The first rule you learn when working on a farm is, “Don’t name the animals”. The reason for this is that naming an animal opens the door for you to develop an emotional attachment towards them, and then not being able to slaughter them when the time comes. I’ve chosen to obey this rule for all of the animals on the farm except one. He’s a Rhode Island Red rooster, and I’ve decided to name him Bodhisattva or Bodhi for short. In Buddhist tradition, a Bodhisattva is a being who has attained enlightenment and escaped the karmic cycle of suffering, but refuses to enter into nirvana until all sentient beings can go with them.
This name fits Bodhi perfectly because he has proven to be the world’s greatest escape artist. Countless times, he’s been captured and put back inside of the electric fence at the end of the day only to be found running free the following day. It’s gotten to the point that we’ve just stopped putting him back inside the fence. Farming is hard enough without chasing down a rooster at the end of each day. That being said, I always smile when I see him running through the fields, eating crickets, and scratching in the dirt.
One thing that’s interesting, however, is that even though he’s attained liberation Bodhi hasn’t left the farm. Instead of walking into the woods and living a life free of electric fences and chicken soup, he spends a fair amount of time foraging less than thirty yards from the rest of his flock. He never goes back inside the fence, but I sometimes see him walking around the outside of it, clucking softly at his friends who are still trapped within. I don’t speak chicken, but I imagine the conversation goes something like this:
Bodhi: Hey guys! You have to come out here. It’s incredible, there is grass, and bugs, and all kinds of cool stuff.
Chicken #1: Thanks for the offer, but I think we'll stay where we are. We have plenty of grain to eat in here plus the humans give us a warm chicken coop to sleep in at night.
Bodhi: But you can get all that stuff outside of the fence. Yeah, it’s a bit harder, but you’ll be FREE. Plus there is this really cool spot across the road…
Chicken #2: Okay, now you just sound crazy. Why the hell would a chicken cross the road!
Bodhi: So he can get to the... Ugh, never mind.
And so it goes... But Bodhi never gives up. He just keeps living his life outside the fence, and through his example he shows his friends a better way to live. This is a really important lesson for me as I continue to grow in my activism because I'm dealing with a fair bit of cognitive dissonance at the moment. I'm a left-brained, facts-oriented type of person. So I think I approached this fight from the viewpoint that people just needed to be educated. I assumed that once people were made aware of the intense structural violence that takes place as a result of our imperialist, consumption-based society and watched documentaries like Cowspiracy which show how much damage we're doing to the planet with our eating habits, then they would make better choices. But that hasn't been the case. I don't know. Maybe people are like Bodhi's friends. Maybe they know their situation is precarious, but they are either too comfortable or too scared to make changes. Maybe the only thing we can do for them is to continue living just outside the fence; setting an example and showing them the way.