PROFESSOR OF ORGANISMIC BIOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO Author of the soon to be released children's book "Strolling With Our Kin"


Marc Bekoff is Professor of Organismic Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a former Guggenheim Fellow. His main areas of research include animal behavior, cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds), and behavioral ecology, and he has also published extensively on animal rights. He has published over 150 papers and 12 books, the latest being Species of mind: The philosophy and biology of cognitive ethology (with Colin Allen, MIT Press, 1997), Nature's purposes: Analyses of function and design in biology (edited with Colin Allen and George Lauder, MIT Press, 1998), Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological approaches (edited with John Byers, Cambridge University Press, 1998), Encyclopedia of animal rights and animal welfare (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998), and a book on the lighter side, Nature's life lessons: Everyday truths from nature (with Jim Carrier, Fulcrum, 1996). His children's book, Strolling with our kin, will be published in Spring 2000 and The smile of a dolphin: ReMarcable accounts of animal emotions will be published by Random House/Discovery Books in fall 2000. Bekoff's work has been featured on 48 Hours, in Time Magazine, Life Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, The New York Times, on NPR, BBC, Nature GEO, in a National Geographic Society television special ("Play: The Nature of the Game"), and in Discovery TV's "Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry." Recently he and Jane Goodall published their Twelve Millennial Mantras (http://www.bouldernews.com/opinion/guest/ebmarc.html).


Interview Questions:

Sharon . . .
Marc, do you believe that animals have souls?

Marc . . .
I believe that all living organisms have souls and are souls. Regardless of what they look like, how they behave, or how similar to us they are, they have and are souls. Many people think that only humans have souls but then can't tell us what they mean by the phrase "have souls." Perhaps we can get out of this loop by claiming that animals are souls, for souls are intangible - not physically graspable, if you will. Souls are part of the life force or spark itself. Perhaps even vegetation has it own sort of soul - who knows? Let's not close the door on any possibilities. All life is kin.

Sharon . . .
How does our relationship with and treatment of animals relate to our own spirituality and unfoldment as human beings?

Marc . . .
Compassion begets compassion, cruelty begets cruelty. What we give we will ultimately receive. Nonhumans help make us human - they teach us respect, compassion, and unconditional love. When we mistreat animals we mistreat ourselves. When we destroy animal spirits and souls we destroy our own spirits and souls. The integrity and well-being of the universe depends on fostering and maintaining reciprocal and deep relationships and interconnections with _all_ life (and also with inanimate landscapes).

Sharon . . .
What do you see that we can do to enhance the spiritual lives of our animal companions and other animals?

Marc . . .
We must treat them as if they are an integral of our own lives - our own souls and well-being. When they suffer we suffer, when they prosper we prosper. It is essential to develop empathy, compassion, and respect for all animals in all human animals, especially children. For children will come to be our and other animals' voices, indeed voices of the universe including bodies of water and the air we breathe. So, it makes good sense to teach children well, to be role models, to infuse their education with kindness, compassion, and love so that their decisions are founded on a deeply rooted, automatic reflex-like caring ethic. If we don't, they, we, other animals, human communities and environments will suffer. Recently I've been teaching grade-schoolers. The classes center on the guiding principles of Jane Goodall's world-wide Roots & Shoots program, whose basic tenets are that every individual is important and every individual makes a difference. The program is activity oriented and members partake in projects that have three components: care and concern for animals, human communities, and the places in which we all live together. I am regional coordinator for this program. I disdain how science chops everything into little bits - how science fragments, slices, cuts, and disembodies. I am a holist at heart. My anthropomorphism and sentimentalism are off-putting to many other scientists but that's just who I am. I think my academic record shows clearly that I (and some others) can do solid science and still be driven by my (our) heartstrings - that solid science can be done even if one goes to the beat of a different drummer. I strongly advocate developing science with a heart (http://www.thedailycamera.com/opinion/guest/mbek.html) and more socially responsible science.

Sharon . . .
How do you see to expand the awareness of people to include animals as spiritual beings?

Marc . . .
I feel it's essential to provide people with the opportunity to experience animals in their own "natural" environments, and not confined in unnatural conditions of captivity. I feel it's essential for people to learn more about how animals sense their worlds from the point of view of the animals and not merely from humans' points of view. I have been working on a book on animal emotions, examples of which drive home repeatedly the message that many animals have deep and rich emotional lives and deep and rich spirits. People also need to know more about how animals are treated when they are exploited by humans for food, research, education, and amusement and entertainment. It isn't a pretty picture and people must give more than lip service to the rampant exploitation of animals - they must act on their passions or else little will ever be done to improve other animals' lives. A commitment to action will certainly make it easier for many people to appreciate other animals as spiritual beings.

Sharon . . .
Would your comment on your relationship with the animals in your care? What have they given you? What have you given them?

Marc . . .
I have shared my home with numerous companion dogs. They have given me so much it's hard to put it all in mere words. In a nutshell they've given me unconditional love and deep friendships that are part of my cells - an integral part of my own soul and spirit. I am forever grateful to them for sharing their lives with me. Other than feeding them and making sure that their basic needs are met I always make sure that they are psychologically and physically healthy. My friends would say I am compulsive about this, that I take better care of them than I do of most people. While I don't feel this is so, I do indeed love them deeply and dearly and want them to have the best possible life they can, and often this means changing my plans for them. What a pleasure to do so!

Sharon . . .
I have the pleasure of joining you at the Kinship Conference in San Francisco in July of 2000 that will address the spiritual relationship between man animals, nature and Earth Herself. What is the significance of such a conference?

Marc . . .
The significance of this conference can't be put in words, but that's all we've got in this medium. My dream - and I am a dreamer, and an optimistic one at that - is that people will become more aware of how attached we really are to the rest of the universe, and that when our attachments are weakened because of human arrogance, _every organism and inanimate environs suffer._ We are not alone and we should not behave as if we are, or as if we are special. To be sure, a world without other animals would be horribly impoverished and we would miss the animals more than they would miss us. This conference will, I hope, bring people together into a strong and coherent community that'll function as some sort of superorganism to make the lives of all animals - human and non-human - significantly richer and better. I also hope this conference will show people that it is perfectly OK to ache with the pains of other animals and the universe, that is is alright to show others their pain when others are in pain - that it's OK to cry openly and work hard for many, many better tomorrows.

Personally, I ache when I feel trees being felled, water ways being changed, and inanimate landscapes being decimated. My vitalistic sense is offended by all destruction. I am a dreamer and have visions of many better tomorrows. Let us all practice peace and justice, and express compassion, respect, and love for the rest of the world. May we all, as a tight and committed community, work uncompromisingly towards these goals.

Blessings and love to all. Marc

More from Marc . . .

Confessions of a natural born optimist, by Marc Bekoff

     Basically, I am an animal rights advocate/activist with deep concerns about all animals, plants, bodies of water, the air we breathe, outer space, and inanimate landscapes. I have always had these concerns according to my parents, since I was a toddler. Thus, I am not sure how I came to my compassionate views of the world in which I live. Often, I feel deep in my heart it is simply genetic - inborn - and that I have been blessed with a keen sensitivity of the plight of other animals and all other "beings" in the world. I am a vitalist and see and feel life in everything, animate and inanimate.

     I am a vegetarian. I eat a few animal products minimally and strive to eliminate all animal products as time goes on. My reasons for vegetarianism are ethical and not health related. The issues centering on meat-eating that are most important to me deal with the horrific slaughtering of animals for human consumption and the death of our animal kin to satisfy nutritional needs that for almost all people can be met by eating products other than animal meat.

     I have published quite a lot in the area of animal protection and animal rights. My Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare was published in 1998 and I have a children's book coming out this spring titled Strolling With Our Kin: Speaking for and Respecting Voiceless Animals (American Anto-vivisection Society). I also write a column for my local paper and for other popular outlets and travel widely to give lectures. I find myself at odds particularly with my scientific colleagues and with some others because I am a scientist with a heart, a scientist who feels that the business of science could do much much better in the area of animal protection. I also disdain how science chops everything into little bits - how science fragments, slices, cuts, and disembodies. I am a holist at heart. My anthropomorphism and sentimentalism are off-putting to many other scientists but that's just who I am. I think my academic record shows clearly that I (and some others) can do solid science and still be driven by my (our) heartstrings - that solid science can be done even if one goes to the beat of a different drummer.

     Most of my family and close friends support my views and animal protection in general. I maintain my sanity by keeping up hope. I am an inborn optimist and I simply believe that there are many reasons for hope. I worked on a set of millennial mantras with Jane Goodall and her optimism and hope and friendship are among the most important ingredients for my recipe for a better tomorrow - a better world for our children and theirs.

     Animal abuse is particularly upsetting, but I also ache when I feel trees being felled, water ways being changed, and inanimate landscapes being decimated. My vitalistic sense is offended by all destruction. I am a dreamer and have visions of many better tomorrows. Let us all practice peace and justice, and express compassion and respect for the rest of the world. May we all, as a tight and committed community, work towards these goals.

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