There are a few topics in our culture that get people mightily defensive about – religion, politics, and food. Tell someone that we should/shouldn’t scrap the welfare system, and tempers will fly! Suggest that there is/isn’t a god, and veins will start popping! Tell people how that chicken got to their plate … unh unh. Don’t go there.
If you are like most people, you bristle and defend yourself when someone states diabolically opposite viewpoints as if they were fact. For example, I am outraged when someone states that I can’t be healthy if I’m not eating meat. (This really kills me if they are overweight, which is usually the case.) Similarly, when someone says that they don’t believe things can be all that bad in the factory farms because, after all, the government is overseeing the system, I just want to pull my hair out! AAAAGGGGHHHHHH!!!!
However, is it possible that you are causing the same reactions in your friends and family? If you ask with disgust, “Do you have any idea what that poor chicken went through to get to your plate???” Or, “I never eat fish anymore. Let me tell you about how the fishing industry is ruining our oceans…” Chances are that they are ready to pull their hair out too. If you commonly find yourself in arguments or full-scale wars about your veg*nism, chances are, my friend, that you are starting it. It’s not always the case – there are definitely people who will attack, simply upon hearing that you are veg*n – but my experience is that that’s very rare. If you are commonly getting into arguments, you are probably being seen as either proselytizing or coming across as better-than-thou.
Instead, try compassionate activism. Compassionate activism has three steps:
1. Never assume that your way is the right way for everyone.
2. Set a good example that exemplifies your beliefs
3. Spread your beliefs using peaceful methods and means.
Here is a fantastic example: There was an article earlier this week about some Buddhists that set 600 pounds of lobsters free that were destined to become dinners1. Did the Buddhists steal the lobsters and set them lose? Hijack a boat and throw the lobsters overboard? Scream about the injustices of lobster farming to passersby? No! They saved their money, bought the lobsters, and then set them loose in a beautiful ceremony … smartly letting the press know about it beforehand. Pictures of the lobsters belly-flopping their way to freedom made it all over the press, with an explanation of how Buddhists believe all life is sacred, all creatures should be free from suffering, and that they were celebrating a particular holiday that focuses on doing good deeds. Kind of makes you want to look into Buddhism, doesn’t it?
This is the type of compassionate activism that I believe we vegetarians and vegans should strive for. Positive, uplifting and inspiring activism. Setting an example that people really want to follow is one of the best things we can do.
If you are interested in making a difference, try this idea that came across my inbox this morning from FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) – they are setting up booths in busy places that offer people $1 to watch a 4 minute video about the horrible treatment of animals on farms2. What a fantastic idea! As a volunteer, you can be there to compassionately talk to the people after they are done watching the video. No doubt, many will be in shock, and ready to make some changes.
PETA, FARM and many other organizations can use your help. Or, you can always come up with your own creative ideas for reaching out and making a difference. Whatever it is, go for it, using the tenets of compassionate activism.
Just think … for each person you turn vegetarian, you are saving over 100 lives a year for the rest of that person’s life!