Thursday, 15 May 2014

Becoming More Feeling (and owning up when you mess up)

In Florida right next to Seaworld

The saying that you need to "get a thicker skin" is bandied about a lot in our society. There is an idea that people who feel "too much" (as if feeling should be moderated) are week, out of control or downright self indulgent.
There is also the notion that younger people tend to be more sentimental, more in tune with their feelings and that as we grow older we develop barriers, we intellectualise, we toughen up.
Here's the interesting part though I have found this to be the total opposite.
As I get older I feel I have far more empathy than I ever had in my twenties.
My ability to be compassionate and to understand how every action has a reaction grows everyday and never more so in how we treat all living creatures (humans, wildlife, pets) and I am learning that its important to recognise when you yourself have contributed to something really dark and unfeeling. 

I watched this by pure chance a few weeks ago

So a few weeks ago I watched a documentary called Blackfish. I was as is often the case riding the insomnia wave, looking for something to lull me to sleep
and what better than to watch something about whales. 
I'm a vegetarian, I love whales its all good.
This documentary was about the whales that are used for displays in the theme park Seaworld in Florida. 

Trainers standing next to  a tank with a whale in at Seaworld

Now I had visited Seaworld in mid 2010. I am always trying to show my little girl the wonders of nature and the claims that Seaworld make about their conservation work is amazing. I'm always a bit mixed about zoos or seeing any animal or mammal in captivity but it claimed to be really something quite special.
We went along and watched the one ocean show which features the wonders of the whale . Trainers rode on the whales backs, dived in the water with them, got them to spin around and perform tricks. Its was for me slightly uncomfortable watching, sure the whales looked well and fit and seemed to have a real connection to their trainers but gosh that pool looked small in relation to the whales magnificent size.
I would love to say I stormed out but I didn't. I sat there, struggling with my feelings  of discomfort whilst also enjoying the look of joy on my daughters face  as she saw the magnificent creatures close up. Hell afterwards we even brought a shamu toy.
having my snap taken as a shark swims by-literally holidaying in another creatures misery. My nasty sweaty hair is a testment to my bad juju

The thing that made me decide to never visit Seaworld again wasnt this disgusting spectacle (I'm being honest here) it was actually seeing  a beautiful polarbear looking as miserable as sin in a faux snowy enclosure. My heart broke and despite staying at the Doubletree Hilton a few more times after that (which gives you free admission to Seaworld)  we never returned.
It was actually this polar bear that made us all decide never to visit Seaworld again

So when I watched Blackfish made by the filmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite I wondered what i would learn. Would my reservations be unfounded or was my initial ikky feeling right. 
The film focuses on  a captive orca named Tilikum.
Tilikum was stolen from his family and the ocean at only two years old. What I  hadn't realised was how important familiar bonds are to whales. Even as the boats with nets and helicopters chased the whales they were trying to catch the whales split into two to try and keep the fishermen away from the mothers and their babies but they of course stood no chance. 
It is always the babies they want to use and train in these kind of parks so we saw baby whales hoisted into nets whilst their mothers circled the boats frantically wailing in such a mournful way. It was basically heartbreaking.

Posing outside the Doubltree Hilton in Orlando Florida which offers free Seaworld tickets to hotel guests

The documentary focuses on Tilikum because it is believed the isolation and confinement he has been subjected to over the last 20 years have driven him quite mad and he has killed three humans.
Tilikum the whale the Blackfish documentary focuses on
Anecdote after anecdote from former trainers at seaworld, Marine experts and conservationists all told how they believed this use of whales to basically offer bread and circuses to sweaty westerners was a total travesty and the worst thing is I not only totally agree but I also contributed to this.

So what lesson have I learnt? well first of all to listen to my gut instinct. If something doesn't feel right, walk away. 
Secondly do your research. If you are going to any zoo, marine park or safari that includes animals, fish or mammals as entertainment really do your homework. 
In the big corporate world we live in to simply not contribute economically does have immense power.
I feel ashamed I was part of this but also thankful of the lesson I have received. Know your world. Tread lightly on it and have respect for all who inhabit it.

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