You know when someone says something about vegans or veganism and you want to respond but you don’t? Feels pretty bad, doesn’t it? I get it. You’re not alone. I mean, I’ve dedicated the better part of the last five years to honing my speaking-up skills and I still fall silent sometimes. Writing helps me understand myself and the world around me so, I’ve put together a 3-part post on this topic. In Part One I have, in classic Anne style, totally over-analyzed a couple of incidents that left me wanting a do-over. In Part Two, I offer my hunches as to why this happens to me. Finally, in Part Three, my dear friend and collaborator, Suzanne McAllister shares a recent experience that left her wishing she could go back in time.
Part One: An in-depth review of lousy conversations
STATEMENT 1: A new friend said this: “Some people need a lot of protein and thus need to consume animals.”
ANALYSIS: The person who said this (who is, incidentally, very knowledgeable and kind) was responding to my informing her I am vegan. I’m not sure why she wanted to share this tidbit. I think sometimes people get nervous. There’s an automatic defensive charge sparked when non-vegans take in this fact about me. The explanation that not everyone can be vegan is a way to let at least some people off the hook. It’s a roundabout way to discredit veganism as a viable option. This can feel very irritating but, if I dig a little deeper, I can understand the reaction and this understanding soothes the irritation.
We humans will all jump through a lot of psychological hoops to maintain our version of reality and avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. Consuming animals is socially normative and simply feels right to most people. When I suggest otherwise, that defensive spark is their brain working to maintain the status quo. Anything outside of the status quo is frightening and the first reaction is most often rejection. My automatic response is to help people feel at ease. It takes attention and courage to allow the discomfort and simply be with someone through it instead of trying to make it go away.
WHAT I ACTUALLY SAID: I don’t mean to judge people who have a medical condition. (I uttered something else that was equally non-impactful – so non-impactful, in fact, that I can’t remember it.)
WHAT I WISH I HAD SAID: “If someone has a condition that necessitates eating animals (although, why can’t they get more protein from plant sources???), then I suppose there’s not much to say. I can speak for myself and I can implore the overwhelming majority of people who do not have that condition to consider caring for their own bodies without sacrificing other bodies.
WHY I THINK THIS IS BETTER: It’s clear and honest. It’s what I believe. It’s delivered with warmth, not judgment. It allows me to care for the other person while staying true to myself.
WHY IT’S HARD TO SAY: I’m afraid to annoy someone. I’m worried they won’t like me. Conflict scares me.
STATEMENT 2: The same person said, “I use all parts of the animal.”
ANALYSIS: The implication is that there is something perhaps noble about not letting any part of the animal go to waste. This philosophy implies that resourcefulness makes the sacrifice okay and worthwhile. I don’t see it this way. I don’t think this makes things better in any measurable way. I believe it serves only to make us feel better about playing our role in a horror show of a system. If we can think of it from the perspective of the animals, it’s easy to see that, to them, it makes not a bit of difference. Either way, they’re dead, most likely after a miserable life. I don’t believe there’s any way to respectfully or honorably kill someone when there is no necessity to do so.
WHAT I ACTUALLY SAID: Not a darn thing. I know. I’m not proud.
WHAT I WISH I HAD SAID: “I think it’s only from our human perspective that using the whole animal makes things seem better. Being vegan means trying to see things from the animals’ perspective and I don’t think using them all up would make things better for them. I’ve thought about this so much and I simply can’t see a way to respectfully end a life when there’s no requirement to do it, whether or not we use part or all of the deceased animal.
WHY I THINK THIS IS BETTER: Same as above. There’s no judgment in the statement – just a clear expression of what I believe. It offers insight into how I see the world. Keep in mind that, even if no judgment is stated or intended, the person may experience a lot of discomfort and thus respond defensively. My intention is to accept and allow that discomfort instead of responding with my own knee-jerk, defensive reaction.
WHY IT’S HARD TO SAY: Same as above. As gentle as I deliver the message, it’s a challenge to someone’s existing belief. It shakes the status quo. I know how hard this is to accept without argument so I feel the need to brace myself for potential aggression. It’s scary and I’ll feel quite vulnerable. It takes guts.
I hope this review of my experience prompts you to think about your own interactions that have left you feeling unsettled and wishing for a do-over. I’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to contact me via the contact form. For some insights on why these interactions happen to me, please keep reading!