Plus, we grew up in the generation where it was believed that in order to lift ourselves to the top, others had to be on the bottom--in other words, competition led to pushing others down to make us superior. So, as siblings, part of our entertainment was trying to one up the last put down. But, it would eventually go so far as to actually be hurtful and someone would end up in tears (usually me) crying to Mom and Dad.
Tired of the "game," I found myself crying inwardly, "I don't want to do this anymore. I don't want to be around others that get their kicks bullying or stomping on me. Nobody's winning here. This isn't what I'm here for."
Another significant memory was riding in the backseat with my mother on the busiest highway of our hometown. A yellow Labrador Retriever was weaving in and out of the fast moving traffic causing a stir. I pleaded for my mom to stop and not understanding that her stopping would create more havoc, she said there was nothing we could do. My heart was broken because I thought for sure the dog would get hit and killed.
Fast forward 30+ years with many life experiences in nature with my dog, Shyla, and many other creatures of the forest. Moments of connection and awe helped it become increasingly clear that animals have a sacred purpose on Earth--and most likely it is NOT about entertaining me. There certainly is much to learn about dignified living and group behavior from them.
It's not like I didn't laugh at Shyla or other animals when they fumbled in some silly or endearing way, or sought out wildlife while hiking and exploring--entertainment for sure--but I slowly grew out of the belief that animals were here for my purposes--as beasts of burdens, entertainment, or otherwise.
I found myself almost too embarrassed to look as I thought about how it would feel if the same thing happened to me while I was just going to the grocery store. It's one thing to be famous as a human--we live in a culture that highly values entertainment and puts those that provide it on a pedestal. It's another thing to have it imposed on you without your consent or desire, as is the case with animals.
But, I was curious too; I'd never been this close to bison. The inner struggle of wanting to witness and be in their majestic presence while at the same time not intrude was excruciating. A ranger finally came and instructed everyone to stay in their vehicles while she pushed and prodded the giant beasts out of the road.
The veil was fully lifted on this trip and I found myself refusing to attend zoos and other animal related tourist attractions that obviously forced animals against their will into captivity and performance. I started using an analogy with children who had plucked a lizard or a bug out of their daily activities and curiously poked and prodded them to death. I would interject, "How would it feel if you were plucked out of your classroom or your chair at the dinner table, placed into someone's large hand and pushed around and pulled apart?" They usually caught on and respectfully put the creature back.
My education around the abusive treatment of elephants and tigers started when Jim and I began traveling to Thailand a few years back.
But, looking at the treatment forced upon them from an early age, it doesn't look like reverence at all. It looks like harsh and torturous treatment against their will.
And to think that this harm happens so people can make a living while myself and others are entertained, well, this is humbling.
THIS IS HUMBLING and humiliating. What are we doing?!
It brings me back to my early upbringing--entertainment at the expense of harm to another is painful at best and abuse at worst.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and the forthcoming Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom