Embracing Our Animal Side

Anyone who has ever experienced the heart-wrenching scene of a dog or a cow separated from their young knows that animals have feelings. Witnessing those painful cries and bellows is enough to make some folks vegetarians. Yet anyone who has stuck around a bit longer—or revisited a cow pasture a few days after the calves were sold—notices something else: It’s all back to normal. Like nothing ever happened.

Seneca himself noted,

“How passionate yet how brief is the sorrow of dumb animals. The lowing of cows is heard for one or two days only, and that wild and frantic running about mares lasts no longer; wild beasts, after following the tracks of their stolen cubs, after wandering through forests and returning over and over to their plundered lairs, within a short space of time quench their rage; birds making a great outcry rage about their empty nest, yet in trice become quiet and resume their ordinary flight.”

D.H. Lawrence said it better and shorter in his poem “Self-Pity,”

“I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Animals feel pain, but they don’t hold onto it. They forget (or let it go) and move on. It’s worth remembering that we too are animals and can do this if we like. Seneca for his part wasn’t trivializing anyone’s pain—he lost a young child himself, possibly his only child. He also knew our tendency to “nurse grief” and pain, to feel sorry for ourselves and wallow.

So he’s suggesting that we partly embrace our animal side, learn how to forget and let things go back to normal. It’s better than self-pity and woe.

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