Wednesday, July 31, 2013
The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Vegans
What does it mean to be an effective vegan? For the purposes of this article, I mean long-lasting. Ultimately, though, if we are effective vegans, it also means that we are influential to others, helping to spread the message of compassionate living farther than we would as ineffective ones.
1. Highly effective vegans manage to enjoy life. Simply said, life can be full of sorrow for those who are aware of the horrific violence and suffering that we needlessly inflict upon the animals. It is truly appalling and heartbreaking. I believe that many of us feel that we shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy life given the tremendous suffering of others, and I understand this thinking. It’s akin to a form of “survivor’s guilt.” There is no amount of anguish that we can administer to ourselves, though, that will relieve anyone else’s suffering. By imposing suffering upon ourselves, we will not lessen their agony. By doing this, though, we could become less effective, far-reaching advocates. If our message to the public is that a vegan life is one that is full of anguish, grief, anger and despair, it is unlikely we will appeal to people who might otherwise explore veganism. If we resolve to lighten up a little, to smile, enjoy life, laugh and occasionally even have fun, we will be making far more progress toward cultivating a persuasive influence than we would as people who are always in despair. So the things that bring you joy - playing with your dog, tae kwon do, painting, meeting a friend for tea - please continue to do them. Causing yourself to suffer is not lessening anyone else’s pain and it’s not effective.
2. Highly effective vegans take care of themselves. This is related to the first habit but one addressing things on another realm. Many people have been taught that taking care of their own well-being is “selfish.” One thing I have learned, though, is if you don’t take care of yourself, you will soon have nothing left to give anyone else. Think of it this way: if you’ve been neglecting yourself, eating processed foods, not maintaining healthy habits and you get sick, how are you going to be able to be an effective advocate for anyone else? Also, value yourself enough to prioritize your well-being because you deserve it and also because you will be a good example to the public. Eat well. Stay hydrated. Rest when needed. Exercise. Value your physical and emotional well-being. Say no to things when you are overwhelmed. Speak up for yourself. Be as committed to taking care of yourself as you would a dog or a cow. You matter. Show up for yourself.
3. Highly effective vegans diversify. By this I mean they maintain myriad interests, hobbies and friends that are not necessarily connected to animal advocacy. A well-rounded person is someone who is less likely to burn out or feel helpless when things seem futile or overwhelming. If you have all your eggplants in one basket - meaning almost all of your interests, your spare time and your relationships centered around this one passion - you will likely become imbalanced and lose perspective; as a result, you will be less effective. You’ll be at risk of becoming That Vegan no one wants to be around, not even other nutty vegans. Not only is it better for your longevity, but imagine how much more impressive you will be as you hang out at the annual summer block party grilling meatless beer brats and you can also shuffle in trivia about the history of Tibet, comic books of the 1950s and the early films of Jean-Luc Godard as well as the compelling reasons to go vegan.
4. Highly effective vegans see the big picture. As people who want to create the least harm, it is very, very easy to become, well, obsessive and lose perspective. The fact is, though, that even those of us with the best intentions and the biggest hearts still live in a world that is built upon the oppression and enslavement of animals. When you become aware of this, it’s hard to not see the widespread and pervasive consequences of cruelty wherever you look. It seems virtually impossible to divest ourselves of this because it is virtually everywhere: in our car tires, in the glue that binds our books, in the treasured old photos of our grandparents. This isn’t our fault: we are trying to be part of the solution. The “either/or” mentality (“Either I’m perfect or I’m a failure”) that many new vegans adopt is not sustainable or realistic. It is important to remember that veganism is a journey to create the most good whenever possible, and if we keep our minds towards progress rather than perfection, we will be far more likely to be successful in integrating our values. This isn’t a sprint to the finish: it’s living your convictions every day in the best way you can. Remember, too, as new vegans to not live too far in the future; make it through one day successfully, then the next and then the next. Before you know it, things will be much easier. In my experience, it is great to be prepared, but anticipating hardships and hurdles at every turn breaks our spirit and sends a message to the public that veganism is arduous and unappealing. If you go to a wedding and the caterers forgot to make your meal vegan, that is lousy, but relax by knowing that you can eat in a couple of hours. You will be fine. Big picture. (Oh, and packing along a protein bar is never a bad idea.)
5. Highly effective vegans don’t take things so personally. Seriously, seriously, people will drive you bonkers sometimes. When they’re not vacillating between trying to figure out if you’re a hypocrite (you try not to be) or think you’re so perfect (you don’t) - and - hey, guess what - you lose either way! - they’re telling you that they used to be vegan (they weren’t) until they almost died from “deficiencies” (they didn’t) but now they only eat humane meat (it doesn’t exist and they don’t even if it did), ay yi yi, people will work that last nerve like they are using a jackhammer on it sometimes. Take a deep breath. I’m not trying to put any pressure on you, but, come on...you are our public face. Live in the now. Let go, let dog. In with love, out with anger. Be peace. Gather up whatever Oprah-ism you can grasp to get into your happy place and remember, their antagonism isn’t about you, it's about about them. If all else fails, turn your brain into a movie theater and watch kittens frolic, turtles eat strawberries, pug puppies snore any time you want: whatever it takes. Don’t take things so personally. You will be much happier for it.
6. Highly effective vegans find community. Why be lonely if you don’t need to be? Whether community means a bunch of close friends who understand your values or just a couple, life becomes a lot more enjoyable when we have people in our lives who understand and appreciate us. At the end of the day, it’s so important to have supportive friends we don’t need to explain ourselves to and who can empathize with our life experiences. Humans are social animals. We don’t thrive without some personal connection. Some people find community online; others are able to find it near where they live. Ideally we are able to have both. That sense of being understood and accepted is just so key to our sense of belonging and well-being, but its often undervalued; too often, when we become vegan, we can become socially isolated. When we become isolated, we often become depressed, lose perspective and feel helpless. When this happens, we also are much more vulnerable to burning out. It’s just not necessary. Consider creating community an act of self-care you can do that will also expand your effectiveness.
7. Highly effective vegans know how to cook and grocery shop. Not every meal has to be worthy of a full on Instagram treatment but you should know the basics of how to cook the food you like if you want to be a long-lasting vegan. If you don’t know how to cook and stock a vegan kitchen, you will be more likely to reach for take out menus, spend too much money buying prepared foods or even be tempted to eat the things that under the right circumstances, you normally wouldn’t touch. Hunger can make us desperate and sound decisions rarely come from this desperate place. Stock your kitchen with your staples, find some recipes that are simple to prepare but delicious, experiment with adapting old favorites (easier now than ever) and have fun. You may even find that you actually enjoy cooking. Trust that your tastes will change over time and you will be able to really enjoy vegan food on its own merit the more you are exposed to it.
8. Highly effective vegans embrace their inner-rebels. This is completely unscientific, but I have found that long-term vegans tend to be people who care less about fitting in or being approved of by others. Whether this comes naturally to you or not, it is best to cultivate a resilience about the social aspects of being different. I place a high priority on being considerate and polite, but I would never, ever sacrifice my values because the way that I live makes someone else uncomfortable or feel inconvenienced. Highly effective vegans are simply vegan, that’s all, and if people are put out by that, that is their own issue. Of course, always make it easy on hosts by offering to bring food to a party, by gently educating people about what you can eat, and so on, but you will simply have to learn that you don’t need anyone else’s approval to maintain your core convictions. As soon as you get comfortable with this, you will find that others will as well. Being anything less than who you are is a disservice to everyone.
What are your tips for being a highly effective vegan?