Vegans hate animal cruelty. Like, really hate it. It is probably the number one reason most vegans become vegan–because they watched an internet video, or saw a documentary, or read a book detailing the many follies of factory farming.
In protest of animal cruelty and protection of animal rights, some of us begin the very difficult journey of abstaining from eating or wearing anything that is, or comes from, any animal. Some vegans even begin treating animals better than humans. They become militant. These vegans take up the war cry for animal rights and putting an end to cruelty. They begin shaming their friends and posting general rants on social media extolling the virtues of their life decision while pointing out the worst in human behavior.
For me, that is a problem (this is Michael, by the way). I think it is not only ineffective for helping animals but it is also not a good way to invite other people to become curious about veganism.
Militant vegans, though filled with good intentions, hurt the movement.
It is certainly frustrating to see story after story about animal suffering and I sometimes feel a swell of anger at the world for not understanding basic cause and effect relationships. Nonetheless, I remind myself to share the anger with my closest friends if I need to, but keep the conversation going with those who are not aligned with the values of their better angels yet.
I can’t say I have found the secret formula or perfect argument to make every person I meet become vegan, but I know what worked for me… and what didn’t. I also know by following three simple principles, I have been able to grow curiosity about veganism in more non-vegans than I ever would have thought possible. People tentatively approach the subject when they meet me but then use me as a resource as they take one step at a time closer to an animal-friendly world.
Maybe it’s slow (probably no slower than any other approach), but it works… and no one gets hurt. I hope some of my militant vegan friends will adopt the same easy principles in their conversations and postings, and maybe… just maybe… we can add a few more vegans to the roster instead of pushing some people away altogether.
Here are my three guidelines:
1. Do not judge non-vegans. Everyone has a choice to make and I was well into my twenties when I decided to live a more peaceful life with respect to my fellow creatures. There are probably many other bad decisions I need to correct, as well–most of which I am probably unaware of. That is why I do not judge others for their bad choices… or at least I keep my judgments to myself, unless invited to share my opinion.
I didn’t know I should be vegan until I did the homework myself. More importantly, people like me (and probably you) are the exception. Most people do not do much research into factory farming, animal cruelty, or ethical health choices. It’s not on their radar. It isn’t taught in school. There are no commercials for going vegan. They do not know what you might know. You were them just a little while ago and if somebody gave you the “Don’t you know how veal is made and where milk comes from?!?” rant, you would likely not be swayed. In fact, the first time you heard that rant, you probably did not believe it or were not that concerned about it. Eventually, you looked into it.
2. Avoid blaming and shaming. This is probably the worst thing I see well-meaning, passionate vegans do. If your post or rant starts with “You”, “You people”, or “Why don’t people just…”, start over. It’s not Us versus Them. The people you are trying to reach are just as human as you are. If they are having a bad day already, the last thing they need to see in their social media feed is their judgy-vegan friend going off on them about their life choices. Instead of venting your anger vaguely at the people you supposedly love, try sharing about YOUR journey. Rather than, “When will people start understanding the suffering of animals? I can’t believe it’s 2016 and we still eat meat!”, try “I remember the moment when I understood why I could not eat meat anymore. It was when…”. Tell YOUR story rather than try to change everyone else’s.
3. If no one asked your opinion, don’t assume they want it. I do not tell people I am vegan unless it comes up naturally in conversation. For me, it is not a bragging right. It is a life-choice. I don’t tell people I am a non-smoker, either. It’s just part of who I am. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your commitment to non-cruelty but most of the rest of the world just don’t care about your choices or opinions. If you want an audience, start a blog. If you want people to listen to you, create a podcast and find people who care enough to tune in. But your non-vegan mother, cousin, or work mate really doesn’t care to hear about baby seals being bludgeoned or seeing videos of how hamburgers are made. Only PETA does, and they probably don’t care what your opinion is on it, either, because–like your mother–they already made their choice. Pointing out how wrong or right it is doesn’t matter to them.
As a long time vegan advocate, I can tell you the biggest trap I see passionate vegans fall into is this: they believe in stopping cruelty and animal suffering… but they forget humans are animals, too.
If you like what I said here, I would like to recommend this article from Kolene Allen as well, one of our friends at VeganGR. It’s excellent.