The choice that defines us

marius the giraffe

“What will define
a human when his
life has ended
and his soul has
sailed away to
become one with
the universe
is what
he did with the
love that was born
in his skull.”
~ Christopher Poindexter

The killing of Marius the giraffe really got to me, despite the fact that I see many heartbreaking stories, follow many issues and petitions every day. Yes, I always struggle with sadness and a sense of helplessness, even though I also trust that a tiny donation here and there, and one more share or signature do help. But still, compared to some of the horrors I see, the death of one animal is not exactly a surprise. So why did it affect me so much?

Because most of the time, cruelty happens because of  ignorance and greed. And these are things I can understand, things we can do something about. Educating people and creating options that generate an income without cruelty eventually solves the problem at hand. But what do we do when people are already educated and have options, and still choose the worst thing imaginable? What excuse is there?

Of course this incident made me think of what people do in their personal lives. Of love. And of choices. Horrible choices made despite every opportunity and privilege. Amazing choices made despite every challenge and limitation.

There is the claim that not everyone can love….as in care, invest, empathize, feel the need for connection, for honesty and so on. The same argument is made for compassion. Could it be true? 

It’s not. We know that’s the case for those who suffer from severe mental illnesses, and for whom even consistent treatment makes little difference. But for the rest of us, and especially those privileged in terms of education and socio-economic contexts, it so doesn’t apply. It really doesn’t. Especially when there’s even a remote awareness of one’s issues and of options.

I hear people say that they are emotionally “broken” or “crippled” (mainly by childhood experiences), and see them use that as an excuse for indifference…for hurtful, irresponsible, and destructive behaviors, both in private and public. Yet if someone recognizes and can say they’re “broken”, they hold the key to healing. And although not everyone has the same privilege in terms of range or quality of options, there are options. So really, at this point, it’s a choice. 

People don’t have to do terrible things to themselves or others. Or even not-so-terrible things. We absolutely can love and experience all the implications of it. Just as a zoo doesn’t have to slaughter the animals it claims to protect.

And then how many of the “broken” and “crippled” people out there fight so hard, choosing personal discomfort, inconvenience and even pain as part of loving and doing the right things in life for themselves and others? Many. Just as many small group rescues that have hardly any resources or exposure find ways to help and educate without slaughter.

All people need to do is make that choice and work through the available options. If they don’t, they’re like the zoo that killed Marius the giraffe despite being an institution that’s supposed to educate people and protect animals, and despite the fact that several options for sanctuary were available. There’s just no excuse in this case. None.

The slightest awareness that we are guided by experiences and habits that hurt us and others removes our right to claim ignorance. The slightest awareness of options for healing and connection removes our right to claim we are helpless victims.

Just like compassion, love and all that it entails, is a choice. Un-love is a choice too, as is cruelty. The choice we make defines us. Not the quality or intricacy of our excuses, not our real or imagined challenges, not the label we wear in the world, not how intelligent or funny or likeable we appear. It’s that one choice…what we do with the love born in our skulls. 

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