In this blog post, I explore some connections between thinking of animal rights and forced migration. My first point is the need to be aware of our lifestyles and choices; the second is the importance of trust; the third is the value of empathy. These values foster respect for other bodies, lives and rights.
In the past year, I have been working and volunteering with several people seeking asylum in Finland. One thing that I have learned is inescapable is how connected we all are: many came “here” because of politics, interests and processes “there” in which we have some part.
The way we live reverberates and impacts on many places at different levels, for example through resources and labour. What is in the laptop I am writing this text with, in the affordable flight that makes my first home so near and the second so sweet, in the meat and food overflowing from the supermarket shelves? The processes at work within these products have consequences for the environment, for labour, for people’s lives and health, to mention a few interlinked things.
We should be aware that this way of living is not obvious, given or unchangeable. We should know the implications of living a certain way and be responsible for our choices. What follows is a range of decisions about what to consume, from where to purchase it, at what price, how often.
TRUST AND EMPATHY
Through my experience with people seeking asylum, I have been focusing on their lives here, now and in the near future. Yet I can’t ignore a core issue: why so many left their homes. In our encounters and relationships, there are two key components: trust and empathy. Trust gives power when the world around us stresses real or supposed differences between us to divide us. Every difference is relative and relational. Trust allows us to cherish and respect our mutual differences, appreciate our similarities and connect through values.
Empathy enables us to listen to each other, especially when words and reasoning may not suffice. “I see you, I respect you, I feel you”, these are the tacit words between us. It is important to recognise others’ emotions. Definitely, denying someone’s feelings is one step towards his/her dehumanisation. For instance, if refugees are not listened to, their individuality is not recognised, their emotions are not felt. In this way, it is harder to connect with them, express solidarity and fight for change together.
TOGETHER FOR CHANGE?
“Why should I bother connecting with these people, they have nothing in common with me”, some could say. The way we live binds us to each other, privileging some of us and oppressing others. As Audre Lorde (1984) wrote: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not lead single-issue lives”. Privilege and oppression are inseparable, and the turns of this carousel are random, they are not grounded on any merit.
Empathy can push us to acknowledge the privileges and injustices in our way of life. It is about emotions, and emotions are not just a human trait. Animals feel too. If I consider myself a conscious person, I should come to terms with the costs my way of living has for animals. How much animal products do I need? How are animals treated to produce what I buy? Do I know and accept what I consume? Looking at things in a practical perspective, the well-being of humans and animals do match in many points. A central one is health. In an ethical perspective, an act of kindness is an act of kindness towards a human as well as towards an animal. Ethics and practice are not at odds with one another. Therefore, the Golden Rule can still inspire us to pursue awareness, respect, trust and empathy: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
Research interests: everyday life, citizenship and asylum, postcolonialism URMI project researcher, University of Turku Department of geography and geolog
Lorde, A.:1984: Sister Outsider. Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. The Crossing Press, California.