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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 4 July 2004 Issue

Planting The Seeds Of Compassion
©Shell 2004
[email protected]

Many animal rights advocates lament that we are not reaching the public fast enough with our message. I find myself wondering if the failure lies in the delivery of the message, and not the message itself.

Some individuals, rightfully so, become angry, despondent, and depressed because of the suffering they are exposed to. Many try to use these negative emotions as a catalyst for change. But this cannot work. Unfortunately, it is the negative behavior that seems to gain the most media attention, thus misrepresenting the animal rights movement as a whole. Rather than viewing activists as ordinary people, a dangerous stereotype has been created and our message is disregarded.

We cannot build a compassionate world on a foundation of rage. With compassionate dialogue, we can reach more people and, in turn, help more animals.

Let me be clear from the outset: I am not proposing that in discussing animal rights with others, we should try to sound more "moderate" by encouraging others to eat "free-range" eggs or meat from "humanely" slaughtered animals as an alternative to giving up animal products altogether. I do not agree that it is "divisive" or "elitist" to defend abolition and veganism as moral baselines. My point is that we ought to promote the message of abolition in a gentle, nonviolent manner.

Violence does not necessarily have to be a physical act. Our words can also be violent. We must always remain mindful when speaking to others and act in a way that benefits those we are trying to assist. We cannot control how other people behave, but we can control ourselves. While others may become angry and abusive, we can remain calm, kind, and clearheaded. The example we set can speak louder than words.

This includes sending a clear, strong message that animal exploitation - in all its forms - is completely unacceptable. But just as it is not possible to teach respect for animals while eating them, one cannot invite others to be compassionate and non-violent with shouting and intimidation.

Always try to put yourself in the place of the person you are communicating with. While some people may ignore your message, the way you represent yourself will be remembered and could benefit animals in the future. You have planted seeds of compassion, non-violence, and kindness. They may not be immediately visible, but they are there.

Others may feel that a gentle approach would take too long; animals don't have time for us to be nice; but how far has the aggressive approach taken us? Only very small changes have taken place when you consider that animal exploitation is still considered the norm throughout the world. A gentle approach would not condone animal exploitation, nor would it send the message that compromise on the animals' behalf is acceptable; indeed, it is not. Rather, it would be a more effective way of demonstrating, through words and actions, that violence toward any species should not be tolerated.

Intimidation and other scare tactics might bully someone into temporary submission, but what have you accomplished as far as permanent, long-term goals? If you have instilled fear, rather than compassion, you have not accomplished much. For example, someone else will replace an employee who is threatened and intimidated into leaving a job, and the employee who left might find the same position with a different company. Compassionate dialogue may cause the employee to rethink his or her position and, not only change his or her livelihood, but also encourage others to do the same.

It is possible to gently send a strong message, and the success of animal rights requires both that our message be clear and strong, and that our delivery of that message be informed by the compassion that is the foundation of our rejection of animal exploitation.

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