As a kid of 5, I was fascinated with insects. At the time, our family had recently moved to a rural area, with lots more insect diversity than I’d ever experienced in my young life to date. The relative safety of our environment allowed me to roam unsupervised through nearby wooded areas, gardens and empty lots; much of that time was spent making friends with bugs.
Sometimes I’d put my new friends in jars with twigs and leaves and bring them home with me. Until one momentous day, when my mom watched me play with one of my jars and said, off the cuff, “how would you feel if you were put in a jar by a giant?”
That question shook my young world. The empathy-shock forced me to reconsider all of my insect-related activities. But it was about more than just stopping putting bugs in jars: the question gave me a powerful lens through which to see the world:
What does it feel like for them? What is it like to be them?
Like a spell in a fantasy story, the questions transformed everything they touched… the questions grew as I grew, to encompass all other animals, other human beings, and any other “who’s” I encountered or imagined.
Today we commemorate endangered species day– a terrible tragedy to commemorate, made even more terrible because of how species extinction slips under the radar of our day-to-day busy-ness and our culture-centered challenges. Today I wish to pass on the questions that changed my life to you, for you to let them transform your world (and if you’re already a person who asks these questions, to share them in solidarity).
In the spirit of this, I invite you to read Ted Chiang’s poignant short story, The Great Silence. His story invites us to see and listen to our animal kin, and to imagine that they see and hear us generously in turn. It invites us to remember we, as a vast family of living, complex, conscious beings, human and non-human alike, are given the gift of inhabiting this impossible miracle of a planet; and we must choose to listen to what they need to say now, before we force their voices to go silent.
To take action on behalf of endangered species, you can start here: These 50 animals are in peril. Here’s how you can help
For more information on extinction across species, view this interactive website: Vanishing
Humans are an endangered species too. Especially indigenous peoples. For more information on endangered indigenous peoples: 7 of the world’s most endangered tribes