Basic Instinct

I don’t know why I didn’t stop to see if they were dead.  In fact, I was stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change. It would have been so easy to pull my bike up onto the sidewalk and check to see if the pigeon was really dead and it would have been nothing to simply move them off the road and away from traffic. Even though the bird looked deceased – they lay face down on the concrete, the only movement was their feathers being ruffled by the wind – there was still a chance that they weren’t given that there was no visible blood and their body looked intact. What would it have cost me to simply move them to a sheltered place on the sidewalk so at least their remains wouldn’t have been smashed all over the road?  It would have cost me nothing but a few minutes of time. In fact, my very first thought, my very first instinct, was to check and see if the bird was dead. I even had an example of it: in the documentary, I Am An Animal about Ingrid Newkirk, the co-founder of PETA, Ingrid is driving in her car being interviewed when she spots a dead dove on the road.  She pulls a U-Turn to double-check: the dove is indeed dead so she simply places the bird in some bushes, gets back in her car and continues with the interview.

As the light changed and I rode away, I had that scene go through my mind and my (lack of) actions bothered me for the rest of the day. What bothered me wasn’t just that I didn’t check to see if the animal was dead. It was that I hadn’t listened to my instincts to do so. Instead, I allowed the usual rationalizations to overpower it: “You don’t want to be late for work…there are cyclists waiting behind you…what are you going to pick the bird up with?” and other limitless restrictions that have been hardwired into me all in the name of appropriate behaviour.

There are times in my life when I have listened to my instincts but that usually only happens after I have a scenario where I suppress them and then become determined not to do it again (I once saw someone steal a laminated subway map from the train and did nothing.  The next time I saw someone do it two years later, I stood up, demanded they hand it over and returned it to a TTC collector).

In my previous post I told of a live lobster I “had” to kill when I worked as a cook in the restaurant industry.  I was ordered by my boss to cut the lobster in half while they were still alive.  I also remember the first lobster I ever boiled alive.  It was my first job as a teenager and I can remember standing at the pot of boiling water, holding the live lobster in my hand.  My boss (not the same one) was standing beside me, walking me through the process.  He saw my hesitation.  He told me it was okay and to, “just be quick about it…the longer you wait, the harder it will be.”

But my hesitation with the lobster back then and with the pigeon yesterday morning was not fear.  In each instance I had made the connection between life and death and that moment of waiting was the window on my instincts closing. It was the space it took for my conscience to cry out and then be silenced by a misappropriated sense of grown-up logic and societal norms.  It was the countdown to repression.

I believe this is why children make the connections from animals to food very early on: they have not yet had their filters of what is right and wrong clouded by false advertising, misleading food guides and parental pressures and traditions. It makes me wonder how many more people would be vegetarian today had they been allowed to act upon these instincts from the time they first felt them.

As for me, it didn’t matter that the pigeon looked dead or that if I hadn’t boiled the lobster someone else would have. The point was, I didn’t listen to my most basic instincts. I didn’t listen to my first response which was telling me that I not only had a choice but an opportunity to respond.

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2 thoughts on “Basic Instinct

  1. Marisa says:

    It’s funny…this is EXACTLY how I changed how I responded to the same situation. I biked or drove past seemingly dead animals a few too many times and finally decided that the next time I would stop and check. And now I do. Like you, I just had to rehearse the situation in my head and now I’m prepared. Of course, some of my friends probably wish I wouldn’t stop…like when I called Sean one morning from a streetcar stop begging him to come get me in the car ‘cos I’d found a poor mouse endlessly circling with a probable head injury. 🙂


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