Killing doesn’t come easily to me, especially when it’s something large and beautiful, like an oio writhing on a fishing line, its body all a-sparkle in a Kauapea rainbow. I couldn’t, and didn’t, end that vibrant life.
It’s a little easier with rodents, because I can take the “buck up, little Missy, it’s got to be done,” approach. Still, I once was so traumatized after cutting a big centipede in half, and watching the two parts struggle separately, that I vowed never to kill another one. I’d also heard that such pacts deter them from stinging, but I can report that’s not true.
Yet when it comes to ants, even though I bear them no particular malice, I nonchalantly kill swarms of them every day. I’m regularly flushing them down the toilet, washing them down the drains, wiping them up enmasse from kitchen counters.
I was struck by my willingness to commit wholesale ant slaughter the other day when I was sitting and watching two ants walk across the floor and thought, they could be gone in an instant. But since they really weren’t bothering me, I let them live.
That got me thinking about what happens to the psyches of people who regularly have the power of life and death over others. Does the killing become rote and automatic, like ants?
And was I able to be so cavalier about ant carnage because they’re so small and so anonymous, so numerous and so easy to kill?
Then it struck me: maybe that’s what’s happened to the human race. It seems that as our numbers keep rising, our respect for all life keeps diminishing. It’s gotten so easy to kill large of numbers of our “enemies” in a detached way by dropping bombs, releasing poison gases, blowing things up. Just like it’s gotten so easy to destroy entire ecosystems by blowing the tops off mountains to get at the coal, or kill thousands of non-target fish while sweeping the ocean with giants nets that scoop up everything in their path.
I started wondering about the philosophy of Ahimsa — do no harm — and the Jains, who gently sweep the ground before them so as not to tread on a single ant. What would the world be like if each us took the time to be that aware of the consequences of our actions — if each of us were that reluctant to do any sort of harm to another creature?
And if some of us humans already are able to achieve that level of consciousness, love, compassion and respect, what’s hanging up the rest of us?