Compassion is a slippery little sucker.
I write about compassion and kindness towards the earth often but wow, am judgmental to other people in my head, sometimes. This week has been especially draining on environmental activists everywhere, with the destruction of the Amazon in the news and its origination in industrial cattle ranching.
But we all struggle with cognitive dissonance, it is part of the human condition. Despite my efforts, I still find myself getting annoyed with environmental activists who eat meat, with people who say they love animals but ignore the dead animal on their plate. I get mad at myself when I drive somewhere, or when I fly in an airplane, knowing I am a hypocrite at some level for doing both.
It’s hard to be human and to care so much.
I read the Bhagavad Gita in college, sprawled on the grass beside the Jordan River in Bloomington, Indiana. I was struck by the work’s definition of consciousness beginning “when you feel the suffering of every living thing in your own heart.” Wow. And ouch. Soon after, I began my meat-free journey.
This one sentence cracked my conscious wide open! Plants, animals, humans – we are all from the same star dust! How could my taste, my most crude sense, trump the very life of another being?! Now I know and I can’t go back. I carry the suffering of living things with me everywhere. I unload their suffering off of my back after work and pick it up again the next morning.
It made me sad.
But even more, it made me ANGRY.
During law school, I would joke that I wanted to be an environmental lawyer because I cared more about animals than people. It wasn’t a joke.
I saw humans as destructive, as bad. It made me not want to have biological children and adopt, instead (side note – I used to go to the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon and there’s always a booth for the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which advocates for humans to stop breeding. They are kind of whacky but made me think! The Center for Biological Diversity also advocates for less human reproduction and they pass out condoms, see below. This isn’t an opinion I share, and I certainly don’t want to offend my sweet friends and family who have chosen to have biological children because they are awesome – I just wanted to highlight some environmental activism that I’ve encountered on how destructive humans can be. Also, these condoms make me chuckle.)
Anyways, back to how I was infuriated, basically all the time.
Being a lawyer is an adversarial profession. You are an advocate for your client, above all. While you may see both sides, you fight for one. I took up legal research projects assisting Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Animal Rights Project, working to provide chimps with legal personhood (by the way, if you haven’t seen his TedTalk on Nonhuman Animal Rights, it’s really fascinating). I volunteered my legal services to Luvin Arms, a Farm Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. All of these experiences continued to exacerbate my feelings – how could people not know?! How could people continue to treat animals and the planet this way?!
After some self-awareness and being called out by a friend, I took a deep-dive into what made me uncomfortable: that my activism wasn’t really bringing me any peace. And it showed.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:
To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things; the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.
However, when I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person, too.
In other words, anger is a great place to be but it’s a fucked-up place to stay.
I have only VERY recently learned how to better-behaved when confronted on animal rights issues. When I witness others struggling with new information, instead of getting angry, I now attempt to focus on, “How can I be helpful? How can I show empathy?” (I didn’t come to this on my own, my therapist is a cardigan-shrouded goddess).
I realized, humanity isn’t awful. Humanity doesn’t have to be destructive (though it often is). Humans can beautifully connect with the other inhabitants of our earth.
Being compassionate towards others doesn’t mean that you drop your torch and stop fighting for the cause. It doesn’t mean that you are required to make people feel more comfortable doing something that you know is wrong. You can still present information, which may trigger others to do a deep-dive into their choices. Compassion doesn’t mean laying down. It just means that on the way, you see yourself in other people and treat them with curiosity, instead of judgment. It’s difficult to do when you know the suffering of living things is happening and someone says, “But bacon is so good.” Actually…that still makes me mad, never mind. I have work to do, I guess ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Like I mentioned in a prior post, it took me a long time to get on this journey and I’m still very much a work in progress! I still use plastic ziplock bags sometimes, I drive a car, I forget my reusable mug on occasion, I travel in an airplane. But if some pushy vegan approached me during that time and told me my efforts to do better were stupid, I would have pushed away. No one tells a Sagittarius what to do! I learned through this retrospect, that you catch more flies with agave than you do with vinegar (I’m trying to veganize this phrase and it’s not….cute).
Instead of getting angry now, I am trying to choose gratitude. Again, my therapist told me to do this, I’m not some magical wizard that came up with this beautiful idea on my own. I’m not great at it, yet, but here are some things that I’m currently grateful for –
- I am grateful to realize that my desires do not entitle me to cause suffering
- I am grateful for friends who have guided me on my journey
- I am grateful that no pushy vegan was a jerk to me for eating cheese 10 year ago
- I am grateful for the opportunity to plant seeds and spread information
- I am grateful for those who share their internal conflicts with me
- I am grateful for discussion
- I am grateful that there are so many ways to live a good life
- I am grateful that there are smarter people than me that I can learn from
If you find yourself getting angry, try this peaceful thought: we are all connected – plants, animals, and those who live differently than us. They are me and I am them.
I’m still working on it. And I’m grateful.
For my readers – when have you encountered differing opinions about something you feel strongly about? How did you approach it? This doesn’t have to be about food – it can be about anything! I would love to hear 🙂