I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.
Ever feel like that? How about all the time?
Anger is part of the reality that everyone who has awakened to what is going on with animals has to deal with. Approximately 286 chickens are killed in the United States every second; of course we’re pissed off!
Yet, people are always telling us vegans that we have to be positive, that we need to be compassionate, that we have to message carefully so that we don’t offend anyone so much that they refuse to listen to what we have to say. All good advice. At Our Hen House, we like to refer to ourselves as “indefatigably positive.” We call ourselves that partly because it’s fun to say “indefatigably,” but mostly because we feel that positive messaging is so effective.
Of course, it’s certainly not always effective. All too often, no matter how careful you are to be positive, and not critical; kindly, and not mean; generous, and not nasty, some people still keep failing to hear you. Or, what is perhaps even more infuriating, they acknowledge that everything you say is true, and then don’t change their behavior. And you just get angrier and angrier…
Good for you. Anger is called for, given the horror of what is happening to animals and people’s willingness to participate in that horror, and the fact that you can feel it means that you are alive. Don’t fight it, use it. It is our obligation to be authentic regarding our feelings, and conveying how angry we are can be a necessary part of authentic communication.
While your strategy in using anger effectively involves showing it, rather than hiding it, it does need to be very carefully managed. What we hope to do here is lay out three useful tips in managing, even using, anger effectively.
First of all, though it can be incredibly tempting, do not communicate with people unless your temper is under control. There is a huge difference between feeling anger while maintaining a sense of control, and losing your temper. You want to be able to think about what you’re saying and make intelligent decisions about how you choose to communicate. A lost temper is a lost opportunity. It is the enemy of rational choices, and if you are one of those people who can’t get angry without completely losing it, you need to work on that.
Second (and this is a hard one), you need to focus your anger on behavior, not individuals. You have no idea why someone does what they do, what influences have shaped them, what information has been available to them, or what blocks have gotten in the way of their thinking logically about animals. While we may have been blessed to have received this information in a way that helped enlighten us, they have not.
In an interesting op ed in the New York Times about the movie The Help, Patricia A. Turner points out that the movie glossed over the fact that prior to the civil rights era, many apparently “good” people in the South were racist. Just as many apparently “good” people in Germany were anti-Semites leading up to World War II. People just simply don’t come in “all good” or “all bad.” They are a confusing, sometimes confounding, mix of qualities.
We all know this phenomenon is completely true when it comes to animal issues. Many people who appear to be completely insensitive to animal issues are far better than we could ever hope to be in so many other different realms – devoting their lives to helping the disadvantaged, the ill, the poor. Many of these people are doing work that is downright saintly. So if you are going to get angry, remember to laser-focus your anger on their behavior about animals, not on them as individuals. While it’s a subtle distinction, it’s an enormously important one. You are not trying to make someone feel guilty, or prove that you are better than they are; you are trying to change their behavior. Focusing on “fault” is not productive. But that shouldn’t keep you from thinking of what they are doing as morally wrong and thoroughly inexcusable, and – if you so desire and can do so respectfully – letting them know you think so.
Third, if you are going to let someone know how angry you are with their behavior, it is absolutely crucial to know your stuff. If you communicate with people in a way that reveals emotion, they will want to believe that you are all emotion and no facts. You need to be able to show them that you know what you are talking about. Even though we know we are right, and even though we know that they know we are right, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to keep telling people – sometimes over and over and over again – the facts they know are true, but keep trying not to hear. At some point, that message will get in, as long as it’s repeated at the right time.
One thing that we find helpful to remember is that the right time might not have anything to do with us. It’s very possible that the person you are addressing and who is apparently ignoring you will ultimately be reached by a film, a brochure, an animal… all in their own time, when they are ready and open to the message. That can be an empowering way of looking at it. While the animals certainly don’t have time for us to ignore the absolute nightmare that is happening to them, we can’t forget that what will ultimately reach people and inspire them to go vegan and speak up for animals will frequently include a variety of experiences and encounters, and not necessarily our words alone. Sometimes we need to accept the fact that we are planting seeds, similarly to how several seeds were planted in many of us before we ultimately changed.
While anger is not the right communication tool for everyone, we see no reason that it should be off the table for those who can manage it appropriately. We may not want to be known as the “angry vegan,” but why not? The evils that we are fighting are real, and anger is the sensible response. It’s not only substantiated, but even more importantly, it’s useful. Authentic anger, if managed positively, is one of the most effective ways to get people to pay attention. We all notice when someone is mad at us. Of course our first reaction is generally to try to find a way to believe they are wrong, but if we can’t convince ourselves that that’s the case, we might just notice that their anger is justified.
Angry Cat Image Source: storem (flickr)