People are animals too!

By Story of America Team

David MatarassoI’m grateful to my “life coach” (I call her that, she might not characterize her work that way) with whom I have been working for about five months now.

I have had several invaluable epiphanies (also known as “blinding glimpses of the obvious”) in that time, but the one that is driving the greatest change for me is my realizing that “People are animals too.”

I will never forget (and for the first time I am admitting) that a classmate at college once turned to me and said, “You don’t like people, do you?” In fact, it may have been harsher, it may have simply been “You don’t like people,” that is, I believe it was declarative, if I am going to be completely honest. It shocked me, stunned me. And I never forgot it.

Some 30 years later, I am quite the “animal lover.” I work to save tigers and lions and walrii and all manner of beast. I rescue cats and I fancy myself a dog and cat and generally an animal whisperer. ( I flatter myself easily. )

It is a common judgment that many “animal lovers” are not really good with people, and “love” animals because they cannot love people, not because of a genuine love of animals. But, for me, I truly believe, and I am being very honest with myself, that I truly love animals. Not in a child-like way. And not in a dysfunctional, co-dependent way but an honest love.

So my coach asked me, “What grace do you give to animals that you don’t give to people?” And my answer, after some thought, was “intent.” I do not impose a bad intent on animals, I think of them as “innocent.” (Just as Adam and Eve were innocent, having no knowledge of good and evil.)

Whereas I have always been at the quick to attribute bad intents to people, and therefore to become angry at them. And sometimes to call them on it. And be hateful towards them. And sometimes, unwittingly, to be a bully. Which is not how I had ever seen myself at all. And which was horrifying to me.

“What grace do you give to animals that you do not give to people?” I grace them with innocence. Now, people make choices, and that is at the heart of the matter. No, people are not innocent, I cannot grace them with innocence. But I can grace them with forgiveness, or at least with my own understanding that I can never know what causes them to make the choices they make, any more than I can know what an animal is thinking or feeling.

People are animals too. That is very obvious to most people, but it had never been obvious to me. (“You’ve known it all this time, I’m learning it these days.”) Or rather, as I became more self-reflective, I asked myself, “Why do I love animals, but I do not like people?”

But it took my coach to ask me the right question. And to grace me with this blinding glimpse of the obvious. Transforming my world view from: “People are animals!” (Interesting, right?) to “People are animals too!” And that is making all the difference.

There is much more work to do, but I am absolutely certain that I am on the right road, with no looking back. And for this, I am grateful.