The First Principle Project (FPP), in operation since August 2013, has stoked conversations, reflection, and study regarding human's relation to and care of others, including those of other species. Inviting and engaging each other in how to think and act in a multispecies world is one of the primary goals of the FPP. We seek to wrestle with how we hold as precious the needs of all beings, without devaluing the beauty of humans having a flourishing life for themselves. Indeed, we may come to share the understanding that human flourishing depends on seeing the inherent worth and dignity of indivdiuals of other species.
A recent article in the New York Times, On Smushing Bugs, lifts up how the FPP is about making life better for humans while considering the well being of other species, and this effort is no small thing, for Unitarian Univeralists, or for the author. He begins by realting how insects and mice die at the hands of humans. The author suggests that the Buddhist ideal of killing none and showing compassion to all in our actions is all but out of reach; "it's impossible even to live and move through this world without killing something....I helplessly kill dozens, if not hundreds, of animals daily with my big, dumb, blundering existence."
For the author, though, these tragic, and often unavoidable results, do not diminish the worth of the other or the impact on humans; "A bug may be a small, unimportant thing, but maybe killing or saving one isn't. Everytme I smush a bug I can feel myself smushing something else too - an impulse towards mercy, a little throb of remorse. Maybe it would feel better to decide that killing even a bug matters. Does devaluing tiny insignificant lives lead to callousness about larger, more important ones...?"
His grappling with this issue is what is happening when Unitarian Universalists consider changing the First Principle to the "inherent worth and dignity of every being." How do we reconcile that they have worth when our outward actions continue to harm and maim? How indeed....
I have no answsers to this question, other than that I am clear that taking up the question, with one another, may lead to greater flourishing and less harm for all. In our stories, uncertainities, and yes, grief, we embody an understanding that might just heal the wounds we inflict upon ourselves thinking we are apart from the beauty of the many and the all, and hence we become more welcoming to ourselves and others humans, as well as other species.
The author ends his opinion piece with a story how he rescued some raccoons from a dumpster. "Maybe I"m not a hero in the raccoon community. But whenever I think of all the harm I've done in this world, through cruelty or carelessness, or just by the unavoidable crime of being in it, I try to remember how I felt standing there, watching them go." I assume that he felt good saving the raccoons, and from that action, he was also saving himself.
By caring for others, we care for ourselves.
Action with reflection leads him to seeing how he can be more compassionate in the world. This is the goal of the FPP - reflection and action woven together, ever leading us forward to a better world.
We are all caught in a web of harm and benefit - and we all subject to intersectionality, which is the intersection between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. This intersectionality also binds us in beauty and tragedy.
By opening our hearts and minds to this reality, we open our arms to welcome each and all to belonging as worthy individuals on this planet. In so doing, we find ourselves truly at home, with a growing spirituality, consciousness, and compassion that considers and cares for all.
Together we find a way towards the greatest reconciliation and restoration that this complex life can offer.
May it be so.
Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner
First Principle Project Facilitator