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The Visiting Vegan
I always make it a point to explain my vegan dietary needs whenever I am invited to someone’s home for a meal. However, I feel it would be rude to refuse a dish if I knew that my host made a sincere attempt to prepare something acceptable but unwittingly used a small amount of eggs, dairy, or other not-so-obvious animal product in the recipe. Where does a vegan draw the line when it comes to upholding personal values and being a gracious and compassionate guest, especially if no other suitable dish has been prepared?
When we practice a live and let live philosophy, such as veganism, we have no one to answer to but ourselves. For the most part, there is nobody watching over our shoulders to see how well we are complying with vegan principles and practices. As a result, what vegans do in private boils down to a matter of moral honor, conscience, and individual responsibility. The tangible effect on the animals, the environment, or our health caused by an infrequent, minor breach of vegan values is relatively inconsequential. Remorse is perhaps the most universal and apparent response to breaching an ethical vow. Realistically, a small infringement of vegan values affects us on a personal emotional level significantly more than it impacts anything or anyone else.
To determine what to do in various situations, we must weigh our overall commitment to vegan principles and investigate why we decided to practice this lifestyle in the first place. Vegan tenets should not be a burden or an unpleasant chore. If our practice cannot be pursued with joy, enthusiasm, and openness, it becomes an empty exercise in self-discipline and self-denial. It is regrettable that society is unsupportive and sometimes even hostile towards individuals who choose alternate paths, but how readily we succumb to cultural, peer, or family pressure is a true test of our values and character.
If we are willing to abandon our ethics to commonplace challenges, instead of buckling down and drawing on our ingenuity, we might want to investigate the depth of our commitment. Would we lower our standards as readily if the ethical issues dealt with other significant matters of conscience? Are we prepared to concede to the pressure or coercion of others just to placate them, even if what they want us to do goes against our basic core beliefs? Would we lie, cheat, steal, intimidate, exploit, or cause harm if it appeases someone we want to impress or if it prevents them from feeling offended? When morality acquiesces to everyone and yields to all situations, we need to ask ourselves: Is there a point where we should draw the line? Can an ethical system be legitimate if it dissolves merely to be accommodating?
If a minor transgression of your ethics causes you to feel as though you betrayed your moral center, then your decision and resulting actions are crystal clear. If, on the other hand, you are comfortable with a vacillating value system that sanctions alternating behavior depending on the circumstances, then you may want to make a different choice. Some people are unable or unwilling to adhere to a flexible code of ethics because it is far too tempting to constantly stretch and remold the boundaries. With no inherent limitations, the parameters can grow so broad that they eventually become nonexistent. Others feel confined by unyielding directives that seem to serve no purpose other than to standardize behavior, confine the spirit, and curb individual freedom of choice.
As an invited guest in the privacy of someone’s home, our ethics may be challenged. Our decision may not be earth-shattering, but it could influence our host’s opinion of vegans as dedicated or wishy-washy, or of veganism as powerful or ineffectual. It also could create an impression of our temperament, integrity, and moral fiber. Any of these perceptions could be positive or negative.
Whether or when you compromise your beliefs and for what purpose is ultimately a personal decision. Only you can weigh the events in your life and determine if they warrant an exception. The key considerations would be whether the number or extent of exceptions is becoming the rule and the potential for adverse consequences. Ultimately, our true character is bared by what we do when no one else is watching.
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