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Unapologetic Compassion – Notes from our February 2021 MeetUp

Every month I host a zoom meeting where vegans can share tricky social situations and gain support and feedback from the CWAFV perspective. Non-vegans are welcome to these meetings where they can find a safe place to explore vegan topics. If this interests you, sign up for our next meeting on MeetUp:

https://www.meetup.com/Philadelphia-Vegan-Spirituality-Group/events/bcwhdsyccfblc/

Here are the post-meeting notes from our February meeting. Enjoy!

Hi there everyone,

Thanks so much for attending the Conversations with a Friendly Vegan© monthly MeetUp. I find these experiences to be so enriching and I appreciate your willingness to share your questions, concerns and fears. I truly believe the CWAFV approach will help us all show up with greater integrity and authenticity. We can feel deeply connected with people, even when we passionately disagree. Other than the teachable practices, it requires one important thing – your willingness to be vulnerable. Being authentic is impossible without vulnerability. Here are a few of the highlights of our February meeting.

SK kicked us off with a fantastic question about how to handle this situation: a neighbor asked her to participate in putting together bagged [and non-vegan] lunches for homeless people. This led to a fruitful discussion about how to express a desire to help while maintaining our ethical integrity and a wonderful brainstorming session about organizations that provide vegan meals for those in need. While there’s no one, correct response in the CWAFV approach, one possible thing to say is,

“Thank you for asking me to participate in this important work. Because I’m vegan for ethical reasons, I would not feel good about packaging non-vegan meals, however, I would be happy to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or any other plant-based meals. Would that work for you (or the church, or whoever is organizing the meals)?”

SK bravely expressed her internal conflict to the group (way to be vulnerable, SK!) with questions such as: is it okay for me to turn down an opportunity to help people with such great needs? Am I being selfish or too self-centered? I love the introspection in these questions – the willingness to challenge our thoughts (because thoughts are not the same as facts). These questions may come down to, Who am I to put me ethics first? Who am I to put my needs first? Who am I to [fill in the blank]. It takes time to get to a place where there’s comfort in honoring our own sense of ethics and finding a way to show up as a responsible citizen because of and not in spite of our strongly held beliefs.

The worry that someone might feel offense when we stand in our own integrity is a reasonable one. But, really read the statement above. There is no judgment directed at anyone in particular. There is only a statement about personal ethical standards plus a solution-oriented suggestion. If there is offense taken, it is not because of what you said, but more likely because the person is experiencing cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance (which occurs when the narrative we’ve been telling ourselves is challenged creating a tug-of-war between long held beliefs and new ideas) can feel highly uncomfortable. You can count on being the target of that discomfort. While I used to avoid such interactions, fearing my own discomfort, I now welcome them. I WANT people to feel cognitive dissonance because I know it’s an early step toward change. I have also learned to spot when I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance and I know it’s a signal that I need to dig deeper into my assumptions. I happily put myself in these somewhat uncomfortable (vulnerable) situations because I believe raising awareness to vegan issues is vital and important work. When we are willing to do this work (i.e. be vulnerable by being authentic and compassionate), we create the space for ourselves to live with greater integrity, create true connection, and help many animals by raising awareness (and, yep, catalyzing discomfort).

These are the organizations mentioned:
Food Not Bombs: foodnotbombs.net
Mobilization For Animals PA: mobilizationforanimals.org
Peace Advocacy Network: peaceadvocacynetwork.org

SM shared her experience with her brother-in-law who suggested she needed a hamburger following her Covid vaccine. SM described feeling speechless, knowing from her experience that if she said something he would likely say he was just kidding, suggesting she is simply too sensitive. Boy, oh, boy, as someone who has heard some semblance of, “You’re too sensitive,” my whole life, I feel your pain. Rather than feel hurt and shamed by that statement, I’ve learned (over many years!) to embrace my sensitivity and see it as one of my greatest strengths. I can say from my own experience, SM, that it is also one of your greatest strengths.

I have to say, as a general rule, I don’t really buy, “I’m just kidding.” I believe it’s a way to deflect when someone feels uncomfortable. In the CWAFV approach, instead of avoiding that discomfort, we’re really going to try to lean into it. One possible way to respond is to inquire deeper into the statement, basically overlooking whether or not it was said seriously or in jest. “I’m wondering if you think I would be better off if I were not vegan. Is that true?” This statement could lead to a deeper, more meaningful discussion. It could clear the air and clarify some misconceptions about a vegan diet. We’ve covered how our own willingness to be vulnerable is important but this experience raises our awareness to the fact that, where it goes depends also on your BIL’s willingness to be vulnerable. If he is simply not ready or willing to go there, you’ll know because he will keep deflecting. It’s okay. He’s going to communicate his boundary and you can proceed gently, with compassion and respect for his boundaries. It’s fair enough to say, “I think a burger is the opposite of what would make me feel good,” and leave it at that. In this way, you speak your truth and leave it to him to respond if he wants to pursue it further.

CM described an uncomfortable interaction with friends who said she “made” them feel judged. I believe what happened here is, again, a demonstration of how cognitive dissonance works. What’s likely is that CM, you said something (I believe it was, “ewwwww!”) that chipped away at their existing narrative. While you described that they were “kidding around” with you about being vegan, it didn’t feel good when you gave it back to them and they projected that discomfort on to you. Often times, we can lean into that discomfort by asking someone to be more specific about what you said that represented a personal judgment. Simply expressing your ethics is not a personal judgement. Saying what you believe in an honest, compassionate way, is not an attack. Disagreeing is not disrespecting. These are critical, but often confusing, distinctions. They are confusing because people don’t have a deep enough understanding of cognitive dissonance so they “read” their discomfort as something you did wrong that “made” them feel something. They also, in general, don’t like feeling vulnerable. It’s vulnerable to admit you’re engaging in something that does not jive with your ethics. It’s not vulnerable to lash out, which is also a way to deflect.

KR drew an excellent parallel that I had not thought of before and that is how people with disabilities can be dismissed in a similar way to how animals’ needs are dismissed. I think this topic warrants more thought and discussion. If there are any particular reading materials or documentaries you recommend, Kris, I’d love to check those out!

We re-visited D’s experiences with Quaker farmers in his community. D expressed a very natural and understandable frustration with their tendency to speak so cavalierly about killing sentient beings. You could, of course, opt out of meetings with them. But, if you’re willing to put yourself out there, another option is to engage a big dose of curiosity and see if you can find their compassion. Let’s assume they’re not sociopaths and they do have the ability to experience empathy and compassion. It’s in there somewhere but, where animals are concerned, it’s been buried under generation after generation of culturally-endorsed abuse. I believe they are surrounded by messages that continue to reinforce these long-held beliefs. You may offer a rare, opposing view which, when delivered with genuine curiosity, understanding and compassion, can be incredibly powerful. As you inquire, look for what joins rather than separates. LB raised an excellent point about how a change in their behavior could threaten their income. Most of us can relate to the fear of a loss of income. Those of us who were not raised vegan can probably relate to the impact of messages delivered by trusted adults over and over again. We don’t have to agree with their choices, but we can see how they got there. You may feel curious if they’ve ever felt attached to any of the animals and wonder how it felt if that animal was killed. It may be interesting to explore how they reconcile their deep and historical beliefs in abolitionism as well as peace/anti-war sentiments. This type of exploration creates bonds and healthy bonds offer a solid foundation from which to offer up those different ideas in a way that feels manageable versus overwhelmingly threatening.

Well, I’ve gone and done it again and written a tome. Even so, I know I didn’t cover many of the wonderful contributions you all made. Thank you again for participating. I look forward to next month! In the meantime, I am considering setting up a private facebook group to share CWAFV thoughts between meetings. This group would be open only to those who attend a CWAFV zoom meeting.

I’d also like to invite you to join a monthly vegan book/film club. Our first meeting is scheduled for March 14th and our first book is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

If you’re interested in either of these options, please let me know by emailing me at:
anne@conversationswithafriendlyvegan.com or amp@sta2ned.com

Thanks again!
Anne
Founder, Conversations with a Friendly Vegan©