In this Commentary, I address a topic that I have been asked to cover by a number of you: how do we talk with non-vegans about veganism?
I present five general principles:
Principle #1: People are good at heart.
Our default position when we talk with people ought to be that they are good at heart, and interested in, and educable about, moral issues. There is a tendency among at least some advocates to have a very misanthropic view of other humans and to see them as being inherently immoral or uninterested in issues of morality. I disagree with that view.
Principle #2: People are not stupid.
There is a tendency among animal advocates to believe that the general public is not able to understand the arguments in favor of veganism and that we must “go easy” and instead of talking about veganism, we should talk about vegetarianism, “Meat Free Monday,” “happy” meat and animal products, etc. I disagree with this very elitist way of thinking about other people. There is no mystery here; there is nothing complicated. People can understand if we teach effectively.
Principle #3: Do not get defensive; respond, don’t react.
Yes, some people will try to provoke us or will ask questions or make comments that we find insulting or that we take not to be serious. If someone is really not interested in what we are saying, they will, as a general matter, walk away. Treat every comment and question—even the ones you find abrasive, rude, or sarcastic—as an invitation being offered to you by someone who is more provoked (in a positive way) by you and engaged than you might think.
Principle #4: Do not get frustrated. Education is hard work.
You will get the same question many times; you will be asked questions that indicate you must start at the beginning with someone. But if you want to be an effective educator, you have to answer every question as if it is the first time you heard it. If you want others to be enthusiastic about your message, you have to be enthusiastic about it first.
Principle #5: Learn the basics. You have to be a student first before you become a teacher.
Many animal advocates become excited about abolitionist veganism and the next thing that happens is that they set up a website or start a blog that is motivated by the right feelings but not informed by clear ideas. Before you teach others, learn about the basics. It’s not hard to learn the basics; anyone can do so so.
Take advantage of abolitionist vegan resources, such as the videos, pamphlets, and other materials available on this site and materials available on other abolitionist sites such as animalemancipation.com and the Boston Vegan Association.
The sad fact is that the biggest obstacles to vegan education are the large, new welfarist groups that have become partners with institutional animal exploiters to promote the consumption of animal products by giving various forms of “animal rights approval” to animal exploitation (see, for example 1, 2).
These new welfarist groups are part of the problem; they are not part of the solution.
I hope you find the Commentary to be useful. As I indicate, I will be pleased to do future Commentaries in which I address further issues related to vegan advocacy depending on the feedback I receive on this Commentary.
Go vegan. It is easy. It is better for your health and for the planet. But most important, it is the morally right and just thing to do.
Gary L. Francione
© 2010 Gary L. Francione