I’m sure that I am not alone in looking for a better world, seeking the universal law that brings an end to violence, to wars and starvation, to the destruction of our environment, yearning for the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’.
It is so tempting for us all to look to someone else to sort things out; so tempting to convince ourselves that once everyone else has done their bit, then we can get on with the business of living in this much nicer place. It’s all too easy to believe that the violence is not in any way our responsibility because after all, we don’t think of ourselves as violent people. Until others sort it out, we tell ourselves we just have to put up with the way things are and live for the day.
Lessons from infancy
From childhood, I was taught that violence was ‘wrong’ and yet violence is ‘right’ in a whole range of ‘exceptional’ circumstances. I was taught that killing is ‘wrong’ and yet killing is ‘right’ in a whole range of ‘exceptional’ circumstances. I was taught that it was ‘wrong’ to be unkind to any animals but that killing some of them is ‘right’.
When I showed that I did not understand these rules, particularly with regard to human wars and human treatment of other beings, most specifically the killing that led to their corpses appearing on my plate, violence (usually, but not always of the verbal variety) was used against me as a means to ‘explain’ or end my questioning. I actually do remember my bewilderment as a child. I can, if I think about it, hear my voice asking ‘but why?’
However, these ‘teachers’ are our elders, our protectors, those who love us, and as children we are hard-wired to listen and learn from them, to gain their approval. And so I ‘learned’ about acceptable behaviour, but without understanding how it could be right, always with a loose end that niggled at me over the years, that occasionally surfaced and made me question my actions.
Those who ‘taught’ me are all long gone, victims of the diseases that are endemic in our time; cancer, diabetes, heart disease. They left behind them a legacy of disease that has blighted my own health and that of my children – but that’s a tale for another day.
The roots of our inconsistencies
I have since learned that my experience was by no means unique. Think about it. Is it any wonder that we all grow up with inner conflicts and inconsistencies? Look back on your own childhood – because that’s where it starts – and try to find the child’s voice that asks, ‘why’. That child’s voice is yours, and I’m confident that you will find it somewhere.
Many years on, I look back now with a degree of understanding that I lacked before. The violence and aggression was what they had been taught, and was their reaction to being asked questions to which they did not know the answers but which caused severe discomfort to examine. On reflection and as I became an adult, I put these childhood contradictions in a compartment in my head labelled ‘a necessary evil’ and I got on with my life, horrified by the violence that surrounds us daily, sickened by the images of war and needless death, of tortured landscapes and widespread pain and suffering.
Before the storm
I was vegetarian because I had a vague notion that I didn’t want to eat ‘meat’ as it was quite clearly the dead body of a being like myself. I did not know that dairy and eggs were every bit as bad, if not worse. I tried to be an ethical person, but in the face of so much misery in the world the task seemed enormous. Where to start?
And then, one day it happened. I discovered veganism. I had always assumed that veganism was some extremist diet, but when I saw it explained properly, the disordered pieces of the jigsaw of my life suddenly fell into a pattern that I understood.
Awakening to veganism is a personal thing that happens inside, where in the privacy of your own thoughts you have no place to hide. It’s hard for everyone to go through this awakening and it happens to every one of us who were not raised vegan. It hurts, more than I could ever have imagined.
Suddenly I saw that I actually was the violent one. The violence that surrounded me was my responsibility. My meals were the products of violence, suffering and misery, violated mothers and lonely, frightened orphans facing the end of lives that had barely begun; my wardrobe held skins of tormented creatures whose lives had been pitiful and whose violent deaths were unjust and agonised; my toiletries and household chemicals had been forcibly ingested by violently pinioned, helpless innocents, poured into their terrified eyes until their trembling agony became unbearable, and then continued beyond the point of unbearable until some arbitrary time at which their human captors ended the horror by killing them. The revelations cascaded on.
Shocked and sickened, many days went by in a fog of despair. Even writing about that time brings tears to my eyes. The end result was indelible. I emerged shaken to my core, feeling like I had been broken apart and put back together differently, knowing that becoming vegan was the only thing I could logically do and determined to do more than that if I possibly could.
Waiting for someone else to do something is not the answer. We must change ourselves first. I had come across that concept before, had read about ‘being the change we wish to see’, but I had never fully understood its meaning until that day.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Almost every horror in our world is the result of violence in some form or another. My thoughts have led me to believe that until we recognise and challenge the fundamental violence that we are taught to endorse and support in our most basic needs for sustenance and clothing, we can never make a start on curing what ails our world. When we reject our own violence at this most basic level by being vegan and sharing the vegan message, we are literally beginning to change the world.