Snakes, Trees & the Sanctity of Life

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe.
Our task must be to widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein

So, we have one standing rule in our house: Do Not Kill.   Pretty simple, right? This applies to everything from ants on the sidewalk, spiders in the house all the way on up the food chain.  I firmly believe every living thing has the right to continue existing without our interference. Now, that said – I did grow up on a farm and am no stranger to death.  We had cows, pigs, chickens and for a short time a sad, lonely, single goat. Our animals (with the exception of the goat) eventually became our dinner.  I’m ok with that.  While I don’t like to kill – I do like to eat – and I love me some hamburger – so I get the whole cycle of life thing.  I believe it’s one thing to kill for sustenance – it’s another to kill for fun.   When we see insects on the sidewalk my kids know to let them be.  It’s something I’ve preached over the years and tried to reinforce with my own behavior.

For example, just a few years ago we were getting ready to leave when I went outside and saw a HUGE snake crawling across my driveway.

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Snake town!

Just for the record –  I HATE snakes.  They terrify me and I just wanted it gone.  Technically – given my fear of snakes – the logical solution would have been to run it over with my car on the way out.  However, like I said, I preach a “no kill” lifestyle – so what message would that have sent to my kids?  Plus – I would have then had a HUGE DEAD SNAKE in the middle of my driveway.  Instead, we decided to wait out the snake.  The snake, in turn, decided my driveway would make a fantastic new home and made itself comfortable directly behind my back tire – for 45 minutes.

Sigh.

I was running out of options, time and patience.  Then I remembered a conversation I had with my neighbor.  He is a veterinarian and mentioned that he LOVES snakes.  Bingo.  I headed outside,  taking wide berth around the snake, and prayed my neighbor was home.  I knocked on the door – he answered – I uttered the words “big snake” and he quickly hopped to action. He walked to my yard, leaned down, grabbed the snake behind the head, put him IN HIS HAND and walked back home.   I felt good that I didn’t kill the snake, that my kids witnessed me being kind despite my fear and that the snake got to move on and live happily ever after somewhere far, far away from me.  A total win/win and proud parenting moment!  I was able to reinforce my belief that all living things, scaly or not, deserve our respect and consideration.

So, you can imagine my disappointment when I walked outside this morning and saw this.

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My son had taken a hammer to our fruit tree in the backyard.  I almost cried when I saw the damage.

“Why did you do that?” I asked, completely upset. “Don’t you know that will kill the tree?”

He looked at me, head down, shoulders slumped and said, ”I just wanted to see what it looked like under the bark.”

Oh my.  I guess curiosity is a natural thing – especially in a 10 year old boy.  But the hammering was excessive.  He could have easily gotten a glimpse and stopped prior to removing so much bark.  It’s like he didn’t think the tree was alive, or worse, didn’t care that he could hurt it.   It was the perfect opportunity to reinforce my “live and let live” philosophy!  He needs to understand that trees are living things and his hammering caused some serious damage.  We had him go online and research the functionality and purpose behind tree bark.  He, in turn, learned that bark protects the tree from elements and, most importantly, serves as a transport system for nutrients.   Ultimately, the bark serves to keep the tree alive and healthy!  I am hopeful our tree won’t die AND that this whole experience has taught my son a lesson about exercising your will on another  living organism:  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Disclaimer:
Now, before I start getting all sorts of unhappy comments and emails – this is my personal philosophy and how I choose to raise my family. You are free to kill, maim and do whatever you like in your own life (within the rules of society and the law) and my “do not kill” stance is by no means a judgement against you and yours.  Carry on kindly! :-)


17 Responses to Snakes, Trees & the Sanctity of Life

  1. It’s not clear, you like a hamburger but not killing. So, are you a vegan? I don’t pass any judgement. I was a vegetarian for 25 years. My husband still is going on 47 years. It just isn’t clear in your blog ..

  2. Nope – I eat meat – I think it’s ok to kill for food just not for fun. :-) My hubs is a vegetarian so we don’t eat a lot of meat but yes – I do consume animal flesh.

  3. 4 out of 6 of us are vegetarian with my daughter and myself mostly vegan, I am sad you cannot extend your compassion to the animals slaughtered for food. I also obviously have brought my children up to not kill just because they can and they are rightly horrified when people squash spiders without even thinking twice that that spider may well have been enjoying its life up to that point, also horrible when kids (and grown ups) squash bugs and snails. We can live together and share the planet, some people have just not grasped this idea.

    • Thanks. Your comment has made me think a bit about my stance and why I don’t extend it to eating animals. I was a vegetarian years ago but didn’t do well and got sick from not supplementing my diet correctly. I do try to buy only meat products that are local and humanely treated but it can be tough. I appreciate the food for thought and dialogue. :-)

      • I’m in support of eating humane and organic animal products. I was nearly-vegan/ nearly-macrobiotic for a few years and did very poorly on this diet. I believe in our need for animal products for optimal health and give thanks for the life and the nourishment that the beautiful beasts that I eat have given to me. I like to remember that our brains are “60% fat by dry weight” (Dr. Kelly Borgan). And that our brain and nervous system rely on cholesterol to function properly.

        http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/myelin-sheath-cholesterol-6632.html

  4. I’m curious about what you and your readers think about killing creatures such as ticks and mosquitoes. They are not willfully harmful, but their basic nature makes them harmful to us and other living things. The same is true of large predators, but while it’s easy to admire the beauty and majesty of, say, a lion, not too many people feel the same way about blood-sucking crawlies. Thoughts about the intrinsic worth of a tick’s life? (And for the record, I kill them without qualms, but I could respect other views.)

    • I do kill ticks and mosquitos simply because they carry disease and can make my family ill if they bite. I don’t run around willy nilly trying to kill them all :-) but if they land on me or my kiddos they get to go to bug heaven which I’ve heard is a great place.

  5. “my kids witnessed me being kind despite my fear.” This is a powerful statement about how we should treat all living things, humans included. The homeless, the drug addict, our supposed enemies around the world, all have the same worth. Currently the Humans of New York guy is going through Iraq, and their stories/fears/desires are the same as our own, but in the overwhelming context of war. It reminds me of a song by The Police/Sting (?) that says that the Russians love their children, too.

    • Thank you so much for mentioned HONY. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Brandon and his message and want to incorporate it into this blog – so I’m going to add a post with some information for those that may not be familiar. I also believe fear dictates many of our actions – and that riding past the fear is something that makes us more humane and ultimately better people in the long run. Killing something you fear (whether literally – snakes, enemies, etc or figuratively – a rule or law that threatens our beliefs) is not the way to bring about positive change.

  6. You might want to contact a tree surgeon, and see if there is some way to rescue your poor tree. Last year, our peach tree split into thirds, down the whole trunk, but we splinted it back together, and it grew back together again (and made peaches again this year!). Your tree might have a chance, too.

  7. I agree with you and basically believe in live and let live. I used to have a farm and we did butcher animals, but I don’t believe in killing a creature for no reason. I have snakes aplenty and all kinds of insects, including a house full of spiders. But I do draw the line at flies, fleas, and ticks because they carry disease. I have had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and I can tell you it’s not something you want to contract. But I do wonder how Buddhists handle flies, fleas, and ticks, or anyone who believes in total non harming. I would be interested in any comments about this.

    • I also wonder how Buddhists and the like handle things like ticks, mosquitoes, etc and still stay strong to their base principles. Any thoughts out there?

  8. When my girls were little they would screech about the bugs wanting me to get rid of them. If we were outside I would tell them we were in the bugs home if they wanted to play outside they had to play with the bugs, that it was not ok to hurt them in their own home. Still works to this day. They are now 21 and 23. However, I still have to protect them from the spiders that make it into the house. I am loving your blog perspective! My kids will tell you Mom’s catch phrase is “be kind”.

    • Sorry I missed your comment! Thanks much – my son is easy to lead but my daughter has a tendency to be a little rash so her learning curve for “bug kindness” is a bit steeper. Glad you are enjoying the blog! That makes me feel great. :-)

  9. I’ve been reading The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction, and it has made me think of you and your project! Ultimately, kindness and connection start with listening. This particular post reminds me even more of how that book and your kindness project complement one another. I’m enjoying your exploration of this project. It seems like such a challenging one, as there is a lot of trail blazing to be done in this area, however highly worthwhile. Best wishes to you as you continue sharing your journey with us!

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