Loving Animal Nature

Rev. LoraKim Joyner

We can't save the world unless we love every part of it.

Unitarian Universalists have a First Principle, declaring our covenant to affirm and promote "the inherent worth and dignity of every person." Some change the ending to "all beings," so as to include nonhuman species as well. Either way, I often hear how the First Principle is a "slam dunk," -- that of course we see the worth and dignity of other individuals!

I think that perhaps cognitively we see other individuals' worth and dignity, but our behavior doesn't always match cognitive assent. Behavior is an embodied, effectual, and largely subconscious affair. Our actions, words, and thoughts are often at odds with our conscious affirmations, especially if we are under stress or our needs are not getting met.

Furthermore, we have been acculturated to fit into a society that "hierarchalizes" the “other” into subhuman or less worthy categories so that certain groups can exert power, domination, and control over economic resources. In other words, we have much work to do to actually treat all as if they had inherent worth and dignity.

Start with yourself: you have inherent worth and dignity. Yet how often do you find yourself thinking or behaving towards yourself uncharitably? Loving the remarkable, beautiful being that you are means loving all of your animality. You come to notice and love the animality of others, too. By animality I mean the sensing, feeling body responding to the world. The perfection of who we are is much more than the images of ourselves that our culture teaches us. By love I mean being open to the needs and feelings of others without judgment. This is empathy. "Observing without judging is the highest form of human intelligence" (J. Krishnamurti). Such empathy connects us deeply to life and nourishes us, others, and our relationships and goals.

All of us can grow in three intelligences: emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and multispecies intelligence. With these intelligences we consider how we, other humans, and other species are feeling and what we are needing. We can train ourselves to be more impartial, scientific observers by quieting our narrow loops of judgment, and instead translate everything into feelings and needs. The world needs us to do this inner work.

The inner work of accepting of all of who we are -- all that it means to be great apes who live and die imperfectly -- is necessary for the outer work to preserve and cherish life and well-being. Any part of ourselves that we seek to exile, or marginalize -- any part that we don't like about ourselves, that we label “wrong” or “not part of the whole” -- is a part we will also wish could be excised from others. This is the root judgmentalism upon which hierarchicalizing is built -- and the result is a society that exploits beings and extracts health from the environment for the privilege of a few.

We evolved to have a loving animal nature -- able to be fierce and protective when we need to be, but fundamentally seeking to be attuned intimately to and in relationship to life around us without judgment. By loving our animality, we open ever more greatly to the biology, needs, feelings, and subjective experience of all -- and we move towards co-liberation. Undoing certain of our enculturation's limits frees us as well as all beings.

Liberation must be co-liberation, and it will take intentional work: to learn to live without fear and die courageously; to embrace the reality that our animality is shared and interdependent with all life; to remove hierarchal evaluation of others. The rewards of this work are great. Through this work I have welcomed the many to a flourishing life, become aware of nature's returning embrace, felt my real belonging.

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