They say never talk religion or politics at a dinner party.
But what about veganism?
No doubt at some point you’ve seen the subject come up casually and within minutes emotions are running high and the (faux) fur is flying.
Here at PETA we like to see everyone keep their own (faux) fur on (!!), so how do we navigate this tricky terrain and better yet – walk away having given justice for our cause and even inspired others to see the benefits?
The answer is mindset.
Before we’re ready to jump in head first – we need to put our head’s… first.
Here are 5 tips to help put you in the best position for a positive engagement.
1. Be pragmatic
When you feel your temperature rising, the first step is to ask yourself what do you want to achieve from the interaction? Is it to vent, or is it to help improve the lives of the animals? Once you’re able to mentally reframe this to make it not about you, but about the animals, you’ll be clear to formulate a response from a platform in service of this goal.
2. Consider what “Every interaction is an opportunity” actually looks like
We’ve all been there. You’re at work and Donna from Accounting comes in for a cup of coffee and casually asks about our veganism. We jump on the “invitation” to turn her vegan by the time she pours the milk, and are disappointed when we “fail”.
A successful interaction is one that has taken even one step forward. Focus on the specific question being asked and what you can easily cover in that space of time. Take the opportunity to share positive reasons and results. This may lead to another question, or it may not. But if you’ve left them with a positive impression, you’ve had a successful interaction. Just keep planting the seeds, and water them every chance you get.
3. Ask yourself “Do I want them to feel “inspired” or “guilty”?
Chances are we want to inspire, but then catch ourselves detailing the atrocities of factory farming to someone holding a ham sandwich – then wonder what went wrong.
While it’s tempting to force submission with ethical overwhelm, this is simply not effective. To understand why this doesn’t work, consider this simplified, yet useful equation:
Guilt = Shame = Feelings of inadequacy = a need to restore image or withdrawal
A person who feels shamed is likely to attempt to restore their image, whether to others, or within themselves. We can experience this as an “overly defensive” reaction, or withdrawal. Either way they’ve shut down and we’ve lost them.
What we want is to create a space where the topic of veganism is a safe one. Inspiring sound bites are far more likely to have that person remain open to your views – by about 100%.
You catch more flies with Agave than vinegar, right?
4. Focus your emotion on the behaviour not the individual
Does this sound familiar?
Person A: “I love animals”
Person B: “You don’t love animals – you eat them AAAARGGGGH!!
This may be one of our go to’s, but it’s not really fair. Or necessarily true. Many people who eat meat are great animal lovers. We tend to look at certain behaviours and characterise a person entirely based on that one action. This one is tough for us because it’s a big action with huge consequences, so we need to be extra vigilant here to keep ourselves in check.
By focusing on the problem not the person, we have an opportunity to include them in discussion. If veganism comes up, and someone tells us they love animals and we tell them they obviously don’t (pffft) – where do they go with that? To shut-down-town, that’s where.
Wherever you can, guide the conversation back to the issues or solutions, be fair, and keep the person clear out of it. They’ll feel safe and you’ll feel heard.
5. Find Common Ground
An effective way of meeting people where they’re at is to find out their interests. And some of the most powerful activism happens in the smallest of exchanges. Most people will have a story, memory, or even footage of something moving to them involving animals (and who doesn’t love a good YouTube video).
Find your entry point this way. For example, if somebody loves the idea of rescuing companion animals (which is actually very common), you might mention a video you were watching where a baby calf destined for slaughter was saved by a sanctuary. It’ll help refocus to their affection for animals, and as a bonus help build a tiny bridge to see other animals in the same way as those they know and love.
Finding common ground with veganism can apply to so many interests (think health, fitness, the environment), and this path of least resistance approach will see you effecting change without even realising.
And as a fail-safe, knowing that the vast majority of us were at one stage (gasp)…NOT vegan is a great one to keep us remembering where we came from.
So there you have it. Five tips to keep you fighting fresh and ready for your next casualty free conversation. Humble pie, anyone?
Written by former intern Melanie Thorpe