In February of 2010, I read an article online about two teenagers who stole a three-month-old baby alpaca from a farm in Southwest Ohio, and beat the animal to death with a board. The story made me want to vomit.
I thought about how sweet and friendly alpacas are and I thought about their gorgeous, gentle, long-lashed eyes. I thought about the helplessness and vulnerability of a baby alpaca –how it had known nothing but love, and I cried for its shock and confusion and pain. I thought about the distressed alpaca mother when her baby was taken from her. I thought about the family who was raising the alpacas, about how much money and love goes into the job and how devastated they must be. They had named the baby alpaca
“Masterpiece”. I thought about the two teenagers who had performed this evil and heartless deed, because they “wanted to mess with an alpaca and have fun”. I thought about their disregard for life and wondered at the type of monster who could beat a beautiful defenseless baby animal to death and gain enjoyment from it.
After I thought about all these aspects, I tried to convince my partner to drive with me to Middletown, outside of Dayton, Ohio because I wanted to find the two teens responsible for the crime and beat them both within an inch of their miserable lives. If she’d have said yes, I’d have been in the car and on the road in less than an hour, and I’d have shown those two boys no mercy. I’d have gone medieval on them.
I’m not proud of this.
I’m terribly conflicted that this story of senseless violence makes me so angry, frustrated and appalled, that my reaction to it is to want to commit violence myself. Why does a story about senseless violence make me want to counter with the same behavior? I am dismayed and ashamed by my reaction. It is visceral.
In An Analytic Theory of Violence, Richard Mizen writes: “…violence does not beget violence in any simple sense.. It is rather the experience of violation, uncontained, that begets violence, which has the evacuation of the experience of ‘violation’ as its aim. The purpose of the evacuation is the transformation of what is anticipated as being an unbearable mental experience into action.”
Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D states it more simply, when he writes how our entire culture has oriented itself around power and retaliation as a response to fear and vulnerability, and every individual in the culture carries that infection deep within the unconscious.
So I am forced to look deeply into myself, to examine the situation. Why do I want to retaliate? These boys have committed no crime against me. They have not hurt me or any of my animals. They have hurt a family of strangers in another city. They have killed an animal that I never met and that did not belong to me. My feeling of rage is a result of what psychologists call “empathy”.
In Psychology – An Introduction (Ninth Edition) by Charles G. Morris, Prentice Hall, 1996, empathy is defined as: “Closely related to the ability to read other people’s emotions is empathy – the arousal of an emotion in an observer that is a vicarious response to the other person’s situation… Empathy depends not only on one’s ability to identify someone else’s emotions but also on one’s capacity to put oneself in the other person’s place and to experience an appropriate emotional response.”
These boys committed a heinous act because they had no capacity for empathy. People with personality disorders: narcissists, psychopaths, schizoid personalities, paranoids, borderline personalities lack empathy. The absence of empathy in a person is a sign of emotional and cognitive immaturity, an inability to love, to truly relate to others, to respect their boundaries and accept their needs, feelings, hopes, fears, choices, and preferences.
Beating them won’t change that, even if it would make me feel better.
Recently, I was browsing the website of a great organization called “Spring Farm CARES“, an animal sanctuary that specializes in interspecies communication. The animals at the sanctuary are teachers, and people are invited to ask questions of one of the wise animals in residence there. On the site I found a question and answer that addressed the conflict I’ve been feeling in my heart of answering violence with violence.
“Animals understand that revenge comes out of anger. And anger is a poison to the heart that must always be set free. I am not saying that animals do not know anger, despair, sadness, and hopelessness. We do experience all of those. But we don’t like to dwell there once we find freedom to be open again. We seek healing, not revenge or justice.”
The animal teacher asks that when faced with the anger we feel over cruelty to animals, that we send light and healing to the human whose heart is so dark and empty, because only by healing can that person be stopped. Without healing, a mission is incomplete. A heart still closed. A soul still playing out a troubling aspect of itself.
“We ask that you do not judge on our behalf. That you do not hate on our behalf. But we ask that you learn forgiveness in our name. That you learn to let go of hatred and angers that serve no one well. And that you join us in loving unconditionally. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be any abuse, because all life would be honored and treasured for what it is.”