I was in my friend’s bathroom the other day, and I saw a roach. It was a fairly big roach, one that most people would find fairly disgusting. I grew up in an old house in Los Angeles, one with an unfinished basement, so we always had problems with roaches, no matter how hard my parents tried to get rid of them. This is why I still get bothered by the sight of them, and even though my compassion for other animals is very strong, roaches are something I have very little compassion for. To be fair, I usually don’t kill roaches, or mosquitoes, but try to find a way to get them outside instead.
Anyway, this roach noticed me and, like most animals who perceive a threat, started to run away. He tried to hide under the door. I couldn't see where he went, but I closed the door to prevent him from going into the living room, not really caring if I squished him or not. Once I opened the door again, I noticed that I had, indeed, partially squished him. He was staggering, badly injured, with a liquid dripping from the part of his body that was caught between the door and the wall. This made me feel horrible. For the first time in my life, I felt true compassion and sadness for the suffering of a roach. I ended up putting him out of his misery.
The whole experience left a strong impression on me. It reminded me that it’s important to grow our compassion to include as many animals as possible. It is important to try to widen the range of animals for whom we feel empathy. It is easy to feel compassion for our loved ones, and, for many of us, for our pets as well. The true test of our compassion, is in expanding it to include other possibly less obvious animals. This particular incident served as a reminder for me that even an animal that is generally considered to be a pest, and is often exterminated, is a living being that suffers. This is not to say that no pests should ever be killed. Parasites, and other such creatures that feed and destroy our homes, should indeed be stopped in order to prevent disease and destruction. Most people, however, misinterpret the term “pest”, and include way too many animals in this category. Even when we’re dealing with harmful pests, we should always think about the most humane way possible to get rid of them. My whole experience with the roach was negative, but it lead to a positive realization which will hopefully prevent more such negativity in the future.
Driving long distances through the U.S. recently, I noticed a lot of roadkill. For those of you unfamiliar with this word, it refers to animals that are run over by cars on roads. Seeing all these dead animals made me think of the selfishness of human beings in general, and our selfishness with respect to how we relate to other animals, in specific. I have written about this concept several times already, but would like to touch on this subject again.
It’s important to put ourselves in the position of others that are suffering, especially those whose suffering is ignored by most people. Most people would downplay the whole roadkill thing, and consider it a side-effect of better roads, of faster cars, etc. In other words, they have no problem with increasing their convenience at the expense of other living beings. They buy into the whole concept that’s fed to them from birth: That it doesn't matter how many animals suffer and die, as long as they get to live a convenient life.
A truly empathetic individual would never agree with this line of thinking. I believe that whenever we decide to construct something, we have to do our best to ensure the well-being of the animal residents of that area. If there is a concern about this well-being, if there is a danger that a certain ecosystem might suffer because of our intrusion, we should not build. With regards to minimizing the number of animals killed on our roads, there are steps we can take, both as individuals and collectively. As individuals we can simply be more careful when we drive. We should not trivialize the lives of wild animals, or think their lives are worthless. Collectively, we should strive to implement the construction of roads that minimize the possibility of contact between wild animals and drivers. In Norway and other countries, for example, there are special bridges over highways where moose (and other animals) can cross. This not only helps the moose, it also minimizes the risk of injury and death for drivers. In other parts of the world, the implementation of various types of barriers along highways has lowered the number of unnecessary deaths. Like any developments which minimize the harm we do while interacting with other creatures, these examples represent true progress.