In my editing, I recently came across a requoted passage from Richard Rohr about the fact that it’s easier to remember the pain than the joy in our lives.[1] What popped into my head is that, back when we were the hunted as well as the hunter, it was genetically necessary, for the continuation of our species, for us to remember what could hurt us. The joys were more ephemeral—nice, but not life-threatening—so we evolved not to put as much mental focus on them.

This leads me to ponder two things. First, we need to acknowledge the ways in which we are still threatened. There are still reasons why we need to remember our pain. While we are at the top of the literal food chain, we are increasingly threatened by other humans, who take power over us in multiple ways. One recent example comes from our friend in the Eloy Detention Center, who talks about how most of the guards treat her and the other detainees like dogs instead of humans. When a forced return to the country they escaped could result in death, there is no question that it’s important to remember who causes us pain.

Second, and most definitely connected with the first, is that we need to keep working on that genetic rewiring, for the sake of future generations. Because, for most Americans anyway, our physical lives are seldom in danger, we need to work on shifting our focus from memories of pain to remembering joy and gladness. We need to do this so that we don’t always, instinctively react to other humans as if they are the enemy. We need to stop treating others as anything less than equal. Otherwise, we only proliferate the pain and the hurt.

Last fall, I reflected on how trauma changes genetics. The traumatized genes of slaves were passed on to their descendants. My own genes were altered by my ancestors’ experience of owning, and likely mistreating, slaves. In a similar fashion, it’s likely that the trauma of being hunted changed our genes to focus us on remembering very clearly what causes us pain.

Perhaps, then, the trauma of killing another creature also changes our genes. Perhaps, then, those of us in industrialized countries who have distanced ourselves from the slaughtering process are now more able to recognize and honor the consciousness in other creatures—with the consequence that many are becoming vegetarian or vegan.

Periodically in this blog I search for hope. Today, I’m finding it in the idea that we can, indeed, over the long-term, change the kinds of impacts we make on our genes—which we literally pass down to the next generation. I choose to focus on love, and on the good we can do, so that our genes may become more open to joy and gladness and less driven by memories of fear and pain.

We need, as a species, to focus on the good we can do, with and for each other. Only in this way can we work for the very long-term good of our species. (Yes, there is a very real question about whether we will have a habitable planet to occupy in the very long-term, but that’s a separate topic for another day!)

What can you do, this day, this week, to reinforce joy and gladness?


[1] Richard Rohr, Radical Grace: Daily Meditations (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 1995), 26.