Sunday, April 01, 2007

My Little Friends

It's spring! Warm weather, blooming trees, life is everywhere. And that includes bugs.

People have a strange relationship with bugs. There is an instinctual fear of insects, which I think comes from the fact that they seem so different from us. Too many spindly little legs, small beady eyes, scary waving antennae. And they are so small, and so unlovable.

This difference in size and cuteness results in a lot of squishing. And some people take pride and joy in the squishing, especially of mosquitos and cockroaches.

But here's a different perspective. This is a chart of all of the Kingdoms of life today. Please enlarge by clicking on it if it's hard to read.As you can see, there are three main Superkingdoms, The Bacteria, Archaea, and Eucaryota, within these are the regular Kingdoms. Humans, of course, are on the Animals branch (animalia). Where are the insects? Surely they must be pretty far from the animals, maybe even another Superkingdom...?

Actually, they're Animalia too! So on that big tree, with all those lines, we and the insects share the same little branch. From this perspective, we're practically cousins.

One of the ideals of Buddhism is to reduce suffering in the world. Killing a lifeform results in suffering, so naturally Buddhists try to avoid killing stuff whenever possible. Notice that the phrase is reduce suffering and not eliminate suffering. To be alive is to cause, (and receive) suffering. Even as I type this, my immune system is killing viruses left and right. Everytime I wash my hands I kill off thousands of microbes and bacteria. And of course, sitting down to a healthy vegetarian lunch includes the decapitation of a head of lettuce, tearing away the life giving umbilical cord of a tomato, and ripping some poor carrot from it's underground home to be cut up into little pieces on my chopping board.

Of course, you could stop eating, take a drug to suppress your immune system, and never wash, but then you would die, which would just be more suffering.

This gets to the idea that to be alive is to participate in suffering to some extent. But we can make choices that reduce suffering in small ways. I think it's safe to say that chopping up a head of lettuce results in less pain than chopping up a cow.

Anyway, vegetarianism is a blog for another time, what I want to talk about here is bugs.

Don't squish bugs! Even gross ones. They didn't do anything to you. Take a closer look at them, and you'll see that they are amazing little animals that are really loveable once you get used to their little quirks.

I know this sounds crazy to some people, and these are the usual objections I get to my "don't squish bugs" sermon.

  • Insects are dirty. Actually, there are more germs in the human mouth than on a cockroach or any other bug. Cockroaches, for example, are really quite clean animals, on par with a cat.
  • Insects are pests and parasites. It's true, many insects use you for their own purposes. Dust mites eat your dead skin, mosquitos incubate their eggs in your warm blood. But let's put this into perspective. Jonas Salk, the man who developed the polio vaccine, once said "If all the insects on earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on earth would disappear. If all humans disappeared, within 50 years all species would flourish as never before." Who is the real parasite? I'm not saying that we should be exterminated, Matrix-style, just that in the big scheme of things, we take a lot more from this planet than that mosquito takes from us.
  • It's just one bug, what's the difference? This is true, squishing that bug doesn't make any difference. But challenging yourself to have compassion for even small ugly creatures will have a big effect on you. And it feels good when you take an extra 30 seconds and help a lost bug get to the outdoors!
I'm not trying to say bugs are more important than humans. The last time I killed a bug was in autumn when one mosquito had bitten me about 12 times all over my face, and had kept me up for about 2 hours. She was resting on the wall, full of blood, and I smacked her with a book. But before that smack I really thought about what I was going to do, and after it I wished the bug the best, and, now I know you'll think I'm losing it, but I shed a tear or two for her.

So, yes, if you run a risk of catching malaria, or if termites are going to destroy your home, or if locusts are going to kill your crops, do something to get rid of the bugs. But don't just squish them because they're there. We're all in this together on this floating blue ball in space, show some kindness to our little relatives this spring!

Yoga Garden


Anonymous said...

Yes. I remember a time when Patrick had just moved into a new apartment. I still killed bugs at that time. There were BABY roaches crawling everywhere. He wouldn't kill them. I tried to convince him they'd grow to be GROWN UP roaches and have babies, you know. Still wouldn't kill them. It creeped me out. His housemates got the place fumigated. Personally, I saw it as a wise decision. However, I now refrain from intentionally killing bugs and see it as a practice. Even spiders. I simply ask someone to remove them or remove them myself. If they don't have too many spindly legs.

glenna said...

My father was angry, there had been much sadness in his life. When I grew up I married a man who was also angry. After the divorce, I met a man who spoke to his dog in the same tone of voice he spoke to people with, he was a very gentle person very smart. If we were talking, and his dog started licking or scratching and it was disturbing our conversation, he would turn to the dog and say in a soft voice with a kind tone, "go outside Nelly". The dog would get up and go outside. I was amazed. I had never known a person to speak to a dog that way. When I questioned him his response was, "dogs have very acute hearing why would anyone raise their voice to a dog?" The dog was a boxer, and was as calm as a lamb. I never forgot this man. Several years later I met another man who was very smart, a scientist. One night he saw a big palmetto bug run across the floor. He put a box over it and said, "I'll take it outside later." This man had also had much sadness in his life but he had not allowed it to make him angry. I did not let this man get away. Seventeen years of kindness and gentleness and loving. As they say, "All things are connected."

Jeannie said...

Hi, Patrick. I've been a reader of your blogs for a while now and just started getting into Zen is Stupid. I've never commented before, but I came across this older post and had to tell you how much I appreciate it. I tend to be too tenderhearted for my own good, especially when it comes to animals. So, ever since I was in sixth grade and ran home barefoot from a neighbors house one night, and squished a slug between my toes... well, I just can't squish bugs. I cried for a few nights over that slug, just sure she was making her way across the sidewalk to show her babies it was safe, and my gigantic, unknowing foot came down and killed her and permanently scarred her children, who were now orphans... And probably vengeful. How would I feel if it happened to me? I tortured myself for a while over that. Now that I am a mom, it's ever more unthinkable for me. That's someone's baby! Sheesh, so sentimental.

Anywho, I can relate to this. I may not want to snuggle up with a bed bug or make a parasite my new best friend, but I also can't imagine killing something for simply being in the same space I am in. If they aren't hurting me, I can't just lash out, even if they are shudder-inducing and gag-triggering. I'm glad I'm not alone... or crazy. Well, mostly. :)