People need lessons in empathy, the imagination to put themselves in place
of others or animals
Posted On Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 02:29:08 AM
REPOSTED ON MONDAY, MAY 31, 2015
*People need to realise the
benefit from contact with animals
and the natural world* I happened to be standing at a local bus stop one
day when children were returning from school. I suddenly noticed a small
group of young boys had collected and were staring at something on the wall
They were picking up stones. I look around, and there was a chameleon on
the wall which the children were determined to kill. I shooed them away,
but they kept coming back. Would “blood-lust” be too strong a term to
describe the way they behaved?
Children as young as two pick up stones to throw at inoffensive dogs having
a nap, while their bovine mothers stand there saying nothing. Of course, if
the dog were to give the child a nip in return, all hell would be let
Then there was the dog whose eyes were bleeding. We were to take him to
hospital, but he was in a panic and rushed here and there. The young men
who were trying to catch him finally succeeded. But in the meantime, a
crowd had gathered, laughing and cheering.
You wouldn’t think all this could happen in a country where we are so ready
to say our feelings have been hurt! Is this because, in our educational
system and elsewhere, we don’t think seriously in terms of educating
In his autobiography, John Stuart Mill talks about the rigorous system his
father put him through. If I’m not mistaken, he says that from the age of
three or so, he was made to study Greek, Latin, History, and a great deal
At some point in his life, he felt so dead that he was near a nervous
breakdown. It was then that he found relief and salvation in reading
Wordsworth, whose work put him in touch with feelings that were both
experienced and explored.
He is a poet who was as relevant then as he is now: “The world is too much
with us; late and soon,/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;/We have given our hearts away, a
Valuing Science, Engineering, Medicine, Technology is fine. But we are more
than scientists, engineers, doctors or computer specialists. Empathy, the
imagination to put ourselves in the place of others, doesn’t always come
naturally. (It does to my dog.
When I came home with a bandaged eye, he looked at it for a while and then
licked my hand.) Nor can we expect to feel empathy all the time for
everyone and everything. I, for one, would have happily machine-gunned that
lot laughing and cheering while looking at the blind dog.
Sometimes, when I reach a point when I feel I can’t stand any more of this,
something reassuring happens. One of half-a-dozen or so of small
businessmen who look after animals, and are around the corner from me,
asked me to look at a dog the other day.
The dog had a head wound infested with maggots. He was not a local dog.
Wounded dogs often run from place to place because they are so distressed.
Often people shoo them away. I knew there was really no hope for the dog.
When I said this, the shop owner said, “Let’s give him a chance.” So we
called the ambulance.
Obviously, people like him don’t need lessons in empathy. They know that we
benefit from contact with animals and the natural world as much as animals/
birds benefit from our caring. But perhaps, till the great revolution in
empathy arrives, we can make a small start: persuade ourselves to put out a
bowl of water for thirsty animals and birds in this awful weather.
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