Our Other Friends: Humans and Animals

Today’s post is about the relationship between humans and animals. It is easy as Homo sapiens to get so caught up in our heads, our lives, our bills, our concerns that we neglect to see the other mass of living beings coexisting with us: animals. The bond between humans and animals has existed as long as humans of even primitive type have lived. Originally sources of food or transportation or tools for farming, animals now have a more complex relationship to humans in the modern, developed world. What can we learn from animals? What makes our love for them so strong? Here are a few thoughts:

-Animals move in an entirely different rhythm from us. We can be so hurried in our daily lives or so used to the pace of human movement that it is interesting to see how a different living species moves. Cats move at a slower, more graceful pace, no movement is wasted, and everything is done with efficiency and agility. As much as we have created the ability to do so in a tin can, we cannot ourselves fly. Watching a bird take flight is always awe-inspiring, for the motion of flapping wings is like nothing we can do. Watching fish swim is very soothing–a friend recently recounted the story of her daughter taking several fish tanks with her to college, and how it drew other friends to her dorm room to watch. Anyone who has gone whale watching cannot help but be amazed when s/he sees the massive creature rise out of the water or spout water out of its blowhole.

-Animals communicate in an entirely different way. Many do indeed have their own language. Anyone who has lived with a cat knows that there are different meows for “feed me,” “pet me,” “I don’t like that stranger,” and even different purrs. Birds have their calls in the morning and evening, for alarm, and for mating. Even many animals that are normally silent will have a sound for distress. And with silent animals, or communicative animals that are not making noise, we can observe their thoughts and feelings through their body language, communicated in a non-verbal way. The snake that is about to strike, the impatient horse, the stubborn camel–all of them are making themselves known.

-The cycle of life is more evident through animals. We marvel at the adorable baby bunnies born in spring. We feel sad to see an injured rodent. A furry animal sheds its coat during hot weather to stay cooler, and grows a thicker one to keep warm in winter. A dead animal on the road becomes food for a hawk or vulture to survive. In other words, birth, life, and death, as well as going with the seasons, are natural to animals other than the Homo sapiens. It can also be entertaining to view how different animals interact with each other based on their hierarchy. The laser-sharp focus of a border collie rounding up sheep is quite entertaining, for the dog has such an inborn, innate sense of duty to hurt the animals — or even small children when present en masse!

-Children have a natural affinity for animals. Animals have long been used to teach children about life and morals and character. Just think of all the classic children’s books about animal themes or with animal lead characters: the Frances books, Winnie the Pooh (that Zen master of wisdom!), Black Beauty, even Alice in Wonderland with the White Rabbit that leads her astray. Because children still have active imaginations, they are able to appreciate animal stories and movies more than their overly rationalistic adult counterparts. Perhaps the bond is a certain tenderness and vulnerability that both children and animals share.

-Animals operate on instinct. This relates to the point above about the cycle of life. They listen to their intuition and inner knowledge about how to protect themselves, or how to attack. They know when to hibernate for winter, how much to feed their babies, and even when they are going to die. For majority of human beings in the developed world, intuition is discounted or even discarded. But our bodies are wise, and we would do well to tune into them more often.

Perhaps there are many things we can learn from animals to be less arrogant as a species. Although a certain degree of arrogance is necessary to roll over and go back to sleep when the cat wants to wake you up at 6 AM and crawls around your head.

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