Thursday, February 7, 2008

109. His only regret is in the timing

Many people will claim to have lived their lives without regret. Maybe it is true, maybe they have lived without regret. It seems difficult to me, that is, to think that someone has lived life so perfectly that there is little or nothing that he or she would have changed. Typically, the argument is that it is those experiences which have made me what I am today (assuming that's a good thing). Or, perhaps it is a self-justifying defense mechanism directed at inner peace. Regardless, that is not for me to decide.

I prefer what my good friend referred to, over dinner one evening, as "re-evaluation." He suggested that over time he has made re-evaluations of his life, and based on those evaluations or assessments, he has made changes. I like the way he worded it, and the point is obvious. Much of our lives are spent in ruts, whereas we continue to do and believe what we have always done or believed. It takes considerable effort to reassess our values, beliefs and assumptions. It is not easy admitting to oneself that we have done things that we might now find as immoral, unethical, or compromising.

Often, when our beliefs are challenged, by either ourselves or others, we become defensive and look for justifications. Or if questioned by another, people will often say, "How dare you judge me!" Our justifications are often like the scientific corrections that were made to expiring equations, or like the addendums that are made to religious beliefs. We look for the gaps in the arguments of others rather than make a complete, objective, open-minded free inquiry into our own beliefs.

For example, one of my biggest regrets in life is not becoming a vegetarian earlier. I had all the beliefs consistent with vegetarians, as well as the opinion that vegetarian diets are healthier. Moreover, I was familiar with the horrors associated with slaughterhouses, and the other forms of animal mistreatment that supported our American life and human diets. I had moral, ethical and biological reasons for becoming a vegetarian- yet I resisted. I held on to the argument that we evolved to eat meat, and that I actually needed meat to get my protein. I held on to the silly premise that I cannot make a difference, that I am just one person.

But I knew better, and when I was being honest with myself, I knew it was about change and sacrifice. I did not want the inconvenience of looking for and choosing vegetarian options. And I did not want to give up all the food I loved- such as, hamburger, hot dogs, pepperoni, ribs and chicken wings. I enjoyed barbequing on the grill with friends and feasting on "man-food" during football games.

I used these justifications, excuses and false reasons in order to look the other way. While I knew that farm animals lived horrific lives, I, as Albert Schweitzer puts it, "saved myself the sight." I ignored the suffering. I would rather not know what was really going on, that, for example, cows in order to lactate had to have calves- and spent days crying out for them when they were taken from them. To me, it was just milk- what I had always drank, what my mom had fed me, and what the commercials had told me was so good for me. I would not rather know that the chicken that I thought was so healthy in my diet was genetically selected, raised in tiny cages, had their beaks cut off without anesthesia and killed in assembly-line fashion by slitting their throats. I would rather not read that Professor John Webster of the University of Bristol's school of Veterinary Science referred to chicken production as, "in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man's inhumanity to another sentient animal." I would rather not know that my Thanksgiving turkey was thrown around like a bag of potatoes, shackled, transported upside down, dipped in an electrified water bath and similarly killed.

Change is difficult, especially when it comes at the personal acknowledgement that we may have lived mistakenly for many of years. That perhaps what we stood up for and defended in the past, at least now in our minds, is immoral or unethical. In many ways, it takes what is often referred to as a "big person" to admit that. It is about humility, change, and the ability to objectively self-assess.

There are a number of issues that we must consider and reconsider on a regular basis. Besides vegetarianism, there is, for example, global warming, the diamond industry, materialism, poverty, corporate greed, religion, war, and politics. The world is not as it was twenty years ago; it changes and we must be willing to re-evaluate our values and beliefs. We must continue to inquire into, and educate ourselves in, all aspects of our lives. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, nor is laziness. Finally, we must be willing to make the personal sacrifices based on those beliefs. I can admit, for example, that it was falsehearted to say that I was an animal lover, yet allow them to suffer as they did to satisfy my appetite. In this case, the transformation that I made might inspire (perhaps "financially mandate" is the more appropriate wording) changes in the farming industry.

The world, in all aspects, is exactly how we allowed it to happen. If we do not anything about it, those that enrich themselves through exploitation will continue to do so- whether it is the mistreatment and abuse of the animals, children, elderly, poor or environment.

This month I have lived one year as a vegetarian. I am both excited and embarrassed to admit this. I am excited that I made the change, but I am embarrassed that it took so long. In the latter respect, I am not afraid to admit my most sincere regret.

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