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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 29 April 2002 Issue

YOU ARE HOW YOU ACT
--by Mike Murray, 3-5-02

Many years ago, my dad had me read a book entitled "You are What You Eat."  I can certainly appreciate the wisdom contained in that tome (that good
nutrition is important, and that what we consume has profound physiological repercussions).  Still, I beg to differ.

We are how we act.  More than anything else, our actions -- and our inactions -- define us. 

We cannot control our gender, our race, or the family into which we are born.  We have no say in the natural abilities we start out with:  the relative numbers of fast- and slow-twitch fibers that comprise our muscles, and that go a long way to establishing our basic speed, power, and endurance.  (And that also have a lot to do with determining whether we will soar like Michael Jordan on the basketball court or be the "last one picked" on the playground.)

We have no part in establishing our innate intelligence.  Sure, more diligence with respect to study generally yields better academic results.  But does anyone really doubt that some are born better equipped for the rigors of the classroom?   Or that others start out with better singing voices?  Or a greater aptitude for things mechanical?

No, we have no say in the relative levels of talent, intelligence, or financial status with which we begin life.  All we control is our actions.   

Our actions define us.  We are, it seems to me, the sum total of the choices we make.  The things we decide to do -- the things we decide not to do.  I believe that, more than anything else, we should be judged by our behavior.  Our actions.  Our inactions.

For my part, I can't say I'm proud of all the decisions I've made over the years.  I've taken some bad actions, ones born of ignorance, self interest, and so on.  I've also failed to act at times, usually as a consequence of indifference or fear.  Sometimes simple inertia caused me to continue acting badly -- or kept me from acting at all.  No, it is not my intention to preach.  One would do well to refrain from emulating me.

But as I close in on the beginning of the second half-century of my life, I find myself taking stock.  I guess that's a fairly common thing to do.  I spend more time these days reviewing my actions and my inactions.  My mind turns to a building at Baldwin-Wallace College that preceded Kamm Hall as the home of business-administration study.  Ott Hall, I think it was called.  What I remember clearly about the no-longer-standing structure was the dedication to its benefactor:  "She has done what she could."

I find myself wondering:  Will I be able to make that same claim one day?  

I bring all of this up because an essay ("Victims of Greed") written by Wayne Mayes that was forwarded to me got me to thinking.   Mayes' piece describes a situation all-too-familiar to those of us concerned with animal welfare:  the horrifying conditions that pervade the puppymill business.  It's grim, heart-wrenching stuff.  We've all seen it before.  Each of us encounters it  -- in one form or another  -- over and over. 

But it never gets any easier. 

We never get numb to the awfulness to which some animals are subjected.  Our hearts ache.  And, speaking for myself, intense anger for the perpetrators wells up. 

We act on our concern by donating and raising money; by participating in rescue; by managing spay / neuter programs; by providing public education; by using the legal system to bring abusers to justice; and by working to enact new, more effective laws.  I know many people (I'm sure you do, too ...quite possibly you're among them) who strive every day to end animals' suffering.

All of which gets me to wondering if I'm doing all I can.  If my actions are sufficient.

There are many things competing for our time these days, to be sure; there is only so much we have to give.  And there is no question that there are many problems in the world deserving of attention.  I can only hope that the suffering -- all of them -- have advocates working on their behalf.

But my softest spot is for animals.  For, unlike human victims, they do not enjoy universal agreement with respect to their plight.  Some people believe that animals have no rights at all, not even the simple right to live life free from cruelty.  There are some who maintain that society at large has no business telling animal owners how to treat their "property."   Ohio's 125-year-old, pathetically ineffective legislation is testament to that line of thinking.  (We can only hope that one of the bills currently under consideration effects meaningful change.)

Animals who are suffering cannot speak to us in any human language.  But we hear them loud and clear, just the same.  When we look into eyes desperate for the barest sign of human kindness, we understand.  And we know what we have to do.

When I look into their eyes I see something else:  I can do more.

Return to Animals in Print 29 Apr 2002 Issue

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