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Conflicts of Consistency: Militant or Gentle?

Posted by at 3:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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This post is part of an occasional series exploring questions of consistency and other moral dilemmas facing vegans and animal rights advocates.

What’s the best way to win people over to a healthy and compassionate vegan lifestyle?

At one end of the spectrum, there is the militant, confrontational route. This is the in-your-face approach and might very well include a war of words, a heated discussion, or a rage of passion for compassion. While this may be ideal for those with the fortitude of a criminal defense attorney during cross-examination, for most of us, we would do well to remember that a wise person (that would be us!) never argues with a fool because a stranger would not be able to tell the difference.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the more gentle and nonconfrontational approach. This is when we quietly set an example by how we live our lives as vegans—truly live and let live (for all animals). As subtle as this is, it is powerful. Others do notice that we don’t just talk the talk, but actually walk the walk.

So which is the best approach to engaging those who may not yet share the same cruelty-free diet you’ve chosen to adopt? Well, like so much in life, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. There may be times when some confrontation is called for and other times when it does more harm than good. It’s usually easier to persuade people with polite arguments rather than with heated rhetoric. It’s just like that age-old saying: “You can attract more flies with honey agave than with vinegar.”

Sometimes we have to push the envelope a bit, especially if someone hits a raw nerve. That happened to me recently with a family member, as told in “The Cake and the Controversy.” These situations can become opportunities to have a respectful exchange, to educate, and to do some vegan myth-busting!

As “vegangelists,” there is a very fine line between coming off as informed, committed, and compassionate advocate and coming off as a holier-than-thou sanctimonious zealot. Here again, living the ethical example goes a long way. A close friend recently told me how much she respects me for consistently practicing what I preach—respect for all animals.

For those of us who embrace a vegan lifestyle for all the right reasons—for animals, for the environment, and for our own health—the stakes are high indeed. Unfortunately, for the committed carnivore, the steaks are high as well—a high priority—and switching to grains goes against the grain for them!

What’s your take on the best approach?

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5 Comments

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    Ana Pereira says...

    June 10th, 2011, 4:14 pm

    Unfortunately I think the best approach is to lead by example, keeping a consistent lifestyle. It’s very hard for some people to gasp the clear logical of the ethical commitment, and ‘though many people can relate to the compassion that, from my discussing experience, isn´t enough to make them change behaviour.
    Keep calm, kind and polite in every conversation and try to discuss the subject in the most linear of manners, disregarding nonsense comments by pointing out their ‘nonsenseness’, is my approach. Not doing that I’d burst into heated rhetoric.

    Allen Plone says...

    June 10th, 2011, 6:04 pm

    I remember a bumper sticker from the ’60′s that read, “Making War for Peace is senseless.” As hard as it is to take sometimes, I think of Ghandi, The Buddah and other non-violent soles when I’m confronted by people and ideas that are in opposition to my beliefs. I’m as committed to veganism and to compassion as I can be. As part of the belief in compassion, I feel I must live a compassionate life, and that means not only towards people with whom I share beliefs but towards those who do not as well. Again, as the Buddah said, when confronted by those who upset us, rather than fight, use the confrontation to learn more about yourself. I’d like to believe that confronting anger and misplaced passions with calm, reason and love will, at some point, turn that anger into understanding. Yelling never accomplishes anything other than a refusal to listen and more yelling. Live a life of compassion and perhaps you’ll have an influence upon one, two, three or no one. We want the world to change for the better but our goals should be to make ourselves better, more compassionate. What follows is up to how others see us and how they see themselves.

    runi says...

    June 10th, 2011, 7:14 pm

    It depends on who you are dealing with. When you’re dealing with individuals, the gentle approach works more effectively. BUT when you’re dealing with businesses that exploit animals–and the regulatory agencies that permit cruelty–some degree of militancy is usually necessary.

    Cristina says...

    June 10th, 2011, 7:16 pm

    I also think of Gandhi – he was a vegan and he taught “ahimsa” which is more than non-violence. Ahimsa means harmlessness. Harmlessness towards all living creatures, including the person at the other side of the table eating a steak. BUT he never lost an opportunity to preach by his example and by telling people how he felt and standing his ground no matter what. Kindly and politely but very clearly. I cannot say that I manage to do that all the time but I try not to add any more violence to this world.

    debra bouton says...

    June 10th, 2011, 7:48 pm

    People are usually concerned with their health and/or their appearance, and most of the time I find that they are completely unaware of the negative effects of a non-vegan diet regarding these two issues. When informed (in a cool way) of the impact that a diet that includes animal proteins and dairy has on their bodies (and minds) they tend to listen.
    I think it has to do with finding which button to push without turning them off. The point is for them to open their minds and listen. The ultimate point is for them to open their hearts and have compassion for the plight of the factory farmed creatures that we as vegans are well aware of. People are motivated by either inspiration (heart) or desperation (head). With that in mind, take the route that brings you to the ultimate destination.

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