Compassion Files: Jo-Anne McArthur - We Animals

Story telling is often an important tool to getting your message out. I discovered a video of one of Jo-Anne’s talks shortly after I made the transition to going vegan. I was of course inspired by not only the stories she was relaying and the photos that accompanied them, also her passion and dedication to sharing these stories of the animals she has met along her journey was powerful.

Recently I had the chance to hear Jo-Anne speak in person at an event organized by the King’s Animal Rights Club. It was here that purchased my very own copy of We Animals. The book contains photos from over 15 years of photographing animals in the human environment. I really do struggle to articulate how profound and impactful the photographs are, immediately upon flipping through the pages I’m filled with empathy for the animals and I hope that this empathy fuels and inspires more people to live compassionately.

I hope you enjoy this interview and reading about Jo-Anne’s perspective on living compassionately. If you haven’t checked out the We Animals book or project yet or The Ghosts In Our Machine documentary Jo-Anne is in, I’ve included all of the important links to learn more  below the post.

Photo by Karol Orzechowski

Photo by Karol Orzechowski

About Jo-Anne McArthur and We Animals

Jo-Anne hails from Toronto and is an award-winning photojournalist. Recent awards and accolades include the 2013 Compassion for Animals Award; the 2011 Canadian Empathy Award (art category); one of CBC’s Top 50 Champions of Change; Farm Sanctuary’s 2010 “Friend of Farm Animals” award; HuffPost WOMEN’s “Top 10 Women trying to change the world”, and one of 20 activists featured in the book The Next Eco Warrior.

We Animals is an ambitious project which documents, through photography, animals in the human environment. Humans are as much animal as the sentient beings we use for food, clothing, research, experimentation, work, entertainment, slavery and companionship.

What motivates you to make compassionate choices in your daily life?

I see beyond my own life and needs. The world is being destroyed by greed, short-sightedness and cruelty, and our desire to only look after ourselves. It’s my responsibility to volunteer, help, give, give back. We should all be active in helping one another, the environment, and animals. It actually feels better to give than to receive! There’s a great quote that I’ll paraphrase, along the lines of Volunteering is my rent for living on this earth”.

Why is living a compassionate life important to you?

It affects others. We’re all interconnected and we need to look after one another.

Wade Davis writes in his book The Wayfinders, “A Canadian or American grows up believing that homelessness is a regrettable but inevitable feature of life. The Penan (a tribe in Borneo) live by the adage that a poor man shames us all. Indeed, the greatest transgression in their culture is sihun, a concept which means a failure to share”. Sharing means looking after one another, and I extend that sharing to sentient beings, who are so cruelly and ruthlessly used for food, clothing, experimentation, entertainment. Animals are sentient, and I don’t exclude them when it comes to living compassionately.

Living compassionately isn’t hard; it’s joyous, it’s rewarding, for all. I love quoting the motto from Edgar’s Mission sanctuary in Australia. If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we?

Can you share some examples of how you choose to be compassionate throughout your day?

I do my best not to take part in any animal abuse whatsoever. So, I am vegan and have been for about 11 years. I try to use my skills to make the world a better place, which is something that all of us can do. I volunteer a lot of time to animal organizations who can benefit from my skills.

What are some tips you can provide to people looking to practice compassion towards themselves, other people, the planet and animals?

We can take off our blinders and see that we’re a part of a world that needs a lot of help, and that we are all a part of the problem. It’s hard but it’s true! We all contribute to pollution, animal suffering, the destruction of rainforests, the dying of the oceans. We need to consume less. Of everything. The time is now to make big changes in our habits and live more compassionately towards each other, the animals and the earth. As I said above, we can also use our skills, whatever they may be, to make the world a kinder place. If we’re doing what we love and what we’re good at, we’ll do it joyfully. So, do what you can, in big ways and small ways. As Goethe said: Begin it Now.

Jo-Anne & Orlando

Jo-Anne & Orlando

Special thank you to Jo-Anne for taking the time to answer these questions and for all that you do for animals.

Want to learn more about the We Animals project or book or connect with Jo-Anne?

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Learn more about the We Animals project and book here.  Don’t forget to also check out The Ghosts In Our Machine, a documentary that Jo-Anne is featured in.

Now, I would love to hear from all of you.

What motivates you to make compassionate choices in your daily life?