If you’ve ever tried to talk about veganism with a non-vegan, chances are you’ve encountered some resistance. This is natural. When humans are confronted with information that goes against what they WANT to believe, they immediately start defending their behavior. This is a defense mechanism known as Cognitive Dissonance, which is defined as “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes.” For example, when people buy animal products (behavior), yet they know an animal was abused and killed for that product (cognition), this puts them in a state of cognitive dissonance. It is this inconsistency in their beliefs and behavior that can cause them to become angry.
As vegans, we no longer support industries that exploit animals in any way. When we’re talking to someone about veganism, they may feel like we’re attacking their character or lifestyle. It’s important to remember that we are challenging something they do three or more times per day. In this post, I’ll share a few tips on how to better communicate, to be most effective, for the animals.
In my opinion, the animals are the center of this movement. They are the victims we are fighting for, and I feel like they should be the starting point of the discussion. There are a few things we can do to make the conversation as seamless as possible. First and foremost, be compassionate. Secondly, don’t judge. And finally, be honest with the information you’re providing.
Compassion is, by far, the most important tool in our toolbox. Without compassion, we’ve already lost our way, as compassion is the foundation that this movement is built upon. It’s always helpful for me to remember that I wasn’t raised vegan, and I can relate to the non-vegan I’m speaking with on that level. Asking yes/no and open-ended questions can be helpful too, such as “Have you ever seen factory farm or slaughterhouse footage?”or “how does it make you feel to see that?” and “do you feel we require animal products to be healthy?” These questions can help guide them toward their own natural compassion, and give us a chance to educate.
It is possible to talk about the animals without getting into an argument, especially if we remember to have compassion when speaking, but to also have compassion when listening. Most non-vegans are good people who are contributing to a system they know very little about—with good reason. The more we can teach them, compassionately, the better. Plant those seeds, baby!
Secondly, and almost equally as important, try not to judge the other person based on their dietary choices. If someone feels judged, they will immediately lash out and the conversation will not be productive. The person you are speaking with most likely hasn’t ever considered the animal victims and throwing it in their face will not make them open up and welcome the conversation. By using words that are inclusive and understanding, you will have a much better shot of getting them to open their mind. Using words like “we” when discussing what is happening to the animals, will show them that you’re not blaming or shaming them and will allow them to keep their defenses down. I also find it helpful to say things like “I used to think that too, but then I learned…” It’s about finding common ground to discuss veganism, not placing blame.
Lastly, be trustworthy and authentic, which means being informed. Claiming exaggerations and/or making up statistics, will not get us very far, and can potentially do harm because once we are caught in an exaggeration or outright lie, all of our credibility goes out the window. It’s important to remember that we are in this fight for the animals, so the more intelligently we can discuss the topic, the better…for them. I suggest following a few social media outreach activist accounts like Earthling Ed, Bite Size Vegan, Joey Carbstrong, and That Vegan Couple—we can learn so much from these beautiful humans and they can equip us with facts to feel confident in our own outreach conversations!
So, dust off that ol’ toolbox and turn your compassion into high gear, throw the judgement out the door and start learning as much as you can to inform those around you about this extremely important issue!
The animals won’t mind if you stumble, all that matters is that you start. They need you now. Are you ready?
Cynthia Leech is a September 2018 graduate of Main Street Vegan Academy, and holds her certification in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. She works for a non-profit education organization where she enjoys educating the public about the benefits of plant-based eating. She, her wife Emily, and their eight pets reside in Connecticut. Cynthia spends her free time doing animal rights activism, both in-person and online. Currently quarantined, she really misses her sanctuary friends.