Planting Seeds of Compassion: In the Words of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
This is a very atypical blog post for me for two reasons: (1) it might appear a bit lengthy at first glance, and (2) I did not write the actual content. We can just pretend it is one of those things popular blogging people call a ‘guest post,’ no?
As some of you know, I am currently privileged to be in Portland, Oregon, USA to attend the Vida Vegan Blogger Conference (Vida Vegan Con). The conference brings together vegan bloggers from across the US to discuss issues relevant to their platforms as vegan activitsts, warriors for plant-based health and nutrition, and as members of the greater blogging community in general.
All text that follows is the writing of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, and was presented as “Planting Seeds of Compassion: Communication as Activism” on 27 August 2011. I only wish you all could have heard Colleen’s delivery of this talk in person. More information about Colleen and her work, including her newest book released this week – The 30 Day Vegan Challenge – can be found here. (NB: this text was published with the permission of the author).
*Image taken from CompassionateCooks.com.
Being a Joyful Vegan: A Call for Compassion Ambassadors
Thank you to the organizers for having me here. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be in the company of those working on behalf of nonhuman animals. Thank you all – each and every one of you – for all you do.
Mission. Tools and Resources.
I always say that I’m not asking people to live according to MY values; I’m urging them to live according to their own.
And I actually believe that people WANT this information; in fact, I think they’re quite desperate to make a change to feel better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I know this because I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing thousands of people transition to being vegan; that is, feeling empowered enough to make choices that reflect their own values of compassion and wellness.
The problem is that people struggle to live according to their values, because we live in a culture that doesn’t support us making the most healthful choices. We live in a culture that doesn’t make it easy for us to make the most compassionate choices. We live in a world where most people could tell you the difference between a Big Mac and a Whopper sooner than they could tell you the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber. We live in a world that – in many ways embraces animal exploitation and abuse and looks with suspicion – and in some cases – hostility upon those who oppose these things.
One of the things I lament most about our culture is how we encourage children to be compassionate but we’re kind of suspicious of compassionate adults. As if compassion is our problem. What I know for sure is that the problems we face in our world are not because we have so much compassion we don’t know what to do with it. The problems we have are because people aren’t living according to their own values of compassion.
In my opinion, to advocate for animals and veganism is to advocate for compassion, nonviolence and peace. And, not surprisingly, peace is the byproduct of a compassionate lifestyle. It is what you give, create and get back. It is an unexpected gift.
There’s a very deep peace of mind that comes from disconnecting yourself from the inherent violence of turning beautiful, living, feeling beings into butchered bodies. To say “no” to that—to remove yourself from that violence, from that slaughter —releases you from that burden of guilt that so many of us have experienced—that low, constant hum that causes us to make every excuse in the book to justify our actions, to release us from our complicity.
Whereas stopping our participation in the exploitation of and violence towards non-human animals brings peace of mind, the awareness of so much violence can also have a devastating effect on our psyches. Burnout is common among activists, and many become jaded, hopeless, self-righteous, or angry.
And why shouldn’t we be angry? Human greed and the desire for convenience and pleasure drive the socially sanctioned use and abuse of billions of nonhuman animals. We live in a world where it’s considered normal to champion this and radical to oppose it. Of course people are angry. But anger is not a dirty word. It is a very real response, whose roots go deep, and to remain a joyful vegan is to understand anger.
In fact, I think it’s interesting and helpful to note that the root of the word anger is sorrow or anguish. The earliest roots of the word anger referred to something being “painfully constricted,” a “strangling, narrowing, squeezing, throttling.” And if we reframe anger so we see it in this proper context, we can recognize that there isn’t a contradiction between the peace that comes with eating nonviolently and the anger we feel in the face of so much cruelty.
Anger can be a great motivator, but how do we not dwell in the sorrow, in the anguish? How do we remain joyful?
I think the answer is in choosing to dwell in hope rather than despair and in modeling the compassion we say we want others to live by. We need to be Ambassadors of Compassion! Those of us who have already experienced our own awakening need to act as models, as guides for people making their way here in order to enable them to make the transition confidently, joyfully, healthfully, and unapologetically.
And people need this guidance, need this language because though they’re genuinely compelled to make a change, they’re given the message everywhere they turn from the moment we’re born that we to consume as many animals and as much of their secretions as possible – to be healthy and to be normal.
These myths become legends for people, and these legends become fact. So much so that even once they become vegan, they feel the social pressure immediately.
We’re all familiar with this. You become vegan, and you’re asked to defend yourself all the time, you’re asked the same questions over and over. You’re expected to have all the answers and have advanced degrees in nutrition, philosophy, anthropology, animal husbandry, ecology, and the culinary arts. Every vegan has been on the receiving end of someone who’s trying to catch you – someone who’s trying to find fault with your choices, trying to find a hole in your logic.
And I think this constant pressure takes its toll on people. I think it’s why many people just give up and revert back to eating animals and their secretions. I think it’s why many people shy away from speaking out and coming out of the vegan closet, if you will. I think it’s why many people resist veganism in the first place. And I think it’s why many people wind up feeling angry or isolated.
As I said, we live in a culture that doesn’t support us in making the most compassionate decisions. Certainly, the billions of dollars spent by the meat, dairy, and egg industries contribute to this, but we as vegans, as advocates also have a role to play in attracting people to or deterring them from this lifestyle.
I think one of the most obvious ways we do this is through our use of language. Our choice of words reflects our beliefs and values and reveals much about who we are and the culture we live in. And though I’m not a proponent of what is derisively referred to as “politically correct” language, I do encourage people to use words that say what they mean – that reflect the Truth rather than conceal it and to use words that don’t denigrate “vegan food” and elevate animal products so that they become the barometer by which everything else is measured.
My heart sinks every time I hear VEGANS use words such as “faux,” “fake,” “mock,” “substitute,” “imitation,” “analog,” “alternative,” and “replacement.” If we think we’re going to attract people to eat “vegan food,” we’re not going to be successful if we LURE them with such words. I don’t eat analogs. I don’t eat fake food. I eat real food made from plant-based ingredients.
As we shift the paradigms in our culture, we need to shift our language.
I may consume plant-based milks – almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk, or rice milk – but I don’t consume milk substitutes. The fact is animal’s milk is a SUBSTITUTE for human milk. If anything is the imposter in our diet, it’s animal’s milk, and I have no problem respectfully correcting people to distinguish whose milk they’re referring to when they just say MILK. Are they talking about rat’s milk, cat’s milk, cow’s milk, or human milk?
I may consume vegetarian meat – grain-based meat, nut-based meat, wheat-based meat, but I don’t consume fake ANYTHING. The word “meat,” after all, originally meant “that which was eaten” to distinguish it from “that which was drunk.” It referred to “solid food” to distinguish it from beverages, and we still use it today when we refer to nut meat or coconut meat.
The language we use is very telling, and people are paying attention all the time.
And so as Ambassadors of Compassion, we need realize the power we have to change lives, change habits, change the world just by the words we use, just by having a conversation – just by communicating with someone else.
I think we forget that whether we like it or not, if we’re the vegan someone comes to, we represent all vegans. Although it may feel like a lot of pressure and although it is indeed a great responsibility, it is also a great honor to be a voice for this abundant way of life, to be the “vegan in the room” that people come to with their questions, with their stories, with their fears, and with their hopes. What an honor to guide them to their own truth, to their own compassion. After all, we were once in their shoes.
As Ambassadors of Compassion, we would remember that. We would remember our own stories. We would remember that we were once unaware. In forgetting our own stories, our own process, we lose our humility, and in doing so we risk becoming arrogant and self-righteous – not a great formula for remaining joyful or for attracting people to a compassionate way of life.
I’ve seen too many vegans write non-vegans off as cruel and insensitive, but I don’t think that’s the whole truth about people. I don’t believe people wake up in the morning figuring out how they can contribute to violence that day. I don’t believe that’s how it works. I think people are SO sensitive that they don’t want to believe that they’re contributing to harm or violence against animals. It’s a lot easier to ritualize, rationalize, and romanticize the consumption of animals than it is to experience self-reflection and be open to shifting your worldview and changing your habits. We humans have a great capacity to compartmentalize our emotions and support things we would never participate in directly, and justify our behavior so we can sleep well at night.
I think remembering our own process and choosing the perspective that sees people as asleep rather than evil — makes us better advocates, better voices for those who have no voice.
As Ambassadors of Compassion, we would realize the power of communication. I love that the word “communicate” is built from the word “common”; it literally means “shared by all.”
And I love that, because this issue is not me against you; vegan against non-vegan; my moral superiority over your moral superiority. It’s about all of us being against violence and cruelty. This is a value “shared by all.” It’s about all of us being for the dissemination of truthful, unbiased information about what makes us healthy. This is a value “shared by all.”
Being Ambassadors of Compassion means finding that common ground with people who may on the face of it seem like “the enemy” or “the opposition.” Finding common ground and building from that common ground, choosing to stand together against violence rather than standing against one another.
That’s a great strategy for dealing with a disagreement in any relationship about any issue, but it’s not always easy to do, because you have to be more willing to find resolution than you are willing to be right; you have to be more willing to solve the problem than you are anxious to “win the argument.”
Being Ambassadors of Compassion, we would raise the bar, give people the benefit of the doubt, & expect the best that’s in them, realizing that when we do so, people rise to that expectation. When we speak to the highest in people, people respond with the highest that’s in them. It’s amazing, and I see it every single day.
And yet it might be surprise to know that as I go about my work, my intention is not to make the world vegan or to change someone else’s mind. If those were my intentions, I’d fail every time. It’s not my role to make anyone do anything. All I can do is speak the truth and trust that it will inspire others to act on their own values. That’s why I don’t like the word “convert.” I prefer “inspire.” or “empower.” I never set out to convert anyone.
Whenever I set out to do my work – whether I’m writing an article, writing a book, speaking to a group, or speaking one on one, in my mind, I make sure I’m clear about my intention. And my intention is this: to raise awareness about violence against animals, to be their voice, and to speak my truth. That’s it. I believe intention is everything, and people individually and collectively are smart enough to see right through you if you appear false to them – if you appear to have a hidden agenda – in other words, you’re saying one thing but you really mean another. Having a clear intention about your goal and making that goal about truth rather than outcome will make you a successful, effective advocate 100% of the time. I believe we’re here to be teachers for one another, and I am grateful for my role as a conduit. But that’s all any of us are.
As Ambassadors of Compassion, all we can do is plant seeds and have no attachment to the outcome. And all I know is that it works. In planting seeds of compassion and wellness, I’m left with hope. And I do have a lot of hope.
I honestly could not do this work or call myself a joyful vegan if I did not have hope or rather – choose to dwell in the hope. It’s such an honor and a privilege to witness people’s transformations, and what I know for sure is that people are making changes all the time to live healthier and more compassionate lives. Because of this awareness, I have hope. What I know for sure is that veganism – i.e. living compassionately and healthfully – is more mainstream than ever before. Because of this awareness, I have hope.
What I know for sure is that more people are speaking up on behalf of animals, on behalf of truth more than ever before. Because of this awareness, I have hope.
My hope is that we embrace our unconditional compassion and express it unapologetically and at full throttle – and expect others to do the same. As I said, I don’t believe people wake up in the morning trying to figure out how they can contribute to violence and suffering. The problem, however, is that we don’t wake up in the morning wanting to create as much compassion, peace, and nonviolence as possible. If that were on our to-do list every day, imagine what we could accomplish. Imagine what our world would be like.
My hope is that our daily choices be a reflection of our deepest values and that we use our voices to speak for those who need us most, those who have no voice, those who have no choice. It’s up to each one of us to create the compassionate world we say we want to live in; as Ambassadors for Compassion, we can make this happen.
And this, too, is my hope.
My hope is that we can all navigate through this world with the grace and integrity of those who most need our protection. May we have the sense of humor and liveliness of the goats; may we have the maternal instincts and protective nature of the hens and the sassiness of the roosters. May we have the gentleness and strength of the cattle, the wisdom, serenity, and humility of the donkeys. May we appreciate the need for community as do the sheep and choose our companions as carefully as do the rabbits.
May we have the faithfulness and commitment to family of the geese, the adaptability and affability of the ducks. May we have the intelligence, loyalty, and affection of the pigs, the inquisitiveness, sensitivity, and playfulness of the turkeys.
My hope is that we learn from the animals what it is we need to become better people.
May it be so.