People occasionally ask me why I speak of kindness to animals and kindness in business in the same breath. And I, too, have wondered whether these are parallel moral passions, or part of a consistent ethos. Even though they feel intuitively congruent, I feel the need to connect them with more rigor.
What I have concluded is that kindness to animals constitutes a core capability of compassion. Animals exist in a world of feelings and perceptions that we cannot access. One could argue the same for humans, as well, but with animals, the stakes for empathy are higher because of the greater distance between their worlds and ours. Our ability to be kind to them defines the outer limits of an empathy where our kindness to fellow humans sits in a comfortable and secure center.
If we can accept the imperative to treat animals well and acknowledge that their worlds are as legitimate and as subject to equal ethical consideration as our own, we can certainly treat our fellow humans and our fellow colleagues well, too. We can acknowledge their diversity and their unconditional entitlement to that consideration independent of power relations. As with animals, the worlds of our peers and of our customers may differ, but not our accountability for how we treat them.
And it goes further. Kindness to animals also enables a shift in attitude from exploitative dominion, viewing them as merely a means to an end, to responsible stewardship, viewing them with full faith in the integrity of their interests. As leaders and colleagues within our own organizations, as users of resources to which we add economic value, and as providers of services or products to our customers, there, too, we can map the way we treat animals onto a larger responsibility for care of our environment and the feeling beings within it.
More than mere metaphor, I believe we can intentionally shift from transactional to interdependent action in business, just as we do with friends and family and with non-human beings, to the greater benefit of all. The result: kinder practices in how we view the environment and in how we view labor, and deeper, more profitable, and more sustainable relations with our customers. Between these forms of kindness we find not only compatibility, but also congruence. The practice of one reinforces the outcomes of the other.