She called me evil. So the interesting thing about all this is that J still doesn't like hunting, and I still do, but while we started out trading blows, we were (figuratively) sharing a cup of tea by the time it was over. It was such a female discussion. Does it matter, though, if we didn't change each other's minds? I think it does. When you work on the assumption that your enemies are driven by evil, no compromise is possible. J bent a lot. She will think twice before calling another hunter evil. And I will think twice before assuming every anti-hunter is a naive idiot. And I will sure as hell remember that the people who fight us tooth and nail see us just like J did. Just paying lip service to our humanity and compassion will never be enough - we have to walk the walk, publicly, all the time.
I called her stupid and naive.
And thus, ingloriously, our conversation was born.
Read more...I got two pieces of hate email last week after the Sacramento Bee published my story about spring turkey season. That's not bad at all, really - I got far more fan mail.
But as prepared as I was, it still pissed me off, so I responded to both of them.
One woman - and yes, they were both women - fired back at me with a cut-and-paste from Humane Society of the United States propaganda about hunting.
Oh really, honey? Don't play with me. At least change the fonts and pretend you thought it up yourself. Smack, done, end of conversation.
But the other one? She was more interesting. Here's how it started:
Excerpt from J's email to me: "... As a human being I find you to be despicable and pathetic. The elation and joy you feel when you coldly kill is a sign that you lack all elements of compassion and hope. Your public pride in hunting is a sad and transparent way of justifying your evilness. The animals whose lives you take are not capable of evil or malice. I wish I could say the same for you and those like you."
Ouch! Lack compassion and hope? For the love of God, I cry when I watch presidential inaugurations because I love the peaceful transfer of power. I nurse robins who smack into my kitchen window. I salute ducks who make a fool of me by flying right through my blind. I beat myself up over bad shots.
Excerpt from my email to J: " ... do you actually know anything about wildlife, such as the fact that animals commit 'evil' acts against one another all the time, whether it’s bucks bludgeoning each other to death to win mating rights, or drake mallards gang-raping hens, sometimes to the point where they die? Not to mention the simple fact that animals eat other animals every day of the year, because that’s how this planet works – life sustains life.
"And did you spend any time reading my blog, or did you just rush to find my email address so you could (pass) judgment? Wait, I know the answer to that one. You did not, or you never would have made that stupid comment about compassion.
"It really doesn’t trouble me that you believe it’s wrong to kill and eat animals. I’m fine with you making that choice. I have publicly saluted vegetarians and vegans many times. It is only your naïve and ill-informed opinions that offend me."
Excerpt from J's response: "The fact that some animals are thought to commit 'evil' acts does not change the fact that you kill for the pure pleasure of it. While I hold no degree higher than a BS, I do understand that life does sustain life in nature. However, I have yet to witness an animal (except the human ones!) load a gun and blast another animal away for pure joy.
"What I don't understand is why someone (yes I'm going to say it), ESPECIALLY a woman, would betray her life giving nature and kill for the elation. That sickens me! I am aware that a lot of people hunt, and I just can't even come close to understanding how you can sit there and wait with eager and titillating anticipation to blow away a clueless animal. I completely don't get it. I just can't imagine that as pleasure.
"You are right. I spent no time reading your blog. Nothing you say would change my opinion of the sport of hunting anyway."
OK, crap. So here's the deal about that story: When I wrote it, I said twice what I think is the most important thing non-hunters need to hear: that we hunt for food. This is not thrill killing.
But I also made a conscious decision to make no bones about how I feel when I am successful. My tale of last spring's turkey hunt ended with these two sentences: "I pulled the trigger, and down he went. I was relieved and elated."
I could've elaborated ad nauseum that I was relieved because he'd died instantly, and that is my holy grail. No suffering. Just no more. But I chose not to because this story wasn't about my personal emotions about hunting; it was about spring turkey season.
In retrospect now, I could see that adding "relieved he died instantly, without suffering" would not have hurt.
Not that I was going to admit that, though.
Excerpt from my response to J: "OK, you are still missing the point. I told you I’m fine with you believing it’s wrong to kill and eat animals. I respect vegans. ...
"What’s silly is you thinking you can assess my capacity for compassion while deliberately avoiding any information that you could use to properly assess that. Had you read my blog at all – had you read the post from the day before that story came out – you would see that I put enormous thought and honest self-evaluation into what I do all the time. I even spend a lot of time exploring and writing about why I enjoy hunting – what is it about a pursuit that ends in death that is so innately pleasurable to the predator? I’m not stupid – I know it seems weird to anyone who’s never done it. I think about it a lot, because I myself started hunting only two years ago."
J back to me: "You think that I am missing your point and I think you are missing my point. Maybe this makes us even. I do not remember ever having 'confronted' someone like this - it's not my nature, and I am intelligent enough to understand that no one changes their mind about something in which they strongly believe. I thank you for responding, though, as civilized dialogue in never a waste of time.
"... I read the 'Thoughts on Hunting' section of your blog and tried to have an open mind. Honestly, your statement that you hate suffering both heartened and baffled me. I was shocked, really, that a hunter would state that she hates suffering.
" ... I do judge you, yes. There is no denying that. However, I am not stereotyping you and am not sure why you would say that except to strike back. Fair enough, but did you really expect to write about your elation when you shoot the life out of a turkey and have people (maybe I am the only one, joke is on me, then) not take issue? Through this dialogue I have come a bit closer to seeing some humanity behind a hunter. Your bird rescue story was nice, but I still just do not get how someone who cares enough to cry over and feel for a wounded bird can lie in wait for a wild animal and mercilessly take its life for the thrill."
Oh boy, yeah, I'm well aware of that issue.
Me back to J: "I recognize the inconsistency of crying over a robin one day and killing pheasants two days later. But I know I am not alone in the animal kingdom. I see extreme tenderness in my cats’ behavior, and I watch them (one of them, anyway) delight in hunting and killing.
" ... Yes, I was well aware that the 'elated' line would piss off people like you. I would’ve loved to explain the complex feelings about the kill, especially that kill. I was thrilled that I got a turkey, but most thrilled of all that it died instantly, zero suffering. But this story wasn’t about me; it was about turkey hunting. And while I often feel sadness with a kill, or relief with a perfect kill, I’m not going to lie when I’m happy about it. And I certainly won’t lie about the fact that hunting is deeply satisfying.
"The hard part is I don’t know if anyone can understand without actually doing it. Funny thing is, I actually do understand where you’re coming from, because my opinion of hunters used to be just like yours. Until I tried it. Of course, I would never recommend that someone like you hunt – it’s obviously against your nature. All I ask is that you consider it’s far more complex than you realize, and it sounds like you’ve done that, for which I’m grateful."
J back to me: "Holly, I have learned from this exchange. It is obvious to me now that you put great thought and consideration into what you do. While I still think that is probably exceedingly rare for hunters, it heartens me that your type is out there armed with the written word. ... Maybe your work will help change the mindset of the folks who are out there lacking regard, respect, and compassion for wild animals. You are more on 'my side' than I assumed. I apologize for jumping to conclusions about you personally. Thank you for reading my thoughts and taking the time to respond."
Me to J: "Thank you for bearing with me while we worked from being testy with one another to communicating a little better. ... And thank you for reminding me how we look to non-hunters. I do know; I do remember. But there’s a difference between talking about how non-hunters see us, and talking with a non-hunter. I really appreciate the opportunity."
So the interesting thing about all this is that J still doesn't like hunting, and I still do, but while we started out trading blows, we were (figuratively) sharing a cup of tea by the time it was over. It was such a female discussion.
Does it matter, though, if we didn't change each other's minds?
I think it does. When you work on the assumption that your enemies are driven by evil, no compromise is possible. J bent a lot. She will think twice before calling another hunter evil.
And I will think twice before assuming every anti-hunter is a naive idiot.
And I will sure as hell remember that the people who fight us tooth and nail see us just like J did. Just paying lip service to our humanity and compassion will never be enough - we have to walk the walk, publicly, all the time.© Holly A. Heyser 2009