Opening people’s hearts and minds to new ideas is never easy, especially when those ideas shake the very foundations that their current belief system is built upon.
This is the challenge though that anyone who is fighting to make the world a better place has to face.
It’s easy to get frustrated and angry with those who reject our ideals, but this kind of attitude rarely, if ever, actually helps the cause. In fact it usually does the complete opposite of what you are trying to achieve by turning people away from the idea altogether, something which is in no way beneficial to the animals.
Our empathy isn’t enough. As Bruce Friedrich says, “We have to always be aware that every time we choose to do something, we’re choosing not to do something else.”
One of the most important questions that animal advocates need to ask themselves before acting on behalf of animals is, “How would the animals want me to behave?”
They don’t care whether you’re having a bad day and want to take it out on the next mindless troll that remarks “mmm steak” on your latest post about an abused dairy cow, they want you to be the best ambassador you can be at every opportunity and to be a shining example of what it means to live a compassionate lifestyle. It’s not always easy, but we owe it to the animals to try.
Here are some of my favorite tips for positive outreach:
- Always be respectful – Even if the other person doesn’t seem to warrant a compassionate response, never say something nasty in retaliation. Insulting someone right back might make you feel better, but your reaction is hurting animals. It won’t positively influence the person you’re speaking with, and anyone who may happen to hear the exchange will also think you are mean.
- Don’t go on a rant – No one wants to listen to a monologue about all the horrors taking place in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Instead your goal should be to open up a conversation without completely shooting the other person down to the point that they’re too put off to listen to you. Do your best to validate the other person while simultaneously asking them to look at something from a different perspective.
- Practice staying calm - There will always be those times where you don’t even have to open your mouth and people are already on the defensive. Don’t let other people’s anger make you angry. Practice staying calm, laugh it off and let them know that you are happy to talk about the issues with them but you feel it will be a much more productive conversation when they are not quite so angry.
- Don’t refuse to eat with meat eaters – Refusing to eat with meat eaters is never a good idea. Your lack of attendance will be viewed as deprivation and self righteousness, and that’s not a very attractive draw to the cause is it? Taking part in gatherings gives you a unique opportunity to spread the compassionate message, as more often than not people will be intrigued by what you are eating. Always be upbeat about the topic and if you feel as though it’s not appropriate to discuss at the dinner table then briefly express your personal beliefs and let them know that you’d love to talk more about it later on.
- Be prepared with answers – We hear the same arguments all the time, for example “plants feel pain too” and “we are natural carnivores” so there is no excuse not to have a thoughtful and constructive answer at the ready. Public speaking or potentially argumentative situations may make us feel uncomfortable, but we owe it to the animals to be prepared with the best possible answers.
- Never minimalize your decision – Limiting ourselves by minimalizing the issue isn’t going to help anyone. If someone asks you why you are vegan or vegetarian and you respond by saying “it’s a personal decision and I don’t want to talk about it,” how will they ever come to realize that it is a moral issue, and one that negatively impacts animals?
- Stay upbeat – Maintaining a positive mindset is difficult in the face of so much suffering, but an upbeat and optimistic attitude is far better at influencing people. Research shows that how things are said are just as important as what is said, so smile, laugh, have fun and express a genuine interest in others.
What are your favorite tips for positive animal advocacy?