Sunday, October 25, 2009

With the Tongues of Men or of Angels

What makes it hardest is he's forgiving. My cat, I mean. He could have held a grudge or at least been angry and scattered his food or some such thing, but instead, having lost the mouse, he crawled into bed with me this morning. I still feel badly, not because the mouse got away per se, but because I ruined my cat's evening. He's been on the hunt for days and just when he's got success firmly grasped between his teeth, I come along and, well, if you read last night's post, you know the story.

I know, this sounds a bit like anthropomorphizing -- attributing human em
otions to animals -- and I can see how it might be taken that way. But I've learned my animals have lives of their own. Sometimes they seek my company, sometimes not, and I'm the same way. They have habits and preferences and within certain limits I'm determined to respect them. If the dog wants to chase a squirrel into the forest through a bed of poison ivy, that's not okay. Better to stay on leash.

But the whole question of emotion is another issue entirely. One of my closest friends is a veterinarian out in Colorado and she fully agrees, animals have the same emotion-producing centers in the brain as humans. Now, whether their feelings
are as nuanced as those of humans is difficult to say, but that doesn't mean animals don't feel sadness, anger, or love. Nor does it mean we shouldn't use those words to describe them.

PhotonQ-Homer' s Evolution Theory

I wonder if the tendency to minimize animal emotion (and cognition) stems from a misinterpretation of human significance. It may be that humans aren't so much the pinnacle of evolution as simply one path among many. With greater capability comes greater responsibility.

If I may speak theologically for a moment, the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible translates the word dominion in Genesis, where it is said God gave humans dominion over the creatures of the earth, as servant. President Obama encourages us to embrace a new commitment to service because thereby we not only improve the lives of others, we raise ourselves to new levels of humanness. Speaking for myself, I think it's time to take on the mantle of servant-leadership with respect to non-humans as well. Time to take care rather than take advantage. Time to be a voice for those who cannot speak with either the tongues of men or of angels.*

(Image of "Homersapiens" by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE via Flickr)

*Often quoted at weddings, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, if I have not love, I am but a clanging brass or tinkling cymbal."
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