What Goes Around Comes Around

Published in VegNews Magazine, January 2005

By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

One of the fundamental ideas found throughout the world’s religions and emphasized by spiritual teachers of many times and cultures is that in the big picture we inevitably reap what we sow. We are all connected, after all, and to the degree we love, give to, and bless others, we will ourselves experience being loved, given to, and blessed. The same is true of harming and using others. This idea has gone by many names, including karma and the Golden Rule, and in our culture it’s usually been applied to our relations with people, but not with animals because, well, we’ve been raised to believe that animals don’t matter much.

We’re learning, though, that animals—particularly the food animals we slaughter by the billions—are profoundly capable of physical and emotional suffering, and in light of this, it’s remarkable to see how our mistreatment of them boomerangs back to us, just like the old “as you sow, so shall ye reap” adage would predict.

For example, we pump huge quantities of drugs into millions of defenseless animals, and as a culture we find ourselves experiencing drug abuse, drug dependence, and all the perils of living in a society increasingly drugged with both medical prescriptions and illicit substances. We force farmed animals to live in extremely polluted environments, breathing noxious air, living in their own waste, and eating contaminated feed, and we find ourselves living increasingly in our own waste as our air becomes more polluted and our water and food are increasingly contaminated.

Looking further, we can see the chickens coming home to roost in virtually every aspect of our shared cultural reality: we force food animals into cages, and we find that more and more of us live in gated communities, behind bars and locks, or in prisons, with prison construction being one of the biggest growth industries in America today. We torture them by the millions and we find Amnesty International reporting that human torture of other humans is at an all-time high. Forcing horror on animals, we find horror in the mass media and in popular entertainment increasing. As we kill animals for food at a young age, we find child and teen suicide skyrocketing. As we terrorize animals in slaughterhouses and in laboratory experiments on fear, we find our own chronic fear increasing, along with terrorism. As we force them to be fat, diseased, overcrowded, afraid, and stressed out, we become the same.

You can probably think of many more examples. Animals are lined up to be stabbed, one after another, and in today’s high-volume cardiac units, people who have eaten many animals line up to be stabbed, one after another. Ultimately, what we do to animals we do to ourselves. Though animals cannot retaliate like people can, our violence toward them itself retaliates.

Scientists are hard at work now breeding food animals that will be as dull, insensitive, and controllable as possible, in order to better survive the unimaginable pain and stress they are forced to endure on factory farms. They want to create animals with minimal feelings and awareness, animals born with broken spirits, with no zest for life and with no purpose other than to serve the ends of their dominators. That would be good for business. Are these really the seeds we want to be sowing?

As a culture, we’re called to ponder deeply the wisdom of the Golden Rule before it’s too late, and begin to actually live it with respect to the animals who are at our mercy. What goes around comes around, and it’s coming around all around us.

Will Tuttle, Ph.D., composer, pianist, Zen priest, and author of The World Peace Diet, is cofounder of Karuna Music & Art and of the Prayer Circle for Animals and Circle of Compassion ministry.

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