Extending Compassion

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty” - Albert Einstein

Einstein is famous for his intelligence and the theory of relativity, but did you know he was also a vegetarian? He even said “nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet”.

This perspective is worth thinking about seriously.

It is becoming clear by the day that we can’t maintain our current way of living, as animal agriculture is not only unsustainable but a threat to vital resources like freshwater, food and even oxygen as it is the leading cause of climate change. Today we can feed 10 billion humans, yet 2 billions of us are starving or malnourished. If we decided to feed humans instead of animals, we could feed a 3.5 billion people. Imagine that. Imagine waking up one day turning on the news and hearing “There is no more hunger on Earth.” And just like Einstein envisioned it, that is only possible with a shift to a plant-based diet.

His words also have a deeper meaning in our times troubled with violence, when we are more advanced than ever in terms of technology, yet more and more disconnected from one another. If we look at racism and sexism, we can’t deny we’ve made some progress in a relatively short period of time. Not too long ago, slavery was considered normal, necessary and natural. And although we still have a long way to go, it is now considered evident that discrimination towards gender, beliefs or ethnicity is wrong and holding us back as a society.

But the next thing to acknowledge is speciesism, because discriminating other living beings based on their specie is holding us back too. To illustrate what is speciesism, we need to go back to childhood where we’re taught to not hurt others, including animals. We’re taught to be kind to dogs and cats, yet we’re also taught it’s okay to kill and eat other animals that look and behave not so differently. As children we learn to make an unconscious bias and to disconnect from our empathy towards all animals by putting them in categories: companions, food, objects, entertainment.

 Tagged lambs

Speciesism, just like racism, is a learned behavior. And only compassion can fight discrimination. If we take seriously the golden rule “Do unto others”, then others cannot exclude animals.

Looking back, compassion has always been a key value my parents have instilled in my education, and I never realized that I had a choice, every time I ate, to choose compassion. Making the connection has helped me live based on my own core values, and have I known how good it feels and how delicious it is to live this way, I would have started a long time ago. Everyone I talk to who made this change has the same feedback, regardless of their age or background.

It’s not a coincidence that the practice of compassion is central to all major religions or philosophies. All invite us to do good, condemn violence and killing. And it’s not a coincidence that compassion is essential on a journey to living more consciously. It is already in us.

As a non-religious person, I asked around how being vegan aligns with religious beliefs. Sarah says: “I feel that adopting a vegan lifestyle has really made me rethink ways to offer kindness. I have learned that consuming animal products are not necessary. I’ve also been brought up to love and help whenever possible, and this lifestyle has given me another mean to practice what I preach”.

How powerful is it that eating consciously can prevent most disease that plague us, save the planet and precious resources, contribute to a more just distribution of the food system and be perfectly aligned with core humane values? According to Nurra : “Showing concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others has always been emphasized in the teaching of Islam.This includes but not limited to showing compassion to animals and other sentient beings .”

And what I find very inspiring, is that millions of people all over the world, with different backgrounds and beliefs are uniting together with veganism. Here in Singapore I work with Animal Allies which is the most diverse and welcoming group I’ve ever been a part of. And when people come together and connect, focusing on their similarities instead of their differences, great things happen.

Compassion, like peace, is an action word. If we want a more compassionate world, we must be compassionate ourselves, and extend compassion to all. We get to choose which world we want to live in. Ultimately we are one and interconnected and what we put out in the world, whether in thoughts or in action, has a ripple effect.

Being compassionate is not about being perfect, but knowing better and doing better.

Imagine turning on the news one day and hear “there is peace on Earth”. This is not out of reach, and the path to this reality starts on our plate. In Lennon’s words, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”