Is vegan education about forcing people to care about something they don’t care about?
Sometimes I hear people say “you can’t force people to care about animal rights” as an argument against vegan education. Or that we should continue eating animals because everyone can care about different things, “so I’ll care about humans over here while you care about animals over there”. But when I educate veganism, my aim is not to force someone to change what they care about or see it as their number 1 priority, my aim is to help people reconnect with the things they already care about.
We all value different things to different degrees and that is absolutely okay. For example, some of the things I value most are freedom, connection, curiosity, adventure, and compassion. Others might value autonomy, creativity, empathy, or honesty above all else. And the areas most important to us can change depending on what situation we’re in, or what part of our lives we are focusing on. So this doesn’t mean I don’t care about creativity or autonomy, it just means that in many situations, my values of compassion and curiosity are likely to guide my decisions more than others. When we are in touch with our values and make daily life choices that align with these values, this can greatly improve our levels of life quality, vitality, and wellbeing (as well as the lives of others around us!). And it’s important to note here that we do not need to justify our values and we certainly can’t force someone to change or explain theirs.
So if we’re not forcing people to reshuffle what they care most about – what are we doing as animal advocates?
1) We are encouraging people to get in touch with values they already hold
For me, being vegan goes hand in hand with my values of compassion and freedom. Just like spending time going on hikes, meeting new people, or learning new things aligns with my values of adventure and curiosity. Most people already care about things like compassion, fairness, and respect. When we educate someone about what happens to farmed animals, or show them how life can be lived without eating animals – we are showing them choices available to them that can help them align with values they already identify with. Have you ever wondered why someone feels so utterly distressed when seeing animals slaughtered, but still can’t imagine giving up meat? Or how they’ll happily eat animals but talk passionately about how much they love animals? This is often because deep down they actually care for animals, but they may not know how their behaviour of eating animals is in conflict with this value, or how to stop the behaviour (most of us do this by the way, it’s human nature – for example, we might strongly value our health but then drink excessively). In advocacy, part of our role is to help make that connection – that eating animals is in conflict with values they already hold.
2) We are encouraging people to include animals in their circle of compassion, not make animals the focus of their compassion
Many people think by going vegan that has to mean they care about animal rights above everything else. This is simply not true– if we can care about the state of our environment or marginalised people, we can also care about animal suffering. We don’t have to prioritise animals to treat them with respect and kindness. This is what veganism is about – expanding our compassion, not narrowing it.
3) We are educating and encouraging, not forcing.
No matter how much we try, we cannot force someone to do something. But, we can certainly encourage and share insight. Most of the ethical choices I’ve made in life have been the result of people sharing their knowledge and encouraging me to, mixed with my values of learning and reducing harm. We would never change, grow, or think outside the box if we did not open our mind to new information and allow ourselves to be challenged. Vegan education is simply about offering insight to others. The choice to take action is ultimately up to the individual.
So consider to yourself, when you are approached by a vegan advocate, what values are you in touch with when you open yourself up to a conversation with them? What values are you in touch with when you consider stopping eating animals? When do you feel most disconnected from your values in regards to the vegan conversation? Your values are your own, nobody else’s. So allow yourself to explore them, and use them to guide your choices. Valued living is a great privilege that comes with being human. And the more in touch with them we are, the more we can enhance our daily lives.