We, as humans, struggle with the other. As tribal beings we have a tendency to disengage from those we feel are too different, too far from what we are comfortable in recognizing as one of our own. When this unfamiliarity causes discomfort or fear, aggressive responses often arise.


The other is recognized everywhere. They are the strangers that we share our world with but are not considered part of any number of groups we may belong to including: family, state, country, religion, race, sex and especially, species. We may view the other with cautious optimism (perhaps they will understand me even if we did not grow up together) or we may view the other with fear and aggression (I will destroy them before they can destroy me). Perhaps the worst example of human response to the other is exploitation (they are weak and disenfranchised, so I can take advantage of them without retribution). The latter view is most disturbing because it leads to horrors and abuses that gentle and respectful beings would find abominable.


What if we were to decide that the other should be embraced instead of dominated, subverted, destroyed? What if our basest and most depraved actions were superceded by compassion and concern for the welfare of those who are not us? Could we evolve to that point?


If we can change our perspective, change the way we operate and treat others in our world, which other would we start with? It seems that those who are not our enemies would top the list. And in that subset, what of those who are not similar to us, those who do not look like our neighbors? What of those we don’t associate with as opposed to those we relate to? And let’s go a step beyond that to those who don’t belong to our species and are far less similar, far more vulnerable than our human neighbors. What would our world look like if we treated those others with compassion and reverence instead of neglect, apathy and violence? How much introspection or meaningful effort would that involve? What benefit would our species realize if we were to make changes that would allow us to evolve ethically and civilly? These questions seek to illuminate the consequences of ignoring or trivializing what is being asked.


It is possible that we, as a species, can move beyond our basest fears and aggressions to ensure a peaceful existence with the other animals residing on our planet. After all, we are animals ourselves and we know what’s at stake to survive. We know the innate desire to be free and live unencumbered by the oppression of others. We are animals capable of creating such beauty in every society through creative and artistic disciplines including: visual arts, music, dance, literature, poetry, theater and so much more. We, humans, are problem solvers who love to challenge ourselves to overcome obstacles and improve the world. And one of the most important qualities that we share with other animal species is the capacity for devotion, love and desire to protect those we care for and/or about. We have the capacity for empathy and it is built into our nature the ability to expand this instinct to protect; to see those that are not close to us and include them within the scope of our protection because we know it’s the right thing to do.


Yet, it is apparent what has become of our lives, our world, when our continued lack of empathy with the other that lives among us continues. Our actions against the other have and continue to lead us to animal exploitation and slaughter, relentless war, environmental destruction, mass extinctions, climate change, and degradation of the quality of all life on Earth. It is only when we decide to reach deep into our collective emotional reservoir and bring out our most innovative and empathetic selves that we will be able to look beyond our immediate scope of experience, beyond our comforts and fears, beyond our delusion of species superiority; and we can become a more enlightened and humane race of beings who treat other species as we would our own.