Education: Compassionate Speech

Lisa Forzley is the Humane Education Manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.

The Detroit Zoological Society’s Berman Academyfor Humane Education was created to help people help animals – we provide people with information and tools to make knowledgeable decisions on how to walk softly and treat the Earth’s creatures gently. The Academy is the only one of its kind in any zoo, and is the lens through which all of our education initiatives and activities are developed.Berman Academy for Humane Education

One of the tools we use is compassionate speech. I coined this phrase a number of years ago when in the midst of a staff meeting, I said to a colleague, “Great! We can kill two birds with one stone.” No sooner had the words come out of my mouth that I realized my language didn’t reflect my desire to be kind to animals. I felt there must be a nicer way to state that I wanted to accomplish two tasks simultaneously. This was the beginning of my determination to be more mindful of what I say.Gray-Crowned Crane - Carol Hunt

Humor me for a moment. Fill in as many of the following blanks as you can:
• More than one way to skin a _____.
• Grab the ____ by its horns.
• He’s such a ____ brain.
• I need to try something out. Will you be my ____ ____?
• There’s no point in beating a dead ____.
• You can’t teach an old ____ new tricks.
• That’s the straw that broke the ____ back.
• She was scared, so she ____ out.

Camels - Suren and Humphrey - Roy LewisHow’d you do? You probably found that you know most, if not all, of the phrases. This just reiterates that we often utter these idioms without thinking about their underlying meaning. Let’s work together to create new cultural norms. For example, “kill two birds with one stone” can become “feed two birds with one hand”, and “more than one way to skin a cat” can become “more than one way to pet a cat”.

What ideas do you have to help promote more compassionate speech? Share your ideas with us in the comment section below.

– Lisa Forzley

3 thoughts on “Education: Compassionate Speech

  1. This is such an important topic! Although I think of myself as a kind soul, I am absolutely guilty of not incorporating “compassionate speech” into my everyday language. Kudos to Lisa Forzley and the Detroit Zoological Society’s Berman Academy for Humane Education…Keep on spreading your KIND words!

  2. Thank you for bringing up this important topic, Lisa! Words have power, so compassionate speech is critical if we want to create a more humane world. One other thing I would like to note is that when we refer to animals with a pronoun, “he” or “she” is much more compassionate than “it.” To me, an “it” is an inanimate object, which animals most certainly aren’t.

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