by Donna Lee SchillingerA righteous man cares for the needs of his animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel. Proverbs 12:10
I’ve heard a few girls say that they would never date a guy who doesn’t like animals. Far from a comprehensive personality assessment, this criterion has some validity, and yes, even Biblical basis. Observing how a person treats animals is a quick ways to see into a person’s heart. Is it tender and compassionate or is it bitter and cruel? You will know you have seen the dark core of a person’s soul when you see true cruelty toward an animal. Likewise, an act of compassion toward an animal wells from a compassionate soul.
However, the animal test is not always 100 percent reliable. For example, if you’ve made yourself known to be an animal lover, a deceitful person who wants to impress you may feign a love of animals – for a while. Then there are those who were not raised around animals of any kind and may be fearful of them or not know how to react around them. Americans have a unique relationship to domesticated animals that most cultures don’t share, a fact to take into consideration before applying the animal test to people of other cultures. Still others may have had experience with only one kind of animal. My husband only ever had dogs as a boy so he did not easily take to a cat in the family. Over time, he learned to trust the cat and now he likes the cat – though he remains decidedly a dog person. And finally, there are people who like only one kind of animal and will be kind to that kind of animal and cruel to all the rest. You may catch a dog person with his dog and mistake that person for an animal-lover, not knowing that the same person will veer out of his way to hit a squirrel or opossum on the road. Take these exceptions into account before making character assessments based on how a person reacts to animals.
Kindness toward animals manifests a basic ability to empathize and have compassion for another being. I am empathizing with a squirrel’s desire to live out the rest of the day when I slow down on the road to let the squirrel pass. When I capture a wasp and release it instead of swatting it to death, I’m empathizing with its desire to live.
If we were to take animal kindness to the extreme and empathize with every creature’s desire to live, our houses would be overrun with cockroaches, spiders, ants and flies. And why not extend our compassion to the other major category of life on planet Earth – plants? If you’ve ever seen grass growing in the cracks of a concrete slab, you can appreciate how hard plants work to survive. The extremes to which some people have taken compassion toward all living things limits them to eating only things that have died a natural death – including only fruits and nuts that have fallen from the trees of their own volition. God bless those extremely compassionate souls as they wither away from malnutrition.
Let’s be reasonable and find some middle ground on this issue. A better gauge of a person’s compassion toward animals than whether or not he hunts or eats veal is how you observe him treating the non-insect creatures with which he comes into contact. How a person treats animals usually reflects how he treats people, as well. Can he really care for something other than himself? Why this test works so much better with animals than people is because they, unlike people, are not usually in a position to return any favors. When a person shows kindness to an animal, he is not expecting anything in return – these acts are often true, unadulterated acts of kindness. The same can be true for kindness to children, homeless people, the elderly and people in subordinate occupations, like waiters and waitresses and other jobs in which a person must remain patient and longsuffering in order to keep the job.
How does that special guy you have your eye on treat the living creatures in his life that cannot serve him any selfish purpose? If he is categorically rude or brutish to animals or certain people, these same ugly attitudes and behaviors are just under the surface of all he does, and when the friction between you and him has worn off that smooth veneer, you too will experience the cruelty with which he treats a squirrel in the road.Hold this thought: A person who is kind to animals – and waiters – is kind indeed. Donna Lee Schillinger is editor of the recent anthology Purity’s Big Payoff/Premarital Sex is a Big Rip-off, winner of the 2012 Christian Small Publisher’s Book of the Year. In 2008 she founded On My Own Now Ministries to encourage faith, wise life choices and Christ-likeness in young adults. On My Own Now publishes the free, monthly online magazines, Single! Young Christian Woman and Genuine Motivation: Young Christian Man.