Trumping Animals and Their Homes: Seeing Light in Dark Times
An Animal Rights Article from


Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., Psychology Today/Animal Emotions
July 2017

The time is right for an inspirational, revolutionary, and personal social movement that can save us from doom and keep us positive while we pursue our hopes and dreams. Reawakening our hearts and being as positive as we can surely will help us and other animals along.

It's an extreme understatement to say that currently it's an extremely tough time for nonhuman animals (animals) and their homes. While some progress is being made, such as New York City banning the use of wild animals in circuses, grizzly bears will no longer protected by the Endangered Species Act. The assault on wildlife, other animals, and pristine ecosystems by current administration is having, and will continue to have, devastating effects, many of which are irreversible. And, we recently learned "In an ongoing effort to unravel hard-won protections for farm animals, last month the new administration announced plans to delay implementation of the final Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule for the second time. This action blatantly prioritizes Big Ag over animals, farmers and consumers."

I receive a good number of emails about how I maintain hope and continue to see the light in these dark times. I admit I'm a card card-carrying optimist, but in all honesty, on occasion, I get discouraged but never to the point where I want to give up. I always attribute my compassion for nonhuman animals to my mother's warm and compassionate soul and my positive thinking, as well as keeping my dreams alive, to my incredibly optimistic father.

While I was talking and emailing with a few people over the past few days, I recalled an essay I wrote more than six and a half years ago called "Rewilding Our Hearts: Maintaining Hope and Faith in Trying Times" and sent it to them. When I reread it, I thought that it could help people along who are simply bummed out or burned out and suffering from compassion and empathy fatigue (for more discussion please see "Empathy Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Among Animal Rescuers" and "Beating the Burnout While Working For a Compassionate World").

Working for animals and their homes reminds many of Sisyphus

It's easy to understand why far too many people who work for our planet and/or other humans and animals suffer from secondary trauma that causes them to stop what they're doing because it gets to be too much for them to deal with. They often suffer from PTSD. It's essential for them to take care of themselves as they care for others, so that they can rekindle their spirit and their hearts and keep on going. Negativity can be devastating and a time and energy bandit. Like Sisyphus, every positive result seems to be matched or trumped by something negative.

"Make the most of the best and the least of the worst"

Here are some snippets from "Rewilding Our Hearts: Maintaining Hope and Faith in Trying Times" that I hope are timeless enough so that they will be helpful for seeing light in dark times.

  • In addition to being proactive we need to be positive and exit the stifling vortex of negativity once and for all. Negativity is a time and energy bandit and depletes us of the energy we need to move on. We don't get anywhere dwelling in anguish, sorrow, and despair. In a taxi cab in Vancouver, British Columbia, on my way to a meeting about animals in art, I saw a sign in front of a church that really resonated with me: "Make the most of the best and the least of the worst." Amen.
  • As Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman in the movie Invictus) told the South African soccer team, "We must exceed our own expectations."
  • Be proactive. We need to look at what's happening and prevent further abuse and not always be 'putting out the fires' that have started.
  • Be nice and kind to those with whom you disagree and move on. Sometimes it's just better to let something go, so pick your "battles" carefully and don't waste time and energy. Don't waste time 'fighting' people who won't change and don't let them deflect attention from the important work that needs to be done. Don't get in 'pissing matches' with people who want you to waste precious time and energy fighting them, time and energy that must go into working for animals and earth and peace and justice.
  • If we let those who do horrible things get us down or deflect us from the work we must do, they 'win' and animals, earth, and we lose. While this may be obvious, I thought it worth saying again because it's a common ploy to get people to get into tangential discussions and arguments that take them away from the important work that must be done.
  • Teach the children well, for they are the ambassadors for a more harmonious, peaceful, compassionate, and gentle world.

To maintain hope and to keep my own ever-expanding basket of dreams alive, I work hard, rest hard, and play hard, and to avoid burnout I walk away from my cortex. I do this by watching movies and reading books that donít require a lot of deep thinking, and by being addicted to watching tennis matches and bicycle races over and over again. A shot of good single malt scotch stirred with Twizzlers also works to reduce the stress from working on animal and environmental abuse. I don't at all mean this lightly. I also take long bicycle rides, often alone. Among my motherís last words to me were, ďBe sure to play a lot,Ē and my father always stressed that itís important to be able to look in the mirror and laugh at yourself.

A rewilding manifesto for the future: A revolution of heart will make for compassion for all in the anthropocene

Personal rewilding can be a very good way to maintain hope, and people can do this in many different ways (for more discussion please see "A Rewilding Manifesto: Compassion, Biophilia, and Hope"). The revolution has to come from deep within us and begin at home, in our hearts and wherever we live. I want to make the process of rewilding a more personal journey and exploration that centers on bringing other animals and their homes, ecosystems of many different types, back into our heart. For some they're already there or nearly so, whereas for others it will take some work to have this happen. Nonetheless, it's inarguable that if we're going to make the world a better place now and for future generations, personal rewilding is central to the process and will entail a major paradigm shift in how we view and live in the world and how we behave. It's not that hard to expand our compassion footprint, and if each of us does something the movement will grow rapidly.

Animals need all the help they can get and we must reawaken our hearts

I'm always motivated by repeating over and over again something like, "Animals need all the help they can get." Everyone who can must do something positive for them and their homes. Every little bit counts and every individual's contribution matters. As Jessica Pierce and I point out in The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age, the life of each and every individual matters and they are totally dependent on us for their well-being and to work selflessly on their behalf.

The time is right for an inspirational, revolutionary, and personal social movement that can save us from doom and keep us positive while we pursue our hopes and dreams. Reawakening our hearts and being as positive as we can surely will help us and other animals along.

Note: The title of this essay was motivated by recalling Dr. Dale Jamieson's excellent book called Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed -- and What It Means for Our Future

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