Where Is The Line?

I want to value all life, but I don’t want fleas on my dog, aita?

The line is where you draw it. I think there is room for a lot of diversity in how that choice is made. The important thing, I feel, is that it is made with humility and compassion. So whether you are a Jainist, sweeping the bugs from your path, or an Apsáalooke hunter thanking an elk for giving its life for your family, or a rabbi making sure the animals you kill die painlessly after a good, healthy life, you are acting consciously, ethically, and that’s the most important thing. Personally, I draw the line at not killing anything unless it’s actively trying to harm me or my loved ones. I do not hunt anymore, but I feel like that is a moral failing since I still eat meat. I believe hunting and fishing is ultimately more ethical than industrial animal farming. Buddhists do complicated karmic accounting problems to minimize suffering, which I think can be a good perspective. It’s difficult because it forces you to confront questions like yours: how does the suffering of these fleas stack up against the suffering of my beloved dog? It’s not a choice, of course you’re going to help your dog, but the temptation Western culture has succumbed to is thinking that you do so because the dog is more intrinsically more important than the fleas. Maybe the best way to reconcile yourself to the choice you’ve already made is to allow how much you love something to be a valid part of the equation. The fleas have just as much right to live as you and the dog do, and the fleas are just being fleas, they aren’t doing anything wrong, but you love your dog so very much more, and the fleas are harming it. Of course, you have to be diligent in learning how the world actually works, so you are applying effective remedies for actual harm, not blindly overreacting to the unknown out of fear. But if your hand is moved by love and guided by compassion and respect, and you did your homework first, it’s ok to have faith in the lines you draw with it, even if somebody else might draw them in a different place.

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