Photo by Moomsabuy

Whenever I think about karma I often think about the idea of non-violence, and specifically the belief that you should avoid harming any living creature.

I’m an animal lover myself, and I’m able to find something to adore or admire in most animals. I give spiders their space and, well, remember my post on snakes? Most vegans would consider themselves animal lovers, and avoid harming animals—if you did harm animals, that would sort of defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? But what about creatures deemed “pests,” like mosquitoes, flies, rats and (whisper) roaches? If we talk about respecting all living things, we can’t stop at the endearing ones, like bunnies and sheep, can we? Is it fair to say those same rules don’t apply to creatures like mosquitoes because, well, mosquitoes annoy us and can cause us discomfort and/or disgust? But no one would watch a roach scuttle across their kitchen table and think, awww well he has a right to live to now, doesn’t he? Or would you?

I’ve never lived anywhere with a roach problem, but I have lived with a mass of harlequin bugs. These bugs are commonly referred to as “stink bugs” because when they feel threatened (read: when you’re smooshing them) they let out a stinky smell. Going to school down south, these bugs paraded around my dorm, and later, my apartment, like ants on a forgotten peanut butter sandwich. Seriously—they were everywhere.

My room-mates and friends would constantly gripe about these bugs, which are a plain, greyish brown, roughly the size of my thumbnail with long, inquisitive antennas. They complained about their irritating presence and, of course, about their smell. But I have never smelled a stink bug, because I have never killed one.

“They are sort of cute,” I would say, watching one crawl slowly across my desk. I admit, “cute” is a bit of a stretch, but I still was never able to kill them. Their presence and smell—which, as I have mentioned, is only released when you go after them—was never enough to warrant me killing them.

This is an important ethical question for vegans. It has been the topic of forums, and while some vegans have made their peace with insects, others have not. What do you do when carpenter ants invade your home? Or rats? Is there a friendly way to dissuade them from settling in? I try to remain mindful about this whenever I am irritated at a mosquito or grossed out by a cockroach crawling across my boyfriend’s bathroom floor (eeech! Boys.). Pests deserve our compassion just as much as the other animals we defend and protect daily; you know, the ones we abstain from eating, invite into our homes and campaign for? While it might be hard to view a mosquito or rat compassionately when they are getting our our way, I like to view it as a show of strength of character. It’s easier for me to show compassion to my cat by cuddling it, or to a dairy cow by passing by the dairy section at the store, than to a mouse who’s getting into my pantry or a fly buzzing around my ear. Showing compassion to all creatures is a challenge, and I like to test my stubborn disposition by attempting to extend my compassion even if it makes me a bit uncomfy and/or means I get covered in mosquito bites.

So what do you guys do? How do you feel about killing “pests?”