Compassion benefits all living things

February 19, 2015

compassionate child and dog

“With all am I a friend, comrade to all. And to all creatures kind and merciful.” – Buddhist vow

Have you ever noticed how good you feel after you’ve extended kindness to another, whether it’s helping out a neighbor or walking your friend’s dog? If you really think about it, you may begin to notice that world is actually set up that way—when I’m nice to you, it makes me feel good about myself. So it stands to reason that the world would be a much happier place if we would all try to “do unto others what we would have others do unto us.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a proponent of extending kindness and compassion as a means of creating peace in the world, puts it this way, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you (italics mine) want to be happy, practice compassion.”
A Course in Miracles teaches that, “to give and to receive are one. . .”
And Catholic writer Thomas Merton tells us that “Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.”

All creatures great and small

Compassion Bird 2

For me, all things includes dogs and cats and rodents and birds and fish, right down to those creepy-crawly things that sometimes give me the shivers.

More than ever, experts are beginning to understand that extending compassion to animals can increase our sense of well being and influence us to be more empathic toward those who are different from us. This is especially true when compassionate behavior begins in early life. “Children trained to extend justice, kindness and mercy to animals become more just and considerate in their relationship to each other,” says the National PTA Congress in an article on PETA’s website.

Valentine’s Day in the Pig Barn by Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

The video below demonstrates compassion in action. Notice how the pigs react to the warmth and affection being showered on them by a member of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Now note how the caregiver’s tenderness is affecting her own demeanor. It’s hard to deny that she’s getting back some of the love she’s giving.

The piggy video isn’t an isolated event online. The internet abounds with accounts of kindness being extended from human to animal, from animal to human, and from animal to animal.

Jethro the dog and his rescue bunny

I recently came across a fascinating story about one very compassionate dog named Jethro. The article, “A Dog and a Bunny: A tale of compassion and friendship,” by Marc Bekoff Ph.D. recounts the tale of Bekoff’s mixed breed dog who “sought out friendships with other dogs, cats, ducks, geese and goats.” Jethro’s compassionate nature extended to rescuing a tiny bunny and standing guard until the youngster was healthy enough for release. Space doesn’t allow me to share the details that make this story so moving, but you can read the entire thing at Psychology Today. It’s a remarkable tale.

Odd Animal Couples

Animal Odd Couples

PBS recently rebroadcast a segment of Nature that deals with what it calls “Animal Odd Couples.” The documentary highlights friendships that are formed between members of different species—a lion and a coyote, a tortoise and a goose, and a cheetah and a retriever among them. The program, which features Marc Bekoff, captures the compassion that exists in these relationships. About the film, Bekoff writes, “In this documentary we learn love apparently knows no boundaries in the animal kingdom.” Which, he says, challenges the notion that humans are “the only species capable of feeling compassion and forming long-lasting friendships.”

My goal during 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion is to encourage us (me, included) to notice that each time we reach out in kindness to any living thing, including what PETA calls “our furry, feathered and finned friends,” we feel lighter, and to recognize that there really is a correlation between what we give and what we get.

Compassion matters. And I can’t think of an easier way to make the world a more peaceful place to live than by being nice to others, one human or one animal at a time.

Kindness Homeless and Dog

For more information about Dr. Marc Bekoff’s amazing work with animals, including his articles and books, Google Mark Bekoff and take your pick.