August 7, 2014

The Creation of a World in Which Every Being’s Spirit May Soar

I believe in the goodness of the human heart. I believe that our innate values as a human species are compassion, care, community, and the golden rule – treat others how you want to be treated. War, hunger, wild animals losing their habitat, humans losing their homes, animal abuse, rape, torture – the list of global crises is endless. But, is this really necessary? Is this just how we humans are? Is fighting our destiny?

These events often seem like a never-ending litany of disasters and cruelty randomly occurring beyond our control. It may feel overwhelming and like we’re helpless to change things.

There is a pattern to the harmful happenings and there is a pattern to the acts of care and love that can solve these global issues.  They are symptoms of a more deeply-rooted problem that manifests itself in our own thoughts, behaviors, actions, and sociopolitical institutions.  Solutions that only deal with the symptoms will not fix the problem. For now, we struggle to clean up the messes of the problematic paradigm. Millions of grassroots activists, nonprofit organizations, good samaritans, and acts of good faith from everyday people all work to solve the problems that humanity has created. I appreciate what they do and am incredibly grateful for every single act of compassion. But, the future I envision does not require charities to clean up humanity’s messes. What we need is an entirely new way of relating to ourselves, to each other, to the Earth, and all of her inhabitants.

All of these acts of violence and destruction grow out of the way we relate within what has been called the ‘dominator model’ by theorist Riane Eisler. If we want to change things, we have to get to the root issue and change the way we relate to ourselves and to those most at our mercy.   This is not easy because we are immersed in this dominator model. It is difficult to admit that we are complacent in the larger cruelties of the world. Just as we are often unaware that there is air around us or a fish is unaware of the water around, we are often unaware that the dominator model exists or that there is another way to live because we are always swimming in a world that espouses and reinforces its ideals.

The world is a web of relationships. All of the choices we make occur within this web. So, everything we do is based on our beliefs about others and how believe we fit in to the world. Put simply, everything grows out of how we relate. Every choice we make also has an impact on every one else. It may not be a direct effect. However, cumulatively everything you do makes a difference. Whether it is a beneficial or harmful difference depends on your approach to relationship.

The dominator approach to relationships. “Power over”

Most of us were raised with a dominator approach to relationship. Riane Eisler coined the term ‘dominator model’ to describe our social and economic system of oppressive hierarchy. Basically, the dominator paradigm says that those with more economic, social, and political power have the right to abuse and use those with less power.   The dominator paradigm teaches that relationships are based on ranking, taking from others, and control.  It is the ‘might makes right mentality.’   There is always a superior and inferior. There is always someone dominating and someone being submissive.  We are raised to relate through this competitive and adversarial lens.   We are taught to compare ourselves to others, ‘size up’ the competition, and compete for scarce resources (war). It is based on the idea that humans are selfish and that we have to fight each other in order to get by.

Within the dominator paradigm, we are made to feel ‘not good enough’ and to seek approval from others. It may manifest as a critical inner dialogue, negative self-talk, self-doubt, and a generalized anxiety. Without a solid foundation of self-love, we are always seeking and grasping for something in the outside world to tell us we are good enough. However, we will always be let down by it because no approval from the outside can ever make up for an inner sense of lack.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” -Gandhi

You can discover a person’s true ethics based on how they treat those who have less power. Likewise, you can uncover a society’s true ethics based on their treatment of animals.   The epitome of the dominator model is our cruel and tortuous treatment of animals.   Animals are completely at our mercy. They have their own desire to live, to form meaningful relationships, and live a life of freedom and joy. Eating animals and animal products is not necessary for our survival or health. Yet, we choose to enslave, cage, and mutilate billions of animals because we like how they taste. Simply because we can.

We like to think of ourselves as the pinnacle of compassion and intellect. However, human use and abuse of animals illuminates precisely what needs to change for humans to evolve socially and spiritually- how we relate to others who are at our mercy. We (humans) demonstrate our faith in domination and cruelty three times a day when we choose to purchase body parts, excretions, and secretions from enslaved animals who would have preferred to be left alone.

We will not create a peaceful planet as long as we continue to engage in the needless cruelty toward animals day in and day out. We are blocking ourselves from our potential for the best human qualities – love, compassion, and kindness as long as we see animals as things to use instead of beings to appreciate.  As long as we see animals as things to use, we will continue to reduce each other to things to use as well.

When we are consumed by the dominator paradigm we use justifications and denials of reality to cope with the sadness that we naturally feel about all the suffering in the world. We remain complacent and accept justifications for violence because we don’t see any other way out. However, the human spirit is calling out for a new way of relating.

“This is dreadful! Not the suffering and death of the animals, but that people suppress in themselves, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity – that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like themselves – and by violating their own feelings, become cruel. And how deeply seated in the human heart is the injunction not to take life.”

-Leo Tolstoy

Humans have reached a place where we know enough to see clearly that cooperation and compassion is what will allow us to survive. Now is the time to shift the way we relate to ourselves and to others. If we can learn to see animals as worthy of a life of dignity, happiness, autonomy, and freedom this will permeate all of our choices in relation to others. Whether they are an ‘other’ on our plate or an ‘other’ in another nation.

The partnership approach to relationships. “Power with”

The partnership model is the solution to all of the global crises facing humanity. The partnership model is based on cooperative interdependence instead of competitive individualism.  It honors individuals’ autonomy as well as our desire for belonging.

Relationships within the partnership model are based on mutual benefit.   Instead of looking at someone with a sense of competition, we learn to look at others as beings to appreciate. We ask: How can we create mutually benefical relationships? How can we both get our needs met and thrive? How can I help you? How can I support you?

It comes from a place of generosity and faith that there is enough for everyone. Right now on the planet, there are enough resources for everyone to be fed, housed, and live a life of meaning and joy. And, we have the ability to share our generosity with the animal world too. In fact, if everyone in the U.S. decided to adopt a more compassionate, vegan diet, we could save 59 billion animals from being killed each year and reforest 150 million acres of land. We could allocate land for wild animals who have lost their homes and grant them more space to live freely.

On an internal level, the partnership model means that we uproot and eradicate the negative mindsets and beliefs that were self-defeating. It is about building ourselves up on the inside and becoming self-defined and self-referencing. Developing your own internal compass is true power. It is about connecting with your unique life’s purpose and living that out.

We have immense untapped human potential for compassion, care, and harmony that we have not been able to realize because of a mindset of separation, disconnection, and denial.

There is a current of wisdom in the body and in the human heart which is constantly flowing love and warmth. All you have to do is learn to connect with it. As we learn to connect with the love and kindness that dwells in us, we can begin to let go of the justifications for causing harm to others. As we learn to live from connection and compassion, institutionalized violence as well as individual behaviors of violence and cruelty naturally fall away.

We need not wait. We must not wait. Lives are at stake. We can create a better world right now. It is the difference between a caged bird and a free one. Let’s create a world in which every being’s spirit may soar.

“You’ve got all the necessary ingredients for peace and happiness. You don’t have to wait a thousand years to grow. You’re here. It’s just a little matter of – behaving differently.”  -Charlotte Perkins Gilman, With Her in Ourland


***Artwork featured: “Spirit of Flight” by Josephine Wall.  To me, this painting represents the power, we as humans possess when we link ourselves to nature.  The animals of the world are waiting for us to wake up to our true potential as their friends and allies.  Just as the birds fly high above the earth, we too can fly high above the present circumstances to see the larger picture and piece together the puzzle.***