“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.
All creatures have the same source as we have. Like us, they derive the life of thought, love, and will from the Creator. Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them; but to stop there is a complete misapprehension of the intentions of Providence. We have a higher mission. God wishes that we should succor them whenever they require it.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi
Today is World Animal Day, a day set aside to celebrate the wonder that exists in the relationship between humans and their animal kingdom brethren.
It is a good day to reflect on the Human Animal Bond, and how essential that bond is to the humanity of our society.
St. Francis of Assissi lived from 1182-1226, yet his prophetic words still apply to our modern world. How we treat animals that share our world with us is a reflection of how we treat our fellow man.
When animals are mistreated in society, it is likely that children and other vulnerable persons are also mistreated. In St. Francis’ day, there was no research to back up his claims. Today there is a plethora of research that demonstrates the link between animal abuse, domestic violence and child abuse.
St. Francis tells us that it is not enough simply to enjoy animals. He implores us to succor them, or attend to their needs as we would our own. It is our duty and our purpose to care for all of God’s creatures according to St. Francis.
Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, our collective senses have been rattled. Not only with the telling of the story of what happened, but also with the images that have been thrust into our view of frightened children, grief stricken parents, and other signs of intense pain.
And guns. Everywhere you turn – newspapers, TV news, online magazines – you see pictures of assault weapons. It is as if seeing the image of these machines that are designed to kill will somehow motivate us to some kind of action.
As we are gripped with the pain of this one tragedy, however, we tend to ignore the daily tragedy of harm that befalls other children daily. An average of 5 children die every day as a result of child abuse in the United States. Nearly 6 million children are harmed in some way by domestic abuse each year according to reports, which likely underestimate the true number of abuses cases.
We have ugly pictures to go along with that too. Photos of sad, morose children wth dirty faces and black eyes evoke pity and implore us to do something. Again, it seems that the only way to motivate people to action is to assault them with images of awful things.
Another area of activism that tries to motivate with horrifying imagry is the pet rescue community. Images of bloody and emaciated animals creep their way into my Facebook newsfeed every day. Activists think that sharing these awful pictures of abused and neglected animals will motivate us to do something to stop animal abuse.
Artists often buy into this myth that scare tactics motivate people to action. They fill their artworks with macabre images that thrill the arts intelligencia, who analyze their expressiveness with egoistic verbosity.
But looking at the statistics on mass shootings, child abuse and animal abuse, these motivation tactics do not seem to be working. Children are still being harmed. Animals are still being harmed. The two phenomena are deeply intertwined in their occurrence in our society. And shocking us with imagry is not making a dent in creating change.
As an artist, I do not enjoy creating ugly things. I deplore violence towards children and animals, and I want to use my art to educate people about how these two issues are connected. I want to inspire and lead people towards meaningful change. But I cannot, and will not do it by perpetuating the ugliness.
All of my artwork has a positive and joyful quality. It is not by accident. I choose color and other artistic elements that bring about those qualities on purpose. It is not to ignore the less positive realities in life, but to articulate the more positive outcomes that we seek.
With my Okey’s Promise projects, I more purposefully challenge people to initiate a dialogue about the links between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence – a particularly ugly reality of human society. But even so, I do this by intriguing people with images of hope instead of creating images that make them want to turn away.
I don’t know if I will make a dent any more than those who resort to sensationalism tactics. I can’t go wrong with hope, though. What have I got to lose?
I have written about the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in this space before – here and here.
What happened to that town is not exactly in keeping with the purposes of this blog, but it is related. Addressing violence that happens to children IS an important component of this site’s mission, even if it is not directly linked to animal abuse.
There was, however, an interesting link between animals and kids for me with the Sandy Hook story.
I suspect all Americans have grown a bit cynical and desensitized to hearing about gun violence in schools anymore. We have heard about it so much, it doesn’t make us jump as much anymore. So when my iPhone alerted me with an AP breaking news alert early THAT morning, I turned over in bed and went back to sleep.
When I awakened later, and checked my Facebook, again on my iPhone, a status update from a friend brought me to reality.
A shooting at our local elementary school??? THIS IS NOT RIGHT!!! OMG!!!!!
This was not happening in just any town. It was happening in a friend’s town.
I have read a lot about school shootings, but I never have known someone directly affected by one. Seeing my friend’s raw emotion spilling out on Facebook really shook me.
Robin lives in Sandy Hook, CT. Her home is down the street from the shooter, Adam Lanza’s home.
It is so close, in fact, members of the press were camped out near her yard.
Initially, no one knew how bad the incident was. When we realized that 20 small children and 6 adults had been murdered at the school, and that the shooter and his mother had also perished, it suddenly became one of those defining moments for everyone, where you remember every detail of your life on that day – at that moment. Kind of like 9/11.
For me, the detail I will remember the most was Robin’s anguish and pain, not just that children had died, but that her community had been irreparably assaulted and changed in an instant. The next day, she posted these words on Facebook:
I’m still in shock. Just want to sit here and cry. I need my community to be ok again. When I see images from all over the US mourning our loss it means it really happened, but it can’t have happened. It just can’t.
Robin does not have children at the school. But it was her town, riveted into international headlines by a tragic event that was beyond comprehension for any of us, especially for someone so close to the whole thing. I felt it much more deeply myself, just knowing someone there. This was not a town defined by the tragedy like Columbine or Aurora were to me. This was Robin’s bucolic little New England town where she rescued kitties. And now, that bucolic town was in SOOOO much pain.
Being the person she is, it did not take Robin long to jump into rescue mode. You see, Robin has cats, and kittens. LOTS of them. Her life is dedicated to rescuing hurt cats and kittens. And those cats and kittens are pretty good at reciprocating by bringing joy and humor and hope to the most dire of circumstances.
In a few hours, Kitties for Kids was born – to help kids, first responders, and anyone else in the Newtown/Sandy Hook area “find their smile again” by playing with cheerful kitties.
People from all over the country donated plush stuffed cats so that each person who visited received a huggable gift. My contribution was to provide Robin with some resources about dealing with children affected by trauma, in case she encountered some who were overwhelmed with pain.
So far, a number of children and other people affected by the Sandy Hook shooting have visited Robin’ kitties. There have been a number of recovered smiles. And the kitties are having a ball playing with their new friends!
There is no way to fix what happened to Sandy Hook. But there is nothing better than kittens to help people start the healing process when they are so suddenly pulled into a whirlwind of grief and trauma.
Okey’s Promise was created to bring awareness to the links between violence to animals and violence towards women and children. But I think that there is a place for linking children and animals through healing too. And there is a place for remembering that, no matter what kind of horrendous things some people may do, there are many, many more people like Robin doing wonderful and good things to make our world a better place.
Thank you Robin, for reminding me of that.
God bless the town of Sandy Hook and all it’s good and wonderful people. May your hearts heal and may you return to some semblance of normalcy someday.
And may your kitties and kids have a great time playing and smiling and enjoying childhood and kittenhood again in your bucolic little town. Because that’s the way it should be, and can be again.
We can all agree on the problem – too many innocent lives cut down needlessly in mass shootings with unprovoked displays of violence.
Coming to a consensus solution to the problem, however, seems farther away than ever.
My Facebook newsfeed has become an all out verbal war of opinions and admonitions since the story of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre first broke.
Some cry out for gun control. Others cry out for improved mental healthcare. Others decry the prevalence of virtual violence in games, movies and TV. Some just want us to shut up and grieve.
Who am I to argue with any of them? I feel as helpless as anyone in this.
As a counselor who worked with troubled youth for 20 years, I have more knowledge, expertise and relevant experience to bring forth in the conversation. Yet my skilled thoughts seem unwanted in this stream of impassioned discourse.
Certainly my political views come into play as I form my own clinically-based solutions. I could also argue that my expertise and experiences have guided my political perspective.
We cannot avoid a political discussion of the issues. Politics guide the formation of laws and public policy to address such concerns, and something has to be done. We can, however, be reasonable and sensible in our approach.
My suggestion is that we voice our concerns to our law and policy makers instead of admonishing our Facebook friends. Write or call your senators, representatives, governors, etc. Let THEM know what recourse YOU want them to take.
Violence against children is a pervasive problem in our society. Although it is not usually 20 cut down in a single incident in a matter of minutes, children die DAILY in sprays of bullets. Survivors live in terror, yet they rarely get their intense mental health needs addressed. Often they reenact their trauma through video games with realistic visual imagery.
Young survivors of trauma are at much greater risk of becoming violent offenders as they grow older.
Something needs to change in our society’s approach to children and violence. Will we take action and find true solutions to ALL the factors that come into play? Or will we succumb to blather and useless noisy rhetoric?
Time will tell. I hope we do right by our children. They are counting on us.
Public art to make our world a better place for all creatures great and small.