A tiny mountain of sand stood in my path, created by a community of ants who probably spent years of their life (days of mine) constructing a tunnel into the Earth. The thought of placing my foot down felt wrong and selfish.
I do a lot of thinking. I take every idle opportunity to think deeply and consider what I should or should not be doing.
When I'm walking around and looking down at the ground with a blank state of mind, I'm thinking about where I want to place my foot next, what spot makes the most sense.
The other day while I was walking to the train station, I approached a puddle in the road and found two doves sipping from the waters' edge. They began scuttling away as soon as I approached, keeping an equal distance from me with each step I took forward.
Doves have always struck me as an odd creature, more relaxed, as if they love not flying, as if they'd rather not be bothered to needlessly expend energy if they can avoid doing so.
It was then that I realized I had a choice: I could walk to the right of the puddle (closer to the doves) and they would surely feel outpaced and take flight, or I could walk to the left and they would remain on the ground, at ease with my distance.
So which way should I go, left or right?
In the end, either choice would take me to exactly the same place on the other side of the puddle, but it was obvious to me that one of those two choices would have would have a drastically different effect on the world around me.
If I felt a sense of entitlement--if I felt that my being born as a human gave me some inalienable right over all other life--then I might not care which direction I stepped; I'd feel entitled to do whatever I wanted.
But the simplistic notion that all life resides somewhere on a food chain, and that anything below your spot on the food chain is somehow worthy of less respect, is ignorant to say the least.
Life is more than a hierarchical order of things.
Carrying the Best Intentions
My friend Niall Doherty--not to pick on him, but because he recently wrote something that helped me learn more about myself--quit being vegan after two years of sticking with it, siting serious doubts around the three arguments that initially led him to the vegan lifestyle.
Reading through his doubts I quickly realized why I've always found myself drawn to veganism: it's not about the effect my diet has on the environment, or about avoiding any needless killing, or even about taking care of my own health.
For me, those things are just practical and logical bonuses on top of the real reason that I gravitate towards veganism.
It's the same reason why, when given a choice, I avoid stepping on an ant or scaring away the doves: my actions, no matter how trivial they may seem, affect the world around me and, as the one responsible for my actions, I have a duty to ensure that my actions carry the best intentions.
How many people do you know who wouldn't tense up or put their foot over the brake when a squirrel or any other small animal runs in front of their moving vehicle? A small animal poses absolutely no threat to the person inside the vehicle, and yet we risk danger to ourselves by slamming on the brakes or swerving on the road.
When our subconscious is presented with a choice between life and death we instinctively choose the action that preserves life, because non-violence is an integral part of human nature.
While all life has meaning, purpose, and value, a human existence grants me something unique to the animal kingdom: the ability to make conscious choices based on rational and empathetic thinking.
Because I'm human, I can choose left or right based on conscious thought.
Because I'm human, I can look at the world around me and ask myself how my small, seemingly insignificant actions today will affect the bigger picture tomorrow.
I'm able to think about how my actions are going to affect not only me, but how they're going to affect everything around me, and not just for today or tomorrow but for generations to come.
No other species on this planet can make such conscious and globally empathetic decisions. No other species can consciously recognize that its actions may be copied by others and therefore amplified to create change on a greater scale.
Setting a 'good' example that I would want others to follow is important to me, but so is feeling good about the choices that I make. Making choices that I'd want others to follow, it just so happens, usually leads to choices that make me feel good too.
I doubt that anyone saw my instantaneous decision to walk left around the puddle, but it felt good, just like stepping over the mountain of sand and choosing to eat plants instead of animals.
Perhaps I think this way because of an innate understanding that what affects everyone and everything around me eventually ends up affecting me too.
Globally Conscious Personal Choices
Earth is an ecosystem, a community of life, and we're all born with an innate understanding that what affects the community eventually affects us too.
Good choices, then, are those that are not only good for us, but also good for the community.
For most of human history, our community has consisted of a few hundred people, or a few thousand at most. Today we're living in a global community of more than 7 billion people, a community where what we buy, what we eat, and what we choose to do with our time has a measurable affect on all corners of the globe.
It's not enough to just think globally. We must also live globally and that means making globally conscious personal choices, choices that are made while being conscious and informed of how those choices will affect everyone else.
If everyone on the planet copied your personal choices would that be good or bad for the global community?