The word “hunting” or “hunter” catches my ear. Then I hear my name.
I’m at a gathering of neighbors and a friend has just told a couple acquaintances that I hunt. Catching a few more words, I can sense their astonishment from across the room. He seems like a nice enough guy, I imagine them thinking. You wouldn’t think he was part of that deranged, bloodthirsty lot.
Ten or fifteen years earlier, I would have been in their shoes. I would have reacted from the same viewpoint: Modern hunters don’t have to kill to survive. They kill because they want to. Wanting to kill is a sign of ignorance, sadism, or worse.
To be sure, there are some nasty, sadistic hunters out there. But I’m not sure that such people are found any more frequently among hunters than among the general population.
When you paint all hunters with that brush—convincing yourself that they’re all deranged—you can ignore everything they say. Who listens to nutcases? It makes things easy. You can dismiss them as a stereotyped category, shaking your head and saying, “I just don’t understand that (crazy) way of thinking.”
But the blade cuts both ways.
I hear folks talking about anti-hunters in similar ways: they’re ignorant, naïve, or worse. They’re all nutcases.
When we—in either the anti-hunting camp or the hunting camp—circle our wagons and sit around congratulating ourselves on having so much more on the ball than those whackos, I think a few things happen.
One: We lose touch with our empathy for them as fellow humans.
Two: We lose sight of our common ground. Many hunters and anti-hunters share basic beliefs about animal welfare. Folks in both groups, I wager, think more about animals than do folks in the non-hunting majority. Some folks in both groups go out of their way to help animals and alleviate suffering.
Three: We stop trying to see beyond the stereotypes, to comprehend where other folks are coming from. We run the risk of becoming rigid, self-absorbed, and deaf to reason. We short-circuit our own capacity for learning.
Anti-hunters could learn a lot from open-minded conversations with thoughtful hunters.
And hunters could learn a lot from anti-hunters.
I’m thinking, for instance, of the comments left by Clyde on my post of January 1st. He says he’s a dedicated vegetarian and feels antipathy toward the gunshots he hears in the woods. Yet he respects those hunters who have “a solid code of ethics.” He’s found a way to hold both and expresses passionate, sensitive views. He writes of the moral responsibility that comes with hunting, the need for the hunter to minimize suffering through “compassion and acute judgment,” and the sacredness of the power to kill or let live.
Some hunters I’ve met could have written Clyde’s words. Others I’ve met could stand to read and ponder them.
© 2010 Tovar Cerulli