Empathy for Insects

As we open our hearts, we begin to love all creatures great and small. Empathy is the ability to feel and understand another. It is my belief that using empathy can never hurt and always helps us make better and more informed decisions.

Oftentimes, the more different someone is from you, the harder it can be to empathize with them. Generally, it is easier to put ourselves in the position of other mammals than it is with reptiles. In order to open the door for empathy with insects, I’m going to use a series of questions to help put us in the small bodies of these creatures who share this earth with us. 

Have you ever imagined being an insect? What would it be like to live with all these giants? How would you want the giants to treat you? Would you want to be squashed or killed as a simple nuisance, or would you want to be respected and valued as the being you are? What if insects are under cover and have profoundly connected beings in another dimension? What if God came down to you in the form of an insect? How then would you relate with them? Take some time to reflect on these questions, If you’ve never considered them before. Do you really have any more right to live than any other creature? I’m not saying this to suggest we shouldn’t ever kill insects. I just think we need to respect them profoundly and not kill them without feeling or considering them. 

Insect Rights

Many will say insects have no awareness of themselves and may not feel pain. They have no right to life. We used to say this around the people whom we called retarded. We labeled autistic and developmentally disabled people as not human and treated them inhumanely. We like to objectify others before we discriminate against them. Now I’m not saying autistic and developmentally disabled people are like insects. Humans are vastly different from insects. I’m simply pointing out the tendency to objectify before we mistreat another. 

If you’ve ever tortured an insect or seen them die, you may know firsthand that they experience pain. It’s palpable in the field. You must have seen the ways ants run in panic when you’re trying to step on them or there’s something else going on in the environment. They sense, feel, and interact with their environment as all life forms do. Why do you think we have a right to be treated with respect while we treat insects with such utter disrespect? If we shared this earth with giants, as the insects do with us, how would we want to be treated by those giants?

Driving is one of the biggest attacks on insects we all personally engage in. We kill so many moths, butterflies, and other bugs on the windshield, which is inevitable in driving. When we breathe, we kill bacteria to help keep us healthy. Death is a part of life. When we take a stand for our life, other forms must capitulate to us.  When we die, we capitulate to other forces that consume us like the fungi, insects, and microorganisms who help us decompose.

Invading and Attacking Insects

When is it ethical to kill insects and when is it unethical? Accidental killing, while not necessarily desirable, is okay. We can’t help but step on or drive into insects we don’t see or perceive.

When insects attack us, such as mosquitos or ticks, they are setting themselves up as enemies. It’s appropriate to defend ourselves from attacking insects and if we wish to kill them. It may be funny to say it this way, but I believe it’s within our moral right to kill insects that attack us. When I was in college, I wrote an essay called “The Mosquito: A Blood Sucking Bastard?” I was exploring how I don’t kill anything except mosquitos. I was contemplating my ethics in killing them in that nature writing essay. 

It’a always important to follow our heart. When we choose to kill insects, it should be because our heart tells us to. If our heart tells us to kill them in self-defense, then it’s the right thing to do. In my ethic, this shouldn’t come from an egoic sense of righteousness. It comes from a feeling of the heart in the moment. It is my belief we should never take a life without being respectful toward this life and following our heart. This includes insects, animals, and humans. There’s a time to kill insects, animals, plants, and humans. We would likely all kill someone who was trying to kill our children. If we were soldiers in a war, many of us would kill other humans. I generally believe animals should not be killed for sport. If they are being killed for food or clothing, that feels different to me. If they are invading your home or attacking you or your crops and there’s no other way to resolve the situation, I believe killing at this time is also ethical. 

Respect for Life

All life should never be intentionally taken from another unless you are using this life to live. Vegetarians and vegans might say all animal life should never be taken for food or clothing either. This is a very humane position toward animals. I didn’t eat animals for seven years from the ages of 13 to 20, because I didn’t believe in the killing of animals for food. At some point, my body told me I needed meat and so I began to eat meat again. Nothing has changed in my love for animals, but my body needs it, so I have to take care of myself first as my heart informs. I still empathize with vegetarians and vegans.

Insects Are Necessary

Insects are a necessary part of the ecosystem of this whole planet. When we use insecticides and wage wars on insects without regard for their role in the ecosystem, we play a dangerous game. Any farmer knows we must consider slugs, mites, and other pests to have a successful harvest. We want to protect our food and not let it all get eaten by insects, deer, gophers, or whatever wildlife might want it. What are the most ethical ways to protect our food, while doing minimal harm to other species? 

My Favorite Insects

My favorite insects are butterflies, dragon flies, fireflies, spiders, praying mantises, bees, mosquito eaters, daddy long legs, ants that are not invading homes, and earthworms (which are not technically molluscs and not insects, but I want to mention them here anyway). What are your favorite insects? How do you empathize with insects? I want to know what I am missing here in this unusual exploration of empathy. 

Spokesperson for Insects

I like to think about the insects because they have very few rights in our human world currently. I want to be a spokesperson for the insects. I want to say that insects contribute so much to this planet. I imagine insects saying through me, “Without us so many flowers would not be pollinated and so much of what plants, animals, and humans need would not be possible. Don’t underestimate us or mistreat us because we are small. We have a right to life just as much as any other being does. Please respect us. Treat us how you would want to be treated if you were in our little bodies. Remember, our life matters too.”  As Dr. Seuss said, in Horton Hears a Who, “A person is a person no matter how small.”

A World We All Share

This is a world we must all share. Let’s share it respectfully with all plants and animals. And, let’s remember the insects and carry them in our hearts and our prayers. Every insect who has died to enable our life may your sacrifice be blessed. May you find peace in whatever way serves your being. If you reincarnate, may you have a good future life. I love all you insects – even the pesky flies, mosquitoes, and ticks. I couldn’t imagine life on earth without you. May our skies and our ground be filled with enough insects to continue to sustain a balanced ecosystem for all life on earth. 

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