Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Better Angels of Our Nature

It's been interesting seeing the reactions to my post on the myth of the irresponsible public, especially the reactions over on the wonderful No Kill Nation page on Facebook, who kindly linked the article. Most puzzling to me is a small but vocal group who insists that all of humanity is evil and not to be trusted.

I just don't believe it.

One of the more inspiring moments at the No Kill Conference was listening to Nathan Winograd put the No Kill movement into context of other social movements and rights movements throughout history. Every social movement has parallels, each follows a similar arc throughout history from radical idea to accepted social norm. I do not mean to suggest that the No Kill movement is on equal moral footing with social movements such as abolition or suffrage, but there are commonalities to all social movements throughout history, one of which is the belief in and basic appeal to the good in most people.

Of all of history's leaders I believe Lincoln summed up this belief best with his use of the phrase "the better angels of our nature" in his closing to the first ever inaugural address. With secession looming, Lincoln addressed the secessionists directly and closed with this statement.
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

I think of that phrase often, "the better angels of our nature", in animal rescue. As much abuse and neglect as I see, I also have these moments of absolute wonder that people can be good, and kind, and generous. I can think of two specific moments that stand out.

A few years ago, I did a rescue transport from a high kill southern shelter that was full and about to begin the process of killing all the dogs. When we pulled up in the van to take the entire canine population of the shelter to safety at Pets Alive, I expected to be greeted by evil demons at the door. Instead I discovered a shelter staff who treated these dogs warmly and affectionately, calling them by name and saying goodbye as they brought them to the van - they were so grateful that we had come to get them. One of the shelter staff had brought her young children with her and they proudly told me all about their five rescued dogs at home, all from the shelter. I had expected inhuman monsters, but what I found were people who did not want to kill but didn't appear to know any other way. It affected me profoundly in that I realized that these people were not necessarily my enemy.

Most recently I did a rescue, also for Pets Alive, that took 90 beagles from an animal testing lab. The lab had gone bankrupt and locked their workers out - some of whom scaled the fence, cut the locks, and broke into the lab to feed and care for the animals who had been locked inside. They then started looking for a way to get them to safety. When we pulled those dogs we were helped by two of the workers who had done just that - I wish I could have asked them about it. I was surprised that they handled the dogs with care and affection. I had expected pure evil; they weren't it.

When have you witnessed the better angels of our nature?


Blogger Kate said...

This is a really compassionate realization and a great post. I often jump too quickly to anger and pure loathing for people I don't know who I disagree with. I think internet trolls sometimes get the better of me...

Keep on truckin, Sibs!

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is easy for people in rescue to get jaded because mostly what we read are the dozens and dozens of emails daily with stories of people dumping their pets, or abusing them or shelters killing hundreds.

It's hard to remember sometimes that there are many people who are compassionate people taking care of their pets or other pets.

I was reminded of this at the dog show a couple weeks ago. It was 3 days of 40,000 people who all loved dogs and you could tell. It was a nice reminder that there is an abundance of compassion as well.

5:39 PM  

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