Saturday, 8 June 2013

Compassionate Clichés

I find that my life is ordered by my convictions as a vegan. I think, in many ways, we start off extremely compassionate as children and as we grow older some of that drifts away. It is easy to fall into the mainstream traps of eating food that can be cheaply purchased from supermarkets without a thought as to where that food comes from. When I really opened my eyes to how animals are treated, how they suffer before they die to produce food for my plate, I found I could no longer eat and enjoy them. When I discovered that conditions for dairy cows and laying hens were equally painful, perhaps even more so, I stopped eating dairy and eggs.

My desire to show respect, compassion, empathy and kindness to all living creatures really blossomed out of that. I had always been worried about human rights, but had not seen animals in the same light. I now strongly feel that the best way to serve God is to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, who have no voice but ours. My circle of compassion encompasses the whole of creation.

I became a vegetarian in 2002 and a vegan in 2005 and have modified my eating and clothing habits accordingly. For example, in addition to not eating animals I don’t want to wear leather, fur, silk, down or wool because they contribute to suffering. I have recently begun to feel a concern about the way we talk about animals in our speech. It is amazing how many times animals appear in clichés or proverbs in our every-day language. Once this was pointed out to me I was shocked at how many I could think of.  Many of them actively encourage violence against animals and those which don’t still reflect the views that it is acceptable for animals to be used and exploited for our gain.

I have been listening to podcasts and reading books by vegan activist and author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau which challenged me to start to think about my language and expressions that I used which showed animals in a less compassionate light. Her challenge was to think of what the cliché or proverb meant and come up with a compassionate alternative. She said that it may take a while for the expression to feel natural, but the more we speak in a respectful and empathetic way the more doors we open to speak to others about living a compassionate lifestyle. Will you take the challenge with me?

Here are some common expressions. How can you improve them?

To kill two birds with one stone.

This expression dates back to Ovid who lived from 43BCE-17CE. It simply means to achieve two objectives with a single effort. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau suggests the alternative phrase Chop two carrots with one knife but I think I prefer Feed two birds with one loaf.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

This proverb was mentioned in 1546 in a book entitled A Guide To All Proverbs and refers to the use of falcons to aid in hunting prey for humans. It means that it is better to have a small actual advantage than the chance for a greater advantage. Joanne Stepaniak, author of the cookbooks Vegan Vittles and The Un-Cheese Cookbook, suggests A berry in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Eat crow.

I heard this expression all my life when someone was ashamed and showing humility for being wrong. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau suggests the simple substitution of Eat humble pie which I rather like because no crows were harmed in the making of the pie.

It’s no use flogging a dead horse.

The origin of this phrase is British and comes from politician John Bright as he tried rouse parliament out of apathy and into action in 1867. I believe what he actually said was that It was like trying to flog a dead horse to make it pull the cart. The compassionate clichés recommended by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau are It’s no use watering a dead flower or It’s no use washing a clean shirt.

Don’t put the cart before the horse.

This was recorded by George Putnam in 1580 in his book The Art of English Poetry and means don’t try to reverse the accepted order of things because it won‘t work. Two compassionate clichés are suggested by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and they are Don’t slice the bread before it’s baked and my favourite Don’t put your socks on before your shoes.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

This expression always horrified me particularly as my mother used to say “Skin the cat” every time she pulled my shirt over my head as she helped me undress when I was a small child. Since there are so many different ways of doing the same thing why not just say There’s more than one way to peel a potato or something like that. 

This is only a small sampling of the animal related clichés that we use in our every day speech. I challenge you to be aware of what you are saying, and if it does not reflect the values with which you live your life then come up with a non violent one that does.

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