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Waking up to the horror of what is happening to animals can be experienced as a terrible burden. Whenever we reach someone with this message, we are so pleased, and then for a moment it dawns on us that we might be ruining their life, at least temporarily.


For the few who are willing to take in the full breadth of the pain humans inflict upon animals, the world can sometimes seem like a very, very dark place. Mariann used to wake up to the horror literally, in the middle of the night, haunted by thoughts of pigs going to slaughter, right at that moment, imagining their fear and their pain and the sheer number of them. That doesn’t happen very often anymore – perhaps she just adjusted. But still, we, like everyone who has awakened, know far too much.

Of course, there are compensations. One is the people. We feel like we live in a community that reaches around the world, made up of all those who get it about animals. It’s kind of like a family, in fact. Some of them we like, some of them maybe not so much. Which is also like a family. But they are our people. Our unity with them crosses ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, everything. We love them. Have you ever noticed how vegans hug? We don’t shake hands. We hug hello, even at first meetings. We are bonded. In fact, we feel we have more in common with them, in so many ways, than we do with some members of our own families. Sometimes this helps compensate for the sadness we feel when we see people we have loved our whole life eating animals. Or when we see young children whose birth we had celebrated munching on a pork chop, unaware of what they are doing. And there is also the compensation of living the truth. It’s hard to articulate why this is a good thing, but we know it is because we would not go back to our old ways, our blind complicity in this horror, for anything on earth. But the greatest compensation, perhaps, in knowing what is happening to animals, is the awareness that there is hope for the future. And we don’t just mean the future for animals. We mean the future for everything on earth. That sounds ridiculous, we know.

When 99% of the human race seems completely oblivious to the enormity of suffering they are causing, how can we have any hope at all? Because the fact is that most people’s beliefs about animals are completely out of sync with their behavior. We all know that. Most people profess to love animals. Most people understand that animals, with all of their variations, experience the world just like we do, one by one. And they’re not kidding. When confronted with an animal, they don’t actually want to kill him or hurt her. If they decide to kill him or participate in her death because of necessity, or, more likely, some selfish reason or just by habit, they are careful to construct a theory, no matter how outlandish, explaining why it’s the right thing to do. They need that theory and they need to believe it, because cognitive dissonance, i.e., holding two competing ideas at the same time, is unbearably uncomfortable, and one of the ways to make it less uncomfortable is to indulge in denial, no matter how dishonest. And, since everyone around them is doing the same thing, and relying on the same theory, they remain pretty comfortable. But the extreme contrast between what people feel and what people do when it comes to animals has only been able to stand because the voices on the side of the animals have been so soft, so few. As each of us is added to that chorus, as each of us speaks up, the dissonance between the voices of truth and the voices of denial becomes harder and harder to maintain.

This massive shift in consciousness is going to happen. We get closer every day. And the other fact is that once people stop trying to find theories about why it is okay to hurt animals, their connection to animals – to individual animals, to species of animals, to all the conscious inhabitants of this small precious sphere in the middle of a limitless universe – is the one thing that can save us. It’s the only way forward. As vegans everywhere know, animal consciousness is something that brings us together. And it does so without displacing all of the many belief systems that divide us. You can believe that we evolved from the primordial ooze or believe that God put us here a few thousand years ago. You can love your country or hate the whole concept of nations. You can embrace whatever moral theory you want. The awareness that we are all part of this intricate, beautiful web of conscious life makes us realize that we are the same. Makes us realize that we have responsibilities. That we are a family. And that we live in a beautiful world. Image Source: Pol Sifter/Flickr

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4 comments on “A Beautiful World: Moving From Despair to Hope”

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5 Years Ago

Three years of being a vegan, going to meet ups etc, I have NEVER had a vegan hug me, not once. The most I ever got was some flirtatious affection (a hand on the chest, briefly) so I dont get were you are getting these affectionate vegans from, my history shows nothing of the sort. Beong a vegan, although sonething I know to be the right thi.g to do, is a life of tortorous lonliness and isolation. Its a life were a man is plagued with an absurd libido, and no way to satisfy it. It is the second worst kind of hell and the only thing keeping me from straying is knowing thay as lonely as my life is, animals have it much, mucj worse.

Ruth Saggers
6 Years Ago

Great article. wow nicola your response is filled with so much compassion, you're heart is in the right place and I felt exactly the same soon after going vegan; ignorant about so much suffering and animal abuse that is rife throughout our world. Don't turn your angst inwards, the modern agricultural industrys spent millions on advertising so that we DON'T question what we put in our mouths or how it was treated. My husband also, has asked me to stop watching docos about farming/slaughter or reading these books. But we must become educated, so that when we are faced with the inevitable interogation over our ethics/eating habits, we are well informed and can enlighten other people who have been kept in the dark! I still struggle over what to do with all my leather shoes, my lovely handbag collection and all my woolen winter clothing. At first I just wanted to get rid of it; but economically that is just not viable for me. So instead I am replacing pieces as soon as I have the money or they have worn through. If anyone questions me over why I still wear leather I will simply say "I no longer BUY leather and here is why, and thank you yes I am looking to find a suitable replacement for these boots as soon as possible." Veganism is a process, it's not perfection. Last night I sold all of my vintage leather handbags on eBay and whilst I thought I would be sad to see them go, once they were in a pile on the desk in front of me they just looked like the tortured carcasses of animals that didn't want to lose their skin. The process is definitely in full swing!! Embrace the positivity in what you are doing and remember to cherish yourself for being so compassionate; exude these qualities and you will do a fine job of being an example for other future-vegans!

6 Years Ago

what a great article and one that describes so well what I've been going through. I am a very recent concert to vegsnism, having been vegetarian since the start of this year. I started reading more aryicles online. initially about animal testing (having lived in blissful ignorance that this still even happened in cosmetics) and then learnt the truth about milk, eggs and wool. I am horrified and guilty beyond belief that I lived on this planet for 40 years and never thought to question how a cow can keep producing milk or what happens to the male chicks who can't lay eggs. I feel so stupid and ignorant that I never thought that there would be pain involved in providing me with the down-filled winter jacket I loved to keep warm in in winter. Now I know these things. I can never unlearn them for my own convenience so am horribly torn by the fact that i literally can't afford to replace the leather boots I own or the down jacket. I don't want to wear them again but can't afford to buy vegan friendly versions. My husband who is still a meat eater tells me to stop reading so many upsetting articles because they are bringing me down. This is true but if we all turn a blind eye to the truths that upset us, nothing will ever change. I just wish I'd had this knowledge years ago and feel guilty for every animal that suffered to satisfy my previous ignorance.

Mary-Anne Schroer
21 Nov 2011

I so needed to read this article as I am slowly emerging from a heavy feeling of despair after watching movies like Earthling and seeing so many factory farm videos. Once you are awakened to the absolute horror these animals face every second of every day, it changes you. Much like Mariann, I too, was waking up in the middle of the night with visions of animals being slaughtered on a reoccurring loop, I could not shake the sadness, I thought I would drown in my tears. Most of it from guilt as Nicola said, to know I casually and selfishly ate meat, wore leather, went to zoos, wore products that may have been tested on animals, all without ever giving a second thought to the many sacrifices behind it. One month ago I moved from vegetarian to vegan, I donated any leather goods I had to charity, I threw away all my makeup and slowly but surely,replacing them with vegan products, I am actively involved in an animal grassroots activist group where I live, I participate in Peta demonstrations, I teach so I take around my 3 year old McDonald experiment to show the kids this garbage is just that and then go on to explain the cruelty behind it and what it is doing to the planet. Any chance I get, I advocate, I speak up, I am making up for lost time, and most importantly, my daughter who is 11, is gleaning everything she needs to know to carry the torch to her generation. I am 48, and I can only hope and pray I live long enough to see the world move beyond the 1% vegan status. I do have hope, I do believe many voices will change the world and that the animals who have suffered and who continue to suffer will not have done so in vain! Sorry is not a big enough word......

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