… and what on earth has this to do with vegan advocacy?
The subject of ‘what we ask for’ versus ‘what we get’ is one that every single one of us is familiar with. Casting my mind back to my earliest memories of this, birthdays and the festive season stand out because for every single one, I asked for a bike. To me it represented the sum of all my hopes as far as gifts went. I can recall lying in bed every Christmas Eve, eyes tightly closed and so tense that I couldn’t sleep, silently reciting my mantra to any supernatural entity that might be tuned in; ‘pleasepleaseplease can I have a bike, it’s all I want, I don’t want any other presents, I’ll be ‘good’ for ever more and I’ll never ask for another thing, ever’.
And you know what? As a child I never got a bike. And to be truly honest, I didn’t really expect one. Wouldn’t it have been better for me to have been ‘realistic’ and asked for a new winter jacket? Perhaps, but hope and expectation are two different things. It occurs to me that this is a lesson that we all learn at an early age and it’s one that follows us all through our lives.
As an adult, I dreamed of a salary sufficient to end sleepless nights about bills, a big house, the wherewithal to give my children all the things I didn’t have. Wouldn’t it have been far more ‘realistic’ for me to have scaled down my hopes to something nearer to what was within my grasp? Perhaps, but as with the dreams of childhood, we are all very well aware that these aspirations are unlikely to be fully realised.
Does this discourage us to the extent that we don’t bother even trying to reach our goals? Of course it doesn’t. The point that I’m making here is that we are all well aware of the fact that what we want and what we get are two different things. Real life is all about compromise, and we each reach the material compromises that are acceptable to us by looking at what we would consider to be ideal, and then doing the best that we can manage within our own circumstances, guided by our priorities, our abilities and our means.
The limits of compromise
Of course in some areas of our lives, we are less flexible about how far we are willing, or even able, to compromise. When one of my children was the target for bullies at school, I got a sharp lesson about my own limits.
I could never have settled for asking the bullies to be a bit nicer. I could never have accepted that perhaps they should take a day off occasionally. I could do nothing less than every single thing within my power to ensure that the bullying stopped.
It didn’t stop immediately but that didn’t mean that I should have asked for it to be reduced or carried out differently. I owe my loved ones nothing less than all I can do to end harmful behaviour being inflicted upon them by others. I have no doubt that every one of us would do the same in that situation.
Thinking about these situations, it occurred to me that when an aspiration is about ourselves and material things, we are all fairly willing to compromise. In fact we expect to have to compromise. We have no need to scale down our dreams, but we know they’re just not going to happen.
However when an issue concerns harm being inflicted on others, we are all far less willing to compromise. We all know that to do so would be to prolong the unnecessary suffering of those whom we seek to protect. They are desperate for help, they are in pain and we can’t, and wouldn’t, let them down. We can’t witness their continuing distress and shrug it off, we have to stand firm in their defence. They are depending on us.
And so to advocacy
It seems that this is an area where many of us seek to re-write the rules that we all know and apply every day in all other areas of our lives. How often as advocates do we see the words ‘realistic’ or ‘pragmatic’ being used by those who promote bargaining away and compromising the lives and the rights of our victims? How often do we see claims that for our victims, we need to be ‘realistic’ and ask for reduced levels of harm, reduced frequency of harm, harm conducted in different environments?
When we do this, we are allowing ourselves to act as if ending the needless misery of our unnecessary victims is akin to our grand dreams and aspirations for material things. We are regarding the call to veganism as some impossible dream that can never be achieved. We are continuing to promote harm, endorsing it as a ‘realistic’ measure and what’s even worse, in some cases praising others for their own continuing harmful behaviour as if this was a praiseworthy end in itself. In this way we reinforce the status of our victims as material objects and resources rather that the individuals that they are.
However even if we don’t see our victims for the individuals they are, it is inconsistent with our accepted experience to ask for half-measures. In reality, our lived understanding of the world already tells us that when it comes to material aspirations, what we ask for and what we get are never the same. We always get less than we ask for so we may as well ask for what we want, we may as well ask for veganism.
Keeping it simple
Some assert that to outline veganism as a very simple idea whereby we do not cause needless harm, is way too much to ask ‘all at once’. Some suggest that to ask for others to be vegan is to actively discourage them from making any sort of changes because it’s ‘too extreme’. I honestly can’t understand that. Veganism is such a simple concept that it is virtually impossible to break down the route from nonvegan to vegan into increments.
To harm other individuals is not vegan. To avoid deliberately harming others is vegan.
Since understanding this very simple truth, I have been unable to perceive a middle ground where we can become confused and lose our way.
Encouragement or a betrayal?
Protecting those whom we care about, is a different matter as I mentioned earlier. Just as we strive to defend those whom we care about from unnecessary harm and misery, we can’t bring ourselves to compromise on what they need us to achieve, because to do so is to prolong their needless suffering. We can’t bear to witness their continuing distress, we have to take a stand and come to their defence with every means at our disposal.
Their continuing pain, their misery, their agony, is not for us to excuse. It’s simply not our right, any more than it would have been my right to have praised the bullies for the times that my child managed to spend a whole night without my having to comfort his anxiety at the prospect of the coming day’s torments. That would have been unthinkable; it would have been the worst betrayal imaginable.
As vegans, we all know that the world won’t go vegan overnight. Goodness, if we didn’t know, we’re reminded often enough. But likewise, we have to realise that there’s a big difference between compromising on material aspirations and compromising the rights of others; we have to keep our focus on who we’re fighting for. Just as I experienced with bullying, we all know that destructive behaviour isn’t going to stop overnight but that does not change the limits of the compromise that we are entitled to make.
Firstly we have a duty to our victims to educate those who needlessly harm them with use, that they, the victims, have a right to live unharmed and not to be used by our species as if they were our resources. Likewise those who are not vegan have the right to know that the myths they were taught about the necessity of harming others were completely false.
We owe everyone the absolute truth, that the only way that any of us can live true to our own values is to become vegan. It’s important to be crystal clear on that point. And yes, we absolutely must encourage and support others who have reached this understanding; I don’t think I know any vegan who will not gladly provide pointers and advice to someone who is making the transition to being vegan, and we all acknowledge that the circumstances of some do not allow that transition to be instant.
But the point of all this is that as vegans we have to demand veganism and nothing less than veganism. There is no middle ground to find refuge because there’s just no space between harm and no harm. Whether our audience takes on board the information we provide and how they choose to act on it – if they act at all – is not something that we can mitigate by asking for half-measures.
Good at heart
I cling to the desperate hope that at heart most people are good people who would not wish to cause needless harm to those who are vulnerable and defenceless. I hope that all anyone needs is for someone to find a way to open their eyes and provide enough information to inspire them to act. That desperate hope is what keeps me writing.