I’ve been living vegan for 26 years now. From time to time I’m reminded that this is longer than many vegans today have been alive. Meaning, I have been a vegan since before they were born.
I’ve seen the aggressive righteousness before, the incessant branding of meat-eaters as murderers. The radical positioning against everything that’s considered establishment and the powerful motivations driven by the need to do something, anything, to change the fundamentally unjust state of almost everything.
Here’s the thing: it’s been like this for the last quarter of a century. Before that, it’s been like this for even longer. No amount of shouting for radical change has ever been able to move the needle with regard to the consumption of animal products. What did eventually move the needle is a slow but steady, quiet but unrelenting minority that decided that veganism is the right choice for them. Emphasis on them and them alone.
Missionary work, if one wants to undertake it without the application of direct and overwhelming violence, needs to be patient and low-key. If you fail to offer something better than the status quo, it’s unlikely to appeal. Humans are creatures of habit. Why change something when it works for you? Familiarity trumps a lot of things. This applies double for areas that provide comfort or joy, like food.
Taste is a learned reaction, that started the moment you could distinguish between what’s you and what’s everything else. Food you regularly ate as a child and connect to pleasant memories will conjure up similar comforting feelings as an adult — no matter how healthy it may be for you.
Those are some awfully powerful personal incentives any change of habit is confronted with. It’s a tough sell. Now imagine a somewhat aggressive person is directly or indirectly screaming at you, calling you names, questioning your way of life, declaring fundamental experiences of yours wrong and by extension wants to take away your childhood comforts. Instant rejection. I can imagine people going out their way to eat meat, just to spite the aggressor. Like people refusing to mask up in the midst of a pandemic because it’s a matter of principle for them — no matter how detrimental to themselves and others it may turn out to be.
I’m not prepared to listen to or even humour anyone describing themselves as “militant”, no matter the cause, justified or otherwise, they have adopted. Healthy radicalism is something you adopt for yourself and yourself only. If it works for you, you’re welcome to share. If people don’t want to hear what you have to say, you’re free to voice your concerns regardless. A free society has got to be strong and diverse enough to bear that out. What you do need to be prepared for is to be ignored. You don’t get to whine about it. You’re either smart or moralising. No one likes a moralising smart-ass.
If you want people to be open to your ideas, you first need to understand what drives them. This applies to everything. Empathy goes a long way, no matter how irrelevant or stupid certain motivations may appear to you. They are what drives them. Being open to their concerns leads to them being open to yours. Underestimating the power of feeling understood is a common folly. It’s at the core of a majority of issues in politics and voter fatigue. The fact that you have walked the walk, have gone the distance and seen the light doesn’t translate to a prerogative to expect the same from others. And who’s to say that you’re correct in your assessment in the first place? There’s no final certainty. Only fools are absolutely certain about anything.
We’re humans after all. On average, we respond far more positive to kindness than confrontation. There are limits of compassion. Reckless selfishness exists. Love may conquer all eventually. But first, we need to forgive ourselves and others — constantly, radically, emphatically. Everything else flows from that.