Finding The Humanity In Non-Vegans

Finding the Humanity in Non-Vegans

Note: This is a guest post by Bob Hand, a blogger from Boise, Idaho. He studied at the University of South Carolina and keeps a pulse on current issues in animal rights and education. His hobbies include reading and collecting vinyl records. You can follow him on Twitter.

Can we fight cruelty with cruelty? Can we persuade others to embrace a vegan lifestyle through mockery? At times, influential speakers and organisations in the vegan community hinder our shared agenda through such behaviour.

I argue that to maximise our outreach, and to truly make progress towards ending animal oppression, we need to find the humanity in non-vegans.

Being concerned about the lives of animals is a key reason why many people choose to become vegan, and it is obviously important that we continue to spread awareness about the poor conditions that humanity systematically subjects animals to. However, we need to balance these concerns with the value of human life — of personal choices, emotions, and the livelihoods of other people. This can be more difficult than you might think.

The Problem

When moral and ethical concerns arise concerning practices such as animal testing and factory farming, we understandably feel alarmed. We feel compelled to stress the importance of mindful consumerism. People are unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) perpetuating an endless cycle of intense suffering — a cycle that could end if only they would listen!

In retaliation, you might want to lash out in frustration. The willful ignorance that such people demonstrate makes you want to mock non-vegan public figures when they show signs or die of a heart attack. It makes you feel vindicated when a prolific matador is gored to death by his quarry. You may express your anger by wearing clothes with bitter phrases like “Be Kind to Animals or I’ll Kill You.” In short, your frustration can cause you to strip the humanity from fellow humans.

This behaviour isn’t an effective method of persuading others to join your cause. Expressing anger in this way only causes others to shut you out. It alienates the vegan community from broader discussions and may even radicalise other impressionable members by promoting the idea that hatred is an effective means of persuasion. And the cycle only continues.

A Need for Compassionate Rhetoric

We cannot convey a message of compassion through barbaric means. In our attempts to relate the value of animal lives, we cannot lose sight of the value of human lives. To advance our shared agenda of reducing animal oppression, we need to embrace compassionate rhetoric. Not only is this a more morally consistent way of engaging in discussions regarding the topic, it is also much more persuasive.

So how can you embrace this form of rhetoric?

Discourage individuals and organizations on social media when they take part in dehumanizing non-vegans. Explain that this behaviour will not further our cause, and demonstrate to others that not all vegans take part in it. Give people time to logically process information. Don’t express frustration or insult non-vegans for disagreeing with you. Explain your stance rationally and politely. Use evidence. For example, share articles that demonstrate that a vegan diet can easily meet all your dietary needs — yes, vegans get enough protein — or demonstrate that factory farming contributes to climate change, a cost that all of us pay for.

Be mindful of others. One strategy of spreading the message of veganism involves sharing explicit slaughterhouse footage on social media. Many notable organizations use such videos as emotional appeals to convince others to convert to veganism, but this isn’t a very effective form of persuasion. Unexpected, unwanted, gruesome footage will only cause others to ignore or block you. They will be unlikely to process such information in a meaningful way. When sharing shocking footage, be mindful of what others will tolerate.

Finding the Humanity in Non-Vegans

While it is important that we all know the truth about industries that harm animals, remember that not everyone will learn or accept this information as quickly as you did. Practice empathy. Place yourself in the shoes of those you are speaking to. It shouldn’t be hard; after all, the vast majority of vegans and vegetarians were not such at some earlier point in their lives.

We are fighting a rising wave of an anti-vegan mentality. You can look at the replies to any trending pro-vegan post on social media to see that this is true. Rational arguments are refuted with lame jokes about bacon. Powerful exposés are met with memes about “annoying vegans.” Nevertheless, we need to take the higher ground. While some people might label us “preachy vegans,” our efforts will also result in more mindful choices.

So, by any means available to you, continue to spread the importance of adopting a vegan lifestyle respectfully. Answer questions from non-vegan friends. Share new research and reports on animal welfare on social media. If you go to school, consider using discussion boards to generate interest in forming a vegan student organisation. By finding the humanity in non-vegans and using compassionate rhetoric, we can improve our attempts to reduce animal oppression around the world, one mind at a time.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced a lot of negativity in the online vegan community? Do you disagree with my arguments? Let me know in the comments!

  • Leslie 07/08/2017 Reply

    I agree with you completely. I have had more success spreading the word in my lifetime by answering inquiries honestly and sharing information compassionately than I ever had by brow-beating anyone. I would not have responded well to that approach when I started 25 years ago, so why would I assume it works for anyone else? That being said, yes it is frustrating that one can hardly pop their head out into the world of social media without being inundated with mean remarks and inane bacon jokes. (I will never understand why stating the thing you are addicted to is a valid argument for or against most anything.) When you hold up a mirror, not everyone is going to like what they see in it. Some bad reactions are to be expected, sad as they may make me. Great read! Thank you for writing it.

    • Bob Hand 07/08/2017 Reply

      And thank you for reading! Things can definitey get annoying on social media – and not just from the anti-vegan trolls. I’ve seen vegans shame vegetarians as well. ????

      25 years strong, awesome to hear that!

  • M 07/08/2017 Reply

    I completely agree with this post, thank you so much for sharing it! It is so sad to hear and read such cruel opinions both from non-vegans and vegans alike.. is like no-one is never “vegan enough” or a “true vegan” when people are just trying their best at something as personal as their diet and lifetime choices! As Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says: veganism is not the goal, kindness is. Veganism is not a badge you wear… I agree with her. In my case, I never push my opinion on veganism on others, unless I am directly asked about a certain subject (like protein and calcium or even animal testing…). I’d rather have people interested in this because they see my health or positive vibe and not make everyone feel ashamed by how they are living. This has made me much tolerable around all my family and friends who are actually showing an increased interest in my foods or products I use. Kindness is always the answer.. not everyone has had the same path as me and I should respect that no matter if sometimes it is hard (which it is…). I live in a place where everything is around food and food means meat… roasted piglet, pork chops, pork belly, cow stew… literally, all traditional foods are non-vegan.. if I didn’t show a certain amount of respect, well, I couldn’t just be with any of my family or friends…

    • Bob Hand 07/08/2017 Reply

      Thanks! I also think Patrick-Goudreau has it spot-on. And you bring up a great point: if we adopt a positive mindset, others are much more likely to have genuine interest in our choices. It’s much easier to dismiss the beliefs of some fringe people you meet online than those of friends and family you know and love in the “real world.”

  • Hannah 25/09/2018 Reply

    This is so true. Vegetarian for 5 years (a short time but my entire adult life) and now turning to veganism. I’m already being hassled by classmates, and there are people who think they are giving valid arguments but what they are saying is totally untrue. What do you do when you are attacked or interrogated? I stay off social media because I’m too sensitive. I don’t tell people what to eat unless they ask me. Why do people try to tell me that what I’m doing is meaningless or somehow offensive? What do you do?

    • Bob Hand 26/09/2018 Reply

      Thanks for reading! I know what you mean: Many people view the mere concept of veganism or vegetarianism as an affront. In their minds, your personal life choice becomes a personal attack on them. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I also simply disconnect from social media for a few days.

      After taking some time, I’d deal with this mindset the same way I would any close-minded person: be truthful with how you feel, stay positive, and don’t take anything they say personally. After all, they aren’t viewing you as an individual; they are viewing you as a representative of something bigger.

      When they say your choice is “meaningless,” it’s because they don’t understand what factory farming is doing to the planet. When they say it’s offensive, it’s because they feel guilt that they can’t reconcile (there’s a reason slaughterhouses don’t have glass walls). It’s only through time and empathy that their perspective can be expanded.

      While the day-to-day conflict can be tiring, know that you deserve time to decompress.

  • Annika 24/02/2019 Reply

    Thank you for this article.
    I myself became a vegan a few months ago. It was not an overnight decision and I used to eat animal protein with every meal. I am a huge animal lover, own a dog and volunteer at an animal shelter, however, I have always disassociated the meat on my plate from the animal it once was. I am a person that is very aware of her health and I thought I needed animal protein in order to be healthy. That is why I closed my eyes, trying not to see what we were doing to these animals so we could eat their protein. I thought that was how life was supposed to be and I there was not anything I could do about it. I sure knew about the vegan lifestyle but I always thought that came with a lot of health problems due to nutrient deficiencies etc. Once I started my research and actually found out that a raw vegan lifestyle is indeed healthier and that the amounts of animal protein I was consuming were actually hurting me, I started to open my eyes. I was finally open to the idea of living a vegan life. That is when it all started. I watched documentaries, read about the horrible conditions animals are living in, the effect all this meat production has on the environment etc. I remember the exact moment I said to myself, that is it, never again will my appetite be the reason an animal had to suffer and I became vegan overnight. I cut all animal protein from my diet and gave leftovers away to family and friends who still consume meat.
    I could not be happier with this decision of mine and I feel like my eyes are finally open. I am enjoying this journey of living a healthier and more mindful life!
    Now that I feel like I can finally see the truth and I am no longer looking away, I am angry at myself for not having realized this sooner. 18 years have I harmed animals without thinking about it twice. Did you also feel this guilt?
    Also, I am having a very hard time overlooking the fact that all the people I love and consider to be good people are still eating animal protein. It frustrates me that I cannot make them see what I see and that they are the reason animals have to die every day. Then I again I love them and want to accept them for who they are. This is a real conflict for me. Do you have any suggestions on how I can solve this? Have you experienced something similar?

    • Bob Hand 25/02/2019 Reply

      In the past, I have had personal issues with friends/family who consume meat. I can only really resolve this by “clearing the air” directly.

      My personal approach when discussing why I am a vegan is to emphasize the health aspect. (Though if they press, I’ll be open and admit that I ultimately don’t consume animal products for ethical reasons.)

      I believe the reason health arguments work more often in convincing others is that it frames veganism as a positive choice: You get the benefits of improved health and a longer life.

      The ethical argument, while it is what convinced me, generally is not as well accepted. It positions veganism as a critique of personal choices. It is, in the minds of many, a message of negativity.

      As a result of these discussions, most people I hang out with become more conscious of their choices gradually. This usually manifests as candid questions (“Does it make you uncomfortable when I eat meat?”) and even different choices on their own behalf (choosing vegetarian options when eating out together).

      These are small steps in the right direction. If they’re unwilling to listen to you or, worse, ridicule you, reconsider the worth of that relationship. As long as a person is willing to simply listen to you earnestly, they are a friend worth keeping.

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