I’m learning a lot from PBS natural specials. Last night, I watched a troop of chimpanzees launch a concerted attack on a group of gibbons — surround them, roust them, attack them, tear them apart and eat them. It was very disturbing. I mean, isn’t that a little like cannibalizing a cousin?

And did you know that a full 20% of squirrels — that’s one in five — doesn’t collect food for the winter? No. He (or she) steals them from other squirrels. In fact, lives a life of crime. How does that happen? Are some squirrels born bad? Is it nature or nurture?

I guess what upsets me so much about these acts is that they are so very human. And aren’t animals supposed to be better than that? I realize how backwards that sounds. So often, humans are lauded as the highest of God’s creatures — the only ones who think, who have the ability to plan, who are moral, who are civilized. Except maybe we aren’t. Maybe we’re just less-furry mammals. Because we steal. We kill. Even human flesh isn’t off the menu (so to speak) for a depraved few. So what distinguishes us from so-called lower forms of life? Maybe less than we think.

Yet animals are also capable of extraordinary acts of goodness. A dog will nurse kittens; a cat will nurse a puppy or a rabbit. Strange animal friendships abound: a dog and a cheetah, a gorilla and a kitten, a bear and a tiger. In many ways, animals seem more capable than humans of reaching across lines of perceived differences and striking an accord. Yet we’re the ones with free will. And, at least according to some faith practices, the only ones with souls.

Maybe it’s time to take a good long look in the mirror. In what ways are we no better than animals? In what ways are we perhaps worse? In what ways might we learn from animals how to treat one another and the planet we live on?

I think God gave us a wide range of examples to follow — or to eschew. That’s why our world is so vibrantly alive with so many species of living things. Our job is to observe. Not to judge — we have no real moral authority for that — but to look, examine, and see how we want our lives to differ or mirror theirs. And to protect them, because we aren’t any better than they are. We’re just different. And we all have something to give.

Except for mosquitoes. Those little monsters are pure menace. Am I right?

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