"I Just Don't Want to Be a Bystander Anymore": Witnessing the Power of Personal Transformation

This week as part of our Educating for a Better World Summer Institute, participants watched several films. One of the most meaningful for students was The Witness, which is a moving, often shocking documentary about how humans treat animals, the power of compassion, and how deeply an awakening in one man's life changes his world. It has been winning awards and touching the lives of audiences for almost a decade, and it is a powerful tool for exploring our relationships with animals. The film, however, does include some graphic scenes of animal cruelty.

Participants had deep and diverse reactions to the film:
  • Where can I find the balance in a world where it’s hard to find balance in any type of thing?
  • What are the most important ways we can make our case in advocating for something without traumatizing others?
  • Bringing the reality of what we humans do to animals to other people is important. If there's nothing wrong with these practices, why are we hiding them?
  • We as humans do an excellent job in compartmentalizing things to make it easier to get through life.
  • “The walls came down when I realized that the cute animals aren’t the only ones to suffer.”
  • We need to be careful about at what ages we expose children to these difficult issues.
  • This is just caustic, consumeristic cruelty that has nothing to do with meeting our survival needs. This is so far removed from people who need to use animals for survival.
Several themes arose in the post-viewing discussion, including:
  • What and how is it appropriate to share this kind of information
  • Where do we draw the line on “What’s okay” in using animals?
  • What about consistency in our choices?
  • What about people who don’t have choices other than eating/using animals?
  • The dichotomy of feeling anger at the people perpetuating these cruelties and understanding that many people only take these types of jobs out of desperation and that the systems in place perpetuate and encourage these types of horrors.
  • When you share difficult & shocking information with others & don’t provide them with positive alternatives, you disempower them & cultivate their apathy.
You can watch The Witness free online. It's currently available to view in English, Spanish, and Russian.

~ Marsha

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