Routines. I really like them. I embrace the consistency of a healthy pattern because repetition brings me comfort. That said, sometimes routines have to be intentionally broken. Why? Challenging yourself is vital to a purposeful existence. A couple of months ago, I decided that I wanted to do something in addition to teaching over the summer. I’ve been in Houston long enough that I felt it was time to get directly involved with a couple of local non-profit groups that work on animal issues. My career is incredibly important to me, but I think it’s imperative to find different avenues and outlets where you’re able to act on your values.
During a committee meeting this past spring, a colleague of mine who teaches environmental science talked about the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition. Never having worked with animals in this capacity, I thought I should become a member and volunteer at their facility (click here to learn more). After attending the orientation in May, I committed to four shifts where I played a couple of different roles and completed a variety of tasks. Immediately, I noticed how everyone in the office was friendly and welcoming. Furthermore, the professionalism of the leadership impressed me. They have instituted a number of procedures so that volunteers know exactly what to do when they arrive and there’s always enough work to stay busy. The organization has numerous animals (e.g. opossum, woodpecker, owl, turtles, squirrels, a Chinese water dragon, and snakes) on site that require care. Unfortunately, they can’t be released back into the wild because they would not survive. So far, I’ve assisted with cleaning their enclosures and preparing their food. I’ve also done everything from washing animal transport containers and sweeping to laminating signs and folding laundry. What surprised me is the number of injured and orphaned animals that people bring into the office on a daily basis. I had no idea about the level of need for the center’s services.
While volunteering to help area wildlife has been a meaningful growth opportunity for me, I will never lose sight of the animal liberation advocacy that I started doing in college. I adopted a vegetarian diet in 1995 and then progressed to veganism three years later because I reject the instrumental view of animals that reduces them to ‘things’ subject to human manipulation (click here to learn more about a cruelty-free lifestyle). Last fall at an anti-fur demonstration, I met the president of a great local group, Vegan for Life, who informed me about the work he and others were doing. Now, I’ve attended a handful of protests organized by different groups in Houston, but I’ve never played a role in planning any of them. In some ways, I had been on an organizing hiatus after spending years at the center of multiple grassroots campaigns (e.g. animal protection, clean government) in two Illinois cities. When I heard about a Vegan for Life public meeting in May, I felt it was time to start doing educational outreach again. Since then, I’ve joined the group’s core members to leaflet at Summer Fest and table at Pride Fest. Between these two events, we distributed countless pamphlets encouraging people to extend moral consideration to sentient creatures that are often viewed as nothing more than a food source. A simple conversation can be so powerful. Our presence generated a number of very positive responses. As an observation, the crowd at Pride Fest appeared far more sympathetic. My theory is that people who have been historically marginalized from society might be more predisposed to rethinking their food choices. After all, injustice transcends the species barrier.
Yes, routines need to be intentionally broken to reinvigorate yourself. This is accomplished, in part, by reflecting on the values that define your life. Individual purpose evolves by seeking new challenges. Moreover, it is developed through reexamining which values compose the core of your being, understanding your social position, surrounding yourself with thoughtful people who share a similar worldview, and then acting in concert with them to improve conditions that warrant attention. Each semester I tell my students the following: nobody has the time to work on every issue, but everybody can make the time to dedicate themselves to one issue. Just imagine how much further along we could be in addressing a myriad of problems if more people made this a priority. I am not a cynic. It can be done.
Please consider donating to either of these organizations because they could use your financial support.
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