Sunday, March 14, 2010

We are all relatives

Not since Native Americans, in these United States, have we of the industrialized world (to begin with, of mostly European extraction and Judeo-Christian background) seen the rest of the natural world as equals on this earth. We judge all others by our own standards of intelligence and physical nature. If a stone feels neither cold nor pain, can't speak and doesn't move, then it is not alive.

We might study a species or a specimen to learn everything about it, but not respect its integrity as a type of person from another culture, from whom we could learn something valuable beyond the scientific facts, or worse: What can this species do for the human race?

I have always loved the natural world. I grew up in small-town America, and from the time I was old enough I was out in the woods. I have always collected bits and pieces of the things I found out there that appealed to me, but it is only recently that I have learned that these inhabitants of the wild are all other peoples. They don't communicate with words, as I would expect, judging by human standards, but by catching my attention with pieces of themselves. They have no mechanism for speech as we know it, though one could compare the wind in the branches of a tree, or in it's leaves, as a form of speech the same way that our breath, causes speech as it goes through our vocal cords and is shaped by our mouths.

Now I use these gifts as the materials of my art, which as it turns out, is more of a collaboration, than something I can call my own. I no longer know how much of an idea for a piece of artwork is mine, or how much of it might have been that of a tree who wanted to express itself in a different way through me, and left a piece of itself for me to find that planted the seed of an idea.

I have already described how Tinker and I can carry on a conversation even though he only whispers a word occasionally. Other people who come to know animal companions very well will know this too. But those who really respect their companions will learn from them as beings with their own wisdom and will naturally think of them as having rights much like any other human they know. Dogs and cats can do spectacular things like predicting when a human might have a seizure or if one has cancer.

Who knows of what else dogs and others are capable? We as humans should be humbled in the face of such abilities possessed by other creatures, and we should have a great deal of respect for them, seeing them not as property or as inferior life forms but as partners in life.

Now extend this to the natural world about you. Suddenly you as a human are not the center of the universe, but just another strand in that Web of Life. You are connected to all of the other strands, and the whole web only works as well as the integrity of all of those strands. As Chief Seattle said in 1852: "Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

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