Life is Precious: How to Human

Carl Safina’s book “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel” makes the argument that many scientists have been cautious to make: animals have feelings and bonds the same way that humans do.

Otters: An animal that can teach their young a behavior
Otters: An animal that can teach their young a behavior

Humans sometimes struggle with the idea that animals can feel, learn, respect, or teach, and have in many cases denigrated animals’ positions to that of merely food or object.  We hear the phrase a lot, “___ is what makes us human.” For instance, Empathy is What makes Us Human.  Love is what makes us human.  Compassion is what makes us human.

Gorilla Koko with "her baby", Kittens she had been asking for using sign language, a baby of her own.
Gorilla Koko with “her baby”, Kittens she had been asking for using sign language, a baby of her own.

But in many, many instances animals have been shown to display love, empathy, and compassion.  They share food, they teach their young, they learn lessons, they sometimes make art for the sake of art, and they mourn their dead.

In fact, Carl Safina says there are only a few emotions that seem to be limited to humankind: Denial, Anger, complexity of language (the language of technology for instance…), Self Loathing, and that we create problems that are GLOBAL that may or may not be able to be fixed.

singularly human? Road rage.
singularly human? Road rage.

“This is not the relationship that we are supposed to have with the rest of the world, its not the one we want, but it is the one we have.  Because with our big, big brains, that we pride ourselves about and feel so smug about, there’s a lot that we don’t actually use to think and to feel with the others.  The others that are here with us on this planet, the others that have been here since before we were here. The ones that are foundational to us and that enrich and enliven the world around us.” -Safina, Lecture at the Aquarium of the Pacific

I could make the argument that while we have been denying the emotional truth of the animals around us, we have also been denying the humanity of the people around us.  This past week has covered our headlines with the death tolls of countries all over the world: Lebanon, France, Nigeria, the list could on.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 6.46.34 PM

What answer is there to give in this trying time, other than to find all life precious? To come to the realization that we must honor the life in others and to become not the villains of earth, but the strongest allies we can be. By denying living creatures that we share the same important features, we make it easier to allow senseless killing of our fellow humans, and animals.

Consider watching Carl Safina’s lecture at the Aquairum of the Pacific here:


Mother and babe: hippolove.

Although I really wanted this blog to be primarily about the complex feelings and lives of animals only (as humans, we tend to think we are the only ones on Earth who are this way), with all the senseless human killings this week, it seems that our fellow humans have forgotten our own complex feelings and right to life.  Let us remember again now. Perhaps our selfish and cocky manner gives us even less right to this planet that the animals who live here without doing the damage we do to our planet and to each other.


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