He? She? It?

Something has been bothering me for a long time, every time I would see or hear it. It would come and go away. At times, I would talk about it and mention my thoughts, usually within a context of a program I will be facilitating. Primarily during the Right Livelihood Quest, when we explore the holistic and conscious nature of the world around us. Yet, I hear and see it in many aspects of our lives.

A few weeks ago, I joined a Facebook group of dog lovers. It is an obvious choice, really, as I love dogs (and, although there are quite a few groups available, I only joined one, showing obvious maturity and restraint). There is joy and beauty to see how many other people love their dogs so much, as well as dogs of others. Warms my heart. And yet, I saw the same thing there, and it kept bothering me. Apparently, it is time to bring my thoughts forward. So here goes.

“Before we can receive the unbiased truth about anything, we have to be ready to ignore what we would like to be true.” – Ann Davies

Let me venture on a little historical detour, for background and context. I will come back to the main theme. I promise.

“The Great Chain of Being” is a concept that is attributed to the ancient Greeks, especially Aristotle. Aristotle proposed that all beings are arranged in a single continuum, according to their “degree of perfection.” This perfection is based on the amount of “soul” or “potential realization,” which differs for each kind of being. The amount of soul determines how close they are to God, who of course, sits at the top. The Greek and the Christian worldview have adopted this idea; from here, it expanded to be the traditional Western view of the cosmos, which is still largely dominant in our times. According to this worldview, God reigns over men, who rule over women, children, animals, plants, and inorganic matter, in that order. Furthermore, humans are the only beings with consciousness, and everything else around us is an object.

“The great lessons from the true mystics, from the Zen monks, is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbours, friends, and family, in one’s back yard, and that travel may be a flight from confronting the sacred. To be looking everywhere for miracles is a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous.” – Abraham H. Maslow

Here is the rub, and I am seeing it in so many areas around me, including that Facebook group I joined. I will see a person sharing story after story of how amazing, wise, loving, supportive their dog is, or was when the dog was with them. And then the person will say, “it is gone now, and I am heart-broken for losing my most precious life companion” (or any other scenario, really). It?

Note how it continues to this very day, whereby everything – every being of nature – that is not a human, is being referred to as “it.” Find me a reference in any of our current books, whereby, for instance, a dog is a “he” or a “she.” Even the majority of “dog training” books use “it.” When we refer to all other beings as “it,” we implicitly state that they are objects, and thus do not possess “consciousness,” which allows us to keep maintaining this antiquated worldview of hierarchy and of humans above all other beings.

“We have disconnected from the sense of mystery, because we no longer understand the voices speaking to us from the surrounding world. Our scientific preoccupation and relentless commercial exploitation of the planet have left us with diminished sensitivity to the natural world in the deeper emotional, aesthetic, mythic, and mystical communication it is offering to us.” – Wendell Berry

The fact is, this mentality continues to this very day, because our culture does not teach us to seek, honour, and appreciate nature’s contribution to our lives. Yet, we are a part of nature – biologically, psychologically, and in any other way. We are an integral, interconnected, and interdependent part of the web of life, as one of the endless number of strands in that web. The web lives and breathes together, and we humans would do well acknowledging – honouring, really – the fact that every being around us is alive, conscious, and helps us on our journey of awakening. If we but choose to look through a different worldview.

Simon Goland