As a blogger and publisher of a green media site I get a lot of emails from people sharing their thoughts and asking for my advice (for whatever it's worth). One email I got recently from somebody I'll call "Jane" had me a little at a loss for a proper response. Jane wrote:
"Hi! I am reading your blog, and I also love the eco life! I also try to teach my kids respect for all living creatures. However, yesterday when a big spider stumbled across the kitchen floor I calmly took a piece of kleenex and promptly squished it! But, when I am standing there, satisfied with dead spider in hand, I suddenly see the question in my three year old boys look, and feel ashamed! How do I explain this? I am not that afraid of spiders, I just killed it because it was there! How do you deal with these sort of things? Do you also squish spiders in front of your kids, and do you own a fly swatter and swatt flies and wasps? And how do you explain this to your kids?"
Wow! Someone was asking me to help explain some of life's most perplexing existential issues to their kid! What should I say? After some thought, I wrote back:
'Thanks so much for reaching out and for reading my blog! I know exactly what you mean about feeling conflicted about how to explain life's unpleasant realities to our kids - whether it's killing bugs or even eating meat. My daughter is so upset by the concept of eating dead animals, that she wants to be a vegetarian at age 9. However, she has realized that she really likes chicken and fish and that they are a good source of protein and so she isn't really sticking to the vegetarian diet. I explain to her that as long as the animal is treated humanely, raised responsibly and is not an endangered species, it is part of the natural circle of life to eat other animals. I also explain that many animals are killed in the mass production of soy and corn used in vegetarian products, so it is more important to understand the entire picture - agribusiness vs. local farm, etc. As for insects, I just explain that it is best to pick them up and take them outside if possible, but it is OK to kill one that poses a direct threat (i.e. mosquito), if needed - again - as part of the circle of life."
Many of you may disagree with me - especially the part about eating animals - but my point is that we all have our own way of justifying how we choose to live our lives. As children, we see things in black and white and right and wrong. As we get older, we realize that life is very complex and that we will need to make difficult choices. What's important is that we make sure we are as educated and informed as possible when make these choices. Since the human race is, well, narcissistic by nature, it much easier for us to make tough choices when the ramifications affect us personally. For example, I use organic, non-toxic shampoo, which is more expensive and harder to find, mostly because I don't want the chemicals in "conventional" shampoo to harm my body or give me cancer. The fact that I am also preventing toxic chemicals from ending up in the groundwater and polluting our oceans is an added plus. But whether we do it for more selfish reasons or for purely altruistic motivations, we should take the time to think before making decisions that affect ourselves and others. Too often we do something just because it is easier.
The next time a spider crawls across your floor, think for a second. Are you or your loved ones in danger? Is the spider's appearance in your house causing any harm? If not, would it take much to just pick up the spider and place it outside in the yard?