More on Empathy

March 10, 2013 Christine McDonald Animal ConnectionsEmotions and Animals

Spring, the season of renewal and growth is upon us. If you live in a rural area or drive by farms or ranches, you may be noticing newborn calves or lambs. If you’re questioning what it feels like to be really joyful watch one of those youngsters race around a field or pasture. You cannot help but smile at their enthusiasm for life. In the background of every galloping, racing, kicking and playing newborn farm animal is a watchful mom, closely tuned into each move and aware of your presence as well as everything else in the proximity. The animal mother and baby bond is one of the most powerful connections there is, even though you cannot see it or touch it. It is there.

Cow and calf

Cow and calf

Empathy is defined as the ability to be aware of another’s feelings, emotions or sensations. Does a cow feel empathy for her newborn calf? Within minutes of being born the mother is licking and encouraging its young to get up and begin its search for nourishment and to find it with more licking and encouragement. Each rapid stage of growth over the first few days of its life is met with the mother tuned into its needs and meeting them. Within a few days, the calf is exploring a bigger and broader world under the watchful eye of mom. baby calves and mom

I have been reading The Empathetic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin and cannot help but contrast the differences I see in animals and their newborn and how human babies are treated. In his book he describes the changes in our understanding of human development and child care and how it affects our ability to be empathetic. We know babies must be touched to survive. Without it they give up their desire to live. A mother cow knows instinctively it must lick and nudge its young. The cow did not have to do research or write papers about it. It just knows.

Rifkin goes on to describe the need for empathy in our present day world crisis. As resources become used and depleted (entropy) our need for empathy increases. Empathy requires a holistic skill base. A skill base already there and hard wired into our animal bodies. Just like the natural bonding instincts between a cow and calf. The cow is feeling instinctively into the needs of it young to meet them.

Sophie, my elder dog companion loves to watch those calves. She will lie in the grass and watch them and watch them from a distance. I don’t know exactly what she sees or why she is drawn every day to those calves but I sense she feels the beautiful bond between those young calves and their mothers. Once you know what it is, empathy is everywhere and is the glue that keeps life abundant, rich and growing.


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