Standing in the Fire
As a group, we vegans and animal rights activists are a passionate bunch. We have deep convictions, so itís not surprising that we often are incensed about societyís general disregard for our beliefs. Because we speak and act on behalf of the most powerless and largest group of abused beings on the planet -- animals -- we commonly are disparaged for a lack of caring about our own species. When confronted directly about this, the rational response is that we can care for humans no less than we can care for nonhumans, and we can do so simultaneously. In other words, to extend compassion to one group does not imply that we have exhausted our supply of compassion for another group. We each have the potential to demonstrate kindness and concern to numerous groups concurrently, just as parents are able to love all their children.
Compassion regenerates. It has been said that the more love we give, the more love we have to give, but this is not just because we may receive love in return. Love feeds on itself. Consequently, when provided with the right nourishment, our capacity for love -- that is, our love quotient, or LQ -- increases exponentially. Conversely, when love is smothered by anger, hatred, and apathy, our capacity for love is diminished significantly.
Our capabilities and aptitudes do not determine our achievements, however. To be successful at an endeavor, we must make our undertaking a priority and put thought and effort into it. No true accomplishment happens merely through luck. If we want to ascertain the outcome of any activity, we need only take a look at where we have been putting our energy.
There is an undercurrent of anger among many vegans and animal activists and, regrettably, it has become one of the central characteristics by which outsiders define us as a group. Our animosity has been contagious and highly damaging, both to the solidarity we need to realize our goals and to the tenacity required for us to hang in there. Furthermore, this negativity has acted as a repellent, warding off truly caring people who currently are involved, or might otherwise want to join us, but are deterred by the invisible wall of anger and resentment.
If love grows exponentially in response to love, and veganism and animal rights are inspired by caring and compassion, why havenít our ranks swelled more appreciably? Could it be we are driving back the very people who can make our aspirations a reality?
Aggression and mean-spiritedness are ugly. They also are cowardly, self-centered, and injurious, especially when they contradict the basic message of a movement. The hostility we have demonstrated toward those with whom we disagree equals and often exceeds the antagonism we have received from them. In addition, we have exhibited similar enmity toward those within our own ranks who do not share our individual sense of purpose or point of view. As a result, this malady of aggression has spread not only to those whom we need to attract, it is turning away many who, for the most part, agree with and want to support us.
In numerous ways we have become our own enemy, because unless we are emotionally mature enough to squelch our resentments, ignore petty differences, and relinquish the egotistical desire to prove ourselves victors over each other, we will never be able to achieve anything of lasting consequence for those we say we care about most. If we are a movement teeming with angry and resentful people, we will be spreading anger, not compassion. It is deluded to think that we simply are dispersing information about animal oppression or raising awareness about compassion if our dealings among ourselves and with others are cloaked in rage.
Virtually all social movements have endured some degree of dissension, but those that have thrived have grasped that cohesion and tolerance take precedence over inconsequential differences of opinion. If we are unable to agree to disagree on relatively minor issues, our actions will be counterproductive. Power struggles and infighting are exactly what those who oppose us savor. When these become the focus, not only do we feed our anger, we feed our adversaryís hope to discredit us.
Civil discussion of reasoned arguments is a sensible way to challenge and expand our views. But our emphasis must be placed on respect and common sense. How can we possibly be taken seriously as a movement of compassion if we cannot even muster genuine consideration for those who share our basic values? How can outsiders view us as credible when we insult and demean each other? How can we truly advance compassion when our vehicle is hatred -- whether of those who oppose animal rights, those who eat meat, or those who donít live up to some subjective level of perfection that we arbitrarily have imposed?
We are standing in the middle of a blaze we have set. Unless we learn how extinguish or step outside the flames, we will burn ourselves alive.
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