When interacting with a range of people in social situations, it is more than likely to be surrounded by non-vegans. Questions will be raised, comments might be made and your vegan patience will undoubtedly be challenged. If you want to know how to stand your ground, without losing your cool, we’ve got tips for you.
Vegans often get labeled as “militant” or “extreme”, not only because of our non-conventional lifestyle choices, but also partly because of the aggressive tactics used by some animal welfare organizations to educate the public about the treatment of animals and the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. Whatever the reason may be, it makes the uninformed paint a sweeping picture of vegans as morally self-righteous, judgmental and preachy hippies trying to take all the fun away from life. You don’t need to lose any sleep or your mind over it. While it is true that some non-vegans can drive even the most zen vegans amongst us insane, you need to ask yourself if you’re helping or hurting the vegan cause every time you get into an argument with a non-vegan.
Curb your exasperation
While it is fairly easy to react angrily or confront people that don’t share your view of the world, it’s far better for your stress levels (and social popularity) to learn how to curb your exasperation with non-vegans. Reacting, instead of responding never helps since your goal should be to broaden, not close, their minds to the idea of veganism.
When someone first becomes a vegan, they often feel like they’ve just woken up. This is normal; you’ve been bothered by the injustice and cruelty that humankind has inflicted on other sentient beings and have taken steps to change that. Everybody should know what you know and see things the way you see it. The facts speak for themselves: animals feel pain, we don’t need to use and eat them to survive, industrialized animal farming is destroying the environment and animal products are bad for our health. However, the problem with seeing the issue as so obviously black and white and seemingly logical is that there are always gray areas and human beings rarely use logic to make their decisions.
If you approach an animal lover who eats animals about the flawed logic involved in their moral choices, they’re probably going to get defensive and not hear anything you have to say. Meat eating has a long cultural history almost everywhere, it implies wealth and success, it is attached to practically every traditional celebration in numerous cultures, it represents something special to eat at significant family gatherings, it even represents manliness. Dairy products are omnipresent in modern society and billions of intelligent people live their whole lives without ever questioning why we need to consume the milk of another species. When we attack meat-eating and dairy products, we are not only attacking people’s food choices, but also a lot of customs and traditions that people hold dear. Everyone has an opinion about eating animals that’s often not based on facts or logic, but years of pre-conditioning that is very tough to break out of. What seems logical to us is actually very confronting at a deep level to others.
You won’t win hearts with bombs — stay calm
Angering people is no way to win over their hearts and minds. Anger makes the body go into siege mode: blood ceases to flow to the brain and instead goes to the limbs ready to fight Rising cortisol, if sustained, can actually damage the learning areas of the brain and it’s ability to take on new information. So aggravating people by attacking their beliefs will have the opposite effect to what we desire. Non-vegans will not be able to hear your reasoning, all they will see is an attack on their way of life. As Leon F. Seltzer at Psychology Today says, “getting mad significantly undercuts your reasoning powers and distracts you from the job at hand. When you’re upset, it’s harder to listen, as well as to learn new things or negotiate conflicts.” Likewise, nothing will be gained if we, in exasperation, become angry too. Anger is not only bad for your relationships, but also for your health.
The benefits of calmness thus stated, the problem of how to approach the topic in a calm manner remains. You will know yourself if you are feeling angry at someone else’s behavior, especially if it is a loved one. — a racing heart, sweating, talking fast. If you feel this way, it is probably best not to broach the topic or simply say something that is not judgmental, but reflects your own feelings. People cannot deny your right to your own feelings, but they can wholeheartedly reject your presumption to judge their behavior based on your feelings.
For example, a friend or relative orders veal at a restaurant. Your instinct may lead you to launch into a lecture about veal production methods and why he/she is a reprehensible human being for ordering veal. The chances are your friend or relative knows nothing about the veal industry, but if you choose the angry approach, she probably never will. That being said, if you are indeed extremely uncomfortable you don’t need to be quiet (because if vegans don’t speak up, who will?) and should state your opinions by simply saying “I’d prefer it if you didn’t eat the veal” and leave it at that. If he/she wants to talk about it later that can be a great opening if you go ahead without being judgmental. Remember that all of us probably ate or wore products made from animals at some stage in our lives and as each has a different set of experiences; some people may never have come across the information that leads then to question their eating or lifestyle habits. For some people who are open to new ideas, broaching the topic can involve a stimulating discussion, but for most people it will always involve some form of guilt, even if you try to be non-judgmental. Then, there are those, who couldn’t care less or strongly believe that animals are meant to be eaten and it’s how nature made us. The best way to deal with for such non-believers, is to leave them alone with their slab of steak.
Channel your passion and anger
If you find your patience often running out because of the food and clothing choices of people around you, the best thing your can do is put that anger to good use: channel it into activism, research or writing – not berating your friends or relatives. Anger is almost always based on our interpretation of events or people’s behavior. The compassionate response is to realize that people are often disadvantaged by their life circumstances, their education, their income, the society they live in, that renders them innocent of many of their perceived flaws. Life is a learning curve and opening people’s minds to other ways of living is a slow process best taken with calm patience.
Most importantly, remember that veganism is a personal choice and no matter what the next person does, don’t forget that you are striving to be the best you can in this one life you have. Sometimes, walking away with a smile can say more than a thousand words.
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