Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Respect for Life

One beautiful afternoon, I went for a bicycle ride along a brook not far from my residence. I saw three grade-school boys sitting under a tree near the brook. They had a creel and a landing net. I knelt beside them to look into the creel. It held seven crayfish; four alive and three dead.

They proudly recounted to me how they captured each crayfish along the brook. My attention was much more of a compliment than any words I might have offered. I observed patiently as they showed me the skills of the four crayfish that were still alive. They set them on the ground, roughly touched them with sticks and caught them as they moved forward.

After the crayfish had performed, I gently said, "Now, guys, it's time to free them."

"No way!" they shouted. "We've caught them and they belong to us."

"You must free them!" I insisted. "They don't belong to you."

"It wasn't easy to find these crayfish," one of the boys uttered. "And it took us more than two hours to catch them."

"Well guys," I said, "I understand that you've worked hard to catch the crayfish. But you have to realize these little creatures need to live in fresh water. If you don't put them back into the brook now, they are going to die. Three of them are already dead. It is sad, isn't it?"

They frowned upon me and insisted on taking the crayfish back home, but they finally followed my advice and put the crayfish back into the brook.

These three boys were neither my children nor my students; but as an adult, I felt I had to guide them toward compassion for other living creatures. They maybe thought I was a mean person at that moment, but they will probably grow up and understand that I just did not allow them to do what was wrong.

There will be moments when we see children close to us being cruel to other creatures. Even though those are not moments for harsh judgment, neither are those moments for silence. Teaching them to be kind to other creatures will nurture their sense of familiarity with nature and friendship with all humans, thereby enriching their hearts. When people develop respect for life in childhood, they are most unlikely to harm things when they grow up.

Everything in this world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions. We see this in the web of nature, in the relation between humans and the environment, between the individual and society, between parents and children, and so on. Indeed, we should create a world where compassion for others replaces brutality, because we are not living alone.

(This article was first published in Mainichi Weekly on April 19, 2003)

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