and cows being raised in inhumane conditions. It seems like there should be a balance between doing the things in life we need to do (such as growing food) and being kind to the earth. There are companies that grow the chickens and cows in more humane conditions, but it is more expensive to buy the products of those animals. Most of us, out of convenience, cost, and ignorance would choose the cheaper product regardless of the treatment of the animals. It seems like if we are truly concerned with the condition of the earth, we should spend our money wisely on things like meat, the same as we would carefully shop for a purse or other such item important to us.

    • I think you have an essential idea that we should vote with our dollars in terms of the choices we make in purchasing, Samantha. It actually would not hurt us at all healthwise to eat less meat– and certainly less meat loaded with antibiotics and stress hormones, etc. from being raised in an uncomfortable environment. The other thing is that there is no reason why industrial agriculture should be cheaper but for the “perverse subsidies’ that reward those with environmentally unsound and inhumane practices. See the “action alert” for this week for a way to support a more intelligent Farm Bill in Congress (courtesy of the Union of Concerned Scientists).

  202. This article echoes my own sentiments about non-human creatures. I gave up meat several years ago, at first because I realized I was spending a lot of money on meat that wasn’t that good anyway, but after I stopped eating meat, I began to feel better both physically and mentally. The physical benefits I was able to understand, but why I felt more at peace was something I had to consider for a while. What I eventually realized was that this was a result of realizing on some level that I was not contributing to the needless suffering of living things. After a few years, and learning more about other aspects of industries which use animals for products, or animals for testing, I decided I couldn’t contribute to that either, and I went vegan. I agree with Wild Bill that everything is alive, I just think we as humans often don’t know how to see that.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal journey of awareness, compassion, and conscience with us, John. In our current society it is hard indeed to find sustainably, ethical, and healthily raised meat products to consume. Thus many have made your choice. Though I myself have not, I appreciate your contribution to the earth we all share.

  203. It is interesting to think that these small animals have enough thought to help each other. From personal experience, it is a very amazing thing when an animal seems fully aware of what’s happening. For instance, at the Vet clinics I have worked in most animals are very fearful when they are injured and will bite or scratch in fear. However, every so often you get a certain dog or cat that just lets you do what you need to, seemingly understanding that you are trying to help save it’s life. This makes me think that we have a great connection with animals, regardless of intelligence levels or species difference.

    • You obviously have some great experiences and perspectives to share from your work with animals at the vet clinic, Samantha. It is interesting to ponder what makes the difference in different animals or the same species in terms of their response to us and to crisis.

  204. I found it very interesting when Wild Bill mentioned that all white people think things are dead. I believe he has an important point in the way I see the world work. I believe we have lost that sense of what is living along side us humans and what is actually manmade. What I mean by this is on my way to school I see many types of animals and birds I have learned to identify in my biology class. The other day however, I had my younger brother in the car with me and I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk and pointed it out to him, not only did I have to yank his head phones off but when he went to look for the bird he said “I like the new billboard they put up.” He never even saw the bird, but instead a man-made non living object caught his attention first. As I sit here now looking around my kitchen scanning living and nonliving things, I actually have to think a bit, I see a wooden cutting board- that at one time was alive, I see a plant in the window sill- also alive, and then I see the stainless steel fridge- man-made and not alive. The fact that we have flooded our world with things we have created has blurred the line between what we perceive as alive and once living, with manmade objects in which we have produced by taking parts of our planets and crafting them into our own objects.

    • You have some profound points and examples here, Michelle. Your brother is fortunate to have you as a sister to show him a bit of nature– though it is troubling that his perception was so trained on human made objects.
      I like your views of the living and once living world: and I also think Wild Bill has something to tell us in the fact that those who live amidst a “dead” world of objects also tend to treat themselves as dead (objects).

  205. Mice have spirit and will, and deserve to live. However, I am willing to trap and kill mice that come into my house and poop on my furniture. It is important to show kindness to even these – I do not use glue traps which torture the mice, but spring traps that kill them instantly. Mice can feel pain and it should be avoided.

    The only creature I have ever contemplated wishing extinct is the mosquito, but even that unpleasant creature has a place. While mosquito extinction would eradicate malaria, it would also have a very negative impact on fish and frog populations – an effect I would not want.

    • We make decisions as to how to use our human power all day every day. Avoiding pain to other creatures is an ethical consideration (as you do)– so is avoiding the use of toxins that spread poisons in the environment.
      My own preference is to live trap the mice (very cheap and effective traps are available for this) and to take them several blocks away to an empty lot and/or woods and let them go. Usually, one can handle the mouse situation by not allowing them in in the first place. I never had a problem until a contractor had a bright idea to drill a hole for a cord in the wall of my storage room– a highway for mice.
      One point of the essay is that we are inappropriately pumped up with hubris to assume that we are the only smart or compassionate species.

  206. I recently read that people witnessing acts of kindness by other people report elevated feelings of happiness and hope. The thought of the bats and mice having compassion for each other had this effect on me. It wasn’t until recently that I actually considered whether it as wrong of me to kill the ants and mice that enter my home or yard. It seems so obvious now that other beings have the ability to care and possess what I could call a soul or spirit. Yet I made choices without ever questioning the cultural norms. It is arrogant of humans to think that we are the most intelligent and highly evolved beings on earth. Considering the destruction we are responsible for against each other, animals and the environment, we have not conducted ourselves like an intelligent species. The rest of the natural world has learned to behave in ways that support balance and survival. Our culture needs to abandon the misconception that humans are the only creatures with a conscience and that the rest of nature simply functions on a genetic autopilot.

    • Not only do people witnessing acts of kindness feel additional happiness, Val– they also experience rises in immune system functioning and falling blood pressure. Seems to say something for our natural history that witnessing kindness is linked to our health. It is true that all species (including humans) grew up in ecological systems which were balanced and interwoven– that was how they sustained themselves.
      Thoughtful point about abandoning the idea that humans are the only ones with a conscience. Thanks for your comment, Val.

    • I like your point – that we have not conducted ourselves like an intelligent species. An intelligent species would be sure to care for the world on which it is dependent. Instead, we are causing our own destruction, and the destruction of other life that would otherwise live in balance.

      • All too sadly true, Isabel. It seems we need to rethink our idea of intelligence– or to distinguish between being clever (which our technology indicates we are good at) and being wise (which we are not so good at).

  207. I don’t believe that farms who are producing food for a large population will ever consider anything other than the cage because they have to much money invested.
    I absolutely agree that caged animals are not going to do much good as far as studying their behavior because they are not in their natural environment.
    The land and everything else are alive, yes but to what extent?

    • Thus you are making a case for small farms?

    • Do you think it is okay to produce food in such a way even though it isn’t for research purposes? I think the point is that we have taken these animals out of their natural environment, and not for the purpose of helping them. We have domesticated all of these animals for human gain, and have forgotten to consider the affect that it has on the animals. We consider the working conditions of humans, but what about those of animals? And we know that healthy animals create healthier food for us. It isn’t just about the treatment, but also about the overall impact that animal cruelty can have.

      • You present a number of important points to ponder here, Jenni. Thank you. Our willingness to accept cruelty to lives of other species is certainly linked to our willingness to accept cruelty to other humans. And there is now research that indicates that we consume considerable stress hormones when we consume meat of animals raised in the cruel ways of factory farming, not to mention, antibiotics, pesticides, and diseases such as “mad cow” disease.

  208. So this topic is one that speaks to my heart. The complexity, and consciousness of different species, partly shown through examples of empathy seen in the mouse, should demand a greater care for the world. Growing up I really wanted to research language acquisition in primates (specifically orangutans) and got the lucky experience of volunteering at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute where Washou, the first chimpanzee to learn sign language, and Loulis, the first chimpanzee to learn sign language without the help of humans, arose. Here the Foutes’s saved the chimpanzees from a life in a wire cage for research by taking them on as their personal responsibility. As with the feel of this paper they would rather the chimpanzees remained in the wild but reintroducing these chimps to the wild after Garner took them out isn’t moral. Anyways, back to this essay I was told that when Moja, a chimpanzee died, the other chimpanzees mourned his death. Also, although maybe not heroic, we were told not to wear a hat when around Loulis since it “excited” him. When we have a species that has the intelligence to learn and teach a complex language like sign language, that mourns death, and has fetishes how can we not respect them as individuals worthy of us learning from them and worthy of us protecting them. I think that the mouse example shows well that many species, not just those most like us, have consciousness, intelligence, and empathy and deserve that same respect.

    • This must have been quite a personal experience for you, Caroline. Our own fetishes about our human superiority (gauging intelligence by brains anatomically like our own, for instance), inhibit our learning about our world. The latest YES magazine has a list of surprising (to us) animal intelligence in creatures like birds and fish. I recently saw a parallel list elsewhere– I am glad the word is finally getting out on this different perspective.
      Great list you present: if an animal mourns their dead, can learn language, and even has fetishes, how can we not deem them worthy of respectful treatment?

    • It’s interesting that when the chimp Moja dies, the other chimpanzees mourned his death. I think that many animals are capable of love and compassion for other animals, and they don’t act only on innate instincts. I think that every creature has consciousness (like you said) but does that consciousness range from a fly to a dog? Where do you draw the line? Or should there not be a line at all? Very interesting article, and gives you a lot to think about!

      • So I tried responding to this before better but I forgot to put in my name so I lost the writing. Darn! Basically I believe that an important part of deciding where consciousness exist comes from defining consciousness. I think consciousness is knowing you exist. This is the view I come from and I know there are other views that under which my opinion of universal consciousness is void. From my perspective I believe that consciousness can be seen in all animals. When we see ants that have a life killing fungus going as far away from the colony as possible I believe we are seeing consciousness. While I tihnk it would be silly to anthroposize the action and attempt to know the thought process it seems clear that the ant has made a decision based on a change in it’s body. I think when you take the empathy out of human actions the same is seen when a human gets a fungus and goes to the hospital. I think that simplicity doesn’t negate consciousness.

        • Sorry you had a hard time responding, Caroline. Thanks for persisting and for your thoughtful points about consciousness. A parallel consideration is the idea of “sentient beings” in Buddhism– which puts us in the same category of anything that feels and (as you note) is consciously present to its own life.
          I am not clear what you mean by the parallel by getting a fungus, going to the hospital, and consciousness. Are you saying that every creature endowed with life would like to go on living and acts to protect their life?

      • Caroline’s examples do give us much to think about, Melinda!

  209. It shocks me that people think other creatures have no feelings or intelligence. I spent a few years volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center in southern California ( We had many exotic and magnificent animals, such as chimpanzees, bears, lions, tigers, monkeys, and wolves. Most of our animals were rescued from awful conditions, many from the entertainment industry (we were close to Hollywood), many who were wild until they stumbled into the backyard of some family with small children, and some from people who thought a baby wild animal would make a good pet. These animals were abused, mistreated, and/or completely removed from their natural conditions. Anyone who would walk by the cages of the animals could see that these animals were intelligent, that they had feelings, and had spirits, often suffering spirits. It was obvious. If you pay attention, it is obvious in a lot of life that is mistreated (even outside of cages). So then, it becomes neglect. People choose to believe that other life does not feel, so that they may continue to be guilt-free and superior. So that they can eat cheap meat, make a profit from featuring a chimp in their commercial, and build a house in the middle of mountain lions’ land.

  210. I think it is very interesting to think of animal cruelty as more than just the obvious–harming animals on purpose. I have fallen into an “out of sight, out of mind” mindset and have been naive to the idea that many behaviors towards animals could be considered “cruel” even though it isn’t for the purpose of intentionally harming animals. Maybe being naive about animal mistreatment is just as bad as harming animals first-hand.

    • Very thoughtful consideration, Jenni. Perhaps there is a double ethical problem here: the fact that our actions harm other lives and the fact that we attempt to ignore this fact.

  211. That mouse story was beautiful. Mice have empathy for each other, and we seem to fall short of this towards other animals. Our empathy for fellow humans (for the most part) I feel is over developed, hence our modern medicine and the refusal to let people die. However, if we could harness some of that empathy to the rest of the natural world, we do have the potential to become more realized as humans by connecting deeper to the world. I think this might be where Jane Goodall was heading with naming the chimpanzees, becoming closer we understand better.

    • As you indicate, we could learn something from these humble creatures, Anna. I am not sure that we have enough empathy to give people a good death–nor to care for the hungry among us, for instance.
      But you have a good point about failing to include such creatures in our community of responsibility–as Jane Goodall did.

  212. I truly enjoyed reading this article. I wouldn’t say that I’m even close to having the worldview Jessica has, but I have very similar feelings about any creature. I can’t kill anything, not a fly, not a spider, not even the smallest insect. Everyone thinks it’s really strange, but I can’t accept that I could take some creature that was just thinking, and shut that thinking off with the bottom of my shoe. It just feels wrong, and it always has.
    The article said, “White people think everything is dead”. Although I don’t think this only extends to white people, I think most of America views farm animals as an object rather than a spirit. There are laws against abusing a dog or a cat, but there are no laws about abusing farm animals. This has been an on going problem for a long time, and if people could hear stories like the one Jessica told, they might have more empathy for these animals. I believe that animals have empathy, and I think that people are just shaped by society to think otherwise. No one wants to think of a cow as a dog, because then you would feel bad when you eat beef. People don’t want to feel bad, so they simply place certain animals in a category so they won’t have to feel bad anymore.

    • You wouldn’t be strange at all among the Jains, Melinda–who go out of their way to protect other creatures from even inadvertent harm they might perpetrate on them.
      You are certainly right that we have serious problems with denial and responsibility with respect to factory farming.

  213. Reading about the factory farms and Yolanda’s comment reminded me of the Oprah show that discussed the prop 2 issue on the California ballot a while back. If I remember it right, she had both sides (humane and factory style farmers) represented for each animal: chickens, veal and pigs. It was amazing to watch the factory farmers try and tell people that the animals are safer the way they farm. When the video of the humane chicken farm was shown (with all the chickens getting free range outdoors during the day – back into the chicken tractor at night) the factory farmer responded by saying something like “well, here in California we have coyotes who like to kill and eat chickens.” So clearly, they are safer crammed into cages. Personally, I think the chickens would probably welcome a life in the sun and grass even though they could get killed, over a life in a cage where each day is probably torture and death would be a release. I wanted to include a couple of videos, in case anyone wanted to see them. The first is kind of a cute, funny video put out by animal groups to try and get prop 2 passed (which it did – yay). The second is footage from a chicken rescue at a factory farm by animal activists. FYI, chickens that fall under the buildings often get their legs so caked with a mix of feathers, excrement, dirt, etc that they can no longer move – these balls around their legs can weigh a lot and get very large, and they harden into an almost cement like substance.

  214. As a pet owner, I absolutely believe that animals express emotion and compassion for each other and for people, and I have a deep respect for the messages my dogs try to tell me (other than the one that states it’s dinner time….). For example, I have two German shepherds, and yesterday as I was cutting the grass, the weather started to turn. As I noticed the shift in weather, I was immediately flanked by my two girls, who were apparently very concerned. Fortunately, I finished as the rain started to come down, but it was not an initially pleasant rain. The wind was strong enough to knock over my corn, and there was a good bit of lightening. My dogs were trying to tell me to get to shelter quickly. They were right.

    • I had to laugh on the reference to dinner time here, Susan.
      I think we are truly blessed to have animal companions that are wise in ways us humans have neglected to attend to–and stretch us out of our human limits. Thanks for sharing this.

    • I enjoyed the story you told about your dogs. I agree that it is amazing the love and devotion animals can exhibit toward each other and toward humans. This bond of humans and animals is especially exhibited in dogs. I was watching a documentary once about the bond that dogs and humans share and (I may not be entirely accurate here) it was mentioned that dogs have the emotional development of a 3-4 year old child. I think this makes sense because dogs are so quick to forgive and demonstrate love, just as a little child is.

  215. These stories in the beginning of the essay are quite amazing. It is ludicrous that animals are thought not to have feelings and emotion. I have heard other stories of dogs calling 991 to save their master from a heartattack at their homes and similiar instances.
    It is very interesting that so many other cultures have no seperation of words for humans and animals. I would think that this makes sense because I think many animals see themselves as the same as humans. I know of dogs that people own that always want to be included with the family activities, horses who have protected their owners and cats that teach puppies not to walk on carpet in houses. I think that the only reason animals dont connect or like humans is because we do not respect them or have instilled a sense of fear into them because of our predator or “lord” status with them.

    • I have always wondered whether animals in some sense believe to be taking care of us, humans. In your examples of pets saving their humans, it is clear that there is a sense of protection and loyalty much like a mother and her own child. Are we the children of our dogs and cats? It sounds silly and humbling but at the same time, with animals inherent understanding of their surroundings and environment, they seem to be keen to many “dangers” that we cannot sense.

    • I had not heard about dogs calling 911– but I wouldn’t be surprised if some dog somewhere did it. A recent National Geographic article mentioned that they can understand over 30 English words. And cats teaching puppies…it would be great to start a collection of such instances to give humans a proper sense of humility.

  216. In the construction of buildings and cities, we forget that there are numerous inhabitants that exist before us humans came along, and now we create solutions to be rid of “pests” when it is us that are encroaching on their land. While living in India, I was fascinated by what I termed “city cows”, those that roamed the busy streets seemingly aimlessly, causing traffic and yours-truly to cross the streets. I decided to spend a few hours one day to shadow one, an experiment to get to know these majestic beings and admittedly lose some fear. We crept along the market, eating the rotting fruit that others dropped and snagging some tomatoes before the vendor noticed, and took a stroll amongst the busiest streets, during rush hour of course. But as dusk fell, my leader cow headed towards a small square in which, to my surprise, a large group of cows already were awaiting. I came to learn that this spot used to be their watering hole, an area for all to visit at some point and now served as a communing spot to chat about their day. I was impressed to learn about the social memories of cows and had a better understanding of what they were motivated by while walking the confusing city streets.

    • Thanks for sharing this bit of personal investigation with us, Priti. It is also true that problems with cougars roaming suburban neighborhoods, for instance, has to to do with the fact that those living there have taken away their habitat. Touching point about the watering hole here.

  217. I think the key word here is “empathy,” too. Animals can clearly feel emotions and experience suffering, but they can’t necessarily make decisions for themselves. If people were able to relate to livestock in the compassionate way pets should be cared for and kept, as though they were human children, factory farming would be illegal.

    • I agree on the issue of factory farming, Marissa. But I am not entirely sure animals cannot make decisions for themselves; this mouse episode certainly seemed to involved planning to me. It is true that animals cannot stop unfeeling humans — only we can do that by, as you indicate, strengthening our own sense of empathy.

    • To clarify: By “decisions” I had meant to say certain decisions, as in when a pet is abused and unable to access food or water, have a clean living space, be able to run and play, etc. As responsible owners or caretakers of animals, those responsibilities are left up to us.

      • Thanks for your follow up comment, Marissa. Of course, freedom from abuse and access to clean water an sufficient food, as well as a decent living space are all things natural creatures would chose if they had the chance.

  218. I admire Wild Bill’s words in this article: “Somebody made that bench for a purpose didn’t he? Well, then it’d alive, isn’t it? Everything is alive.” His words really helped me to further understand our roles as humans. Since we have been given the GIFT to communicate, problem solve, and make a difference in the world, we are therefore OBLIGATED to ensure that the best interest is being made for animals and nature. However, we just continue to ignore this obligation.

  219. I enjoyed this essay and the stories about animals (the mice and bats) helping each other and demonstrating empathy. It is interesting that we consider what humans go through because we can communicate with each other but more easily brush aside the emotions of animals because of this communication barrier. I think animals should be treated with respect, especially those we rely on for food, whether that be from hunting, fishing, or a farm. If we are going to eat it, we should respect the animal, the conditions it is raised in, and the way it is handled.

    • Indeed, those who give their lives for our survival should be treated with commensurate respect for this tremendous gift.
      And I can only image how much we might learn in the stretch to understand languages other than the human one. Thanks for your comment.

  220. I read an article for another class that said one of the ways to help create empathy, and then a spirit of conservation in young children is to help them see the perspective of another animal or plant. What the science community, and the rest of the world, could have missed out on without Jane Goodall’s perspective to take on empathy for other living things, and for other people to notice the empathy and leadership of other animals to their own kind! Thanks to all who take the time to listen and watch!

    • Thanks indeed, Lindzy. One function of traditional stories was to allow the audience to enter them so as to share the experience of other species, etc.– creating the empathy you speak of here.

  221. Empathy towards non-human things seems like such a simple solution to so many problems. It is saddening to see today, that many people are unable to have empathy of each other in this country, let alone things that are non human. We need to shift focus from things like teaching people which products to buy, or how to recycle, to really educating them on what it means to have a relationship and value nature. If people could open themselves in this way, perhaps they would be able to tell that animals can do more then what meets our 5 senses. As we look for more and more scientific answers to explain our world, it is all too easy to lose touch with the emotional and compassionate relationship that we need to share with our co-inhabitants of Earth.

    • I appreciate this perspective, Mark. Losing touch with “the emotional and compassionate relationships we need to share with the co-inhabitants of Earth” is a proposition that loses us much. Thoughtful point on how the development of empathy might lead to responsibility as well.

  222. Compassion, truth and acceptance of other life on this planet is what I would call it. Heroism absolutely. I think our quality of life would improve immensely and perhaps we would all live the life of peace, balance and love that I think everyone is really striving for. In Medford I owned a house with three poplar trees in the backyard. On warm beautiful days I would take a blanket outside and let my kitty who was very ill come hang out and bask in the sun. We would lay on that blanket, he purring and me watching and listening to the leaves blow in the wind. I love the sound those leaves made and I was always relaxed and had a smile on my face for the rest of the day. Even thinking about it now makes me happy.

    I would also agree with the statement that saying we have learned anything about natural behavior from caged animals is crazy. WE created that environment and therefore it is not a true example of what would actually be happening. I think we can derive ideas from what we may expect but it is not what would actually happen. Additionally, our disconnect from where our foods comes from is a direct relation to how they are treated. And it is again all about maximizes profits. If more people knew how the animals we consume are treated I think many would be appalled.

    • Thanks for sharing the image of you and your kitty under the poplar on another warm beautiful day like this one, Brandie–and for saying more about the distinction between caged and “natural” behavior. Certainly we need to take some lessons from more than human lives– not the least of which is kind treatment for other lives that share our place on earth with us.

  223. This article gave me a lot to think about. It is so easy to get selfishly caught up in our daily lives, that we sometimes disregard other HUMANS, not just animals and nature. After reading this article, I remember how conscientious I, myself, used to be towards other living things – a lot more so than I am now. I was vegan for 2 years and vegetarian for another 6. I used to save every bug I found in my house and carefully put it outside. While I still have a respect for animals and share some of the same ideals about caged animals and animal rights, I do not live the same kind of lifestyle that I used to. I eat meat now, (something the doctor recommended I do when I got pregnant), and I sometimes find myself flushing a spider down the toilet. I can absolutely feel the difference that this has on my psyche, personally. Every time I kill a bug now, I feel bad. There was certainly a clarity to my conscience, as well as a happiness/purity I felt when I was watching out for all the living things around me. After reading this article, I feel as though it is time for me to re-assess the way in which I have been treating the life around me, even the little ones.

    One particular quote that stood out to me was: “The point is that the natural world is a complex affair when we allow it to speak for itself.” I read this over a few times, because it is so true. Humans get wrapped up thinking that we are the ones with all the problems. Many humans think that we are so intellectually superior to all other animals – that we are the only ones with societies and cultures. This quote made me think of the show “Meerkat Manor” on Discovery Channel (I believe). The first time I saw this show, my eyes were opened to the fact that animals can have incredibly complex systems within their communities. They express emotions that we often consider to be human emotions like jealousy, love, anger, territorial instincts, pride, joy, and playfulness. I think if more people were exposed to just how intellectual even a meerkat can me, they would be more likely to respect like animals as closer to humans – rather than inferior to them.

    • I like your statement “I can absolutely feel the difference that this has on my psyche, personally.” I think if we all were more aware of how interconnected everything is, we would all feel it in our psyche. I think some of the depression we feel these days is that very same psychic resonance that all is not right with the natural world and, therefore, with us.

    • You bring up much to ponder in this comment, Amanda. Firstly, on the purity of morality as a vegan or vegetarian- it might make your decisions easier, and I honor all those who stay this course, but in point of fact, most humans throughout history have eaten a little meet to supplement their mostly vegetarian diet. And I want to ask how we might do this (if this is our choice) in an honorable way. Val Plumwood, in an essay in vegetarianism, goes so far as to indicate that sometimes vegetarians try to separate themselves from their own predator nature– their real place in the natural world–and all the choices that come with this. Whether or not I agree with her, this is something to ponder.
      In this complex world, your comment brings up another issue: the balance with which we might open our eyes to the lives of other natural creatures who have societies and choices of their own– so that we do this neither as one that rejects the possibility of such in more than human lives, but also one that does not project human worldviews on those lives (as those who say nature is “red in tooth and claw” in its violence). I like best the stance of those who see natural creatures as “people”– not as human people, but as those who have their own ways of communication and lives–and perhaps might even teach us empathy for other humans.

  224. This article particularly hit home for me. I often have debates with people about whether or not animals are sentient beings. I’m often at the “losing” end of the discussion, because I believe that they most certainly are. The stories about the mice and bats, to me, are proof that animals are empathetic. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, humans group them (and, indeed, other people) into “Us” and “Them.” Anything or anyone that isn’t an “Us” is not worthy of our attention or equal to us. When I was 18 years old, I worked as a maid at a motel in Wyoming. One morning, I came to work and saw what I thought was tar flung onto the red brick wall of the building. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a bat. I went and got an empty coffee can, cleaned it, poked holes in the lid, and put the bat inside of it; I was going to set it free after work (I couldn’t leave work to do it). Throughout the day, I checked on the little guy, and he seemed to be fine. After work, I went out to the plains and set him free. About once a week or so after that, a bat would be flying around the premises for a bit, then would leave just as suddenly as it appeared. I don’t know if it was the same bat, but I like to think it was, and that he was letting me know he was all right.

    • That sounds like a great experience, and with such a stereotyped and notorious creature! It’s sometimes hard to remember that the animals we come into little contact with have lives of their own. And by “lives” I mean that the bat probably had a home and a community to go back to. I sometimes see an animal, appreciate it for another life, and go on with my day but I want to make an active effort to remember that the animal has a life of its own – with relationships and all. It’s kind of like seeing a person for the first time and taking them for face value. After meeting them and getting to know them you realize they have an entire life you had no idea about when you first laid eyes on them. Not sure if that makes sense but what I’m trying to get at is the idea that animals are complex beings like you and I.

      • I understand what you are saying. Many people do not realize that animals have emotions, and that is kind of upsetting to me. I am a huge animal lover and owner; and I treat my dog as I would treat a child. I scold him when he is bad, but I never hit him, because after the scolding I can tell that he is sorry, just by the look he gives me.
        Those that think animals cannot feel anything are most likely the ones that also do not care for the planet because they feel no empathy for things. For example, Some one is walking through the forest and is too lazy to take their trash to the trash can so they just litter. That person does not bother to think about the other inhabitants of the land, that a single piece of trash can damage the ecosystem.

        • Sadly, the idea that certain creatures have no feeling licenses treating them carelessly and for our own purposes. There is, as you indicate, a good deal of laziness in such an attitude. And also, I might add, a lack of personal presence in the world. It is as if some of us (including myself) sometimes go through the world as if we are only partly here.

      • The bat may be thought of this way in Western minds, but not in native minds, as indicated in some of Linda Hogan’s work.
        As you indicate, we Westerners might instead open our minds to consider the home and family of the bat in order to give us a bit of a view into its own world.
        I like your analogy about the work entailed in communicating with another creature– “like seeing a person for the first time”.
        Thanks for your comment.

    • Thank you for your touching story of the bat you set free, Kimberlee. I am not sure I would agree that you were on the “losing side” of an argument in which you assert a moral ground for the honoring of more than human life. But it you mean those that argue with you assert there is no proof of things like empathy in other creatures, you perhaps cannot convince them that they will never see empathy in another creature if their worldview declares it is not there. But you can use some of the varied multiple stories in response to this article here that illustrate the empathy and intelligence of more than human life again and again.

  225. Almost my entire life I have had a affinity for animals and the natural world. One of my happiest memories of this affinity was when I was about 19 years old. I used to frequent a local pond and would sit watching the Canadian geese and other water birds for hours. One of those days, I managed to inch my way next to a goose while she (I am assuming it was the female) sat on her nest. For me, the pinnacle of the story came when the goose allowed me to touch her feathers. I sat there for over two hours with this lovely creature, and the friend who was patient enough to stay with me, took a picture of our interaction.

    One of the most difficult experiences I have had in my adult life and especially in college, is reading about how horribly animals are treated in science and agriculture. It would seem that there are some segments of our culture that have no shame or remorse. They say it’s “for the greater good.” After watching many documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Forks Over Knives, I am going cold turkey and starting a 100% vegetarian diet. Besides the health benefits, I am doing this for esthetic reasons. I realize there are ethical ways to treat animals and eat meat, but for me those ways don’t alleviate my guilty conscious.

    • No matter what our personal decision, Dwayne, re-connecting with the stories and sources (not to mention, the lives) that sustain us is of the essence. Thanks for sharing your own decision-making process here. If we required an actual picture of the conditions of factory farms to be posted on each factory-farmed bit of meat sold in supermarkets, I wonder how it might change our consumption habits.

    • Dawyne, what a neat picture! I recommend reading “The Ethics of What We Eat; Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer. It is a great book. After reading this I have not been able to bring myself to watch Food, Inc. Even though I know whta takes place I just can’t bear to see it. I also went Vegetarian cold turkey because of animal cruelty. It was hard but I knew I was doing it for all the right reasons.

  226. It is hard for me to understand how people can kill a mouse or a racoon so inhumanely. Rat poison is a terrible way to rid your house of these animals. The fact that we still test products on animals is sickening! I can’t understand how anyone can intentionally kill or harm any living creature.

    About 2 years ago I read “The Ethics of What We Eat, Why Our Food Choices Matter” by Peter Singer and it horrified me. I had no idea that this was going on. I made some very drastic changes on my eating habits. But, that book did more than change my eating habits, it changed the way I view every living thing. Sometimes I think I must be crazy for trying to save every insect that wanders into our house even the spiders. Last month I came across a Wolf Spider in our bedroom, she even had her young on her back. I was freaking out! I have never been so horrified over a spider in my entire life, but not once did the thought of killing her even cross my mind. I found a jar and I caught her and returned her to the wild. I have changed so much that I can no longer fish because I feel terrible for the worm and the fish.

  227. If our society were to accept that other living things had feelings it would not be so easy for us to survive in what we now believe is “comfort”. It is much easier to eat something packaged, you don’t have to think of as once having a life…because if I dare to think that my burger was once a big cow with beautiful brown eyes I lose my appetite for the meat. There were ants in my kitchen and I killed them. I watched them and I knew they sensed me and were smart enough to change direction and try to escape deeper into the cupboard. I felt terrible to wipe them away. One second they were alive with some special purpose, the next they were gone. It was just unsanitary to allow them to be there, crawling through the cupboard, what could I have done? I was editing a document for work in which it included science standards for public schools, for kindergarten, one standard stated something like, children will learn that although animals in stories are able to talk and have human-like characteristics and feelings this is imaginary and real animals do not. I thought about that and how I have experienced my dogs joy, and their shame and regret if they think they have displeased me. We start very young, training people in our society that humans are those that matter.

    • It sad to see such standards written for schools. We are trained from a young age that humans matter. I believe this because it is in our nature to survive and that we are still so mixed up with the influences of strong religious bias and preference within our society. If Paganism, Buddhism, or other beliefs prior to Christianity became the major religious influence in western society, I wonder where we would be in our technological endeavors and would we still have had so many environmental disasters?

  228. I think the point being made ties back to respecting the land and its resources. Like examples of the Indian tribes earlier in our readings we need to appreciate what the land has provided for us, ex. giving a thanksgiving prayer for the deer that were hunted, even of the women collecting roots for food, or cutting grasses for weaving. They were ending life in the examples given but it was respectably. One more example is the understanding shown by African elders when they realized that lions needed to eat too, and that sometimes human life was the thing taken. Main lessons I have taken from the reading is that a world endowed with “will” has the freedom to grow and prosper, and we need to do what we can to support that while supporting ourselves.

    Observation can become one of humanities greatest attributes.

    • You have a great point to ponder here in your examples and statement about observation, Micheal. I think one issue here is that “observation is only one of humanity’s greatest attitudes” if we are truly present to the “other” rather than objectifying it and turning it into something for our own benefit– which is very different from what you express here, but also all to come in the industrial worldview’s sense of observation.

  229. I believe it would drastically change our quality of life if we were able to equally see all of the living elements of the world. If we saw all “objects” as living feeling organism, I think more of us would have a Buddhist mentality and way of living. If everything living thing were given the respect and honor it deserved we would have better relationships with those living things and among ourselves. As Wild Bill put it, as a result of living in a “dead” world, we are living a “dead” life. I think it would alter our way of living so much that there would have to be laws and constitutions for all of the living things and not just for those at the hierarchical top. People, animals, plants, etc. all share the characteristics of intelligence and will and thus have the same moral rights and obligations as humans, as stated by Eugene Hunn. Since we are supposed to all be on the same level of the playing field, would plants and animals have the same or better amenities as humans? Would we all live in equal facilities and hierarchical needs would be based upon age and wisdom or the number of legs you have? I think there are so many factors of our lives (human and animal lives) that would change. It is almost impossible to talk about or imagine what life may be like if everything got the moral respect it deserved.

  230. I really like this article because in two distinct cases it showed that animals are smart enough to help one another and distinguish between when a human is helping or harming it. The example of the injured bat freaking out as the lady was trying to fix it and the other previously healed bat made a noise that calmed down the injured bat. This proves that animals are smart and can figure out when a person is trying to help and express that to its fellow species. I also thought the story about the mouse using the tools the human left to help the other mouse survive and escape the sink showed again how smart animals can be. The important thing to remember is that you may not be able to directly communicate with animals, but they are smart enough to figure out certain things. All animals should be given this sort of respect just because we cant communicate with them doesn’t mean they should be given any less respect.

  231. Heroism is a fine quality to have. It is the most empathetic that one can get. The story of the two mice is a great and heartening story. The thought that people still feel that animals do not have feelings is ignorant. I think one of the biggest problems with people’s view on animals is the hierarchical importance we place on some animals over others, like a whale being “more important” than a bee. Granted they may be closer to us as a species and exhibit more human like qualities, you still can’t discredit the bee.

    • Excellent perspective, Nick. I like your take on the connection between empathy and true heroism–and the need to ditch the hierarchical scale of “important” lives in the natural order based on the relative closeness of these to humans.

  232. If it were common for human beings to show the kind of compassion and empathy that one mouse showed another, the world would be a much friendlier place. I was amazed by the actions of the mice and the bats in this piece, both of which showed more intelligence and empathy than I think most people give other animals credit for.

    I agree with the perspective on caged animal behavior; we are not likely to see how someone lives if we lock them in one room for observation, so it seems logical to postulate that other creatures would be no different. Observing an organism in their natural environment, while often a more extensive and expensive venture, seems to be the most effective way to obtain solid information about them.

  233. I would call the little mouse’s actions great displays of empathy. In many human minds, empathy is an expensive emotion especially during times of great loss. I’ve read (or was told, I don’t remember anymore) that in the days when people bore many children because the chances of any individual child growing to adulthood was very poor that people couldn’t grow too attached to their children and therefore had little empathy towards other people. Considering the life expectancy of a wild mouse, were great losses of life any kind of reason to not allow yourself to empathize with others, this mouse’s display would be all that much more amazing.
    It was shown in the 1960’s or 1970’s that even plants are empathetic toward other living beings, pulsing with erratic energy when something is injured around them (including other plants) and again when the injuring party returns.
    It would certainly be a positive thing to get rid of the misuse of Darwin’s concepts all together, but especially the misuse of his “survival of the fittest” concept. His concept, of course, includes cooperation and therefore the ability to cooperate as a necessary component in surviving long enough to procreate (which is the measure of fitness). It does not view being the last beast standing in a battle against all other beasts as the measure of fitness, which is how the concept has been misrepresented.
    Because of mosquitoes, it took me a long time to come to terms with the idea that everything has a purpose. I couldn’t fathom their purpose, other than to be annoying and act as food for other creatures, which certainly could be accomplished by some other insect. Then I realized one day that their purpose is exquisitely important: they (and other blood-suckers like them) are carriers of disease, assistants in nature’s attempts to keep populations balanced. Whether we like it or not, disease is an important part of life.
    Empathy is not a common emotion any more. It “gets in the way” of living however we want, and those who try to encourage it are dismissed as being tree-loving dirt worshippers, communists, eccentric, or just plain crazy. People fear it because it would require them to change; I can empathize with that feeling because I know there are many things I do that harm others but are convenient to me. Sometimes I drive a car, even though I know not only is it damaging because of the oil and emissions issues, but also because I have a much higher chance of killing other creatures with it than I do using other modes of transportation.

    • I am not exactly sure I would want to make the sweeping statement that empathy is not a common emotion anymore. I would certainly concur that an economic system that gauges worth on earnings is not prone to encourage empathy.
      Thanks for sharing your personal struggle to accommodate the importance of all natural creatures in ecosystems.

  234. Before reading this essay I thought of mice as pest, disease spreading menace incapable of anything more than just ruining people homes and their goods. Never did I once think that they had such capabilities of showing heroic triumph. It does definitely open my eyes even to a greater extent in appreciation of non human life forms. This changes my daily life in respecting and compassion for other life forms.

  235. I’ve heard a slightly different interpretation of animal actions in a psychology class I took. Animals only appear to display human like emotions and attitudes because the people observing them are used to observing these sorts of actions in humans. I’m not saying its true in any or all cases, I just think its an interesting and different interpretation.

    • It is interesting, Aaron–but I would like to know from these folks how they would interpret this behavior of moving the water to allow the other mouse to drink. Perhaps they have some self-limiting concepts about themselves?

    • After reading your post I couldn’t help but wonder, do animals display human characteristics. Or do humans display animal characteristics??? lol.

      • Thanks for posting this: it has been circulating for some time. I wonder how the psychologists that Aaron cites who claim that our attributing empathy to such actions is only a human projection would explain this otherwise.

    • I wonder what these psychologists are saying about the new brain research on animals that indicates there is a special place in the brain linked with empathy in humans that is shared by certain animals (e.g. whales, great apes, dogs and even some birds).

  236. I just wrote this long response that was lost. I am less inspired now, but will recap. The idea that all things are living, I believe, is inherent. I have always felt that way, I have tried to convince myself otherwise, but as child, I was very concerned about the feelings of my stuff animals. Not to long ago, I threw away my son’s Woody doll, chewed up by the dog and felt really guilty, I actually apologized to the doll. The dog recently chewed up my son’s plastic shark and my son decided he didn’t want it anymore and I let him throw it away and I could tell by his face he wasn’t happy about it, but I selfishly let him do it because then I don’t have to feel guilty about it. (Now I feel a little guilty, but it’s okay, because the other option is hoarding.) I think that is common. We form attachments when we have relationships with things. That’s why it’s so much easier, for me, to just give things away.
    It has always surprised me how science denies an animal’s ability to communicate and understand, especially if they can communicate with humans and then they are so amazed when they discover that a specific animal can. Maybe because I grew up with animals, so it just seems obvious to me. Not that I haven’t been surprised. Ants are highly evolved and complex creatures, with a lot of parallels to human society. The Pit River student said his people used to talk with the animals and, personally, I think they still can. We all can, assuming we are capable of paying attention and taking the time to observe and allow to 2 way communication. A lot of people, speaking the same language, cannot have a 2 way conversation and are not capable of listening to another. They just wait until its their turn to talk. I think it is the same mentality that denies animals emotion, consciousness and souls (assuming there is such a thing-if it exists, it’s not limited to humans only), when it is so obvious, in my opinion, to anyone paying attention that they do.

    • I am so sorry your original response got lost, Amy. That is very frustrating. Some folks are writing their pieces on a document on their computer and then cutting and pasting to prevent such an eventuality.
      Thanks for sharing something of your personal experience in communicating with animals–and your anti-hoarding stance!

  237. This article reminds me of this video, I really tried to write about but the visual is better then my words.

  238. Recognizing that our world is living and feeling would change everything. But it’s almost like driving in traffic. Sometimes people drive as if they don’t believe there are living people behind the wheel of the other vehicles. It is ingrained into our thinking that everything is an immediate resource with no impeding outcomes when we use them. We would have to retrain our thinking that everything is alive and affected when we use it. We would have to change our gluttonous ways, using and abusing everything. Part of the problem is that we take, take, take without regard to giving back or allowing replenishing. As far as animals not being able to think or feel, it is because they don’t speak the English language. Listening to them speak means slowing down and taking the time to read what they are saying through their actions. I love Jessica Pierce’s story of CeAnn Lambert’s experience with the mice in the sink. Animals do feel and think. But since they can’t scream out, “STOP, you’re hurting me!!” We think they don’t think or feel. If everyone’s brain was engrained to know and understand this truth, it would certainly change everything.

    • Because such creatures don’t speak our language, we have to attend all the more carefully to them. Such neglect of the pain of others applies to humans as well. For generations, many baby boys were circumcized without anesthetic since by those who said the babies were too young to feel pain.
      And it seems to mean that the poor– and now the vast numbers of unemployed in our world do cry out in their own ways– but we must listen in order to hear them.
      But getting back to more than human animals, a brief stroll down the list of comments here will provide numerous examples of their compassion.

  239. I loved this paper. It screamed what I have believed for a very long time. That the earth and everything on it speaks to us, all around us. It is just been breed into us to feel that if something is not able to learn English then it is not intelligent. An that is only in recent history. It wasn’t but a few decades back at the most that people that spoke English thought that they were superior to everyone else. Then you bring color into it and that causes a whole other issue. It is in human nature, even Natives to fear what is different, what they don’t understand. It is in human nature to also want to conquer and have power. The Natives may not of crossed oceans to take over continents but they battled amongst themselves over land as well. The way we view the world comes a lot down to our religious views because there are many other religious views other than the Natives natural view of the world that also felt that the world could breath, think, and feel. It is always going to be a struggle to get people to believe that we need to stop and listen, that other organisms other than ourselves can feel as long as what ever religion they are practicing says otherwise. Some people are able to see and understand both. They are able to be religious well at the same time respecting the natural world, some just can not. People have also come to accustomed to the luxury of materialistic things. With materialistic things comes the destruction of something or pollution of our planet to get that thing. I could go on all day, it just gets me how narrow so many peoples views are. If it doesn’t effect them personally than who cares, right??

    • Thanks for the feedback, Adina. I would just want to reconsider ideas about “human nature”– would you want to change your statements to “human potential”, since some cultures, for instance, honored mystery and the unknown. I would put forth the idea that it is in the Western scientific worldview that knowledge and control–and fear of the unknown are so interlinked.
      Given the generations in which many indigenous peoples did not “conquer” or use this as a strategy to gain power over one another, I think we do both ourselves (in our human potential) and other cultures an injustice in assuming this is part of “human nature.”

    • I think a lot of what you seem to consider “human nature,” that of superiority over those that don’t speak (or don’t speak a particular language), might actually be due to the influences of patriarchal societies. Those types of societies tend to be more aggressive towards nature and everything that is considered to be of lessor importance. Not all humans belong to societies that encourage violence and domination.

      With that said, I agree that the earth, and other life forms on this earth, do speak to us when we take the time to listen. The trouble is getting people to take the time to step away from their lives long enough to see what the world has to say.

      • You have a valid point about certain types of societies encouraging aggressive behavior- and then labeling it “human nature”.
        And if we were to “step away from our lives to listen” to what other natural beings have to teach us, we would become so much larger in our own presence in this world.

  240. When reading, “Mice in the Sink,” I was reminded of a visit I once had as a child at the Oregon Zoo. I was with my mom and we went to see the elephants. On that particular morning, a mother elephant had just passed away. I remember standing next to my mom as I watched the elephants gather around the small baby elephant and link trunks in an effort to comfort one another. Every time the zoo keeper opened the door, the baby elephant would run to it in hopes that her mother would enter and each time the grieving elephants would bring the baby back to the center of their circle. Not only do I remember the feeling of grief being passed through the glass from the elephants to us, but I remember my own mother reaching down to gently hold my hand and give me a small squeeze. While that was many years ago, I still find that during times of stress, grief, loss and sadness, I want to circle my family and friends together like the elephants for support, courage and strength. This is just one example that illustrates that we as humans can learn a lot about empathy and emotion, healing and resilience from the environment around us. Finally, it is important to note that what the elephants exhibited that terrible morning was a fundamental essence of emotion, one that is easy for humans to deny or overlook.

    • Thanks for sharing this story of the elephants’ grief and support for one another. There are those who would say that we do not actually know what these animals were feeling. That is true– but the story (all science as well as oral tradition tells a story) that you brought away with you, and what it has led to in your experience with your own family is certainly a gift to you from these elephants.
      Denying or overlooking the feelings that were exhibited by these elephants would have lost you that–and as you indicate, demeaned them as “less than” in some way.
      This tells us something profound about what our empathy for all creatures may lead to.

  241. This reminds me of a conversation I had as a child with my father. He was taking me fishing and when he showed me how fish struggle when their caught and how you pull them up by their gills I was horrified. I asked him “but your hurting the fish,” he answered “nah they don’t feel anything.” All I could think about feeling terrified when the food I ate turned out to be trying to eat me and struggling till I couldn’t anymore then, someone poking my lungs as I gasped for air. I know children are prone to extreme enthalpy that ebbs as they age but that feeling sticks with and is a big reason I’m a veterinarian.
    There are so many stories in history of the great empathy or animals towards humans and how they can be both personable and benevolent, one of the most famous being the founders of Rome’s Romulus and Remus plight and how they were taken in by a she-wolf who protected and fed them. But the treatment of animals having the inability to feel pain and lacking empathy is appalling. Its nothing more then a rational so that animals can be used to man’s ends, because if animals could talk I don’t think that they would treated them so badly. Again the Pit River tribe was right in not distinguishing man from animals or above them. Everything is alive and it does have a soul, something that many religions have said is not true, again another rational so they can do what they want.

    • Thanks for sharing your continued empathy, Kayli. To me it indicates how shrunken is a life without it– since those who deny other lives around them having feels must wall themselves off from those lives. I don’t think we can objectify others in this way unless we numb ourselves as well.

  242. Compassion, truth and acceptance of other life on this planet is what I would call it. Heroism absolutely. I think our quality of life would improve immensely and perhaps we would all live the life of peace, balance and love that I think everyone is really striving for. In Medford I owned a house with three poplar trees in the backyard. On warm beautiful days I would take a blanket outside and let my kitty who was very ill come hang out and bask in the sun. We would lay on that blanket, he purring and me watching and listening to the leaves blow in the wind. I love the sound those leaves made and I was always relaxed and had a smile on my face for the rest of the day. Even thinking about it now makes me happy.

    I would also agree with the statement that saying we have learned anything about natural behavior from caged animals is crazy. WE created that environment and therefore it is not a true example of what would actually be happening. I think we can derive ideas from what we may expect but it is not what would actually happen. Additionally, our disconnect from where our foods comes from is a direct relation to how they are treated. And it is again all about maximizes profits. If more people knew how the animals we consume are treated I think many would be appalled.

    • Thanks for sharing the image of you and your kitty under the poplar on another warm beautiful day like this one, Brandie–and for saying more about the distinction between caged and “natural” behavior. Certainly we need to take some lessons from more than human lives– not the least of which is kind treatment for other lives that share our place on earth with us.

      • Some of the misconceptions about domestic dogs – one of the biggest being that there are alpha aniamls that dominate the pack – were derived from studying captive wolf packs, and then applied to our domestic dogs. In the wild, members of the wolf pack are equal, and they all interact together in a cooperative manner. A recent book called Dog Sense discusses this.

        • Thanks for a book that might set us right on this point, Mary. It is ironic that we who feel we have escaped the dominating rule of a monarch might apply the “alpha male” approach to our study of canines.

    • Hey Brandie–love that you could share that time with your kitty under the tree. I understand how it could make you happy even years later. I used to sit under an apple tree as a teenager and read everything I could get my hands on while munching on apples that had fallen from the tree on hot August days in Eugene. I watched and listened to the bugs, the birds and used my dog as a pillow. Absolute nirvana!

    • Hey Brandie,

      I very much agree with you that our “disconnect from where our foods comes from is a direct relation to how they (animals) are treated”. I often wonder if we were more consciously aware of the food that lay before us how our relationship with food and animals would change? I like to believe that if we had a better understanding or where our food came from and could put an image to the food before us, we would be more nutritionally aware and may even limit obesity as an epidemic. I also believe it would rally people against mass agricultural techniques and large farm practices. Such a protest or rally would force farms to change their techniques or else go out of business. I feel as if this just starting to get more attention with programs like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution but still we are a long way away from having a good relationship with food and animals and ourselves.

      • I think you and Brandie have an important insight in linking our ethical treatment of other animals and the environment to nutritional awareness.
        I had not heard of this Food Revolution, but I am going to check it out.

  243. I bet if you asked the mouse if he/she were a hero, the mouse would say, “I don’t know what a hero is, I just know (my version of the natural model of reciprocity) that my friend would do the same for me.”

    To the point of the article’s last question…and what if, in fact, the world is not a living world? What if the world is, in fact, dead, but we (humanity) just pretend to believe it is a living world? Doesn’t the idea of a living world and not a dead world make for a better, more soothing, more pleasing and easier existence, anyway? If we choose to believe everything is dead, only the selfish and the greedy qualities surface. Example: My experience with forestry; If we had initially thought of the forest as a living, breathing, important part of the world and not an income, would we have clear cut every forest available? Whereas, if we believe the forest is alive, the trees are enjoyable to see, the forests have stories to tell and every tree has so much to teach us. If we believe the world is alive, we are a better people. The earth speaks in whispers and in order to hear it, we must be quiet and listen.

    • Great perspective, Bev. I maintain with you that whatever we can or cannot “prove” about the personhood of the natural world, seeing the lives that share our world in this way leads to both our own expanded sense of self and better treatment of that living world.
      And even if we can’t “ask the mouse” (and get a reply back in English), being present to the possibility of its response has much to teach us about that creature–and ourselves.

    • Well given the mice situation one would naturally think about saving the other. Animals stay together and two is always better than one. For it to be strictly based on compassion is probably unlikely. If their were 10 mice and only 1 injured would have the same events happened that way? We don’t care about tress because they are living, we care about them because we rely on it as a resource.

      • You mention how animals stick together and it was a natural action for the mice. How many humans would give up something for another. I believe that humans in that same situation a larger percent would only be worried about themselves and reserve the water and meat so they could get strong than if the other is still alive offer it to them.

        • Thoughtful assessment, Francisco. Your analysis seems to weigh in on the side of conceding that these creatures just might be operating on empathy for one another.

      • I wonder about dismissing compassion between these mice as “unlikely”. And how did trees get in here? I will soon be reviewing a book on Trees as People written by a botanist–that should be interesting!

    • Believing everything is dead would be a horrble way to go about life. Where is the joy if a person can’t appreciate their surroundings? Unfortunately, with our increases in technology and reliance on putting a price to everything I think that most people consider the world a dead place. Believing in a living world would help to keep us from destroying it.

  244. I have seen many animals behave in ways that astounded me, and I am convinced that animals do have emotional qualities that are typically ascribed only to people. For instance, many animal trainers and scientists (and I am both) claim that dogs do not feel happiness. I have 3 german shepherds that I think experience a great deal of happiness every day. I agree with Dr. Goodall that empathy only adds to our understanding of animal populations, and does not weaken science – this seems to be a very masculine approach, based on my experience. Also I agree that studying animals in cages, under stressed conditions, does not provide a fair assessment of their behavior. FInally, I think it is deplorable how we treat animals in factory farm conditions and in pet mills. I was doing bird surveys in the region north if Lake Okeechobee in Florida last fall, which incorporates thousands of acres of dairy and beef farms. We ran into hundreds of very small dairy calves in tiny pens out in the sun, seperated from thier mother. These babies had to be taken away from the mother so she would continue to produce milk for people, not her calf. The pens had a sheet of shade cloth over them, supposedly to protect the calf from the hot sun, and the company had only recently started to use the shadecloth. For over a month we saw the calves growing bigger and bigger, so that finally they could barely turn around in the pens. Even though we were on a public road, the dairy farm (a big conglomerate) was careful to warn us not to take pictures (we did anyway). To treat these animals as though they do not experience pyscholgical and physical pain and stress under these conditions is complete denial, I think. People are told that such confinement does not hurt the animals and they believe it just because it is convenient to believe it (how many other “Inconvenient Truths” are out there?). So we objective animals so that we feel ok when we cause them pain, because we are careful not to feel ampathy and connection to them.

    • The situation on factory farms is deplorable, Mary. This is just one of the many abuses that happens at the hands of large agribusiness– and it is precisely, as you indicate, a matter of “convenience” not to take more note of it as we make our purchasing choices.
      On a brighter note, thanks for sharing the happiness of German Shepherds with us.
      I have also had some remarkable experiences indeed with both wild and domestic animals– and I can’t imagine a way to explain them away as flowing from the rote behavior of unfeeling creatures. How lonely we make the world when we see it only this way.

  245. Those stories don’t really surprise me. Most species on Earth stick together as they live amongst each other and rely on each other to live. The communication is a little surprising because the bats must understand each other very well. I guess it would be normal for other species to interact with one another. The only reason we interact with others is because we grew up around people and learned a specific language. If we lived in the wild could we interact with civilized people better than animals or anybody we lived with our entire lives? Tarzan reference. Some natives in Brazil have yet to interact with civilized people living near them. The people there are not even sure if they have a written language but they still communicate I’m sure.

    • Communication is certainly important– as indicated by the ways in which culture is passed down among humans.
      But I am not sure I would bring Tarzan into it!
      And I would say that we certainly did not need a written language in order to effectively communicate. Check out the outlines of oral tradition under the “folklore and oral tradition” button here if you like.

  246. First of i dislike mice, i think they are creepy. But at the same time i do think they have feeling and deserve to be treated right. I hate hearing about veal, and chickens mistreated just because they are food. I liked how they other bat put the other on at ease. Over all this doesn’t surprise me at all and i think Darwinism should be revised. I have heard of little dogs fight off bears for their humans and herds fighting back lions and other predators to protect the weak one.

  247. I like to think that many of us start life with a belief that we are connected to the world around us. I know I used to be convinced that I could speak with the animals if I tried hard enough, that there was a spirit in everything around me. I don’t remember when I realized that the crows were not listening to me, but I still feel the spirit of nature whenever I am outside and for that I am thankful.

    Animals have been on the earth as long, or longer, than humans. Life cannot be all red in tooth and claw or how would it have survived this long? Non-human animals have brains and understand cause and effect (you can train chickens if you have enough time), they experience pain, fear and confusion. They might even laugh (see Radio Lab’s Feb 2008 episode – ).

    I have a difficult time understanding the belief held by some that no creatures other than humans have worthwhile feelings. I guess it allows people to do things that they would not be able to do if they acknowledged those feelings – CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) and puppy mills are examples that spring to mind.

    • Thanks for the link to Radio Lab’s program on laughter. All in all, good break in spending so much time at the computer! I would swear my cat tries to play tricks on me–and at very least, really likes it when I laugh– repeating whatever elicits this response from me.
      If animals cannot understand laughter, why would they try to elicit it, I wonder?
      There are many tragic results — much suffering– that results from the idea that ONLY humans have “worthwhile feelings”.
      And I wouldn’t be so sure about the crows– they are pretty sly. There is now evidence that they use gestures to communicate with one another– maybe they weren’t telling you everything in terms of what you got through to them!

    • I also mentioned animal factories in my response, but I didn’t even think about puppy mills. I rescued my dog, okay…maybe I outright stole him, from an abusive owner. He was a six-month-old puppy when I took him to the vet to get the chain that kept him tied up outside surgically removed from his neck. He is now three years old and it has taken so much training to break him of his horrible habits from his previous owner. He would bite at me if I tried to pet him, he would not come near me when I was home, and once he learned to play it was very aggressive. He hates being chained in one spot still so I have avoided that altogether. My current success is that he has the best manners when he is outside and off-leash. He stays close to me and comes back and my request. Now, if only I could get him to stop barking at every person that walks by our house…

      Anyway, I think once a person has had the time to show their generosity and appreciation for an animal, their relationship dynamic is more equal. A recent survey, heard about this on the radio, said that animal owners are more distraught being away from their pets, than their family. It also said that pets show more excitement to see their owners than the owners family does. There is this incredible connection between some people and their pets and I can definitely say that me and my dog take care of each other.

  248. I tend to have a more open view than many when it comes to treatment of animals and the environment, but the story of the mice just blew my mind. How can we say that animals are lesser than us when they exhibit extraordinary feats like those of the mice and bats? I have always hated how animals are treated on those particular animal farms. They produce horrible conditions for the animals not to mention pollution from all the waste concentrated in one area.

    Putting animals in cages to study their natural behaviors doesn’t seem like a very smart way to study. Animals in cages are not in their natural environments. Granted, humans alter the studies just by being there, but at least in the natural environment of the animal you get as close to the truth as possible.

    Maybe someday down the road the human race will have its viewpoint be that of everything is alive.By extension, everything deserves respect and care, even a rock.

    • Indeed, “putting animals in cages to study their natural behaviors” seems to be wrong-headed from the start.
      I like to imagine the world we might create from the perspective of the idea that everything is alive as opposed to the idea that it is there for our use. Thanks for your comment.

    • So how do we come up with new technologies and experiments? What should we use (participants) in order to conduct these studies? I definitely don’t agree with abusing animals. However, conducted experiments is apart of life. It’s science.

    • I have lived on a ranch my whole life and all of my animals I treat very well. I make sure all of them are fed well and have clean fresh water. I also make sure I clean up there feces so they don’t have to live in their waste. I understand the importance of care and treating animals with respect and caring for them. I agree there are a lot of people who treat animals very cruelly but also look how some people can be so cruel even to their own kind.

  249. I believe otu attitudes affect our behaviors. I’m a psychology major and I’ve learned a lot about how our attitudes influence our behavior. If we believe we have a will/purpose to fulfill we are more likely to live out lives accordingly and try to live out that purpose by career choice or sservice work, etc. Empathy is a difficult skill. I feel like our world especially, the westen world is so far replaced from feeling empathy. We become corrupted by the things of this world:

    I’d like to believe that all we need is Jesus.

    Jesus is the reason for the season (yes he is)
    Jesus is the reason for the season.

    I don’t need any material things. All I need is the love HE brings. This season I came to say that Jesus is the only way. Jesus is the reason for the season (Ya! Yes He, oh yes, He is, oh yes He is, ya!).

  250. I think that if we thought of the world as living and that our lives are a part of this living world we would be healthier as well as the world we live in and all the living parts of the world. We would have a scene of belonging with in this world and we would realize how important it is to care of our living world. We would understand that our living world takes care of us in return. We would understand that by polluting our world we are polluting ourselves. Instead of taking overabundant resources from the living world we would find ways to only take what we really needed because we would not want to destroy our living world. We would realize that every part of the living world has feelings and are all interconnected.

    • I agree completely. Maybe it is hard for most of us to do this because we spend so much time in our houses and buildings. We don’t go and spend time in nature and observe creatures. I remember when I was doing stream surveys I had to sit on the side of a creek and hold a measuring tape for about 30 minutes while my colleagues did their thing…it was the most amazing experience. I now love to go, sit in one spot in the woods. In ten minutes you begin to get in touch with the little bugs and things that live there. You can watch spiders spin their webs and all sorts of amazing things just by sitting in one spot and paying attention to the forest life. Maybe we should all do that more. 🙂

      • Delightful image of what sitting by the stream in silence might teach us! It is great that used this as an opportunity rather than simply fidgeting in frustration that you weren’t moving along.

    • Lovely vision of our potential in taking a place of belonging within a living world, Christi! A wonderful list to take to heart in any event!

    • I agree with your idea that every part of living world has feeling and are all interconnected. I believe that all the creatures have some kind of thoughts, personalities, language, and emotions. Human just cannot hear and feel their language and emotion. Well, we probably have not try to understand their feeling yet. If we try hard we might be able to do it… day..

  251. A wonderful topic indeed. I wonder why it is that we often are void of empathy, and more so fail to recognize it amongst animals? I thought is was a good point about scientists learning from caged animals. Though I am not so sure I agree that wind has a spirit and thus is entitled to the same moral rights as a person. There should be some reality and balance in our views or they will be cast off and unheard. Maybe we don’t spend enough time with animals to see and experience their empathy. I know, my cat is so good at communicating with me, I understand him and how he is feeling. He gets depressed when nobody plays with him and needs love and attention every day to be happy and healthy. If we spent the same amount of time with bats or mice or other creatures, we might see the empathy in them.

    • Thoughtful response, Summer. And I would just point out that “reality”- -or the perceptions of it– are not quite so cut and dried as contemporary reductionist worldviews would have us believe. As noted here, there are anthropologists who consider this a “superstitious” worldview in that it is simply stimulus/response, done without real understanding or relationship.
      The metaphorical world, by contrast, is one in which relationship is paramount. And those who see the world as filled with spirit have treated it better than those who do not.
      Your cat has obviously found the right home!

  252. I think all the creatures have some kind of thoughts, personalities, language, and emotions. Human just cannot hear and feel their language and emotion. In the story, it seems like bats and mice have emotion and feel pain as human does, but we cannot directly understand what they say. Human can show their emotion through body language or action. I can see that my pet sometimes show me own emotion. Maybe people do not try to feel animal’s emotion because they cannot talk in their language. In the article, Wild Bill saying “White people think everything is dead. They don’t believe everything is alive. They themselves are dead.” I am not sure why white people typically see things as dead. It is probably I was used to grow up in Asia??

    • Thanks for sharing your responses–and a cultural background which does not objectify the living world– I think much of this impulse to turn the living world into objects parallels the reductivism of modern science. Though that too is changing– a hopeful point to me.

  253. If we were conscious of other living things and their feelings we would definitely change the way we live. The idea of animal factories makes me sick. I hate listening to PETA and watching their commercials. It is so incredibly horrible, but yet I still support those factories by purchasing their meat. I feel as though we don’t have many choices when it comes to protecting other living things because society practices so many different worldviews. The natives had one set of worldviews with which they lived by, but we are taught to think outside of the box, and challenge other perspectives. Perhaps this is why there are so many variations in how we are able to choose how to live. Would it be more simple if we all shared the same worldviews as did the native people of our lands? Or is that idea completely outdated?

    • Thoughtful point, Jamie. I am not sure any worldview has been shared by one hundred per cent of any population– though are we can see, particular cultures predispose their members to particular worldviews. I take hope in the fact that our society is so diverse–and there is a shift from a reductive, hierarchical worldview among many. Let us hope it this shift grows more and more substantial.
      It is a point to think about whether we (with our reductive literally minded worldview) “think outside the box” more than cultures who truly honor the uniqueness of their individual members.
      I think one might make a good case that it is we who are less flexible all in all (one of the points in the current essay here on baboon intelligence).
      The issue as to whether we could agree on ethical standards, however, is an important one. One of the major problems in the contemporary global arena is the World Trade Organization’s finding against higher ethical standards since lower ones benefit profits.

    • I feel the same way, in regards to the graphic imagery reflecting the reality of the industrialized meat-market. However, we do have choices when it comes to the meat we choose to consume, for the most part. I know not everyone can afford to pay the extra cost for purchasing meat from animals that are raised humanely, but that usually is an available option at grocery stores. For instance, when I buy meat I always try to get those that haven’t been injected with hormones, and some beef products even say grass fed beef. These wordings don’t give a complete picture of how the animals are treated, but to me they indicate some ethical measures took place. Also, I always buy “cage-free” chicken eggs, because I refuse to endorse how most caged mass-marketed chickens are treated. I have read in a book titled, “Be Here Now” that when we eat animals who die afraid, we ingest some sort of hormone they release due to their fright. In addition, I say a prayer for the animal before I eat. When I can’t afford to purchase the most ethical choice of meat, I don’t eat meat that night.

      I know the government has to start thinking and acting more like a human, than a machine, to make major improvements for all living organisms on Earth, but our individual contributions to matter. “According to social science research, in order for a major social change to occur, only 5-10% of the people in the world, or in a country or locality, must be convinced that change must take place” (Miller and Spoolman, p. 449).

      Miller, G. T. and S. E. Spoolman (2010). Environmental Science. 13th Edition. Belmont, CA, Brooks/Cole, p. 449.

  254. The stories about the mice and the bats are endearing and really resonated with me. Your quote, “the natural world is a complex affair when we allow it to speak for itself” is very true. As you note in a few of the articles we are reading for lesson 5, as humans and with science we try to calculate nature down to fit some sort of precise puzzle piece that we can link together and connect. Somewhere in our historical worldview we lost sight of the complexity that lies within the natural world. But when we watch and open our eyes to nature (and when we hear stories similar to the mice and the bats) we are, I am, reminded of its own ability to speak and think and convey emotional responses similar to our own human ones. I believe most people forget that we are not the only complex living organisms out there, but in fact we share a world with complex organisms capable of greater feats than we give them credit for.