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Is An Animal A Thing? Or A Being?
By JAMPA WILLIAMS
and NOAH S.B. WILLIAMS
November 11, 2007
Recently, my son Noah ran afoul of his school's curriculum when he refused to classify an animal as a "thing" during a grammar lesson.
Thing, as in "person, place or thing," a time-worn method of identifying whether something is a noun. Noah, being 7 and an animal lover, would not back down and "correct" his classification of animals, which he felt should be regarded as "beings," and he was less than fully cordial when his teacher gently insisted he change his response. Noah felt that, rather than "persons, places and things," the classification system should be "Beings, Places and Things."
As Noah's mother, it is my responsibility to instill in Noah the proper habit of cordiality and respect when disagreeing with others. I encouraged him to show greater respect for his teacher in the style of his response, but I also told him I was proud of him for speaking up on behalf of beings who cannot speak up on behalf of themselves.
Language is powerful. I am raising Noah with an abolitionist ethic. He is conscious of the vulnerability experienced by any being on this earth who is regarded as a thing, as an "it," rather than as a sacred companion in our midst.
To be regarded as a thing is to be regarded as an object lacking liberty, protection or rights. A being regarded as a "thing" or an "it" lives or dies, thrives or suffers, according to the consent or even whims of those who hold power over him or her. Often, human beings have bestowed and continue to bestow upon other human beings the classification of "it," and the results are, and always have been, horrific and unconscionable. Treating any sentient being as a "thing" or an "it" produces results no less horrific, no less cruel.
Noah wrote this essay when I encouraged him to find a positive way to express his beliefs. He wrote from the very heart of his heart, where his love for all beings warms his very existence.
As one of Noah's heroes, environmental activist Sarah Uhl wrote, after she read Noah's essay: "How far removed from the earth and our roots we have come if we cannot recognize that humans are animals and animals are beings!"
Here is Noah's essay.
Why Animals Should Not Be Called Things
By Noah S.B. Williams
Animals should not be called things because they are beings, not things.
Shame on the people who call animals things.
If I could I would give the person who first called animals things a talking-to. I would not call animals things.
Think about this. If you loved someone, would you call them a thing? I wish no one had ever called animals things.
Why would you call your pet a thing?
A rug or something is a thing, but not an animal. He or she is not a thing! This is not funny, it's all true. I would not lie to you about this. It's not a joke.
Do not lie to me, either.
Jampa Williams is a poet, writer and activist in West Hartford. Noah S.B. Williams is a second-grader and political activist in West Hartford.