I love to sit in public spaces and people-watch. I’ve enjoyed this pastime forever, but while I used to gravitate to strangeness, now I keep an eye out for something less sensational but so much more interesting. When I pay attention, I see compassion everywhere.
As a vegan person living in a non-vegan world, it’s easy to feel stuck in emotional muck. My focus is easily drawn to all the reasons I should feel discouraged. Vegans make up a tiny percentage of the world population and it’s hard to see that needle moving when I can go weeks without seeing another vegan outside of my own home. It’s easy to lose hope. I talk to people about veganism, not because I think they’ll change on the spot they say something (often nonsensical that I used to believe) and I am compelled to respond. I have researched, studied, and tested how to talk with people in a way that is most likely to result in an honest exploration, not a defensive rant. It’s lovely and magical sometimes. Other times, it’s a slog and I’m stuck in the muck again. But then I take a moment, I sit in the coffee shop or on a bench in a public space. I surreptitiously watch and I see, for example, a stranger offers a coupon to a mother of four. I see the gratitude on her face, a moment they might forget later but will stick with me for a long time and I feel encouraged. If, as I believe, most people have a solid foundation of kindness and compassion, then is veganism such a stretch?
When I’m in that state of mind, I’m a cheap date. A smile, a compliment, a thoughtful act – any little thing can give me a jolt of love. Compassion – simple, everyday, ordinary compassion – restores my hope. It fills me up.
I don’t fool myself. I know I’ll still sometimes feel utterly frustrated. It’s part of being a vegan advocate. But noticing small acts of kindness that occur all the time helps me see what I love about humans. There’s so much good and I don’t want to ignore it. I’d like to harness and direct it as a form of vegan advocacy.
But, you didn’t think that just because I noticed a few goodie two shoes being nice I’d let humanity off the hook, did you? Nah. I want people to notice compassion because I want us all to see the possibilities. I want people to get addicted to the feeling I get when I see ordinary kindness happening right in front of me like it’s no big deal. But it IS a big deal. It’s ordinary and extraordinary all at once, like childbirth or death. It makes me love in a way that I can hold for when I need it. When I notice kindness, I experience love, and it builds up in me and I get to use it later in moments when I might feel less patient.
Everyone’s heard of a gratitude journal. It’s not a terrible idea to notice what makes you feel grateful, but I’m suggesting something a bit different. Start noticing people expressing themselves with kind acts. What does it look like? How do you feel when you witness it? How can we build on it and draw connections when we feel discouraged or overwhelmed as vegans in a primarily non-vegan world?
It took some practice for me to notice compassion all around me. Becoming vegan required me to explore a lot of darkness. There’s the raw footage captured by whistleblowers of animals being slaughtered. Less dramatically, there are the everyday conversations I have with people still confined to a way of thinking that accepts a false narrative – that humans are superior in a way that allows them to use other animals as they wish.
Every conversation about veganism has the potential to be healing, for myself and others.