A Rule For Discourse by William Klein

It’s a mean world out there.  One of my favorite animals, a dog, caught a squirrel today.  We used to laugh and say “He loves to chase them, but if he ever catches one he won’t know what to do with it.”  Well, this time he did.  He killed it. He clamped down with his teeth and refused to let go.  His owner had to pry his jaws free of the poor little critter.  The squirrel’s only problem was he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, he had nowhere to go and was cornered. Once the dog caught him there was no letting go.

This is the same little dog who snuggles with me and licks my feet, proclaims his joy when he sees me by jumping on me and barking with delight his unbridled happiness and full throated expression of glee. I swear he smiles at me and has even winked appreciation to let me know his love for petting him. It wasn’t lost on my sister and me.  We said, as much as we love that little guy he’s an animal and doing his job to remind us that.

Another incident with an animal struck me this week. I watched a video of man trying to help a beached baby great white shark. It was flailing around out of its element, nudging closer and closer to the dry white sand where it was sure to die.  A compassionate man arrived and slowly dragged the five-foot shark into the water. The shark resisted, slapping its tail in anger for fear of a potential predator taking advantage of its misdirection. The man continued to pull it and redirect it to the ocean.

The shark was slapped by the waves that pushed it toward the shore and for some reason it kept wanting to beach itself.  The man was in the shark’s territory now as the ocean came up to his ankles and climbed to his knees. He was fearless, though.  He knew what he needed to do to help the creature find its way.

After a bit of a struggle, the shark made its way to the deeper part of the ocean, its fin and tail skimming the top of the waves while its gills were slaking its environment beneath.

We’ve all been there and played the roles of man and shark.  Some of us are better at the role of shark than others.  While some of us serve the most vulnerable and attend to the needs of others no matter what the circumstance.

I thought to myself, “How deep would I go to save that shark?” Is it necessary to interfere with nature to help an animal or is it better to let nature run its course?

Sometimes the wild animal in us gets going and we bite down hard on our convictions.  We hang on and fight to the death.

My rule of thumb is if you see suffering, you must alleviate it. It’s a good rule.  It’s served me well over the years. Sometimes we need to speak up in the name of helping others. It’s what we are called to do. It’s reasonable and it’s the moral thing to do.

Consistently in world religions we see this adage.  It is especially noted in the Buddhist texts. Where there is suffering, we must be healing instruments. Christianity has cornered the market on social justice.

Prayer of St. Francis said it nicely:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.”

It seems to me we need to take a measured approach to our assertions. How can we heal the suffering in this world? What kind of healing will our words bring? What actions have we taken to aid another person?

Are we the dog who has clamped down on the squirrel or are we the man pointing the shark in the right direction toward a spacious blue ocean with more to explore, more to question, more to wonder about?

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