We live in an incredible nation – a nation, like the others, still a work in progress. Think of it as a body bearing more than a few scars from past travails and battles, and one with its share of open wounds. And think of it as a country full of fault lines, and, as the current political discourse reminds us, plenty of complaints and imperfections.
Still, this nation, at some level, is held together by its commitment to pluralism – the ability of so many people of different backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs to come together around a few common principles. We are united by our commitment to community, economic opportunity, democratic government, and the rule of law.
As a nation, we are an incubator of innovation, the driver of the global economy, and the biggest player in international diplomacy and war and peace. The United States is also the greatest nation in the world when it comes to private philanthropy. There are more than a million charities here, and we are a richer and better nation because this work occurs every day, in every community, enabled by tens of millions of people participating in meaningful ways – driving the ideals of faith, education, aid for the hungry and the homeless, curing the ill, healing our veterans, sharing the wonders of the arts and culture, and so many other worthy causes and purposes.
One of the great causes of our nation involves protecting animals from cruelty, and that’s where The HSUS and so many other organizations step in. At some level, it’s disturbing that so much work is needed on this front. If we as a society had these issues under control, we wouldn’t need nearly so many groups to address so many problems. But our attitudes toward animals are characterized by deep contradictions – much love and appreciation for animals, but also a wide variety of forms of exploitation, including many that exist within the biggest sectors of our economy — sectors like agriculture, wildlife management, and entertainment. When it comes to the biggest forms of exploitation, even in the information age, we are often deeply disassociated from the conduct and practices involved. Many people would rather not know, not confront grim realities that would prompt any caring person to change his or her ways.
On New Year’s Eve, so many of us think about charity. The weeks before January 1 are the most important ones for charities, which get a disproportionate share of total giving packed into a short period. It’s also a time when each of us thinks about what’s important to us, and a time when we act as volunteers and donors to try to make the world a better place, by strengthening organizations devoted to these purposes.
It’s been my privilege to serve The HSUS as CEO for the last 11 years, and to serve in other capacities here for a decade prior to that. I came to The HSUS because, more than anything, I felt that the nation and the world needed a strong and determined organization with the power and resources to drive the debate about our human responsibilities to animals, and that could work with leaders in government, industry, and the whole of society to effect change for the better.
The year 2015 has been The HSUS’s greatest in terms of programmatic success. We’ve ended the era of invasive experiments on chimpanzees, made dramatic gains against the confinement of animals on factory farms, and struck serious blows against the killing of wildlife for their tusks, heads, or fur.
The giving you do, and the rest of the things you do in support of a larger purpose, matter a lot. When it comes to our cause, it adds up to life-changing outcomes for millions and millions of animals. So do give generously, and think about giving until it hurts. Think about ways you can further dedicate yourself to the cause.
It’s our special responsibility to help. It’s not an abstraction, it’s not a matter of routine. It really is a matter of life and death.
The generations before us were possessed with a subset of people who intentionally acted to make our country and the world a better place. They succeeded, but they left much work for us to do. The baton is in our hands. Run. Run fast. Run with purpose.