Enlarging The Circle of Compassion by Ed Boks

Albert Schweitzer once said, “It is not always granted to the sower to live to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in —FAITH.”

We are an extremely fortunate people. Unlike Albert Schweitzer, we are seeing the harvest. We are seeing the results of both his and our hard work; a work begun in faith. A Jewish Proverb says, “Despise not the day of small beginnings.”

To be sure, the No-Kill movement started small. But why is Nl-Kill receiving so much attention lately; and why here, in Los Angeles, the City of Angels? Is it a coincidence that No-Kill is so quickly rising to a place of national notice? Is it a coincidence that No-Kill is getting so much recognition just now?

We live in troubled times; a time of war and rumors of war. A time of fear so great that men’s hearts are failing them because of what they see coming upon the earth.

We live in a time when just reading the daily newspaper or listening to the evening news can cause you to question the value of life. I remember growing up as a boy in Detroit and listening to the morning newscaster on my way to school. Each day he would begin the News by asking the question “What’s a life in Detroit worth today?” And then he would give an account of how someone’s life had been snuffed out the night before for $20, or a pair of sneakers, or because someone didn’t like the way a person looked at them.

I find it interesting that No-Kill is suddenly receiving so much national attention during a time of unprecedented violence in the world. I’m reminded of a letter that was written by an itinerant preacher named Paul to a group of Romans 2,000 years ago. In his letter he addressed the violence of that generation by explaining, “that where sin, death and violence abound, grace and truth does much more abound.” The darker the world seems to get, the brighter the light of truth and compassion. In a Country where the literal wholesale slaughter of animals is common practice, No-Kill stands as a brilliant contrast and contradiction to the way we live as a community. In a world where people kill each other while claiming they are doing God’s will, it is fascinating to hear stories of how Palestinians and Israelis will join forces to tend feral cat colonies during a cease-fire.

Today, we live in a time when our national leaders are grappling with defining “good” and “evil”. They tell us that we are good and we are at war with evil.

I think it is true that the war between good and evil is manifesting in our age like no other. What is interesting about Good and Evil is that so many try to define good and evil with words alone. However, there is only one way that good and evil can truly be understood or defined, and it is not by what you believe or by what you think, but by what you do. Good and evil are defined and understood by our actions.

On September 11, 2001, we all saw evil manifested in the desperate and hateful act of 19 religious men killing thousands of innocent men, women and children in New York City. Some questioned, as they should, how can religion bring men to do such evil while they think they are doing good?

Albert Schweitzer answered this question for us when he said, “Any religion that is not based on a respect for life is not a true religion.” Abraham Lincoln said it another way, “I care not for any man’s religion whose dog or cat is not better for it.”

So what is the significance of the No-Kill initiative in Los Angeles as we enter the year 2007, just five years and three months following 9/11?

Before I answer that question, I need to talk about evolution. In the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin explained that a species evolves by adapting to a changing environment. He further explained that only those members of the species “fit” enough to adapt are fortunate enough to survive. Today we live in a changing environment, an environment defined within the context of a war between good and evil. If that is the case, how will nature determine who is fit to adapt and survive?

More to the point, are we fit enough to adapt and survive to our changing environment? Are you fit enough to adapt and survive?

I am confident the answer to that question is a resounding YES. And the reason for my confidence may surprise you. I think the evidence that suggests we are adapting well to our changing environment is found in the fact that we are attempting to achieve No-Kill in Los Angeles, New York City, and more and more communities each year following 9/11.

I agree with our national leaders when they tell us we are at war with evil. But I hasten to caution that we not make the mistake of thinking this is only an external war, a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The outward war is merely a manifestation of an internal war; the real war is in and for our own hearts and minds. This war can’t be won through outrageous acts of violence on the battlefield or in the street, not by dropping bombs on each other or by throwing red paint on each other. This war is won by our becoming what we espouse; by living our beliefs.

Faith and reverence for life is the only antidote for the madness that seems to be engulfing the world today. Our reverence for life is the light of the world. The antidote is so simple that it is easily missed, and millions miss it every day.

Schweitzer warned that, “Anyone who can regard the life of any creature as worthless is in danger of thinking human lives are worthless.”

Are we, as a society, in danger of thinking the life of any creature is worthless? I think that before No-Kill came along we could argue, in our ignorance, that we had little choice but to kill unwanted dogs and cats in our attempt to control over population. But with clear evidence that NO-KILL is achievable, can we not now argue, along with Albert Schweitzer, that if we chose to ignore No-Kill initiatives we are but one step removed from thinking human life has no value?

Over the years psychologists and law enforcement agencies have come to understand the link between animal cruelty and spousal, child, and elder abuse, and other forms of domestic violence. Violence does not discriminate against victims. If that link exists in the life of a person, could it be true of a community? Can a community’s insistence on catch and kill programs, when humane non-lethal alternatives exist, be the link that reveals a community’s lack of respect for human life?

Not all human life perhaps. A community may start with feeling that the lives of its enemies are worthless. Then perhaps those people who don’t agree with its religious or political beliefs. And if Schweitzer is correct, such an unthinking attitude could lead to the abuse of our aged, our young, our infirmed, and impoverished. When we begin to devalue life, where does it end? It ends only when a community decides to value all life.

Consider the biblical story in which two ancient towns are threatened with destruction because their inhabitants are perceived as living violent, self-absorbed lives. A decidely old school intervention is staged whereby the possibility that 50, 40 or even as few as 5 “righteous men” might live there leads to the possibility that the towns might be spared. If Abraham could prevail upon God to make compassionate decisions, then perhaps we can prevail upon our community to do the same.

Now there may be some who may find fault with my comparing the lives of 5 righteous men to the tens of thousands of lost and homeless dogs and cats living in Los Angeles. But if you do, it would be because you’re overlooking the moral of the analogy. The moral of the analogy is not that the lives of feral cats or lost and homeless pets are equal to the lives of men. The moral is that when we, as compassionate human beings, can value the lives of creatures as seemingly insignificant as dogs and cats, we will begin to understand the true capacity of our own souls to make compassionate, life-affirming choices.

Mahatma Gandhi taught us that the only way to determine the true value of a community is to look at how that community treats their animals. Community value is not determined by our political rhetoric, or by our wonderful community and public health programs, or by our art galleries, libraries and parks alone. Our true value according to Mahatma Gandhi is found in the way we treat our animals. So if we as the greatest City in the world can develop a life-affirming program for the lowliest of all creatures, our lost and homeless pets, what does that say about us as a community?

According to Schweitzer, No-Kill is what makes us truly human. His exact words were, “It is a man’s sympathy with all creatures that truly makes him human.”

That is the role of LA Animal Services, to speak on behalf of the voiceless. Schweitzer warned us to never let the voice of humanity within us be silenced because it is our sympathy for all creatures that defines us as truly human and good. There was another holy man who said, “As much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto Me.”

Again, it is not my intention to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, so if you are offended by what might sound like my equating dogs and cats to the lowliest of humans, you have missed my point. I am not talking about the value of lost and homeless pets; I am actually trying to explain the human capacity to love. The capacity to love not only our friends, our neighbors, or even our enemies, but to even love the thousands of pets that find their way into our City Animal Care Centers.

When Albert Schweitzer received the Nobel Peace Prize he gave an acceptance speech titled, “The Problem of Peace in the World Today.” In that speech he said, “The human spirit is not dead. It lives on in secret and it has come to understand that the full breadth and depth of compassion can only be known when it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind alone.”

I spoke earlier about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. It may surprise you that as a former Pastor I believe in evolution, but not in the same way Darwin did. I believe compassion is the catalyst for our evolutionary growth. In fact, I believe compassion is the only evolutionary force left to us for our own human development. In earlier ages we had to rely on physical strength to survive, in more recent ages we had to rely on our mental strength to survive. Today I think we rise or fall as a species depending on our capacity to love all creatures, great and small. Our survival as a species depends on our ability to extend the circle of compassion to include all creatures. The world does not belong to those who embrace cruelty; the world belongs to those who can love greatly.

Scientists talk about evolution in terms of biology. I think evolution is not so much a biological force as it is a spiritual force. It is not merely a force that makes men out of monkeys; it is a force that can turn men into angels.

Love can be a pretty ethereal term, but we can all understand the concept of kindness and mercy. Once you begin to think kindly and mercifully about life, you begin to truly appreciate the value of life, and when you truly understand the value of live, you become what Schweitzer calls a “thinking being”, and as a thinking being you find yourself looking for ways to act compassionately and mercifully towards all life.

Schweitzer said, “The man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give every ‘will-to-live’ the same reverence for life that he gives his own life.”

In other words, if you are a thinking being you will love your fellow creature as you love yourself… You will extend the Golden Rule to include other species.

According to Schweitzer, a person is not even a thinking being if he cannot reverence the will-to-live in other creatures.

We live in a day and a world where 19 men can fly airplanes into buildings with the malicious intent of killing thousands of fellow human beings. We also live in a day when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people will devote their lives and their resources to help Los Angeles achieve No-Kill. These two acts in my view define Good and Evil.

But let me be clear, you don’t have to fly an airplane into a building to manifest evil. All you have to do is understand that thousands of animals are dying in animal shelters every year and do nothing about it. According to Schweitzer that is also an evil act. Schweitzer recognized that it was often in such thoughtlessness that evil most often manifests itself.

He explained, “Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruelty. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit. The roots of cruelty are not so much strong as they are widespread.”

Think about that. The roots of cruelty are not so much strong as they are widespread. That explains why an act of kindness is so powerful. It is powerful because it is stronger than cruelty; cruelty is shallow and weak. If all men could live their lives in kindness and mercy towards all creatures, soon the light of compassion would overwhelm the darkness of unthinking and habitual cruelty.

Albert Schweitzer said a day would come when “people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life was incompatible with truth, love, and compassion.”

This is the mission of LA Animal Services. We are here to acknowledge that in a time of war and violence, the circle of compassion is not diminished but rather grows larger and larger each day. We are here to affirm the small work we started in faith is growing stronger and stronger every day.

At a time of unprecedented evil, we are making an evolutionary leap, a leap that may go unnoticed by many, but a leap nonetheless of thinking beings consciously expanding the circle of compassion to include all creatures. We are here to assert and demonstrate by our actions that love, life, compassion, kindness and mercy are stronger than hate, violence and death.

According to Albert Schweitzer, the “Affirmation of life is a spiritual act;” performed by thinking beings. As thinking beings we affirm and embrace life saving No-Kill programs like New Hope, Big Fix, FELIX, STAR, TLC, the Bottle Baby and Foster programs, and Safety Net as a compassionate means to finally eliminate the troubling conditions of our lost and homeless pets.

I am asking all thinking Angelinos to help us make Los Angeles the safest City in the United States for our pets in 2007! We can solve the problems of pet overpopulation without sacrificing our compassion or humanity, and we can do this together this year!

(Note: I apologize if any religious referrences within this message offended anybody. The text has been edited to be less offensive. The message is intended only to encourage respect for the lives of our community’s lost and homeless pets. Happy New Year! Ed)