I’ve been mulling this over for some time, a way of quantifying the rudimentary universal communication, unspoken understandings, subtle negotiations, and at time overt mercies that cross the lines between species. It points to the common connection all living creatures share on this planet, and perhaps something more profound: the idea that the Earth may be more than a planet teeming with autonomous creatures, each rushing headlong towards their individual fates. Instead the world may very well be and behave as a single organism!
It is an incredible and fantastic thought, but what would compel animals to adopt and nurture animals from another species, as in the case-certainly not the only one-of the Lion and orphaned Antelope? ( BBC News,Lioness adopts third baby antelope, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1905363.stm) Or that animals would act in any way inconsistent with instinctual imperatives, such as same-sex pair bonding? (BBC News, Homosexual zebra finches form long-term bond, http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/14479670)
But what I am looking for is a basis which connects all things to one another, to find and define that common language that transcends species. Some might call that God, or Gaia, the Great Spirit, or an energy which exists in all things. I believe that it is much deeper and much quieter and far more profound,a common and eminently simple global language that transcends any Human religion.
Fundamental to an interspecies language is life itself. There exists in every organism the imperative to simply exist. That imperative is, from a communication perspective, a statement-perhaps the ultimate statement between species. It is a statement fundamental to all living things, from the most rudimentary to the most complex. It is, from this simple statement, I believe, the cornerstone of that planetary language. From that statement more of that basic language begins to come into focus. Second to the statement of existence are assertions of pain.
Pain is hardly as simple a definition as it may seem. Pain is struggle. Pain is threat and distress, but pain can also be truth. Pain, in the absence of any direct form of communication becomes a basis for negotiation, because each individual creature’s pain is entirely its own, and therefore an absolute fact. The communication comes, between individuals, in the level of acknowledgment of each other’s pain and in the negotiation with one another’s pain.
We are surprised and awed by the Lioness that adopts a helpless antelope, by the way animals recognize human pain and illness, by the cat mothering ducklings or the dog nursing kittens. We are stunned and amazed when animals portray social and mental acuity beyond what we would expect of simple creatures possessed fully by their base instincts.
We expect our pets to respond to us, to come when we call, to fetch and heel, to shake, stay and rollover. I began last year repeating the word “love” while grooming or petting our cat, Oliver. I have no illusions that he holds a concept of “love,” so to speak. But I am quite sure that he finds pleasure in the word, for now if I say it from across the room his ears go up and his tail wags in a way it doesn’t with other words. In Oliver’s simple way, in a mental language all his own,the physical sound of the word evokes pleasurable recollections of being scratched or brushed. In a Rudimentary sense, Oliver has formed a concept-his concept- of love.
Perhaps our amazement over displays of “humanity” by animals awakens our own desires for hope and peace in the face of animosities over such terribly superficial things like religion, nationality and race among members of the very same species. In some ways it is likewise of an indictment of mercies and tenderness we so often fail to extend to one another.