is a phrase most of us have heard or used at one time or another. I once heard it used in a context wherein it resonated with me so strongly that I can vividly remember the setting in which I heard it and that happened well over thirty years ago. I was in graduate school watching a film about positive reinforcement...the film was shot in Japan and concerned the training of bears to ride unicycles and to do various complicated sequences of actions and the training was all done (supposedly) by using positive reinforcement.
I looked around on the internet and found this image to use as an illustration. There are many images of actual bears riding unicycles and bicycles out there but I didn't want to use a real photo...that seemed to me to be ugly and disrespectful. Any bear riding or doing things to "entertain" humans is a slave and she or he isn't doing those things because they freely chose them.
The narrator of the film was the psychologist who had been hired to serve as the trainer for the animals associated with this entertainment company and he was explaining the processes he used to "teach" the bears how to do various complicated unbearlike behaviors (like riding a unicycle). Basically the idea is that you reward (immediately) any small behavior near what you're looking for and chain small behaviors together into long sequences which then appear to be more complicated behaviors. I'm not going to write a treatise on "learning" theory (behaviorism) so I won't go into any more detail now (and believe me, there's lots and lots of detail).
At one point, after the subject (the bear) had completed a behavior and been rewarded for it, the narrator said that it wasn't difficult to get the bear to do things, that he (the bear) was just "trying to make a living" like the rest of us. When he said that I nearly fainted, it hit me so hard right then (and has stayed with me) that we're all the same. That captured and confined bear was just trying to get by, trying to live his life...just like all of us.
I wish I could say I went vegan right then...I didn't. Somehow I was able to encapsulate that awareness (I kept it, I didn't get rid of it) from my behavior and from other areas of my knowing and kept on operating pretty much as always. But that phrase...and that bear...haunted me.
I still retain many memories and images from that film, and when I did finally wake up to veganism...memory of that bear and his doing what he had to do to "make a living" came rushing back and brought with it a deep sadness and sorrow that I hadn't grasped what I was seeing and hearing enough to go vegan then and there.
It amazes me on some level that I can, on occasion, get worked up into some state of indignation and outrage over human behavior toward other animals and toward Earth...amazes me because of my own blindness and my own participation in awfulness in times past. Getting upset about some non-vegan now is, in one way, nothing but me getting upset with my past self. And...had some vegan been angry with me back then...I probably would not have seen what they were pointing toward...I would only have seen their anger...their upset and outrage...and thought they were peculiar or strange.
It frightens me about myself...how blind and oblivious I can be...and yet...I was trying to tell myself something...otherwise the images of that bear and that phrase wouldn't have stuck and resonated...I just didn't figure out what I was trying to tell myself until much much later.
Don't ignore your own messages to yourself...if you haven't gone vegan...do so now. And if you've gone vegan...thank you for listening.