Have you ever looked at certain people and couldn’t help think that they reminded you of a certain animal, a bird maybe? You could see the resemblance not only in their features but in their behaviour too. Fret not, that doesn’t make you a horrible person it just solidifies the fact that on this planet we are all connected.
Our relationship with animals is one that dates back to the beginning of time. For as long as humans roamed this earth they have walked side by side, or most probably ran in the opposite direction of animals, and therefore, we have a certain kinship to them. We have photographed them in amazement, studied them in wonder, we continue to raise them as pets. And some of us even worship them.
This bond humans have with animals has infiltrated art, and so we witnessed the likes of Leonardo Davinci incorporating them in his paintings, and devising contraptions in their likeness. Writers have made lead characters of them in works such as Aesop’s Fables and Kalīlah wa Dimnah. Religious texts are full of them, each animal representing a human flaw, a strength, a weakness. Each is portrayed as the image of good and evil personified. Why does it seem easier for us to accept reality when it is within the confinement of the animal kingdom yet so hard for us to face it in ours?
In children’s literature animals were used as a moral compass to direct them to the rights and steer them away from the wrongs of the world. One wonders if books such as Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland would have been as influential if all their characters were humans. Children can easily relate to animals and understand human characteristics through them, as can adults. I guess it is easier to cast aside discriminatory and judgmental feelings when we are talking about Peter Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat.
George Orwell used animal characters in his portrayal of the evils of totalitarianism in the classic novel Animal Farm. Through the pigs, cows and horses that lived within the borders of a farm fence we learned of political manipulation and twisted agendas better than watching the real thing unfold on the news. There must be a connection between the world of politics and that of animals (no pun intended) because to this day the United States’ two major political parties are represented by animal images. The Democratic Party the donkey and the Republican the elephant.
In language animals make an appearance more often than not. We hear terms such as “crocodile tears” when speaking of hypocrisy in human emotions. But why use an image of a weeping crocodile to portray a characteristic reserved purely for humans? It makes you wonder why the slyness of a fox and the wisdom of an owl? Why not the slyness of politicians and the wisdom of monks?
In our so-called civilised world we pride ourselves on being so different from animals. We are not savages we say. Only animals hunt for survival and we hunt for sport. Animals kill because they have no choice yet humans kill because the choice is all theirs. If only people lifted their heads up once in a while, if they gazed at the faces passing them by or glanced over towards a nearby table in a restaurant they would see. They would see the fox in the face of a passer-by and glimpse the owl in another person’s eyes, only then will they realise that there is something beastly in every human and another thing humane in every beast.
This article was published in The Gulf Today on 17th Jan, 2010.