I’m left breathless. I can’t utter words… holy cow. It sounds silly. But I’ve been completely transformed by a movie: Temple Grandin.
Dr. Grandin is an autistic scientist and author who advocates for the humane treatment of livestock and those living with autism. Her story is simply mind-blowing. Doctors from her early childhood advises that Temple, who has not spoken a word at the age of four, is ill-suited for society. Her mother ends up boarding her – not into an asylum – but into a school for gifted children.
This is where she meets Mr. Carlock, her science teacher and mentor. He gives her an assignment: replicate an optical illusion room. He helps her see her own mind; that she’s a brilliant visual thinker who can benefit the world.
He encourages her to view scary situations as new doorways to enter. This motivates her to go college where she earns a bachelor’s in psychology, a master’s and also doctorate degree in animal science.
She spends a summer at her aunt’s cattle farm and encounters her life calling.
“I touched the first cow as it was being stunned. In a few seconds it was going to be just another piece of beef, but in that moment it was still an individual. It was calm. Then it was gone. I became aware of how precious life was. I thought about death and I felt close to God,” declares Temple, played by Claire Danes, in the HBO movie.
She notices what frightens and calms the cows. Sensitive to sounds and touch herself, she connects deeply to their disrupted psyches and feels a deep urge to re-construct their moments of death.
“I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect.” ~ Temple Grandin
Temple even makes a contraption, similar to ones that calm cattle, to ease her own anxiety. She calls it a hug machine. In the movie, the closest she ever comes to hugging her own mother is at Mr. Carlock’s funeral. This is another death that awakens her humanity.
In a recent TED lecture, she describes her mind: “My mind works like Google for images…Now you see, the visual thinker is just one type of mind. You see the autistic mind is a specialist mind…Now visual thinking gave me a whole lot of insight into the animal mind… An animal is a sensory based thinker, not verbal. Thinks in pictures. Thinks in sounds. Thinks in smells.”
She explains that the autistic mind is similar to the mind of animals. Both types of mind have an innate and unique ability to categorize information and to understand the world in concrete terms. Problem-solving with this mindset means having an extraordinary attention to detail and an uncanny ability to visualize.
Temple envisions an entirely different way to treat cattle and designs a new slaughtering system that delivers a peaceful death to these creatures.
Mahatma Gandhi was another great human being moved by the cow. He is known for saying that “One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. The cow means the entire subhuman world.”
In India, cows are walking hindu gods; worshipped for their giving, gentle nature. In America, cows are walking hamburgers. India has Gandhi. And now, America has Grandin. Both of these great minds have promoted much peace on this planet.
We all wish to exist and exit peacefully. A peaceful death is a great blessing. We can change the world with this viewpoint. Both Gandhi and Grandin are teachers of great compassion who help us aspire for peace.
As Temple learned from her mother and often lectures, the world needs all types of mind. We must learn to accept that being different from one another does not equate to being less than one another. This applies to human beings and animals. We have much to gain and learn from the study of our collective mind. Fear and love are universal feelings for all creatures.