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Thursday, May 10, 2012

The gift of respect

About half a year ago a man made a comment that stunned me. It was right after the orals for my second doctorate - in the Netherlands. This professor from Belgium was a member of my examination Committee, and he said, "It's great to enlarge your consciousness about the whereabouts of all living creatures, but at the same time it must be very frustrating, because you become aware of so much suffering."

He hit the nail on the head: it ís a painful experience. I have shared my perspectives rather frequently with my reading audience in the last few years. I remember writing about my visit to Chicago,  a wonderful city, where tourists love to take a sightseeing ride in a beautifully painted carriage, towed by some horses. Unfortunately, there are few who are concerned about the suffering of these animals that are now forced to participate in the heavy downtown traffic with thousands of cars and motorcycles around them, and have to inhale poisonous exhaust fumes from close-by, minute after minute. Consequence: tears in Chicago for me. I also recall a visit to the LA zoo, where I realized, again in tears, that I would never again enter a zoo, particularly after seeing the miserable elephant in the hot sun and the gorilla that, in sheer misery, was pulling grass in his cage with his back towards the public. Watching television can be traumatic as well, because horses are abused in many Westerns without any concern for their wellbeing. And then there are the scenes of bears, tigers, or other wild animals, who have to suffer from training for many months before they are ready for the film shots, and then get trashed afterwards or, if they are lucky, land at the Wildlife Way Station, an ailing non-governmental organization, that tries heroically to offer a home to those who are now unfit for wildlife.

Of course the awareness reaches beyond just animals. About human suffering there’s so much to say that I don't even know where to start: the millions of undernourished, uneducated children, and their powerless mothers, while there are mammoth companies nearby, with stinking rich managers, insensitive to the gross inequalities that they deliberately maintain? Or senior citizens who, after a life of hard work for their families, land in senior homes where they are snubbed, and where their children and grandchildren sporadically pay a visit, because granny can't do much for them anymore? Or miserly doctors who have converted their vocation into pure business and only want to "serve" where they can rummage a lot of money? Many of these supposed medical caregivers are no longer interested in the cause of a problem, because it takes too much time and energy and it brings in relatively little money. Instead, they prefer to write out recipes for expensive drugs that smother the symptoms, and preferably cause side-effects, upon which they can write out some more recipes, thus maintaining their patients’ dependency.

Last week a dear family friend became the victim of such neglect: a prominent specialist neglected her problem, so now her young children are preparing for their first mother's day without a mother.

Having respect for all beings hurts and is often difficult too. After all, how do you respect those who have no respect for the well-being of others? That’s hard. It’s tragic too.

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