Rosey is tall with black feathers and white skin. She has red around her eyes and small waddles flapping under chin. She is growing a small red crown and surrounding that crown is red hair. No one else in the coop looks anything like her.
The chickens are an odd collection of different kinds of birds raised together since shortly after their hatch day. They sometimes argue over a good roosting spot or maybe a cherry but they never argue about their differences in appearance, they are chickens, that’s it. Their differences do not affect their ability to eat, roost, play or one day hatch a chicken of their own.
Chickens do not believe in “other”.
In fact most animals are uninterested in “otherness”. They deal with tangible reality. How another species looks only matters if that appearance has very large teeth connected to it and they face being eaten.
Great Apes in the form of people, however, are obsessed with “other”. Little children learn almost immediately what gender they are supposed to be, what color they allegedly are and what that means about them. They learn they are the master species and that other animals, that’s if they are even informed they are an animal, are less than them and even “Icky” or somehow to be feared.
What if instead we did not inform our children of any of this? What if we acknowledge– should we be asked by a child–that we may appear different but aren’t really? What if straight away we taught our children that respect for the tiniest fly is still respect and that all that is living deserves to be treated with dignity regardless of appearance and different skill sets all essential to a working environment?
You see if a child understood their place in the world is no greater than the place of another person or animal, regardless of appearance or status or money, then there could not be the racism or callous disregard for life which allows an unarmed teen boy to be shot down without consequence. That child would grow up to understand that the life of another person is of equal value to their own and that there is no reason to fear anyone who may appear different because they are not really different in a meaningful way. They would also understand that to seek justice for themselves they must seek justice for others regardless of how that individual looks, behaves or “other” someone else perceives them to be.
If a child were taught that all of life is sacred; the chicken and the bug, the cow and the ape, the person and the tiger or hippo, then we would not be on a collision course with our planet which allows a person to believe it does not matter when they take life, rape the planet or consume it for their own comfort without regard for its life. Regard for all life is the point of life.
Tolstoy said that as long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields. I want you to hang in here with me for one moment please as I fear you may object to the connections I am making because perhaps it feels badly or is strange to you, treating all of life with respect grows a culture incapable of allowing Trayvon Martin to die as he did.
Treating all of life with respect with an understanding that all of life is the same as each of us living would show that “otherness” is an illusion. That compassionate knowledge would save the lives of people on continents who are us but do not look specifically like us, and honoring all of life would stop us from killing our planet by killing everyone else on it by thoughtless consumption and the assumption of “otherness” which says the lives of this planet’s inhabitants are not important if they do not look like us–it would stop us from fearing anything that does not seem the same.
The old song says “Teach your children well”. To me that means teaching them to respect all of life. It means teaching them that having two legs or four, wings or arms, black skin or white, being female or male or transgender is truly skin deep and unimportant. What matters is that we all have an important place on the planet we share, that we all thrive with love and care and that interest and investment in each other is what makes life worth living.
I do not want to be accused of optimism or kindly naivete. Science backs me up. The truth is that the more we learn the more we understand all humans share a common ancestor and our differences don’t amount to a hill of beans. Science also shows us that the other non human animals we share the Earth with also have a great depth of physical and emotional feeling. You can’t put a fence on compassion and give it only to those with whom you perceive commonality.
It is not okay to call something “other” and hurt them or allow someone else to hurt them for your benefit.
If you are outraged by the George Zimmerman verdict which set a man free after shooting and killing an unarmed child because he feared him which can only be born of thinking that teen was somehow “other” than he–then change your life. Do not tell me you are outraged, do not tell your friends. Change. Grow respect for life, dispense with all concepts of “otherness” and when you observe it in yourself acknowledge your error and root it out no matter how inconvenient.
Rosey does not look like any other hen or rooster in the coop. She is tall with black feathers and white skin and is growing red hair around her comb. She is a chicken and she does not care about her difference in appearance because she knows appearances are not true differences. She knows that when she snuggles in slumber with her coop mates she is just another chicken living and loving. There is no greater purpose.