Source: Vegetarian Newsletter, Date: Sun, 03 Mar 2002, The Enlightened Times, March 2002 Volume 10 Issue 3, A publication of the Vegetarian Resource Group of Tucson,

Two articles from this issue

Circles of Identity, Love, and Empathy

By Robert Dunn

(Editor's Note: Robert shared the philosophy of Circles with some of us at our last restaurant night out, and the concept is so simple and pure that I asked if he would share it.--Debbie)

Think of the following as a series of concentric circles beginning in the center at 1, Body, and the outer perimeter being at 17, God. An individual at birth begins identifying at the #1 circle (I AM MY BODY) and progressively moves towards the outer circles through a process of maturity-development-spiritual evolution.( I AM A JONES. I AM AN AMERICAN. I AM A CUB SCOUT. I AM A MALE. I AM AN ENGINEER. I AM A MARINE…) The average American today stops (Freud called it "fixation.") at about the 6th or 7th circle. He/She may stop at any circle for any period of time, including the whole life. Under extreme circumstances, a person may return to an earlier circle (regression). Only a very, very few make it to the outer circle.

Whatever is encircled within the "my" identity circle is experienced as part of "the myself," with love and empathy naturally following. At #13, below, "I am a part of the brotherhood of all animals," for example, a person finds it difficult to kill animals or eat animal flesh. At the higher numbers, the person is more spiritually evolved.

A person whose number is small is very self-centered and not able to share the experiences of other entities. We know that psychopathic people have an early history of torturing animals and other children without apparent empathy or remorse. They may have a power advantage in being objective, unfeeling and "scientific" in observing and manipulating others. They may be able to use extremes of torture, etc., without hesitation or restraint. This can make them very powerful and charismatic, as numerous historical tyrants have demonstrated.

Please consider these categories to be more-or-less suggestive, recognizing that someone may skip categories or only identify with part of one circle and not other parts. People who are fixated at the lower numbers usually do not find fulfillment in relation with others, or offer such fulfillment. This may also be true at the higher levels because such consciousness does not fit well into what is normally considered "a good relationship."

Relationships offer the most satisfaction possible if the people involved have attained similar levels of identification. People who have circles too distant from one another would have difficulty in mutual understanding. This is a major problem between lovers, spouses, parents and children, etc.

Identity Circle Attained.
10=Identity group
14=Living things
15=The Earth
16=Higher beings
Highest Attained

The Eastern Masters point out that one incurs heavy karmic debt from killing, and that the higher up the evolutionary ladder the victim is, the greater the debt. How many mammalian deaths do you suppose the average American is responsible for in her/his lifetime?

I recently had a vision of a signboard that read: "You know that Commandment; "Thou shalt not Kill? I meant that. Signed God." A cow has the same feelings and consciousness as the family pet. Hiring a killing is as bad as actually doing it yourself. Love animals. Embrace them in you're my-ness, as part of your brother-and-sisterhood. Don't have the stain of their deaths on your conscience or recorded on your book of life. Love yourself. Love everyone.


By Tim J. Schaefer

 The VRGT welcomes new member Robert Dunn to the fold. His insightful
piece, Circles of Identity, Love, and Empathy, appears in this issue. If
you've turned to my column initially, go to Robert's article NOW and read
it FIRST-then come back here and pick up where you left off, because the
two pieces are interrelated.
I'm reprinting the 17 identity circles here for reference:
1=Body. 2=Ego. 3=Mine. 4=Mom. 5=Friend. 6=Family. 7=Lover. 8=Pets. 9=Group. 10.
Identity Group. 11=Country. 12=Humanity. 13=Animals. 14=Living Things.
15=The Earth. 16=Higher Beings. 17=God.
 Robert states that the average American stops at the 6th or 7th circle. I have no doubt that may be true, but I'm willing to be a little more generous and say that most Americans, in this post September 11th era, seem to be stuck at the 11th circle: Country. The proliferation of flags whipping in the breeze and an approval rating of something like eighty percent for Dubya's war would seem to bear this out.

 What keeps us stuck at Country, and unable to move on to Humanity, is something I will term "Selective Ignorance." We're willing to embrace a certain segment of humanity-those we identify as "Americans," but not humanity as a whole. And as long as we can convince ourselves that we are fundamentally different (race seems to be the best excuse) and somehow more "human" than some other segments of our species, we'll continue to kill with impunity in racist wars. If you don't think most wars are racist, well…you have to go back to the forties to find a major conflict where we really mixed it up with some white people-the Germans-and only then because they forced our hand. (Luckily, we also had the Japanese to provide that all-important racial component.) Thereafter, it was Koreans, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and now the Afghans--and other Arabs to follow, no doubt-all of whom look and act differently from the Caucasian majority in America, and thus are fair game.

 The recently concluded Winter Olympics were another noble attempt to transcend the tribe mentality and demonstrate that on the inside, people around the world are just people-the same as you and me. But for most of
us, like those gathered in the stadium sending up the mindless roar of "USA! USA!" we can't quite get past our nationalistic fervor. Shifting gears (but we'll come back), what I, as a vegan, find to be most interesting-and insightful-about the circles of identity is that "Pets" are listed at number 8, while "Animals" check in farther along at
number 13. Indeed, there are lots of non-vegetarians who love their dogs and cats. And there are many non-vegetarians who are involved with animal welfare organizations that work to provide low cost spaying and neutering, for example, of domestic animals. Such individuals may demonstrate a great deal of caring and compassion for these types of four-legged friends. They've reached circle # 8-pets-but not circle # 13-animals, as they haven't yet grasped (or chose to ignore) the reality that there are no basic differences between the animals we call "pets" and the animals we call "food," in regards to intelligence level, the ability to feel fear and pain, etc. (Pigs, in fact, are more intelligent than either dogs or cats.)  Most omnivores would recoil at the thought of eating dog meat, yet they have no qualms about biting into a cow. Again, selective ignorance at work. Breaking through the psychological barrier of selective ignorance,one likely becomes an ethical vegetarian or vegan.

Back to the chart. What stands between identity circle 11: Country, and number 13: Animals, where we vegetarians would like to see people progress to, at minimum-is Humanity. And therein lies the rub. It makes sense to me that you're going to have to get most people to embrace the whole of humanity-their own species-before you get them to wholeheartedly embrace the animal kingdom. When a sizeable segment of humanity comes to understand that all men are brothers, as the saying goes, the next light bulb that goes off in their heads will be recognition of the interconnection and interdependence of all living things.  Having said that, perhaps those of us who strive to engender more compassion for animals have been putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. Obviously, we should not abandon these efforts. But maybe what is needed is a two pronged attack. Maybe it's time to start thinking about simultaneously supporting, and working with organizations that promote and fight for human rights and dignity around the globe. That sort of thing.

It's just a thought.
YOUR thoughts are welcome.