Generation Z: Is There Hope for the Future? by Christina Knowles

Generation Z Generation Z. We’ve heard a lot about them. And a lot of it is true. They are glued to their phones and computers, they prefer snapping pictures of the board to taking notes, and generally they would rather Google answers instead of reading a book. They are realistic and question the system they’ve been brought up in. They question tradition and think for themselves. And they are the sweetest, most compassionate, and socially conscious generation I’ve ever encountered in my teaching career.

My students realize what kind of world they live in, and they don’t accept the failed solutions of previous generations. They are cynical about bureaucratic systems, but they are idealistic about the world. They know they need to make money, and they usually have a plan of how to make it, but they want to make it while changing the world for the better.

They want to do something meaningful with their lives; they want to serve the community with their careers. Not like the Peace Corp hippies (which I love, by the way) of the past, but through their innovation and creativity.

Generation Z-ers are looking for ways to create the next big thing, the next big thing that will make them lots of money, and the next big thing that will slow climate change, feed the poor, and feed them organically. They want to cure cancer and AIDS. Or maybe invent the next trendy technology, and then donate a portion of the proceeds to a charity like some of their favorite socially conscious companies—Be Good, Fair Trade Winds, and Toms. Somehow, they learned to care about others even with their noses in their phones, maybe even using those phones to learn about what needs changing.

They are accepting of other people more than any generation I’ve ever seen. For the last couple of years, I’ve seen a change in the classroom—students who are kind to people who are different, students who have compassion for the developmentally and physically challenged, who have understanding and respect for their LGBT neighbors, and kindness for the socially awkward. Of course, there is a bully or a bigot here and there, but these kids are the most socially sophisticated people I have ever met. They discuss differences in civilized tones, make friends with people completely different than themselves, and stand up to these few bullies that rise up around them. This gives me hope for our future.

So, these kids may live at home with their parents a little too long, they may lazily Google their homework, they may decide college is too expensive after weighing the costs, and they may question everything I tell them (I love that, by the way), but our future is safe in their hands, and we definitely can rest in the knowledge that this group won’t simply cast aside the previous generations as useless because they are way too nice for that.

We can also trust them to find solutions to environmental problems, stand up for animal rights, fight for the rights of every oppressed group, they will raise their hands when they disagree with us, and jump up to help the transgendered kid who dropped his books. They will politely quote a philosopher they discovered on Reddit, Vine, Medium, or whatever social media site they are currently using. They will throw out our old ideas along with our misconceptions of their inability to take care of themselves and prove us right when we say, “Kids these days—there really is hope for the future.” –Christina Knowles

“Transcend” by Christina Knowles

mother and baby elephantDid you ever wonder

About the trees, the flowers, and the seas?

Not just to use and plunder

Thinking we are so much more than these?

Did you ever wander

Through the forest of many creatures rife?

Did you stop to ponder

In the night, what animal builds his life?

Did you ever ponder

The living, the breathing of everything around,

The flutter of feathered wings, the sacred honor

Of crunching leaves of scarlet scattered on the ground?

Do you ever wonder

What the sleeping dog dreams?

Is he chasing squirrels in a field over yonder?

Or romping through crystal clear streams?

Does the elephant love her child

Stolen from her care?

Chained and defiled

She mourns her loss with a tear.

Did you ever wonder

Why humans feel superior?

Stripping lands and torturing under

The belief that all else is inferior.

Do you feel the need to plunder?

Destroying forests to supply

The cities of man; we tear asunder,

Building skyscrapers to pierce the sky?

Do we worship the ability to destroy?

We speak of intelligence;

It’s just a clever ploy

To justify our negligence and squander Earth’s inheritance.

Why do we build a pedestal, and climb into the seat,

Claiming we have a soul, and other beasts do not?

Privy to the secrets of an afterlife replete

In rewards for destruction with their blood we bought?

Do we ever wonder

Why we’re comfortable with our thoughts

Of eternal days unnumbered

While they turn to dust in their plots?

Did we ever consider

We are one and the same?

Energy reconfigured

Just another creature’s frame?

Born of the earth,

Siblings of the land

With no separate worth;

No destiny is planned.

Did you ever wonder

If it’s time to transcend?

Wake up from this slumber

And begin to comprehend?

We are all a part of another

So end the devastation, and instead defend

Those at our hands who suffer

And begin to make amends.

—Christina Knowles (2015)

How to Be Happy, Part 2 by Christina Knowles

HappyEveryone wants to be happy, right? Well, at least most of us do. A few months ago, I published a blog called, “How to Be Happy,” which has been something I’ve really been considering lately. When I first decided to write a blog about being happy, I just went with my own life experiences and gut feelings, but recently I’ve been reading books, articles, research studies, and watching lots of documentaries on the subject, and I’ve learned about some things that make a lot of sense.

In my last article, I mentioned things like being part of a community, being grateful, not getting angry over insignificant things, doing meaningful work, being humble, laughing, being honest and thoughtful, enjoying time alone, eating right, spending time in nature, enjoying the arts, giving to charity, loving animals, and cultivating relationships. After studying the subject in more depth, I found that many of these things I noticed that made me happy were found to be true in cultures around the world, but there were also some things I didn’t mention that I think are quite profound. For one thing, things like our job, income, and life situations have little to do with how happy we are. As long as we have enough to eat, a warm shelter in which to live, and have moderate security, external sources have little lasting effect on happiness. But there are some things that we can do, in addition to what I wrote in my last article, that can have a great impact on our happiness. Here is what I found:

Do something different—Studies show that people, even the ones who think they like routine (like me), benefit from changing things up and doing something completely outside what they normally do (Happy). Novelty and experiences make us happy, and are often the source of our best memories. I really do need to work on this one.

Help people—In my last blog on this subject, I mentioned giving to charity, which does make you happy, but now I am talking about doing something more tangible. Instead of merely giving money, which is helpful, physically do something to help someone. I think it makes a person even more happy because giving money is too easy, but getting your hands dirty feels like you did something bigger, something personal. Helping people always makes you feel good, but only if you don’t expect anything in return. Expectations lead to disappointment and bitterness. But knowing how you made someone feel because you were willing to give up actual time to help him always leads to happiness.

Do things that create flow—Flow is that elated mental state caused by letting go of the mind and just experiencing an almost unconscious state of action that seems effortless (Happy). It’s that feeling of being in “the zone.” Runners experience this as “runner’s high” when they reach a point where they feel they can’t go on, and then endorphins kick in, and they feel like they could go on forever. I’ve experienced runner’s high and a similar feeling while figure skating. I also felt this while writing my novel. After hours of writing, it seemed like the book began writing itself. It was effortless. I’ve heard chefs on the line experience this flow. Anything that you enjoy and do for an extended period of uninterrupted time can become like a zero-point focus, totally absorbing, and all worries and conscious thoughts seem to let go, and you become completely at peace. Apparently, many people achieve this through meditation, but I’ve never been able to properly meditate. Maybe someday.

Exercise—Exercising releases endorphins, making us healthier and happier over all. Exercise often leads to experiencing flow. It makes us healthier, which also adds to contentment, and it can be fun—at least, I’m trying to convince myself.

Sleep—Everyone knows that lack of sleep makes you irritable and unhealthy, but getting enough rest makes you mentally healthier. Some psychologists believe that dreaming is necessary to sanity, but it is commonly known that a lack of sleep can cause depression, weight gain, emotional instability, and an inability to think clearly. Having enough sleep is important to maintain health and happiness. I could definitely use more sleep.

Don’t work too much–This is the hardest thing for most of us, I think. I know I work almost all the time–days, nights, weekends. There have been numerous studies that show countries whose people work 30 hours or less per week, have the most happy citizens, or Gross National Happiness. According to the latest studies, Japan is now the least happiest country due to overwork. They are literally working themselves to death (Happy). I’m sure Americans are not far behind. If you think about it, this one issue can affect all the rest. If we are busy working, trying to pay to keep up a lifestyle that will never make us happy, then we don’t have time for community, volunteering, exercise, sleep, relationships, etc. We won’t have time to do the things that will actually make us happy. But we have to work 40 hours just to survive. For many of us, our jobs require unpaid hours at home just to keep up. It’s a conundrum.

Realize that everything and everyone is connected—Whether we believe we are connected transcendentally, spiritually, or just through energy and commonality as Einstein realized, we affect each other and everything around us (I Am). When we war with each other, hate, steal, treat animals with cruelty, destroy our environment, we are doing this to ourselves. The same is true when we do good. If we realize this connection, we are less likely to harm each other. This makes everyone happier.

Don’t believe in artificial constructs—like the economy, success, and competition. I mean really, what is the “economy?” It’s something we created that seems to enslave most people and elevates a few. Money, the stock market–it only exists because we made it important for survival. It is completely artificial in itself. Success is defined by marketing companies, television and movies, corporations, and school boards. And competition? Isn’t it natural? Doesn’t it provide motivation? Make us feel happy when we win? Not really. Don’t buy into the idea that these constructs are natural and good, and that these are the things we should be most concerned with. People who do, often live with regret and waste most of their lives. Sure, we have to live in the world in which we were born, we have to survive in this system, but we don’t have to buy into the idea that these are the primary areas in which to strive. These things never lead to happiness.

Don’t compete—Human beings are always better off sharing, cooperating, and quite often, compromising. It makes us happier, so why are we so competitive? Our personal selfishness is always reinforced in our culture, as is standing out, being number one, and crushing the competition. But competition leads to stress and disappointment most of the time. It always leaves someone feeling bad.

But standing out—or better put, feeling special, is usually pleasant. Well, the best way to feel special is to be loved, and competition is not good for loving relationships. According to Thom Hartmann, author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, in Aboriginal and indigenous cultures, cooperation is given a much higher value than competition and “competition beyond certain boundaries is considered mental illness” (I Am). He studies cultures and animals to determine what is natural to us and what is a societal construct. He asks if democracies or hierarchies are more natural. He found that not only do animals rely on cooperation to survive, nature never takes more than it needs, or it dies off, as Darwin also realized. I think there is certainly a lesson for us in this. Even Darwin talked more about love and cooperation among mammals than “survival of the fittest.” Often the fittest is the one who will cooperate. Darwin also said that sympathy is one of the strongest impulses of humans (I Am).

Be empathetic and compassionate—We all share the ability for empathy. When we witness heroism, something touching, or empathize with someone going through something particularly emotional, we experience “elation” (I Am). We recognize this feeling of innate compassion for fellow beings as love and as good. This feeling makes us happy even while at the same time, we may be sad. This altruistic impulse is natural and inborn in every human, and the evidence overwhelmingly shows this tendency in other mammals as well within their own social groups, and sometimes even outside it. I prefer this “human nature” to that of the ruthless competitive “nature” that began as a flaw in childhood and was reinforced by our society. Compassion even makes us healthier, while competitiveness makes us sicker in the form of stress-related illness.

Think and be positive, and act positively—I’ve always scoffed at “positive thinkers.” I’ve never believed that we could change physical matter merely by thinking it into existence; however, more and more scientists are exploring this as a potentiality. I’ll wait for the evidence, but even if positive thinking cannot alter a physical situation, it certainly has an effect on how we perceive it—whether we take it as good or bad, and of course, our emotions in dealing with it. Acting positively will affect how others act toward us, which can positively alter our circumstances as well.

Finally, live in a way that causes the least harm to anyone or anything—If, every day, in every interaction, we consider what harm we may cause and choose the least harmful, the whole world would be a better place. We cannot avoid harm—just by existing, we cause harm to our environment. We eat plants and some of us eat animals, we live in houses, we drive cars, and produce waste. We get careless, and we say hurtful things or treat others with unkindness. However, we can choose the least harmful in every interaction with our world. We can plant gardens and use natural ways to keep pests away, we can refuse to consume meat that was raised inhumanely, we can use environmentally friendly materials and not take more than we need, we can conserve, and not waste. We can be responsible and kind. If we lived like this, how could we not be happy?Purpose

I’ve heard that our purpose, if we have one, on this planet is not to “be happy” and maybe it’s not, but it seems that we are driven to pursue it. What if being responsible, kind, and loving human beings was our purpose, and precisely because it is our purpose, it also makes us happy? Not the fleeting excitement of a new toy-kind of happiness, but joy, the deep, soul-contentment of being who we should be, who we are capable of becoming. —Christina Knowles


  • Happy. Wadi Rum Films, 2012. Film.
  • Happy Photo. Web.15 May 2015.
  • Purpose Photo. Hippie Peace Freaks. Facebook. Web.15 May 2015.
  • I Am. Tom Shadyac. Flying Eye Productions, Homemade Canvas Production, and Shady Acres Films, 2010. Film.

How To Be Happy by Christina Knowles

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As we start a new year, most of are thinking of new beginnings, fresh starts, or making changes of some kind. Why? Most of us just want to be happy. That got me to thinking about the times I have been really happy, and what makes the difference between those times and times of discontent. I noticed some things, many of which you may already do, and others you may want to try. As for me, I’m going to remind myself of these often.

  1. Don’t get upset at insignificant things; save your anger for righteous causes: Most things don’t really merit the damaging side-effects of anger. Learn to blow things off, unless they truly deserve anger. Righteous anger over injustice or cruelty can make a difference in the world. If it isn’t going to make a positive difference in the world, let it go. One way to mitigate anger is to change your perspective by putting yourself into the metaphorical shoes of the people making you angry. When you understand where someone is coming from and what motivates him, it’s a lot easier to let go of anger.
  2. Do something nice for someone when it is completely not your responsibility: A generous act of kindness means the most to others and to you when you know that doing it is in no way your responsibility. Cooking dinner when it’s your turn—you’re supposed to do that. Cook dinner when it’s someone else’s turn, and it means something. It also creates a pleasant feeling. But make sure you do not expect or even want something in return. That kind of destroys the whole concept.
  3. Be grateful for what you have. The old saying goes: “It’s not getting what you want; it’s wanting what you get.” It’s so easy to be discontent when you think of all that you need or would like to have—even non-material things like a relationship or more time. Try to stop yourself when you think of these things and focus on what you now have that you didn’t have before. Notice how far you’ve come and realize you will probably have those things someday anyway.
  4. See yourself as a member of a community: Everyone needs to feel like she belongs to something bigger than herself. For some this is a church family; for others it is a local charitable organization. Still others join book clubs or Cosplay groups. When you connect to people with similar interests, you develop meaningful friendships that can alleviate loneliness, add meaning to your life, and give you a break from stress as well as something to look forward to.
  5. Spend time each day doing something you enjoy: Don’t wait for the weekend to have some fun. Take a little time, even in the busiest day, to treat yourself to something you love. It may be taking the time to get in a workout, reading a chapter of a good book, watching a favorite TV show or movie, or taking a quick nap. Never get so busy that you neglect taking a moment to relish your life.
  6. Do meaningful work or make your work meaningful: Face it. You probably spend most of your time at work. With this in mind, you need to make your work matter. You will enjoy it so much more if you believe the work you do is important—and not just for paying the bills or important for improving the company’s bottom line. If your work is meaningless, either find a way to make your work improve the lives of others or find work that does.
  7. Don’t think you are more deserving than someone else: The quickest way to unhappiness is to become bitter and jealous, thinking you deserve what someone else has. Don’t compare yourself to others or elevate yourself over anyone. Be humble. Humility leads to gratitude and gratitude to contentment.
  8. Realize that everything changes and look forward to it: You can’t stop change. Embrace it and know that every change is a chance to make things even better.
  9. Find something to laugh at every day: Laughter is good for your health and state of mind. Don’t take things so seriously, and find something that makes you really belly-laugh often.
  10. Don’t just laugh: Express yourself emotionally whenever appropriate. Don’t hold in your feelings. Cry when you need to and express anger and disappointment in kind, thoughtful ways. Show love when you feel it. Feeling your emotions gives depth and beauty to life.
  11. Think about what you say and how you will say it before speaking: Few things cause such damage as careless words. You can save yourself a lot of heartache with a few carefully chosen words or deciding words are not necessary at all.
  12. Don’t lie—ever: Yes, easier said than done, but lying is not only unethical, it can cause a lot of stress. If you make a habit of not lying, you never have to worry about it coming back to haunt you or about it having unintended consequences. Also, when you are totally honest, you are allowing people to really know the real you. Being known by another person, and being accepted anyway, is necessary to happiness.
  13. Don’t gossip: Even innocent and seemingly harmless gossip can end with serious consequences. Your gossip will come back to burn you when you least expect it, and it hurts people you probably never meant to hurt.
  14. Truthfully compliment someone every day: Consciously notice good things about others, including those you may have conflicts with, but especially those you want to keep loving, and then let them know that you noticed these good things. Not only does this make those you compliment feel good, it makes you like them more. When we look for the good in others, we will find it, and we will realize their value more often. It also makes us happier to see the good in others, rather than focusing on their faults.
  15. Spend some time in nature as often as possible: Even city lovers benefit from listening to nature’s sounds, breathing in fresh air, and feeling the earth beneath their bare feet. Connecting to the earth can be a spiritual experience for some, creating inner peace, calming stress, and lowering blood pressure. Spending at least twenty minutes a day in the sunshine helps prevent cancer and lifts the mood as well.
  16. Take care of yourself: Mind and body. Eat delicious, nutritious foods, exercise your body, get plenty of sleep, and use your brain. In addition to physical exercise, exercise your mind by reading, solving puzzles, riddles, or problems. Learn something new or memorize a favorite quote or poem. Keep a vocabulary list of definitions of interesting new words and use them daily. Being healthy, mind and body, contributes to happiness.
  17. Enjoy the arts, even if you aren’t talented: Read and write poetry, watch dance or dance yourself, view and make visual art, go to a play or act in a local theater production, listen to music or make music yourself. The arts make life more beautiful, and creating anything artistic naturally leads to joy.
  18. Give to charity throughout the year: We often think of donating at the end of the year either for tax benefits or because everyone is having their end-of-the-year drives for contributions, but organizations need help all year long. Giving is much more meaningful if we research and support organizations that represent our personal convictions and passions. As an animal lover, I find it rewarding and important to give to no-kill shelters and animal rescues. I also like to give to organizations that help the poor in my own community, such as the Springs Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, and the local Red Cross shelter. My husband and I support National Public Radio as sustaining members because its presence and content is important in our lives and that of the community. We also give to various charities that help the community and to fundraisers we find worthy. Giving throughout the year, helps others, makes you a part of a larger community, gives a sense of belonging, and reinforces the values you claim as your own. Charity gives a sense of identity that corresponds to the ideals you hold dear, makes you more of the person you aspire to someday be, and gives you a sense of joy seated in the idea that hope continues to exist in the world, despite the tragedies and pain you also endure.
  19. Love an animal: Few things imbue such a sense of satisfaction and tranquility as sharing your life with an animal that loves you in return. Giving and receiving love from an animal actually makes your heart bigger and kinder. Caring for an animal has been shown to create empathy in sociopaths, purpose in the elderly, and kindness and gentleness in bullies. Personally, I can’t imagine being truly happy without a dog or a cat to share my home.
  20. Cultivate meaningful relationships: We are social beings and not complete without relationships. Make time to develop at least one or two relationships with people you value. Even though we can have friends who remain dear without proximity, to have a life-enhancing, close relationship with a person requires time together on a regular basis. Choose just a few people who are important to you and devote some time to them at least a few times a month. The time is well-spent. True friendship brings a great deal of happiness. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you don’t have the time to cultivate at least one relationship. In your old age, these relationships will be what you fondly cherish, and you will likely wish you spent even more time on them.
  21. Enjoy your own company: One thing is certain—you will always have yourself, so it is imperative for happiness that you enjoy time alone. You need to love and like yourself If you don’t, you need to figure out why and fix it. Time alone can refresh you in important ways; it allows an opportunity for introspection, self-expression, self-improvement, and lets you know who you are, so that you can identify what you need to be happy, and when you know who you are and what you need, you can more easily share that with others, not only for your benefit, but for theirs. Truly knowing and accepting yourself gives you a strong foundation that can keep you from sinking in the shifting sands of change and even tragedy. Liking yourself and enjoying time alone can be the basis for happiness that comes from the inside out.

I’m not saying that happiness should be the most important thing we aspire to. I’m sure there are loftier ideals; however, the same things that are good for the world—other people and animals—are the same things that tend to make individuals happy, so why not? Go ahead, be happy. –Christina Knowles

UPDATE: Check out Part 2 of “How to Be Happy”

Be Careful; Your Character Is Showing by Christina Knowles

CharacterDo all animals deserve to be treated with respect and compassion? How you answer this question will say a lot about your character. This topic has been boiling just under the surface of my mind for some time now. When I hear someone say something, which, in my opinion, is cruel about animals, I automatically think less of them as a person. This has been on my mind lately because I have recently been exposed to many shocking comments regarding animals from people I never would have suspected would think such things or consider them appropriate to say.

Here are some examples of the shocking things I’ve heard come from the mouths of seemingly ordinary people:

  • Regarding an elephant chained to a stake in the ground for its entire life: “Who cares? It’s just an animal, not like it’s a person or anything.”
  • Regarding a dog that faithfully stayed put when the “owner’s” fence blew down: “I was hoping it’d run away.”
  • Regarding two pet dogs in a family of three children: “I always forget to feed them, but it doesn’t matter because they snatch stuff from the kids.”
  • Regarding two dogs belonging to a family with two small children: “They’re not allowed in the house. I don’t care how hot or cold it is. If they die, they die. I can’t stand to have dogs in the house.”
  • Regarding a conversation on skeet shooting: “I don’t have a clay shooter. I practice shooting on birds ‘cause a moving target is best. No, I don’t eat ‘em. They’re too small and gamey.”
  • Regarding a conversation on testing make-up products on animals. “They should test it on animals before I put it on my face.”Unknown-1
  • Regarding some questionable looking meat: “I give it to the dog, and if it doesn’t make him sick, then I’ll serve it.”
  • Regarding a faithful 14 year-old dog that had been with a family her whole life: “I can’t afford an old dog if it gets sick. It’s not human. I’m not spending that kind of money on a dog. The kids need a dog to play with, so I’m taking this one to the pound and picking up a puppy.”
  • Regarding a conversation about illegal immigration that turned into a pro-choice vs. pro-life conversation: Them: “They’ll march and pay to save a dumb animal, but they don’t care about murdered babies.” Me: “Why can’t we care about unborn humans, children already born, and animals all at the same time?”
  • Regarding a time when I saw a child tormenting a tired old dog with a clothespin in front of his parents. Me: “He doesn’t like that.” Parents: “He’s not hurting him; the dog’s here for him to play with,” as if the dog were an inanimate toy for their child’s cruel pleasure.
  • Regarding a man I know who has land in a rural area: “I need a cat to put in the barn to catch mice. He won’t make it long out here though. I have to replace them every couple of months.”
  • Regarding a dog who was going to die, so his family could move conveniently: “She’s old and we’re moving, so we’re just going to put her down.”
  • Regarding cruelty to cows in 8 by 8 pens 24 hours per day, standing in their own mess and so sick that they have to be hoisted out to slaughter: “I don’t care. It’s just a dumb cow. God put them here for us to eat. Cheeseburgers are good.”
  • Previous neighbor regarding his German Shepherd, who was chained to a tree in the middle of a dirt yard with no shade but the house for a couple of hours a day, his fur rubbed off his neck, and receiving no attention except for a bowl of food and water shoved out to him once a day: “If I don’t chain him up, he jumps the fence, and the neighbors will complain.” I complained, but apparently he was receiving “adequate care” according to authorities.
  • Regarding a supposedly beloved pet (I’ve heard this one more times than I can count): “Our new house doesn’t allow pets, so we need to find them a new home.” What if they don’t allow children? Are you going to give them away?
  • Regarding moving across the state: “We’re moving and a dog and a cat are too much trouble to move with.”
  • Regarding a former coworker who was never home: “I don’t have time to spend with him, so we’re putting him down.”
  • Regarding animal testing: “What’s the difference? It’s only a mouse.”
  • Regarding animal testing: “Animals don’t have souls, and they aren’t as smart as people. That’s what they’re for. God put them here for our use and gave us dominion over them.”
  • Regarding a vicious and cruel child: “Better that he take his anger out on the dog than on his brother.” Really? How about counseling as an option? 360982957641_1
  • Regarding grieving over a beloved pet: “Get over it. It was just a dog. You can get another one.” No one had better ever say that to me.
  • Regarding a heartbroken girl who had to sell her old horse: “We had to sell my horse because he can’t jump anymore. I barrel race, and we can’t afford to keep him if he can’t race.”
  • Regarding a discussion of particularly cruel tests on animals for the safety of household cleaners: “Animal rights activists care more about animals than they do people.” Gee, I wonder why?

Unknown-2Hearing these same type of remarks over and over from people who claim to be caring, compassionate, and moral people caused me to wonder why we, as humans in general, think we are so much more valuable than animals because that’s what all these statements have in common. We see animals as objects existing for the use of people. Why else would people who supposedly try and teach their children right from wrong not feel the need to instill in their children respect and compassion for animals?

I could write this entire blog about the importance to humans of being kind and respectful to animals. For example, children who are allowed to treat animals with disrespect and cruelty often move on to bully others and become abusive adults. Treating an animal with kindness and respect teaches empathy, responsibility, humility, and compassion. Prisons have experienced very high rehabilitation success with animal programs for violent inmates. Torturing animals is a pre-cursor to violent crimes and is even known to be a profiling marker for serial killers. People who value animals tend to value human life more, are kinder, more humanitarian, and volunteer to help humans more. People who stand up against animal cruelty, also tend to stand up against mistreatment of humans. We all know this, yet we still think this abhorrent behavior is socially acceptable and even brag about it. Why?

It strikes me as quite arrogant to think we have more value than another living being. I know it is natural for most of us to prefer our own species in matters of life and death–we will choose our own child to save over the family dog, but I’m not talking about choosing animals over people in life-threatening situations. I’m talking about assuming, in general, that we are so superior to them that we have the right to do with them whatever we choose, regardless of their pain, loss of dignity, disregarding their inherent rights as living beings. I believe many people do not even believe they have rights; some do not see them as having feelings or thoughts, or they consider animals as undeserving because of their brain capacity or lack of their ability to use tools. Pets are seen as possessions to be owned, and therefore, can be disposed of whenever convenient.  Why do otherwise moral people think this is okay?Unknown

After considering these attitudes, I have narrowed it down to three different possible reasons why they may feel this way about animals:

  1. Many people think humans have a soul and animals do not–this somehow makes the animal into an object to them, rather than a living being with a right to happiness, a normal environment specific to their needs, and respect as a fellow inhabitant of the earth.
  2. Some people believe that it is an evolutionary trait that we prefer our species and denigrate “lower” species as means of survival.
  3. Many people think that human intelligence is so much higher than that of most animals, and this, in their minds, is a reason to care more for people than animals. Hence, “It’s just a dumb cow,” as if the intelligence level of an animal means they hurt any less from torture. This thought process also tends to include the idea of them deserving to wield power over a weaker species. We are smarter and more powerful, so we can do what we choose to them.

Let me address these attitudes one by one. Cultures who believe animals have souls, tend to respect them more, even if they use them for food. They may follow rituals to show respect for the animal’s sacrifice, such as some Native American tribes. But what if they don’t have a soul? Does it matter? Do they feel pain any less? Do they not deserve to a have a happy, peaceful life, or whatever life is natural to them while they are here? How do we know anyone has a soul or that they don’t anyway? Regardless, it should not matter whether they have a soul or not. I am not a vegetarian, but I do believe in only purchasing free-range meat and cage-free eggs from reputable organic farms because the animals live a normal farm animal life before they are slaughtered. They are not caged, they graze, roam, enjoy the sunshine, are not shot full of drugs, or abused in any way. If I am going to eat meat, I want to know that no animal was treated with disrespect or cruelty just to provide me with a meal, whether it has a soul or not.

Evolutionary preference: This one is a no-brainer, no pun intended. People have all sorts of instincts that we must daily overcome to be more humanitarian. We are not locked into a behavior when we consciously can overcome it. Supposedly, that’s what evolution has done for us–given us the brain power to think. Let’s use it for kindness.

We are more intelligent than “lower” species. This one is, perhaps, the vilest excuse of all. I mean, do we seriously think it is excusable to be cruel based on intelligence levels? How would this theory transfer if we said it was okay to torture or use for experimentation people with Down Syndrome? It’s an abhorrent thought. Of course, it is not okay. This is exactly the mentality of people who allow their children to kick the dog, tease him, and withhold food. It should be no surprise when the child learns his lesson very well, and at school, sees it as perfectly acceptable to bully the weak and defenseless because he sees them as a lower species, and that he believes he is morally justified in assuming that power or intelligence makes one superior. Do we really believe that? Is someone less valuable because they have less physical or mental power? I don’t personally believe they are.

I choose to believe that all living creatures are born deserving respect, compassion, and kindness to the extent that we are able to show it. If a tiger was attacking me, I would appreciate someone shooting it with a tranquilizer dart, or even a gun if that was all that was available. However, I would not capture the tiger, put it in a cage, chain it up, or experiment on it.

As for pets–I hate the term–I believe we should not adopt an animal unless we intend to bring it in as a member of the family. Dogs and cats, horses, or any other family animal, should be cared for with dignity and kindness. They should be allowed to roam freely without chains or cages. They should have healthy, enticing meals, fresh water, regular exercise, a warm bed, and a place to cool off. They should not be forced to be a toy for a child. They should have some decision-making power over their own lives. If they want to go to another room and be left alone, respect that. They deserve preventative medical care and medical treatment when they are sick. They have rights as living beings with feelings, emotions, desires, and personalities, and if you don’t think they have these things, then you have never properly observed them. And most of all, they deserve to have the stability of growing old without fear of abandonment. They deserve to live out their days being pampered and loved after a lifetime of devotion to their family. We don’t, or at least we shouldn’t, throw out our elderly into the street and exchange them for the young. I can’t imagine anything more cruel than an animal faithfully loving his family, just to be thrown away as if they never valued him at all. Horses, cats, and dogs will willingly give their lives for families, and it is beyond cruel to be cast out like a worn out shoe by the only family they have ever known. There is no excuse for it. Think about what we are teaching children when we do this. Do not be surprised when they do not value you in your old age either.

RescueMe001_smThere may be circumstances that require someone to re-home their animal friend, such as a death in the family or physical illness where the human cannot provide a healthy atmosphere for the animal. In these cases, all other options should be exhausted and obstacles should be overcome if possible to avoid the trauma to the animal. In these cases the animal should be re-homed carefully through an interview process that determines the ability of the new family to provide a loving home and for the needs of the animal. Under no circumstances should a healthy animal be put down or taken to a kill shelter because his family can no longer provide for him. There are lots of organizations willing to help.


Mulder Pitman Knowles
Mulder Pitman Knowles

If you are unwilling or not ready to make this type of commitment to an animal, please, don’t get one. When and if you decide to adopt, please rescue an animal from a shelter or take one from a friend, but do not patronize pet stores or puppy mills. I have not even touched on the horrors of puppy mills or the dog fighting or racing industries, but hopefully, people are aware of how wrong this is. Consider adopting an older dog. Contrary to the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” old dogs are actually quite easy to train, much easier than a puppy. They are so grateful for a loving home and people whom they can love while living out their days that they are usually quite amenable to how things are done in their new home. And, in my opinion, there is no more noble a creature than an old dog.


You may be wondering where I stand on insects and rodents since I say I believe all living creature deserve kindness and respect. My belief applies to them much in the same way as it does to wild animals. I will not purposely and needlessly harm them if they are not bothering me. If I need to protect my home and family from their disease-carrying presence, I will do so in the most humane way possible. I would not allow my child to torture a bug anymore than I would allow her to torture any other living creature.

I’m sure there will be some who read this who still refuse to look at animals as anything other than a lower species to be handled any way we see fit, but keep this in mind, by and large, people who treat animals with compassion and respect, treat people with compassion and respect. If we want a better world for people, we need to be concerned with the treatment of all living creatures. Also, realize that when you make these heartless statements about animals to animal lovers, you have significantly diminished in our esteem, and your character is now in question because how we treat and think about animals says volumes about what kind of people we really are.–Christina KnowlesCharacter






All images courtesy of Google Images, except Mulder Pitman Knowles. Mulder was my beloved dog from 1993-2008 when she passed away after a long and beautiful life, but not long enough. A dog never lives long enough.  She was rescued from a kill shelter and became my best friend. I was proud to stay by her side, caring for her in her old age.

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