Every single one of us has caught ourselves in negative thought patterns when it comes to comparing ourselves to those around us. It’s human nature – we all want a sense of where we stand, what others are accomplishing, and where others are drawing their lines.
That particular kind of observation and healthy analysis can go awry, however, when it goes either of two directions. The first is when you begin to foster feelings of inferiority or resentment because everyone else seems happier, better accomplished, more well-travelled etc. than you are. Social media has contributed to this significantly in recent years.
The second is the opposite – When you become so caught up in yourself, that you start to forget your own privilege and unique set of circumstances, and lose your sense of patience or compassion for those around you.
Both are easy enough traps to fall into, and I’ve definitely done so, particularly in those early days of becoming a vegetarian, and later a vegan. As a new vegetarian, I remember being so proud of my newfound diet, and how hurt I felt when some vegans I’d met on the internet informed me about the reality of dairy and egg production during yet another thread on Veggieboards.com seeking “humane” dairy and egg options.
“Those vegans are so holier than thou!! They think they’re so much better than me!” I seethed. “Why can’t they just be happy that I’m not eating meat, we’re on the same team!”
It wasn’t until I made the decision to become vegan that I realized I’d been shooting the messenger with my thought daggers. The problem wasn’t them; it was ME and my emotional responses to the ethical position that they’d taken. They weren’t being holier-than-thou; they were living their lives according to their values, and sharing information that I didn’t want to hear which made me feel judged. When I was honest with myself, nobody had been rude about presenting this information; my reaction was entirely due to my own feelings of guilt.
I’ve seen this same reaction over and over again through my nearly ten years of veganism; people who feel judged and defensive when no judgment or attack has occurred. The simple act of being vegan is taken as a personal judgement. On the flip side, I can admit that there are times when I have felt impatience when people aren’t moving towards veganism fast enough for my liking.
This feeling of impatience comes not from feeling superior to anyone else, but rather, from a sense of frustration and urgency over the horrors that animals are enduring every second of every day. I want the exploitation of animals to stop, NOW. I suspect that it’s the same for many vegans.
I do see vegans online who are highly critical of others’ path to veganism, which I don’t find terribly helpful. I’m not suggesting that the definition of veganism be watered down, or that I would promote anything other than a vegan baseline. That itself has earned me the occasional accusation of being dogmatic or “judgmental”, which I think is a perfect example of the kind of logical fallacy I mentioned earlier in this post.
But I am okay with meeting people where they are today, and working with them and helping them in their move towards their vegan aspirations, even if the reasons aren’t the “right ones” and even if they feel like they can’t go vegan overnight. We each bring our own unique set of baggage to food and eating, and I try to be understanding of that while also being proactive in finding solutions.
If nearly a decade of being vegan has taught me anything, it’s that harbouring or acting on these frustrations rarely has the desired end result, and usually does more harm than good.
I humbly suggest that each of us put our efforts into being the best “you” that you can be. Focus on what you can do, to improve yourself and to make the world a kinder and better place, not so much on how others are falling short by your own standards. It really doesn’t matter if we’re on a high road if nobody is traveling it with us. The animals would certainly rather we not take the journey alone.
If others are struggling or lagging behind, ask yourself how you can help them. And then do it.
If you’re someone who feels judged by someone else’s veganism in the absence of overt condemnation, consider that just maybe you have some things to work out with your own conscience. Whatever your beliefs, own your choices and be true to your conscience.
And above all, be kind, always.