Weight of Our Words
The lives of people and animals have always been bound together—in prehistory and in the time since the advent of agriculture and modern civilization. But for most of human history, the dominant worldview has been to subdue and to dominate nature, including the animals.
Language has been a powerful tool in reinforcing that perspective. And it’s only been in the last 150 years—at least in the Western civilization—that a challenge to this worldview has been mounted, with the emergence of the environmental and animal protection movements in the 19th century. They sought to reshape society’s relationship with animals and nature, driven in part by enlightened self-interest and also an expanding sphere of moral concern in Western thought.
Today still, though, there are so many people who attempt to turn animals and the environment into mere utilities and instruments for people. The factory farmer calls animals "units of production." Animal experimenters sometimes call animals "tools for research." And state fish and wildlife professionals call deer, bears, ducks and other wildlife "game to be harvested on a sustained yield basis." In all of these cases, this use of language conveys that animals are things or objects. It makes the mistreatment of other creatures less morally relevant and the exploitation of these creatures all the easier.
Many children do not see the natural world in such hierarchical terms. They have an intuitive common sense, and an empathy for others. They see other animals as peers, though they happen to look and act differently than we do.
It’s in this spirit that I was so pleased to read a short essay in The Hartford Courant last week from Noah Williams, a second grader who disagreed with classifying an animal as a "thing" during a recent grammar lesson.
Take a look at his essay. It says so much, and if only the adults of our world would heed his simple and powerful thoughts.
Why Animals Should Not Be Called Things
By Noah S.B. Williams
Animals should not be called things because they are beings, not things.
Shame on the people who call animals things.
If I could I would give the person who first called animals things a
talking-to. I would not call animals things.
Think about this. If you loved someone, would you call them a thing? I
wish no one had ever called animals things.
Why would you call your pet a thing?
A rug or something is a thing, but not an animal. He or she is not a
thing! This is not funny, it’s all true. I would not lie to you about
this. It’s not a joke.
Do not lie to me, either.