The words ‘kindness’ and ‘compassion’ are not what we should be asking for when advocating for the rights of our victims. I can almost hear the gasps of indignation and keyboards warming up already, but please bear with me.
Let me just be absolutely clear. There is nothing wrong with the words ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ or their related adjectives and other parts of speech, when they are used in the correct context. Kindness and compassion in response to others’ suffering are qualities to be encouraged and admired and the world could do with seeing a lot more of them.
However. When we are advocating for the rights of those annual 74 billion land individuals and almost 3 trillion aquatic creatures whom our species persecutes and slaughters without cause or conscience, it is vital to ensure that we use unambiguous words when calling for recognition of their rights. Words that mean different things to different people (subjective words) are the first words that we have to leave out of advocacy. This is not because I’m pedantic; rather it stems from an acute awareness that what we think we’re saying is often far removed from what our audience thinks we’re saying.
So for a start, the words ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ are completely subjective. My idea of being ‘kind’ and yours are probably completely different, as are my idea of ‘compassion’ and yours. And for every person we meet that is likely to be the case; different things to different people. In addition to this, both words skirt right round the heart of the issue and as such, are words best left well out of our advocacy. I shall return to this point in a minute but first I’d like to share a story.
Crying out for kindness and compassion
This evening I read an article about a man who was homeless. The article described how, in the early hours of a bitter morning with the temperature 16 degrees below freezing, the man had sought refuge in a metro station for himself and his beloved canine companion. He was desperate and panic-stricken because they had absolutely no place to go to escape the lethal cold. The metro was closed but two staff who were there, refused to let him in. Some hours later, his much loved companion, wrapped in blankets and cradled in his arms, succumbed to the freezing night and died.
I’m sure most of us would agree that it would have been an act of compassion for the staff to have given shelter to the pair. It would have been kind for them to have helped. We can all anticipate that they would likely have got into trouble from their employers for breaking the rules and indeed the article goes on at length to seek to exonerate the decision of the staff and the authorities whose rules they were obeying. But I’m confident that every one of us likes to think we’re the kind of people who would have done the decent thing in that life or death situation, and to hell with the consequences.
In this situation, instead of turning their backs, the staff could have just taken the pair in under cover, or they could have provided some heat, maybe a cup of tea or soup, water for the dog. They could have provided more blankets, something to eat for the two of them and so on. Again we all are likely to have our own ideas about what would have constituted kindness and compassion, because the words mean different things to each of us.
But equally, although we may be critical of their judgement, it is very unlikely that the employees concerned actually did anything that was technically wrong in terms of their rules and regulations. The staff in the metro had not caused the predicament of the man who had no home or that of his beloved companion. They were not responsible for his desperate situation. They were just there in a place at a time when they could have made a bad situation a whole lot better. But when all is said and done, no one is likely to prosecute them for what they did, particularly considering that the law regarded the individual who died as the ‘property’ of the man who was homeless in the same way as the blankets he was wrapped in. Here we have a situation where no actual wrongdoing occurred despite the fact that we all have an idea what we would have liked to see happen.
So why aren’t calls for ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ enough in advocacy?
So why is compassion and kindness okay in that context but not in the context of animal advocacy? The first point is that the staff who could have shown kindness and compassion had neither caused the situation nor were they responsible for it.
I mentioned earlier that both words skirt right round the heart of the issue, so what IS this heart of the issue? As advocates for the victims of our species, we are speaking to the very people who are actually causing the situation that our victims are facing and are directly responsible for it through their consumer demands. By simply asking for ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’, we avoid pointing out this most obvious of truths.
We also reinforce the narrative we all used to cling to at one time in seeking to justify our imaginary right to use the lives and broken bodies of other individuals. We all used to think that the problem was being caused by someone else, somewhere else. By asking for ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ without addressing this, we are allowing our audience to remain in denial as to their own pivotal role in the horrors being inflicted on their victims. Not only that, but we are using subjective words that do not specify what form this ‘kindness’ and ‘compassion’ absolutely must take.
So what form must this action take? The first thing we should be asking those who are directly responsible for the brutal use of members of other animals species through their consumer demands, is to stop doing it.
‘Compassion’ and ‘kindness’ do not lead to the understanding that every individual has the right to live without being intentionally harmed for our trivial interests at catastrophic cost to their own; they avoid mentioning that when we are not vegan, we are the ones who are doing this and that we need to STOP.
‘Compassion’ and ‘kindness’ do not lead to the realisation that members of other animals species value their lives as much as I value mine or you value yours, they avoid mentioning that that we are the ones who are using and taking those treasured lives in milking parlours, egg farms, slaughterhouses and labs when we are not vegan and that we need to STOP.
‘Compassion’ and ‘kindness’ fail to highlight the profound atrocity of exploiting the reproduction of defenceless mothers for their breast milk and eggs, the obscenity of slaughtering innocent families, the monstrosity of trading in corpses, in eggs and in body parts when every single thing that we do is unnecessary; they avoid mentioning that we are the ones who are demanding the death and violence through our consumer choices when we are not vegan and that we need to STOP.
‘Compassion’ and ‘kindness’ are words that focus on ourselves, and how we feel about ourselves and others without addressing the underlying responsibility for the actions that our shopping choices are demanding. As a non vegan for decades who was brimming over with ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’, I know for a certainty that they are words that do not lead to veganism, only education about veganism does that.
So what words to use?
As advocates we are defending the most fundamental rights of our species’ victims; the right to live unharmed, the right not to be regarded as property and a resource simply because they differ from us. Because we have brute force and technology on our side and a horrific predisposition to violence, first and foremost, on behalf of our victims, we must ask those who brutalise them to realise what they’re doing. And then we must ask them to stop.
‘The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us — to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money.
Once we accept this view of animals – as our resources – the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable.’
~ Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights
The bloodbath needs to stop because it’s deeply unjust. It needs to stop because our victims are sentient inhabitants of our shared planet who have as much right to live unharmed as we do ourselves; whose lives matter to them every bit as much as our own matter to us.
Whereas ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ focus on ourselves, and how we feel about ourselves and others, words like ‘justice’ and ‘rights’ are words that simply focus on the big issues of right and wrong. These are words that focus on those who are being persecuted. They’re humble words that speak to our conscience rather than our ego. They’re sincere words, honest words, and they shine with truth.
Truth is our greatest ally in the battle against the tide of gore and misery that nonveganism causes. Our first task is to shine a light on the truth so that those who are demanding the bloodshed can appreciate the role they are playing in the nightmare. Our second task is to be absolutely clear that the outrage of nonveganism is an affront to the values that every single one of us believes that we hold. Having done that, we need to ask for it to stop, while still remembering that most of us were not always vegan; offering others any guidance and support that we might have appreciated ourselves when that lightbulb moment happened to us and we decided that we could not live another day without becoming vegan.
‘I am not well-versed in theory, but in my view, the cow deserves her life. As does the ram. As does the ladybug. As does the elephant. As do the fish, and the dog and the bee; as do other sentient beings. I will always be in favor of veganism as a minimum because I believe that sentient beings have a right not to be used as someone else’s property. They ask us to be brave for them, to be clear for them, and I see no other acceptable choice but to advocate veganism.’
~ Vincent Guihan, vegan author
We can do all that and we can still be kind and compassionate people throughout.
Compassion is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
Kindness is the quality of being gentle, caring, and helpful.