“When in doubt, choose kindness.” Part 1
That’s the third Golden Rule, first uttered by someone important maybe, but I can’t find its origin or its author. It sounds simple and straightforward enough. Applying it to everyday life can be a challenge though.
When my dad first drove us to Bakersfield nearly 14 years ago, I was in my first semester of college, home for the weekend I think, eager to get away from a campus I hated. I hadn’t pondered morality or ethics in any way besides an empirical one, and even though it had been a year or two since my introduction to Sartre, I hadn’t considered how applying philosophy in my own life would affect the lives of others (there is an innate selfishness in Existentialism, my favorite “ism” at the time.)
My immigrant parents couldn’t afford the luxury of philosophy. The only tenets they lived by were “work hard, pay bills, inch forward, sleep, repeat,” and my sister was too young to contend with it. There we were, propelled by the innate egotism that drives all human endeavor. But the three of them were begrudging participants in this excursion. Feet jittering in excitement, eyes darting out the window, I was euphoric.
We were getting a dog.
I still remember the breeder’s house. It was small, set back just a little from the sidewalk. There was a metal screen door that screeched when I opened it and knocked on the wooden one. A series of barks greeted us. A grey Poodle thrust his head forward as the door was opened and a little boy had to pull him back.
Right away I could hear the helpless whining of babies: little brown balls of fur scratching at their enclosure in the living room. I was grinning from ear to ear. The Breeder herself emerged (imagine ‘The bigger the hair, the closer to God’ bleached locks, a maple syrup smile). She exchanged words with my parents before disappearing into a back room. A few moments later, she reemerged with the Nugget.
It would be many years before I began to deliberate on how my day-to-day choices had a direct, irrevocable impact on the lives of others, many years before I began to adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle. I thought nothing of consuming meat and animal products for myself, much less the consequences for hundreds (if not thousands) of farm animals that would be put to death in order to sustain a single dog. At the time, all I saw was Miles’ glorious face, his beautiful brown eyes – not so different from a baby cow or a sheep. Had the images of all the innocent beings that I was condemning been presented to me, maybe I would’ve paused. I hope I would’ve. But no such catalogue existed. Soon I would contend with the irreconcilable— an endless wrestling match that I haven’t won yet. It happened to coincide with Miles’ illness.