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Nature our Teacher

A phrase I read somewhere, sometime, has haunted me: “Nature, in all its beauty and its violence…….!” I have the National Geographic TV Channel to thank for enabling me to grasp the in-depth reality of it. Once again, seeing is believing!

I watch bits and pieces of the various programmes, at times with horror and revulsion, at times with wonder and fascination.

The mystery of life’s suffering surpasses human understanding. No formula of philosophy or religion will ever explain it. It’s the cruelty and fear inherent in the food chain that gets to me, as I see predators stalk and kill their prey. Have you noticed how the predators seem to embody in countenance the more questionable characteristics of human nature? The arrogance of the lion. The cunning calculation of the tiger or leopard. The meanness of the jackal. The sinister stealth of the serpent.

Their vegetarian victims, on the other hand, so often show in their faces, gentleness and innocence. The deer, the zebra, the cattle, the sheep. Never have I felt so persuaded to become vegetarian, as I ponder what seems inescapable. As we tuck into steak or bacon, chicken or lamb, the human being, at least in this regard, is essentially no different from the savage predator. Only the degree of sophistication with which the victim is killed and eaten separates us. I find my conscience begin to sit up and take notice!

But there is, too, the loveliness of life and the wonder of it. The animals could teach us a thing or two about community. See the zebras – or indeed any flock, herd, shoal or whatever – as they care for one another and protect their young as they form them to be independent and self-reliant. With the chimpanzees, it’s like Sally O’Brien and the way she’d look at you! Every species knows how to be united, both in care of the group and in repelling the aggressor, the true enemy. If only the human face could see itself as one species, yet alone the human family!

Still, to get back to where I started. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d soon be seriously toying with turning vegetarian, I might have told you to get lost!