The He(art) of Gentle Persuasion (Published February, 2012, in On Purpose Woman magazine)
by Don Robertson
I can still recall my early childhood years, and the special place that animals held in my heart. And I remember how stunned and saddened I was to learn the awful truth - that we kill animals for food.
Vegetarians had gained my admiration early on for the special effort they make to help animals each day. I understood the important role they play in demonstrating to us that people can be healthy without eating meat.
But I didn't give serious attention to those ideas until I was 41 and saw pictures showing the terrible living conditions we impose on farmed animals today. And I knew that I was part of the problem.
So I began reading about vegetarianism and was surprised to learn how much healthier a plant-based diet is than standard American fare. I was even more surprised, and greatly disturbed, to learn how inefficient modern animal agriculture is: it takes 14-16 lbs. of grains to produce just one pound of beef. As a result of Americans' meat habit, 80% of our farmlands are now used to grow crops to feed "livestock" rather than people. If we stopped breeding animals for food and grew only crops for human consumption, we could feed 5-7 times the number of people we now feed.
I was convinced… gradually shifted toward the veg lifestyle, and went vegan a year later. That change started a wonderfully fulfilling new chapter of my life. It felt really good to know that my lifestyle was in tune with my values. And I wanted to do all that I could to educate and inspire others to adopt this healthy, peaceful way of life.
So I promoted my new found "religion" with evangelical fervor. There was no conversation that I couldn't redirect toward my favorite topic. And I just knew that if I gave people enough information, I'd soon have a long list of "converts".
But my outreach efforts didn't give me the results I desired. I was too busy giving people the information I thought they needed to let them tell me what they actually needed. And I would often continue my monologues long after their ears had slammed shut. No one but my mom wanted to be around me. And I think the problem was that I was more concerned with my own success and status as "vegetarianism expert" than in connecting with and supporting others.
It took me years to learn that the best way to promote peace, compassion, and justice is to "Be the Peace"... to be a living example of those values. But that takes time and patience; and advocates may feel an overriding sense of urgency because we know that innocent lives are at stake.
Our sadness and grief can sometimes surface as anger and impatience. We may feel more inclined to judge and punish non-vegetarians than to educate them. We can be arrogant and self-righteous, and can imagine that we know better than they what their priorities should be. We can criticize or shun those whose lifestyles don't meet our strict definition of "vegan", or those whose reasons for going vegetarian aren't the "right" ones. But I don't think that's in keeping with the spirit of veganism, which at best is about kindness, understanding, and generosity.
Animal advocates would do well to consider the powerful difference our attitude can make in conversations with others. We can choose to talk down to them, and play the role of critical and controlling parent, or we can do our best to be a friend and supporter. That would require in us a willingness to listen patiently without judgment, to stop looking for perfection, and to applaud every step in the right direction. We also need to do our inner work and continue letting go of control, anger, blame, and any other aspect of our character that is inconsistent with kindness.
I see the growing veg-vegan-animal protection movement as the next step in human evolution. Vegan philosophy is beautifully aligned with our most deeply held and shared spiritual values.*1 The prevailing world view - in which the earth and persons of other species are regarded merely as resources and commodities - has lent itself to a profound spiritual disconnection, and has brought us to the edge of environmental collapse.*2
Where we will go from here is yet to be decided. My hope and most deeply held prayer is that I may use my time and energy in service to all… and that my life may honor and affirm my connection to the earth and to all living beings… and might mirror the Gratitude I feel for the wonderful and sacred Gift of Life.
*1. Whereas vegetarians avoid eating animal flesh, and thus exclude all meat, fish, and fowl from their diet, vegans try to avoid eating, wearing, or using any products that were derived from animals or that involve animal exploitation. So their diet is free of animal flesh, dairy products, and eggs.
*2. A 2006 U.N. report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, pointed to animal agriculture as the primary source of climate changing greenhouse gases, its effects more damaging than all forms of transportation combined.
Don Robertson is founding director of the nonprofit group Earthsave Baltimore, which hosts a monthly educational vegan dinner series in Owings Mills and two monthly vegetarian discussion groups, one in Towson, and one in Pikesville. He offers supportive information and advice on diet and lifestyle change at www.EarthsaveBaltimore.org, on his Facebook page as Earthsaverdon, and on the Facebook group page for Earthsave Baltimore.