Jul 11, 2015
Transcript for Awakin call with Thomas Ponce on 7/11/15
Birju: Today our guest speaker is Thomas Ponce, who really embodies this theme of speaking up for those who are voiceless. So thank you again for joining today's call.
After a minute of silence..
Birju: Thank you. And welcome again to our weekly Awakin call, today, in conversation with Thomas Ponce. In a few minutes our moderator Alissa Houser will engage in dialogue with our speaker. The week's theme, as I said earlier is speaking up for voiceless creatures. And the questions we are sitting with for this conversation is: what are our social and personal practices with respect to what we eat and what we buy, and how do we choose to interact with living beings as a result of those choices? And what do they show in terms of our own thought processes as a result of all of those choices that we make. How can we bring greater intention and awareness to our practices involving other creatures? And since we have the pleasure having Alissa as our moderator today, who has been sitting with these questions for quite a long time herself, I thought we could start by asking her to kick off our circle.
To give a little bit of context, Alissa has been working in the field of animal activism for quite sometime. I don't know exactly how long; but I would say, enough to be able to connect across the spectrum of those who are doing the work in the space. She has actually deepened the inquiry by going well beyond the animals themselves and asking this question of how to practice compassion toward the voiceless. So Alissa, thank you for joining us today. Any thoughts about today's conversation that you would like to start us off with?
Alissa: Thanks Birju! It's such a pleasure to be here and to be at this call set up. I wanted to make some introductory remarks about Thomas and who he is. I am really excited to engage in the conversation with someone who is bringing so much wisdom at such young age. As I was thinking about this call, I kept thinking about how: you know I have known Thomas since he was twelve, and I kept thinking that, "I can't believe that someone so young has done all that stuff!" As I was thinking about it, I felt it's almost irrelevant how young he is. It doesn't matter. He is providing so much wisdom and so much activism and so much compassion in the world and he has been an inspiration and teacher to me. If I can I can share a little bit about his background and then get into questions.
Birju: Wonderful! Thank you for sharing that as context and love for you to take over and introduce Thomas further and carry on the conversation and we will plug back in with broader group around the top of the hour.
Alissa: Thank you Birju! I first met Thomas back in April of 2012. He applied for grant with pollination project, which is the nonprofit organization that I run. He was twelve years old at that time. We all read his application thinking, "Is this kid for real? Is he seriously twelve years old?" He became an animal rights activist at the age of four! We will hear more about that journey and what it looks like to be a kindergarten animal activist during this call. Since that time Thomas has launched a nonprofit lobbying organization called " Lobby for Animals", which is dedicated to training and empowering people to lobby on behalf of animals in the political and legislative realm. I wanted to share a little bit about what he wrote in his application few years ago when he was launching" Lobby for Animals". This is going to be a good throwback for you Thomas.
He said, " I am starting project because I am passionate about protecting animal rights. I am also just as passionate about educating as many people as I can about ways that they can make a difference in their lives, as well as in the lives of the countless animals that are suffering on factory farms in laboratories and in animal entertainment. I know that this is the purpose of my life. I am here to make a difference and I won't stop until I do. I know the project will be a success, because I will make it a success."
Now few years later Thomas has come a long way. We will talk about a bunch of things that he has done in the past few years and prior. But I am really honored to have this opportunity to hear from and learn from Thomas about his journey and what's ahead for him. Welcome Thomas! Thank you so much for being here and sharing with everybody on this call.
Thomas: Thank you Alissa!
Alissa: How are you feeling Thomas?
Thomas: Not going lie, a little nervous. But you know that's the normal reaction.
Alissa: I've been on these calls and I listen to these calls and I can assure you that you are surrounded on this call by a virtual hug. It's a community who really wants to hear form you and is really behind you and supporting you. There is a lot of love here.
Birju: True story!
Alissa: Alright! My first question for you is: so many of us spend our whole lives searching for our purpose and looking for meaning of our lives. What is your purpose?
Thomas: I feel that I was put on this earth to educate people and to try to raise awareness about the suffering and cruelty that animals have to go through in slaughter houses and peoples everyday homes and just everywhere around the world: how we pollute the environment and how badly we treat our one and only home. I have been saying this a lot but this is what I feel I am meant to do. I need to spread this message that we need to treat our earth and our animals better. We need to treat these living beings much better that we already do. Not only that, we have to treat each other better. The foundation of a good society, a good world, is under, I don't want to say niceness, but under a good heart, soul and compassion. I think that sums up what I think is my purpose in this life.
Alissa: I love how you are speaking to the intersections it all. It's so easy to think about you as animal right's activist. But I love how, in speaking about your purpose, you talk about kindness towards all and the interconnection and weaving together of all of life. How did you know when this was your purpose. Was there a moment when you went, "Oh! This is what I need to do." How did this come about?
Thomas: It came from my heart. As far back as I can remember I've known this. And it's like, I hate to repeat myself but, it's what I thought was put on earth to do. I need to let everybody know what's going on. How the animals suffer and how we need to treat the environment better. I feel like this is what I need to do. I can't really pin point when I exactly knew this. I just sort of knew it.
Alissa: Well, I know that at age four you became vegetarian and shortly there after vegan. How did that happen? I mean.. you weren't living in a vegan household. How did this happen?
Thomas: Once I made the connection of where our food comes from: cow to steak or pig to bacon, I said that I didn't want to conform to it. I wasn't going to stand for it anymore. That's what made me vegetarian and then vegan. As I got older and I turned to age nine, that's when I became vegan. When I told my parents why I became vegetarian at age four they were perfectly fine with it. They supported me. They were willing to accept that this is what I want to do. They saw that it was not something I was just doing as a "phase". They saw that this what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And they supported me. They didn't move into being vegetarians that easily but as time went on they eventually joined the vegetarian boat. When I turned nine, I became vegan. As I got older and started learning more, I realized that even though I am not eating meat, I was still eating milk, cheese, egg. It was still contributing to the suffering of animals. I decided that I didn't want to contribute to that anymore. I decided to completely cut that off. So I decided to become a vegan, which completely stopped the contribution to the suffering of animals from household.
Alissa: It occurred to me that there might people on this call or people who listen to the podcast afterwards, who don't know what vegan means. Can you tell us what vegan means?
Thomas: Sure. Being vegan, for me is an ethical thing. But being vegan basically means you don't eat any milk, cheese, anything with a face, or any animal product. You don't wear leather, any animal skin . You don't harm or cause any harm to any other living being. It's about compassion. It's not a dietary choice. Some people choose it as a dietary choice, but for me it's about compassion.
Alissa: I would love for you to speak a little bit more about compassion, because it is such a big part of your life. What does compassion mean to you? How do you define it? Why is it so important to you as a way of life?
Thomas: I feel that it's something that comes from the heart. To be compassionate is to not harm another living being, to not have hatred in your heart. To respect life and to respect that animals are living being and that they have hearts and souls and complex feelings. To know that all of us, no matter what race, sex and gender were are, we are all equal. We are good people. We can be good people. And compassion means: not harm the people around us. And to not harm the people around us or the animals around us, or the only planet we have, the Earth.
Alissa: That's so beautiful. Thank you. I'd love for you share when you were in kindergarten, you did I think a wow project. Can you share a little bit about what the assignment was and what you did and even more so what the reaction was to what you did.
Thomas: The Wow project was a school wide project. It was a reflection project. When I was in kindergarten the assignment was create an art work project that made you say "Wow!" I remembered seeing pictures of tigers online that were killed by poachers. They were skinned and laid across the table. So I decided to get an orange back background, because orange was my favorite color, and get a picture of a tiger on the left side and say this was them before, and on the right side get the picture of poachers standing over the dead tigers and leopards on the table and say this them now. In the middle of it under the pictures, I had small saying that this is what truly made me say wow because of the cruelty in man or something to that effect. The reaction that had gotten from people- the teachers were shocked to say the least. The kids at that time they were not able to take it in. The reaction was mostly shock and some good reaction because mine got entered to county level after winning the school level. And then it almost went to state level, but got beat by all the schools. Which means that my message was spread to all the schools in the county. That made me extremely ecstatic and happy.
Alissa: Well, I know how much just being able to spread the message, is so important to you. So that must have been so exciting. Not that long ago you had, what I considered to be, a legislative victory with a state senator. Can you tell us little bit about what happened there with the shark fin ban and what you were able to do?
Thomas: This all ties into something that happened to me when I was eleven. Basically, I had wanted to ban the sale, distribution and trade of the shark fins and shark fin products in the state of Florida. I had decided that the only way to do this was though lobbying. So I looked up my facts and got my research together. I prepped and got the nervousness out and decided to go to out state senator. I had approached him with the idea of banning the shark fin and shark fin products and he was all for it. He signed up and said he would support this and all I needed next was to get house representative. I did the same thing, got my facts together, talked to the house representative and same response. When the bill came out, it got all the way up to committee and it died there. In the end, as long as people to know that it is an issue and as long as people know that this is something that needs to change, I am happy with it. Even if my attempt to get it past the committee failed, I am still glad that I was able to get the message across and that this is something that needs to be change. And there is always next session. I have that hope to look forward to.
Alissa: Well, Thomas can you tell us why a ban on shark finning is so important? People may not know that issue.
Thomas: Of course! Sharks are what we call keystone predators. They maintain the order of balance in the underwater ecosystem. Sharks are the top dog in the ocean, they are keystone predators. They maintain. When you take down a keystone predator it disrupts the entire ecosystem. It's like a domino effect. Everything falls. It's a terrible, terrible thing when these animals get removed. We need to keep sharks in the ocean. We need to protect the sharks because they are keystone predators. Without them, not only the ocean will be affected, but also the land will be affected as well. Further along in the future, we would be looked back as terrible people for causing the oceans to be polluted with the bodies of animals. That would destroy the ocean. We would be looked back as monsters. This is the biggest point that I could possibly say. If the ocean dies, we die. The biggest threat facing sharks right now at the moment is us. It is our finning, our killing of them for greed, for sport, for food. We need to stop this. That's one of the driving points why I want to set a ban on sale, distribution and trade of the shark fin and shark fin products. Because we need to stop this. Because in the end, as I said before, if the ocean dies we die. If we can cut off the demand for the shark fin and shark fin products, then there is no need for them. Then we don't have to continue the slaughter. We don't. If there is no demand why would they supply? And that's what this bill would have done.
Alissa: So how does it feel to go sit in front of your state senator? Sometimes it's hard to even get an appointment with the actual person. I remember I tried to meet with the senator or an elected official. Sometimes I am talking to their assistant. It's like you have to be really important to sit with the actual person. How does it feel to go in there with something that they may say no to? Were you nervous? How did you prepare yourself?
Thomas: You don't get nervous once something like this comes up. I get nervous all the time. But, they are people. They are not any higher up. Obviously they are working for the state but they are just people. We have to look at them as that. We don't need to fear them. They are here to represent us. They can't do their job unless we tell them how to do it. Unless we show them, what we want to see. To sit in front of the senator or house representative or congressman, it's feels good. You have the feeling that you are doing something. I am letting my representative know what I want to see. That's one of the best feelings in the world knowing that you are contributing to the right in the world.
Alissa: From what you are talking about, it makes so much sense why you started "Lobby for Animals." Can you talk more about why lobbying in particular, why that skill set was what really caught your attention and how you begin to create actually an organization around that?
Thomas: I learned about lobbying at the conference. That's when a light bulb went off in my head. I felt this is what is going to actually implement change. Because we can protest, sign petition and we can do what have you, That is fantastic. We are spreading the message. We are getting people to know the issue. But if we really want to make these changes solid, if we want to implement them we have to do it through the law. We have to do it through the laws that we both live by ethically and the laws in our US government. That’s when I decided to create the "Lobby for Animals". I saw a need of this type of service. In order to fulfill that need I had to create this website. I felt that if I don't this would go by. People wouldn't know that you could contact your legislator. That implemented what I said before the purpose of my life. When I created a website, I felt good. The fact that I had the opportunity to educate people, not only about how we can change the laws in our government but about animal rights, about animals, the environment. To give them the tools that they needed to try to change both how our government works and how we are as people.
Alissa: You are kind of working on multiple levels The legislative and political level which I call one to many or many to many, but also work one on one with people, where you just have a conversation with another person about what matters to you, about compassion. I would love for you to share a story when you were eleven how you convinced a fisherman to release the baby shark. Can you tell us about that one on one interchange, about heart to heart? What did you say? What happened and how did it come about?
Thomas: Sure. It was December 16th 2011. It was my birthday. I was doing a sort of National Geographic binge. And I heard about a place in Florida called Venice beach. It's nick named shark tooth capital. I wanted to go there. I wanted to see if I could find any shark teeth and see if I could see the animals in the ocean. I thought it would be overall a great time. So we got there. I had convinced my parents to take this drive up all the way to Venice Florida. We got there. We went to the beach. It was hot. It was fun. I found a Megalodon's tooth, which completely excited me to no end. We were on our way to the hotel and we had heard about a place called Sharky's pier where you could go to and see the sunset. I heard about the sunset being beautiful and amazing looking and so I decided why not? Let's go there. So went to the pier, saw the sunset. It lived up to the peoples’ recommendation. We were coming back and I saw a fisherman wheeling in a line. At the end of the line I saw a baby Bonnethead shark. I saw this and I decided to act on it. I asked the man, "What are you going to do with the fish? What do you plan to do with this shark?" And he told me flat out that he is going to gut it, kill it, skin it and eat it. I don't think in that order. But that basically set off the red light and basically started telling him why he should not do this to the shark and why he should release it. I told him that it was an animal. It has a whole life of it's own. The shark can have complex feelings. It can do so many things. It has a family. It has animals that care about it. We should care about him or her. And I told him how sharks are keystone predators and how they balance the underwater ecosystem and why they are so important. Eventually, he conceded and decided to let me release the shark. And when I looked at the shark and about to release him I saw that he has realized what I had done. And I saw that he had known that I wasn't going to let him die that day on that day in the pier. That I wasn't going to let him suffocate. When I released him I felt fantastic. Because I knew that I was preventing a loss of life that day, the loss of a beautiful creature. And when I was on the drive home, I felt so many things. The ocean had made me feel so great. It made me feel me feel fantastic. To know that because I came there, this shark was now alive. It was a fantastic feeling. That's what had gotten me to start my site for freedom for sharks. It had changed my paradigm on how sharks. It broke that idea of how sharks are, based on how they are portrayed in the movie. They are different from everyone else. They are equals and that they are misunderstood. That changed me that day and it led me to being part of what I am today. I will never forget that day.
Alissa: I am so moved by that story and your connection with the shark itself. And to know that without words, without saying verbal language, the shark had some sense of what was happening and that he knew that you were stepping in and being kind of relentless with that fisherman, saved that sharks life. One of the hardest things for me about being an animal advocate and being "veganish" is that, when I watch animal suffering, when I watch videos, watching the level of torture, inhumanity and suffering that happens, my heart gets so broken that I can't repair it. It's so traumatizing. How do you hold that space for that level of pain and suffering? How do you view the videos or get in the space of what's happening for these animals who are being tortured and abused and treated as objects? How do you go on after you touch that raw painful space?
Thomas: I use that to fill me. I know that they are suffering everyday. I know that hundreds of thousands of animals are being slaughtered for their skin, for their fur, their flesh and their products every day. I know this and I use that to fill me. I look at that and say, "Even though this is happening, I need to keep going. Because, if I don't, it's going to happen again and again and again. If I don't try to stop it, at least, then it's never going to stop. If I don't try to convince people that this is something that's wrong that we need to stop killing them and slaughtering them for menial purposes, it's never going to stop." And I use the knowledge that they are dying everyday as my fuel. If I can get one person, just one person to even think about changing their lifestyle to even think about not buying a fur coat, not buying that package of meat in the store, I am preventing the loss of one life. Or I am at least convincing one person to try to change their ways. And then I am hoping to stop the terrible atrocities that are happening.
Alissa: So how do you keep from feeling hopeless about it? I mean, with the amount of people mindlessly eating animals... I was at a conference with hundreds of people and every single one of them was filling their plate with animals. While I was in the line eating my salad, which was all there was for me, people were talking.. some of them literally said if God didn't want me to eat bacon, He wouldn't have created it or something like that. You know one of those flipping comments that had no recognition for what happens to a pig in the process of making bacon. How do you not feel hopeless when you are in those situations?
Thomas: I also wanted to say another thing. God didn't put the animals on the earth for us to eat them. That wasn't His whole purpose. If that was his whole purpose in the beginning, we would have eradicated all the animals at this point. The reason that people can also say that they get a lot of vitamins and nutrients from animals is that, when the flesh of the animal ends up on their plate, they have already been pumped full of growth hormones and they have already grazed on the grass, they've already been filled with feed. They have been changed since we were born. They have been different. They have been pumped full of chemicals and hormones to get those vitamins and minerals on them. It's not how God had put them on the earth.
How I don't feel hopeless about it is... It's sort of going to go back to what I have said before. I have seen it. I know that this is happening. Even though that some people can mindlessly eat animals, some people can just go with the status quo, go with the flow and say, " I am going to do this because it is the societal norm and I am going to follow it and not go against it because then I am scared of being ridiculed. I know that, that can happen. I don't feel hopeless about it . Because I know that people can change. I know that even the most cold hearted people at some point can be changed. I know that there is difference to be made.
Alissa: Thank you for sharing that. You are always such a teacher to me, Thomas. I so appreciate your thoughts about that. What is like to be a teenager, having the priorities that you have? Do you feel like you are a teenager? Do you ever feel lonely? You know, holding these issues that are so important, when the kids your age are like playing x- box or Minecraft or something. How is it to be you?
Thomas: Age has never been that much of an issue for me. I certainly feel older and people are telling me that my voice is deeper and that I am starting to grow a mustache. But I feel honesty the same. My priorities, when it comes to the animals and the environment, they have not changed. I still feel the same love and compassion for them, that I did when I was four. I know that I'm physically older and I know that I'm emotionally older , but I still feel the same love and compassion for them. I still feel the same want, to change the world, as I did when I was younger. I know that I'm glad that I am a good person. I may be different from people. But I'm not them. And I'm happy of the way that I am, for the way that I turned out. I'm glad that I'm not sitting in the back of the classroom just listening to music. I speak and feel from my heart and I think people listen to it, not because of my age, but because they know that it is coming from my heart. They know that this is something that I care about.
Alissa: What's it like to go to school with these beliefs? To be around the kids your age in your school environment, the vegan kid. How does it feel to be in school ?
Thomas: To be the vegan kid in school is… honestly, I like it. It means that I am different form other people. It means that, I'm not just blending in with everybody, I'm not being the same. A lot of kids can be selective about, let's say if they want to let you in into a conversation or playing sports game with them. Kids can be mean. Kids can be cruel or mean. That's normal kid behavior. Unfortunately. But I don't let that get to me. You know. I know that what I'm doing is right and I know that I have a good heart and soul and I know that I'm still doing what I feel is the right thing to do. In the end whether I'm popular, whether I'm hated or whether I'm whatever, I'm still doing the right thing. I'm doing what I want to do.
Alissa: Before the call you shared with me a few pieces of writing. Feel free to say no, but I read them all and thought that some of them are really beautiful and I was wondering if you would read out the pen that you wrote called " When I go to school I have to deal" It so beautifully spoke to being in school being you. If you are willing to read it, I'd love for you to share when you wrote it etc.
Thomas : Sure.
When I go to school, I have to deal
With mean people with rude people and everybody'd schpeel.
No one knows about half the stuff about dealing with kids who think they are tough
Always shouting out and trying hard to annoy
Whenever I speak you go acting like a two year old boy
You and your friends think you are so damn cool
You think you are the only ones who count in the school
You started up and they join in
Your ignorance is truly a sin
You think you are funny
You think it's just comic relief
You get enjoyment out of giving me grief
I never did a thing to gain your attention
But I'm loosing my patience, might be time for intervention
I try not to sweat all the small stuff and feed your act
I know I'm a better person than you and that's a fact
May be one day you will grow up and you'll see
May be that day will be when you have to get a pay check from me
I know this is all part of the Middle school game
Popularity rules and that's a shame
No matter what they think and no matter how they try see me
They only know what they want to see
Passing judgment without taking time to look
It's like only reading the cover of a book
You think that by being mean you'll try to oppress
The kindhearted kid from getting any press
Picking on people with that cocky smirk
Trying to hide the fact that you are just a jerk
A fake and fraud while inside class
Then in the halls niceness takes a pass
It's not the teacher’s fault that they don't see
How ugly and insensitive kids can be
Smart kid, geeky kid, pretty handsome or a nerd
Fat, skinny kid, we are just people and deserve to be heard
Alissa: Thank you for sharing that. When did you write that and in what context?
Thomas: I think I wrote that when I was in 6th grade and I don't think it was a contest. I think it was sort of an assignment. it was about- Write about your normal school day. It had o do with writing about school or people in school or share your normal school day. I don’t think it was part of a contest.
Alissa: That's your normal school day!
Thomas: To an extent. I am going to high school next year. So I can't really speak on how it's going to be this coming new year
Alissa: You hold so much wisdom and so much foresight. you hold it in a way that, an older person would look back and say, "Oh! When you get older you'll see all of this in the context." You already have that context. It's really quite amazing
Can you tell us about writing and what role writing plays in your life? how you use your writing?
Thomas: Basically I use writing as a way to sort of let go. It’s sort of a release. I forgot to mention this before when I was talking about how I avoid feeling hopeless. I also can use writing to sort of vent in a way. Let's say that I just found out that major law was passed that's going to defend animals, I'll feel happy and will write a short poem or short story. If I am feeling angry or sad, I'll do the same thing, write a short poem or short story. It allows me to put my feelings on paper. It allows me to get my feelings out, in a way that doesn't always involve talking. With every feeling, happy, angry or sad, especially angry, we can sort of get our words ruffled up. But when we are thinking clearly and when we are able to write it down with a pen, it's much easier. It solves my problems. Makes me feel better. It lets me release whatever feelings I have bottled up, whatever emotions I want to let out. It also allows me to educate people as well. If I ever, like I had a project at school, I was able to read that out in front of the entire class. It allows me to share how I felt without going to teacher and telling her. It allows me to spread what I want to talk to people about. If I wanted to talk about the subject of animal rights, or environment, and if I was able to put that in writing, and say there was a project about that in school, I could write about that. People would be able to see it. It would be either people are hung up or people would be able to read about it. They would be able to read it for themselves. They would be able to see what I am trying to talk about. It allows me to teach people about the cruelties that are happening to the animals, about how we pollute our environment, about the regular school day that people go through sometimes. How a lot of the times people can act mean to the student that goes completely unnoticed.
Alissa: You are so level headed and have such a good attitude. On this call, I will tell you started tearing up 2 or 3 times today talking to you.
Alissa: No, please! It's good. I love it! When my heart opens and breaks, more of us can get in. It's a practice that I welcome.
Do you ever loose it and sob in the corner?
Thomas: I don't think I ever lost it before. I don't know if it will ever happen. But at this point in time, I don't think I ever lost it. I've gotten angry at something things that have happened. If I ever saw how a fisherman would catch a shark and flaunt it online, that would make angry. I would probably write about it. It would make me angry but not to the point of where I would completely flip out or cry in the corner. I do still feel these emotions. It's not like I am supremely angry or yelling or sobbing in the corner. It's not something I 've done yet.
Alissa: Before we open up for other people's questions, I wanted to make sure to ask you, so many people on this call are already vegetarian, vegan, or animal advocates in different ways. What is the next level, If we are eating in a compassionate way and aware of animals, what's the next thing we can do?
Thomas: You can try to research online. Pick an animal that you feel passionate about, pick a subject and research on line. Find a problem pertaining to that animal or subject and face it head on. Take it. Find to way to get rid of that problem. Whether it be through the law, whether it be though raising awareness, try to get rid of the problem. Be it shark finning, circus cruelty, whatever. Any subject you want to tackle, go for it, learn about educate yourself. If you have children, educate your children. Whatever you can do. Just go for it. Do something.
Birju: Hmm. Thank you so much Thomas. Just to echo Alissa, it has been emotional to listen to this for me. I appreciate the heart and the vulnerability with which you have been sharing. I am wondering if I can take prerogative and ask a question on my behalf first. Is that al right Alissa?
Alissa: It's all you Birju.
Birju: Thomas, thank you again. It's been wonderful to listen to you thus far. I'm curious... One question that came up to me as I am listening to you, It's about this concept of compassion capacity, where sometimes, you show people that are suffering and they just shut down. Think of commercials that are showing suffering children in Africa and people almost tune it out. And what I hear you describe is something that allows you to not shut down. Something that allows you to not tune it out and close off but quite the opposite. And it makes me wonder, what it is that you have done in your life knowingly or not, to grow your heart, to grow that compassion capacity so you can see things that are really painful for most people to see and to go towards it and to bring out your vulnerability as a result?
Thomas: I honestly don't know what makes me able to stand or see it. I don't know if it is because I was raised in a good household with love and compassion. I've known people to look up to. I've had this want to try to change things. I've seen a lot the videos of the slaughter houses. I've seen a lot of the videos of the children in Africa. I've seen all of that. I don't really know what makes me able to stand it. I don't know if it is because I've seen them a lot or if I'm used to seeing it or if it is my desire to know what's going on with world. Try to know what's happening and then to try to change that. In my opinion ignorance's never bliss. Knowledge is the most powerful thing you can have.
Birju: Thanks for sharing that as a context for your journey and I would love to turn it over to our first caller.
Wendy: Thomas, I so much appreciate the work you are doing, your compassion and your clarity and your purpose. You are a real teacher to all of us. I want to pick up a little bit about what Birju just said and also Alissa, which is talking about compassion issue and compassion fatigue. I spend most of my life really supporting animal welfare and animal rights. I give money to various organizations who do so. What I have found is that, I cannot and I don't have the capacity to look at the pictures, the horrible pictures. I have actively withdrawn my support to organizations who show that and have funneled my money to organizations such as Best friends, which is enormously successful they tell the story of what happened. So we know what happened but also the pictures of the rescue animal.
I just wanted to say that for me there is a balance between bringing forth compassion, but without immobilizing the person who really wants to do good and support the cause. Just wanted to bring out my dilemma and how I have chosen to handle that. It's just another way to bring support for the cause that we all care so much about. Thank you so much
Thomas: Thank you!
Birju: Thank you, Wendy.
Alicia: Before I ask my question, I just wanted to share a quick story. I actually experienced similar thing with the shark. A friend of mine, stepped on a hook and she pulled it out and it was a baby shark hanging from the hook. I took the shark from her and pulled the hook out. Just like you mentioned, looking at the shark's eyes in that moment, it's like it has an awareness of what's going on and putting it back in the water and watching it swim away made me feel the joy and the freedom of the shark being released. I just thought it was a pretty cool story and awesome experience for me.
My question, you mentioned on your "wow" project for your school, that you used the tigers as an example. It reminded me of the project that's going on in Russia, the wildlife contribution society is doing. It's a rehabilitation project and what they do is: they take orphaned tiger cubs from the mothers who have been poached. They take the cubs and rehabilitate them with no human contact. They prepare them to hunt and be released back in the wild. The director of project mentioned that one of the rehabilitated tigers attacked and killed a fisherman, so now there is whole controversy surrounding the project. So lot of the people in Russia turned against him. But my thoughts on the matter are like - a lot of us think that we are more entitled to life than a tiger. We are more entitled to life than any animal. I was wondering if you ever had a conversation with someone like that. Something that you may have said that caused them to shift in the way they see things. Just wondering if you have ever had that conversation before. People tend to get defensive when you sort of ask them to question the way they have always been raised.
Thomas: I tried to explain to them in the best way possible. Of course when the social norm is challenged what ever, the status quo is challenged, people always get put on the defensive. If we approach it from the peaceful stance, it sort of nullifies that defensiveness that people can get into. And I also wanted to mention, as you said, a lot of people have superiority effect to them. Well my life is more important than the tigers. A life is a life. We should not value one life over another. Be tiger insect or whatever. No life is less valuable than anyone else. that shouldn't be thought of as correct, that anyone's life is more important than the other. That's one the issues that I see. If someone were to do that to a human, if someone were to say, "My life is more important than this persons' life", it would be ridiculed as terrible. That person would be ridiculed. But if this were to happen to an animal a lot of the people would just turn their heads and walk away. It's a terrible thing that happens. It’s one of the reasons why we have to keep doing what we do. Don't get frustrated, don't let it affect you. Don't get disgruntled about it. It's completely normal for people to do this. You have to keep going. You have to not let it affect you.
Alicia: I just hope that one day we get to the point where it is not seen as the norm, not seen as the status quo. One day the status quo will be that we are all equal. All animals on the planet are equal.
Thomas: Exactly. That's the correct paradigm to have
Birju: Thank you and the next question that I am seeing here came from online. We have question from Jackie in San Jose.
Thank you for sharing that great poem. It has tremendous meaning for me and my friends, who are listening. Do you keep a gratitude journal? It's a great way to keep track of you progress and other animal rights advocates, celebrate the good news of the people, changing their ways and know that this movement is gaining ground
Thomas: I think it's an excellent idea. I don't at the moment have a gratitude journal, but I will definitely look into getting one. I do write and that's sort of my way of keeping track of things. I also remember a lot of things that happen. I have signs up in my room, I have a ton of pictures and writings that remind me of the good and the bad. But the journal is a great idea.
Birju: I am sure that would have Jackie smiling, I am assuming she is listening.
Birju: So one question that comes up for me Thomas. This word compassion and the way that you frame it and have been articulating it here, I am wondering how you have seen your compassion grow and reapplied elsewhere in your life? Do you have thoughts on what direction you see your compassion response growing in as you grow forward?
Thomas: When it comes to growing.. My idea of what compassion is, has grown since I was younger. It went from an idea that was in me and sort of transcended into sharing it. It's gone from something I keep to myself and share with couple of people to sharing it with tons people. I want to let people know about the injustices in the world and how we can fix them. I am able to let people hear the message that I want out.
I remember, I woke up one morning and read an email. This surprised me. Somebody from Spain contacted me and told me about what's going on in there. About the stray animals there and how they would like some help with it. How I can try to help them or what they can do to help. How they could go vegan or how they could try to change the situation. So I worked with him for couple of months and he eventually ended up going vegan! And that was sort of visual representation what I was able to do. I was able to turn this person who needed help with this, I was able to help him. I saw what I was able to do. I saw that I was able to let the message of compassion spread to another person so he can spread to another person and another person. Eventually, soon everyone will have the same idea.
Birju: In this community we have phrase for that - a ripple effect. Thank you for articulating that.
Jey : Hello, My name is Jey and I am listening to the call with my mother. You are very inspiring and thank you for what you do for the animals. How do you work with other organizations that help animals to help more animals?
Thomas: Thank you for coming in to the call. When I was younger, I joined up with bunch of other organizations, to try to raise awareness about the animal rights and animal cruelty. After I saw what was going I decided to spread awareness about it. If I see that an organization is doing a campaign or fundraiser or whatever, I post it on my Facebook or linked in. I will do whatever I can to spread the message.
Question: Is it easy to work together? Because you have the same goal is it easy to talk and raise awareness together with other organization?
Thomas: I think we all need to work together and it's easy to work with an organization to try and raise awareness, because you have the same common goal in mind. In the end it is about the animals, it is about the environment. We all have the same idea. We all want to try to stop this and protect our planet and animals. When we work together we only come closer to the end goal. We are stronger. We can spread our message further. Two heads are better than one and four hands are better than two.
Alissa: Thomas, I saw a question from the chat that I wanted to ask you. Some body was asking what do you want to be when you "grow up"?
Thomas: One thing I definitely want to do is to go around and speak in schools. One of my main beliefs is that if we can teach children at a young age about compassion and how to treat the animals and the environment, it's something that will stick with them when they grow older. If we can spread that message about compassion and life we can definitely change the world with the new generation coming in. If we can teach and encourage our children to change the world, when they are little, when they are little, when they are young, then they will grow up to be much more compassionate people. They grow up to be responsible, compassionate, loving. When they raise their kids they will teach them the same values that they knew. So the cycle of killing, of not feeling, of bullying, that cycle can be broken. We can start an entirely new cycle of compassion love, life, happiness.
For me, personally I want to start talking to them when they are young because I feel like it can be relatable. If a kid sees an adult going into classroom and talk to them about it, some of them won't be able to relate because, "Well, this person is an adult. They probably reached this conclusion when they are older.” If they see it coming from someone close to their age or even at their age, they are like " This Is somebody who is almost like me. I can relate to this person. If this person can do it why can't I?
I heard a lot of kids say this. The main reason a lot of them don't want to try to make change, or try to change the issues that they see, like bullying, is because of their age. Because they are kids they can't do anything. They think that, "Well, I am seven. So I can't change anything"
You can. Age does to restrict what you can do. Your age doesn't dictate what you can say, what you can do, who you can talk to. It doesn't restrict what you can feel passionate about. If a seven year old wants to go around the world and try to change it, they can. They have every right to. That's the message I want to spread to them. That's one of the reasons why I want to talk in school. I also want or in the field of law. I want to may be go into politics. I am not sure about politics, but I'm definitely sure about law and 100% sure about talking in school. I have to mull it over a little bit. i definitely want to keep learning.
Birju: Thank you Thomas.
Jackie: Hi Thomas. This is Jackie. I write poetry too.
Thomas: If you want we can exchange e-mail addresses, and share each others poetry.
Jackie: Thank you! Usually I am the one who suggests that. i would really enjoy that.
Birju: I will follow up with that after the call.
Jackie: Ok, fine. What I want to ask is something very bold. Actually I want to make a comment- We are making strides in this movement. We can call it really animal liberation movement and there are tons of celebrities who support this. I remember Mary Tyler Moore about Lobsters and how they are boiled alive. I used to eat lobsters and loved them with butter years ago. I gave that up. You know the interesting thing is, you can really enjoy food for a while, and when you hear some startling news, if you keep yourself open to that your attitude towards that immediately shifts. You look at what you used to eat and now are disgusted by it. So that's one experience there. More to the point Mary Tyler Moore has a website called sentientbeings.org. Have you heard of it?
Thomas: No I have not. I will definitely look it up.
Jackie: The key thing to understand it is, we treat animals as objects. They are things to be worn, eaten, for entertainment purposes. Even in our language: I am one of the proponents of saying "I am not a pet owner but a pet parent or a guardian." The language has been changed in small ways. Language in communities - At the council, mayor declares that we are going to use the term guardian instead of pet owners. But on a larger scale, you mentioned wanting to become a lawyer, there is ALDF(Animal legal defense fund)
Thomas: I've heard of them.
Jackie: Yes. They have their own staff of lawyers that specialize in animal welfare issues. So that's an area you could venture into.
Thomas: I definitely remember them. I'm a member of Animal legal defense fund.
Jackie: Great so you know about them. To push this even further, ALDF is proposing a constitutional animal rights amendment. This is getting real bold. I see this for the future.
Thomas: They do wonderful, wonderful work.
Jackie: Isn't that great. An animal rights amendment! So, the term is speciesism, we have a term of it now. Long ago we had racism , we still have it many ways , sexism etc . The next hurdle is realizing that most humans a this point in time are species. It is a tricky word. You know what I mean?
Jackie: Discriminating against non-human animals. And when we shift that mindset and start seeing them in the context of: It's not we against them, they are the same as us. They are like us. They have feelings, they breath, their hearts beat. And this is going beyond the warm cuddly creatures, the reptiles, the broad perspective of speciesism. You represent the future. You are going to be at the forefront of this animal rights movement. I feel that very strongly.
Go for it Thomas.
Thomas: Thank you for joining the call.
Birju: I'm also seeing question coming through online Thomas.
It's from Aileen Abott. The comment is - Smiling and waving at Thomas. veganism is coming into it's own and it has as much to do with environmental movement. I believe it is single most effective step we can take to stop destruction and suffering in this world. People have favorites and are separately addressing different groups of animals, which is adding up for a better whole. But the whole concept of us or them is still going strong. The human first attitude has done great damage to all life on earth and unless and until that changes, these things will go on. Yet it is changing slowly but surely. We are seeing everywhere, from countries granting personhood to animals and even rivers to store shelves being stocked full of dairy and meat alternatives and the increasing number of compassionate sustainable practices being implemented throughout the business world. We have people like you to thank for this. Thank you. Miracles and blessings.
Thomas: Thank you very very much . I definitely agree that we all have to realize that. It's not about us or them. We are equal. We have to break that mind set, that they are objects. They are living beings. And we have to realize that we are symbiotic with them. We work hand in hand with them. We need them. That we are all, no matter what family we are from, we are all connected. Animals, humans, earth all intertwined, all connected.
Birju: Thank you so much Thomas. Taking a step back on this conversation. The host if this conversation is this group called Servicespace, which is a decentralized group of volunteers who wanted to share the values that you are describing and walk in a similar direction. So I'm wondering how this audience and those who will come across this interview later online, how can this group be of service to the cause you are talking about. What can we do to take our next step?
Thomas: Well, You can definitely try to spread the message as far as you can. Educate as many people as you can. Talk to your neighbors, family, friends. Tell them about this. Let them about the animals, the environment. If you are not vegetarian or vegan, and you are currently consuming meat, fish, dairy, whatever, definitely stop, go vegan and make that change. Because it's not about the diet, it's not about your personal health. It's about the heart. You'll feel so much better as a person. I promise you. You'll so much better knowing that you are preventing loss of life, preventing a terrible terrible thing from happening. You are preventing an industry from continuing to gain cash revenue.
Birju: I resonate with this as well. I'm thinking about what stands out to me in our time here together. One, which I'm sure Alissa holds as well, I love to be 4 years old and 9 years old and 15 years old and have the kind of insight that you have. It gives me tat sense of "wow". We are moving forward as humanity as I her you speak. And I just feel really moved that the driver for this, as I have heard it is, your compassion. That is a siren call to everyone who hears this to grow their own compassion. Thank you for modeling that so well.
Thomas: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to spread that. Thank you for everyone who is able to listen to this. Thank you for everyone who is currently trying to change this, for everyone who is protecting animals and everyone who is protecting the environment. Thank you so much. Because, it's just not me who is doing this. We are a community. We are all trying to get the same thing done. We want to protect the animals. We want to protect the environment. And we want to spread the passion s far as we can go.
Birju: And Alissa do you have any closing comments that you would like share?
Alissa: I'm just so honored to be in the conversation and Thomas, you always humble me and teach me and inspire me. So thank you for all your words and all your generous sharing today. And Birju, thank you for holding such a beautiful space for everyone.
Thomas: Thank you guys for everything that you all do each day individually. I also want ed to mention. I have another poem if it's ok can I read it out?
Birju: Oh yes! We are fans of your poetry.
It's called "I AM"
I am an animal activist
Standing up for what I believe
Speaking out for change we achieve
Never being silent when the cause is right
Exposing the mass suffering and individual plights
Being the voice for those who have none
Working and educating until the deed's done
Raising awareness for those who are blind
Relentless persistence until the truth they find
Being an activist starts in the heart
Realizing the bigger picture that we all play a part
Saying no more will we accept the lies in secret that for years have been kept
No longer will we turn a blind eye
And continue to watch you murder and lie
The innocent being with a soul and heart
No longer will we allow you to rip their lives apart
This is what being an activist is to me
I will continue to fight until they are all free
I am a vegan.
Cruelty free is my life
A compassionate living with very little strife
To harm no living being is my mission to see
Let the animals always let them be
Not for food clothing or entertainment or in labs
Their lives are worth more than shoes or a bag
Who are we to pick and choose?
Which living beings we can use and abuse
Being vegan is the choice for me
As for any true animal lover it's the only way to be
I am a citizen lobbyist
This is our government at the time we knew
We have the power to change things and see them through
There is no reason to sit idly by
When the laws start to take effect, that make us want to cry
We as citizens need to find our voice
We need to realize and understand we have a choice
If we don't speak up, how will they know?
Don't let the opposition be the only one who shows
A phone call or letter, a meeting or two
By yourself, with a friend, how bring a crew
So take the initiative and make your opinions known
Our representatives won't act until they are shown
I am a good person
I do what's right no matter how tough
No one ever said it's easy, sometimes it's quite rough
But to know in my heart, I did the right thing
Warms my heart and put things on a positive sling
Hurt no one is my motto you see
Learn and grow and always happy you'll be
Treat everyone how you'd like to be treated
Your conscience will be clear and with happiness be greeted
Birju: Thank you sir! I'd love to have that be what we collectively hold in our hearts as we close with a minute of silence in gratitude for this time together.