A Golden Key to Effective Animal Advocacy
By Dr. Will Tuttle
“I and mine do not convince by arguments… We convince by our presence.”
Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
We’ve all been there. As vegans, we endure the excruciating despair of realizing the immense violence our society routinely inflicts on animals and ecosystems. This is coupled with the painful disappointment that our friends, family, colleagues, and the general public display enormous resistance when we share with them all the reasons they should go vegan. As vegans, able for some reason to awaken from the cultural nightmare of killing and eating animals, it seems like a no-brainer to us. What are we to do?
Once we make the connections, and understand that terribly abused animals, devastated ecosystems, starving people, and clogged arteries are direct results of what’s on our plates, and grasp the implications of all this, we are sure that others will, like us, be delighted to make the same connections we’ve made, and thank us profusely for helping to show them the way to a better life for themselves, and for all of us. And yet we run relentlessly into stonewalls of obtuse denial, excuses, distractedness, and perhaps even mockery.
Bitterness can set in. As can disillusion, frustration, anger, and if we’re not careful, a cynical sense of superiority and disdain for what we see as pathetic corpse-munchers. Their eyes are willfully glued shut, and they’ve got their fingers stuck in their ears to shut out the cries of animals and anything but the familiar and comforting food and entitlement stories that bathe our collective consciousness, flowing continually from every corporate-funded media orifice.
The more we try to get them to wake up and see the truth, the more strongly they pretend to sleep and remain unreachable by our efforts. Where, we wonder, is the magic button we can push that turns on the light of realization in that meat- and dairy-induced dimness?
Fortunately, with time, we can begin to understand the depth of the cultural conditioning we’ve all endured, and develop a sense of compassion for all of us and for the situation into which we’re born. We’ve all been wounded by the cultural program of being forced from infancy to participate in the meals that ritually reduce beings to mere objects for gustatory pleasure. And as we realize the power of our culture’s violent food rituals to shut down our inherent intelligence and compassion, we can begin healing by going vegan, making the connections, and refusing to participate in mealtime rituals of abuse, and we can further that healing by cultivating our ability to embody the essence of vegan living, which is ahimsa: non-violence in all our relations with others, including the humans who surround us.
Through this process, we can begin to uncover a golden key of effective vegan advocacy: that our whole movement is about liberation, and the deepest yearning of both animals and of us humans is to be able to live our lives with the freedom to express our true nature. We begin to see that only unfree people would ever enslave animals. Our imprisonment and routine abuse of animals is a symptom and manifestation of the imprisonment and abuse our culture inflicts on us from infancy, and with this understanding it becomes clear that for us as vegans to be criticizing, shaming, or blaming non-vegans—or even to be trying to change them—are all expressions of a violent mindset, and are manifestations of our woundedness.
Nobody wants to be changed at the hands of, or by the will of, another. For all of us, authentic positive change that takes deep root—so that we own the change and it becomes part of us—requires that we feel that we arrived at it freely. If we feel pressured or coerced, even unconsciously, we will find ways to rebel. Because our deep yearning as humans is to be free and to live our lives meaningfully, this is the proper foundation of our vegan approach to advocacy. How does it look in actual practice?
Like this: When we speak, we use “I” statements. I speak to others of what I have come to realize, and how happy I am because of this, and how I appreciate those who have been examples, or have helped me make the connections.
The basic message I share is something like this: “I am grateful that I’ve been able to realize that the only reason I was eating animal foods was because of the communities and institutions I was raised in. I realize now that I was forced from infancy to eat meat and dairy products, and that doing this was absolutely not in my best interest, in any way, and on any level. As I did more investigation, I learned that I, and any of us, can thrive without causing misery and death to animals, and that moving to a plant-based way of eating and living is not only healthier for me, but also for animals, wildlife, ecosystems, climate stability, hungry people, slaughterhouse workers, and future generations.”
I make an effort to speak of my experience in the first person, and to do it with love and kindness for whomever I’m addressing so that the communication is, as much as possible, an embodiment of the love, respect, and radical inclusiveness that veganism is. And then I do my best to completely let go. I have no intention to manipulate or to change or to win an argument or to prove my point. As a vegan, I am an expression of love in this world, as best I can be. I am not here to force or manipulate others to change. But I am here to plant seeds. And by far the most successful, joy-producing, and fulfilling way to plant the seeds of kindness, mercy, and freedom that are the core of veganism, is to live and embody these qualities authentically in my relationships and interactions with others. We communicate with our presence and gestures far more than with concepts and theories. Perhaps it can come through our writing as well.
The key point to emphasize is that no one wants to be unfree, or to be reduced to being a mere conditioned entity, robotically repeating programmed patterns. When we, as vegans, express our truth—that we have realized that we were eating meat and dairy only because we were obediently following orders that had been injected into us from infancy by our families and every institution in our culture, and that these orders are misguided and detrimental on every level and that we have freed ourselves from following these misguided orders, and are joyfully thriving and contributing to a better world because of it—when we express this lovingly to others, we plant a seed in them that will resonate deeply in their consciousness.
We can smile and be grateful, knowing that our love and our ability to speak our truth has just planted a seed of awakening in a brother or sister, and that the truth-seed we have planted with love will definitely bear fruit, when the time is appropriate. We have done our job, and we can let go and be at peace. We were born into the vast industrialized animal-abuse culture that was already established here on this Earth, and we are liberating ourselves from its inner and outer attitudes and actions, and we are doing the best we can, in our short span of years on this Earth, to create an alternative that is based on justice, protection, and freedom.
Veganism is non-violence and respect for others, and so it requires a deep psychological transformation that goes far beyond just giving up meat, dairy, eggs, wool, silk, leather, down, rodeos, circuses, zoos, races, and products tested on or abusive to animals. It requires us to learn to listen deeply and respectfully to others, to speak our truth without guile, and to refrain from arguing. As soon as we’re arguing, we’ve already lost.
For example, when someone says something with which we disagree, such as, “eating meat is fine because plants feel pain too,” we can respond graciously by, again, using “I” statements that simply tell the truth of our own experience, and doing it with a smile, knowing that no one can argue with our experience and we’re not trying to win an argument or change anyone, but to be the space of truth and love, which is what veganism and ahimsa are. So we can say that, “Yes, that is something I also have thought about and can see the truth in, and in my research and contemplation I’ve discovered that eating animal-sourced foods requires cutting down forests and killing trees and plants on a much more massive scale than if I just eat fruits and other plants directly. I’ve also realized that most of the plant-based foods require no damage to the plants: fruits, berries, and vegetable-fruits like tomatoes and squashes are freely given, for example, and we benefit the plants by distributing their seeds.” And then I can tell again how I realized that eating animal foods is something I was forced into against my will since infancy, and that along with the behavior I was also injected with the usual rationalizations, such as the protein story and the human superiority story to justify my actions.
It’s helpful to remember that this is the key point, the golden key to effective vegan advocacy: that no one eats animal foods of their own free choice. The only reason any of us does so is because we’ve been forced to from infancy, and we’re semi-consciously following orders that have been injected into us against our will.
As advocates, it’s enormously helpful for us to contemplate the power of this communication, and make an effort to understand and practice it. As we repeat this idea, using positive and loving I statements—that we are grateful that we’ve realized that we were just following misguided orders, and now that we’re making choices consciously for ourselves, how delicious, healthy, and freeing it is—we plant seeds that are like depth charges with enormous power to help others awaken to the situation they’re in. After we’ve left, as the import of these ideas sinks in, people tend to naturally and authentically begin to question within themselves the official stories, and the numbing indoctrination of eating animal foods.
Understanding this golden key to effective advocacy for peace, justice, and sustainability, we can make an effort to live it, to share it as widely as we can with everyone we meet, and through all our communications, to plant seeds of positive change that will be effective and bless us all.
One of the advantages of sharing this idea I’ve discovered over the years is that when properly presented, it does not invite argument. I’ve been speaking for several decades publicly, and even in lectures to farmers in Iowa, for example, I’ve found that when people hear this message—that we all eat animals foods simply because we’re following orders—they typically listen quietly and resonate and seldom argue. This is a truth we all know in our bones. And when we share this idea and plant this seed, people see that in fact they’ve been misguided and pressured, and our words will, as Walt Whitman wrote, “itch in their ears.” We’ve planted the seed, and it will grow.
Our time on this beautiful and endangered planet is short. It’s essential that we find our voice and our unique way to share this message and plant seeds of freedom and awakening by living the vegan message of compassion for all. All of us can thrive as vegans and be effective advocates. If you’d like to dive more into these ideas, let us know. We offer a self-paced 8-module online training that goes into all this in more depth, and leads to certification as a World Peace Diet Facilitator.
Our grassroots vegan revolution is an evolution of love for all beings, and as each of us lives this as best we can, and as we remind each other that we’ve been lied to, and that the truth is within our sensitive and wise hearts, we contribute to the healing of our world. What better way to spend the brief time we have on this precious blue and green planet spinning in the vastness and mystery of space? May we continue to question the official stories, spread the message of the golden key, and fulfill our destiny of contributing to the positive transformation that our future is calling forth from us every day.