Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Softer Side of Life

We live in a world that continually morphs and evolves, and this rapid, forward pace is sometimes at war with itself. As the fight to survive rages on, we encounter new and unexpected challenges to be surmounted and resolved. Change is a factor of evolution.

When I founded Exit Studio back in 1994, I had a dream to change negative stereotypes, perceptions, and bias with the only weapon I had at hand—my art. My goal was to highlight the beauty and history of my birthplace and, after all these years, I feel that I’ve fulfilled my mission. As I look back with pride, I feel a sense of being a kind of pioneer, treading through uncharted territory, always forging my own path as I pushed towards the future. The gratitude of my followers—which I’ve experienced over the years—has been the reward for my efforts, and continues to serve as fresh fuel for my journey to open new paths. Flash forward sixteen years to the present and I can see clearly where I’ve been and where my first steps have taken me. And as the world changes, I can sense its urgency reflected on me too.

As I mature, I continue to be amazed by the life that surrounds me and am grateful for being able to reap the benefits of everything this living world has to offer. But this well-founded gratitude is also a reminder of my responsibility and my desire to restore, replenish, and conserve. The overwhelming feeling to “do right” is not only a survival strategy but an impulse to keep in harmony with the living, breathing world around me. This way of thinking intensifies for me with every story of deforestation and destruction that accompanies “progress” along with the worrisome attitude that the natural things we need will be available forever.

This lack of a natural balance is also sadly reflected in another malady in our society—the inexplicable cruelty towards animals. As I said here many times before, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by seeing an animal in need. I recently witnessed a kitten, possibly starving and diseased, sitting by a homeless person. Nothing was stopping it from roaming away to find sustenance somewhere else, to save itself from further hunger and pain. Instead, it sat by its master, enduring the same misfortune and misery. This show of loyalty from animals provokes me to ask, why is it so hard for us to return the same consideration?

Every so often, things come into focus in my life and a new mission is defined. Sixteen years ago during one of my many school workshops, it was an elementary student discovering that the culture that was familiar to him had relevance. I could see in his smile that he realized the place he and his parents had come from had a name and a history, and there was a place for him within the world. Thus, my mission to create Exit Studio was born.

Then years later came another event in the form of a newspaper headline whose impact moved me in a new direction. The subject was so emotionally explosive that word of it spread around the globe in a matter of hours. At the same time, voices of outrage and disbelief were also making headlines, all in reaction to the horrific animal massacre in Puerto Rico. On October 8, 2007, in the small community of Barceloneta, an “animal control” agent, with the help of local police, illegally raided homes and confiscated hundreds of pets for no apparent reason. The stolen animals were thrown off a bridge to their deaths. Reading about this event brought me from dismayed resignation to action. I had experienced the same negative attitudes towards animals on many of my visits to the island but this represented pure evil. Inexplicably, those responsible got off without punishment and have since resumed their “animal control” business. At that moment, I realized that to effect change, action is required. So I resolved to use the best weapon possible—information.

Today, I see with sadness that progress doesn’t always come with common sense. An animal in peril needs a voice too. I know I must join the increasingly loud voices of those who believe what I believe: that animals are an important part of our lives and that they help us rediscover our humanity. Respecting the life of an animal is a responsibility, not a choice, and their abandonment and abuse are simply not acceptable. That we have to leave the prejudices and superstitions of the past behind and fight for those who have no voice. I do hope you’re encouraged to find out more about my “I Promise You” initiative in the form of the book, activities, and fundraising campaigns that will be announced in the upcoming weeks. Please join your voices to mine for those who cannot fight for themselves. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

So on this very clear day, once more my thoughts trek back 16 years. I can see a new road opening up before me and where my steps will take me!

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