This week’s Anuvrat invitation: Speak Up

By Jennifer Betit Yen

One of my favorite writers on race once said if, every time they heard something racist, white people spoke up, saying something as simple as “not cool,” racist behavior would vanish.  However, even those who are wellmeaning often don’t speak up and so their silence tacitly approves the racism and it continues, unabated and emboldened.  The same is true for animal cruelty. Even those kind people who would never harm another may stay silent. People are afraid of conflict and judgment, afraid of being othered.  We justify our silence by saying we’re being non-judgmental, peaceful or that speaking up won’t matter.  Those are all excuses…and not very good ones.

A friend in school once complained of how awful he felt when he vivisected mice in class. “But everyone did it,” he exclaimed when I asked why he went along with it even though he knew it was wrong.  “Not everyone,” I replied and recounted how I dropped a psych class back in the days before opt-out was possible rather than experiment on rats.  When I was a child, my scientist father had the opportunity to engage in a study of feline leukemia on cats.  I had nightmares of dying cats and went to my mother, weeping.  I begged her to tell my father not to do the project.  He didn’t. As a young woman, I encountered a lobster a grocery store employee was about to feed into a trash compactor.  People grimaced but nobody spoke up.  I told the woman it wasn’t cool and to give me the lobster.  In total shock, she did.  I released him into the ocean.  Did those actions matter?  To the cats who didn’t get infected, to the rats who weren’t lobotomized, to the lobster who wasn’t crushed – yes, indeed they did.  Perhaps they went further, affecting and influencing those who witnessed the objections to reconsider their silence and speak out themselves next time. 


Acharya Tulsi Ji

Recently, a staffer in a building I live in showed off a video of his friends torturing a small shark to death.  He thought it was great.  I told him it wasn’t great and explained how sharks are an integral part of our ecosystem.  Andrew, the staffer, guffawed at me and said I was squeamish for not wanting to watch his animal abuse video.  I told him his behavior was inappropriate and unprofessional.  I complained to “FirstService,” the company employing him, and, although they did nothing substantive, I am glad I spoke up; glad he received a wake up call that not everyone thinks animal torture is a good thing and that perhaps he should re-think both the deed and the pride in sharing his barbarism with others.  If there is disapproval, especially if coupled with education, each time one is faced with animal abuse, we are communicating that animal cruelty is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.  If enough people have the courage to speak up, we will make a difference for those who cannot speak for themselves. I hope people consider speaking up, particularly for violence against animals, as Anuvrat.

(Jennifer Betit Yen is an actor, writer and recovering attorney.  The Mayor of New York City named a day after her in honor of her acting and activism work.  She has appeared on shows on NBC, Comedy Central and many more.  Films she has written have screened at HBO, the Museum of Chinese in America and at film festivals across the country.

Image courtesy of Provided

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