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Well-meaning non-vegans, mixed relationships and therapists – Notes from our March 28, 2021 MeetUp

On the last Sunday of every month, I host a zoom meeting where participants can present their personal experiences and practice CWAFV skills. Here’s my post-meeting letter to participants from our March 28, 2021 meeting. If this sounds like something you’d like to explore, search MeetUp.com for Conversations With a Friendly Vegan.

Hello CWAFV People!

Thanks for attending the zoom meeting on Sunday. As promised, here is the post-meeting summary along with a few additional thoughts and resources. Since our meeting, I’ve gained a bit more clarity on how to describe what I’m trying to do with this approach and I’d like to share that with you now. Last night, I watched the documentary “Seaspiracy” on Netflix. I made it nearly to the end before I started weeping and then I really couldn’t stop. Sounds bad, right? And yet, I’m glad I watched it. If you decide to watch, I recommend you do so with someone who can give you a hug afterwards. For me, along with a dose of despair, I recognized a familiar spark similar to the one that resulted in my going vegan in the first place. Now, I no longer need any documentaries to convince ME to go vegan. This time, the spark inspired me to inject even more energy into my advocacy efforts. Let me see if I can better articulate what I’m trying to do.

If you’ve observed other approaches to vegan advocacy on YouTube, etc. by comparison you may perceive the CWAFV approach to be “soft” or too gentle but that’s not quite right. It’s not about going easy on non-vegans. It’s not about letting anyone off the hook for bad behavior or colluding with the delusions that allow animal cruelty to continue. It’s about using what I believe are our greatest superpowers – our compassion, kindness, love and desire to leave this world a better place than we entered it – to have an impact on our friends, family members, communities and the world. It’s about connecting with people from that deep well of compassion that is inside all of us and, in doing this, create the space that nurtures their compassion as well. Put another way, I believe that it’s important to deliver the truth in a loving package which increases the likelihood that someone will be willing and able to receive it and recognize it in themselves. An important point I want to make is that CWAFV is about connections and friendly conversations which means we also need to be lovingly receptive. Even when a non-vegan is expressing something I don’t AGREE with, it helps our relationship if I seek to UNDERSTAND where they’re coming from. Listening is as important as what you decide to say. I believe in this approach because I think the world is lacking in people who feel connected with and understand the incredible power of their own compassion. In general, I don’t think the world is currently lacking in accusations and judgment.

There are concrete skills to accomplish what I’m describing and that’s what we practice in our monthly meetings. As I mentioned, I am putting together a course that will cover the skills step-by-step and I can keep you posted on that. You can also find announcements on my website: conversationswithafriendlyvegan.com In the meantime, here’s a summary of what we discussed. If I didn’t include something, it’s not because it wasn’t valuable! It’s just a question of time and space but I think you’ll recognize your influence even if you are not mentioned by name.

The Well-Meaning Neighbor

A kicked off the meeting by describing a common, awkward, vegan moment when a well-meaning, non-vegan neighbor delivered non-vegan food to her. There are many ways to respond and, since my approach is not prescriptive (meaning there’s no one, correct response), you get to decide what to say. The first step to move toward an authentic, connected response would be to check in with yourself, A. Even as you think back to it now, where in your body do you feel something? You may notice changes in your breathing, or a “funny” feeling in your belly. This is that feeling part of your brain sending those fight/flight/freeze signals. After observing those sensations without judgment, see if you can name the feelings and thoughts for yourself. “I’m feeling nervous. If I say I don’t eat this food, she may feel rejected, she may not like me, she may reject me.” Can you identify other thoughts such as, “It’s impolite for me to reject this food.” Now that you’ve done this, you have a better understanding of where you’re coming from, why you may be feeling triggered. All of this can  happen in a few moments. You’re in a better position to respond. Any of the following responses would be okay: In all cases, thank her for her thoughtfulness and generosity. -Accept the food. Give it away. This is a neighbor you will likely encounter again. At another time, when you’re feeling less threatened by a first-time meeting, you can talk with her. The downside? She may not quite understand why you accepted the food in the first place but, this can also offer a point of connection if you explain your feelings of awkwardness and your reluctance to insult her – most people can relate to that feeling.-Say something like, “You’re very kind to welcome me this way. I would love to accept the [beans or whatever else is vegan]. I follow a plant-based/vegan diet so, would you mind returning the non-vegan items to the church?”

Here’s the thing: You can’t control her response. You can only do your best to deliver your message with compassion and kindness. What she does with that is entirely up to her. Here’s another thing: Discomfort and awkwardness are normal, especially when you’re trying to authentically communicate when you’re accustomed to saying whatever might make someone else feel more comfortable. If you deliver your message and it feels and sounds awkward, congrats, you’re human. It’s okay. It’s not dangerous. In fact, think of when someone has shared something with you and you could tell they felt a little weird and awkward. Is it me or is that totally endearing? Even if your neighbor is surprised or caught off guard, in all likelihood, she’ll appreciate your honesty and recognize your gratitude for her gesture.

Mixed Relationship

The word “respect” is getting on my nerves. It means, “feeling regard for someone or something.” By that definition, I don’t respect the CHOICE to consume animals. I don’t believe it’s a respectable choice to make. I don’t respect MY OWN decision to consume animals before I decided to go vegan so, why, oh, why am I expected to respect someone else’s choice to do so? Okay, I’m sounding very non-CWAFV but, maybe not. I’m just clarifying what it means to respect someone or something. I can love someone, feel a deep sense of compassion and connection AND not respect their choices, all the while respecting them as a human being on their own path of self-discovery. Furthermore, I don’t have to pretend to respect particular choices. It doesn’t mean that I walk around with a grim look on my face, snarling at their plate of scrambled eggs. It means I’m allowed to have and lovingly communicate my beliefs. E, you raised a couple of issues and, while I have no first hand experience on being in a mixed vegan/non-vegan relationship, I have imagined various scenarios. Sometimes, we have to use our imaginations to figure out how we feel or how to think about something. I often wondered, what would I have done if my hubby hadn’t hopped on board the vegan train? At that point, we’d been married for nearly 10 years and had a 6 year old daughter so splitting up over my vegan-awakening didn’t seem reasonable. It might help, E, to do a few of your own thought experiments. What if you had already been an established couple when you decided to go plant-based/vegan? Would that change your perspective? How would you have managed your differences? How do you manage other differences? If you are currently vegan for ethical reasons, it does admittedly present unique challenges over other disagreements. This can be a tough one to explain to my non-vegan friends and family members. With other life-choices, I can have a live-and-let-live outlook. When it comes to veganism, I am not neutral because there are victims. To  me, being neutral about veganism is like being neutral about domestic violence. I wouldn’t say, “Well, if that’s the way they want their relationship to be, I guess it’s not for me to judge. It’s none of my business. Maybe we can get them to have a ‘beating-free-Friday’.” Absurd.

In addition to the steps I described above, E, I think another aspect you can think about is your own boundaries. Boundaries are a BIG part of the CWAFV approach. Boundaries are basically rules you determine that guide your interactions with others. In addition to your personal boundaries, you can understand your partner’s boundaries. This can set you up for close, connected conversations, in particular when you passionately disagree. Boundaries are rarely clear unless we’ve given them some thought. Just to complicate things a little more, boundaries can shift over time, as our tolerance for discomfort shifts. Here are a few things to consider:

-What’s okay and not okay to bring into your home? Do you want a fully vegan home where no animal products are allowed in? If so, is your partner willing to eat non-vegan foods only outside of the  home. If not, are there some things that are okay and others that are not? [Forgive me, E – can’t recall if you live with your boyfriend or not.]

-When you disagree on something important, how do you want these conversations to go? What do you say or do when you need a cooling off period? What words or voice volumes are off limits?

-What happens when you notice a discrepancy in your partner’s thinking? Recommendation: instead of making accusations, make observations and ask for clarity. “I heard you say _ and I’m not sure I understand how it connects with this other belief you have. Can you help me understand?” Ask your partner to do the same for you.

I also think, E, you may be harshly judging yourself for things you’ve said and done in the past. I want to ask you to forgive yourself. We are all just figuring things out. We’re going to screw up sometimes. When you do, say sorry. Learn from it. Do better in the future. It’s all any of us CAN do. I also want to see if you can relieve yourself of some responsibility. Whatever you said or didn’t say, it’s still your BF’s job to act or not act on that. In other words, I don’t think you made him reject veganism. Chances are, he already had. Possibly, you became an easy excuse along with the thousand other excuses out there. I say this with humility as I used every excuse in the book before I went vegan.I found this book and trust the author so I think I can recommend it to you, E. I plan to read it myself so perhaps we can discuss together one day.     Beyond Beliefs by Melanie Joy

Therapeutic Relationships

T, what an important topic you raised about a therapist who expresses questionable justifications and may be looking for YOU to support HER choices. S observed that you may be feeling inclined to take care of her by protecting her feelings as you decide how or even whether to express your concerns. The therapeutic relationship is unique in that it is designed to be one-sided. The purpose of therapy is to meet the client’s needs – and ONLY the client’s needs. It’s a place for you to work through your own struggles in a safe and supportive environment, not a place where you are pressured to make your therapist feel better. T, this may be an opportunity for you to work through your concerns if you want to talk with your therapist. If it turns out that it is not going to work for you, here’s a link to potential other resources. Scroll down to the middle of the page for vegan therapists.https://www.idausa.org/campaign/sustainable-activism/activist-resource-list/#mental

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed our time together and I deeply appreciate all of you. The next meeting is scheduled for April 25th. Hope to see you again!

Anne