For anyone who is vegan for ethical and compassionate reasons, there is plenty to be angry about.
Anger doesn’t quite cover it though. On a given week the range of emotions can run the gamut–sadness, frustration, despair, devastation, isolation…compassion, empathy, hope. Sometimes I even feel peaceful or joyful knowing that I am doing the best I can to opt out of using and abusing animals. And there’s nothing quite like the thrill of an awesome vegan find, or realizing that you’ve impacted someone to make positive change. Those are the good days.
But the lows can be really low. It’s fairly normal for new activists and advocates (especially younger ones who may not have well-developed coping mechanisms yet) to feel the sting of anger profoundly, in the aftermath of having their entire life shaken to the core with new realizations. That’s pretty much what happens when you become vegan, or get involved with any social justice movement.
I totally understand that anger. I’m angry too, and have been for a long time. I’ve let it get the better of me in the past, and regretted it later, because sending out anger daggers in every direction has never resulted in positive change.
Anger can be a poison; I’ve seen it infect movements and communities. This can be especially risky when dogmatism takes over, because people can lose the ability to empathize with others and be understanding of where other people are coming from. That makes it terribly difficult to understand their needs, and respond to those needs effectively and in a way that achieves our goal of ending animal exploitation.
Anger can paralyze the capacity for achieving positive change amongst those whose hearts are in the right place, causing them to lash out at allies, and become ineffectual to the audience whom they hope to influence. And ultimately, it can result in burnout or worse. I’m reminded of this proverb:
“The flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.”
It doesn’t have to be this way though. History has shown that anger can be a powerful fuel for productivity and social change. I’d rather be angry than apathetic, that’s for sure. As an animal advocate, the key is learning how to harness your anger, and channel it in a way that is effective and achieves the results we need to make the world a kinder place.
By all means let your anger out in appropriate venues, whether that’s exercise, venting with close friends, meditation, throwing yourself into frenzied volunteer/fundraising activity; whatever works for you. Anger is real, potent, and should be taken seriously.
But when you’re engaging with the community and trying to bring people around to your point of view and inspire positive change, it’s a whole different ball game. Anger has no place there because few people are attracted to an angry, hostile message (or messenger). In fact, it turns most people right off, and your message – no matter how good and just – is completely undermined. If you let it take over, you’re making it about you, not the animals, no matter how justified you think you are.
Your most powerful weapons are logically sound, ethically-driven positions, delivered with kindness and consistency.
If you feel compelled to lash out at someone out of anger and frustration though the course of your advocacy, consciously ask yourself:
- Am I being helpful? Will this help me to influence and encourage this person to make positive change?
- Would I want to be treated this way?
- Would I feel comfortable writing/speaking to my employer/grandmother this way?
and most importantly…
- Are my words/attitudes helping to advance the well-being of animals?
If the answer to any of these is NO, then you need to revisit your strategy.
Because in the end, as an advocate for animals, that’s the only thing that really matters.