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Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
22 September 1999  Issue

HOW TO ANSWER AN ORNERY OMNIVORE

Typical scenario: You're sitting in the cafeteria at work or school, peacefully eating your lunch, when the person sitting across from you looks at the innocuous meal on your plate.

"What is that ?" He inquires, a familiar tone in his voice and scrunch of his nose.

"Lunch," you answer flippantly.

"I meant what kind of lunch?" asks he, glancing surreptitiously at your "Meat is Murder" button.

"It's a casserole."

"What's in it?" he pursues.

"Broccoli, rice, tofu, tomat-..."

"Tofu! How could anyone eat that?!? I tried it once... It's disgusting!" He goes back to his chicken wings.

How many of us have experienced an exchange like this in the past? Although admittedly it is a tad exaggerated, those of us non-flesh-eaters who have at some point dined among the aggressively omnivorous have a similar story or two (or two hundred) to relate. It's not limited to tofu, though. There are many inquiries directed at us as animal rights oddities, and though some are sincere, some are designed to "expose" us as flakes or hypocrites. How do we know if a person has straightforward intentions? After years of chasing dead-end conversations, I developed a system questions that I ask myself before proceeding in a conversation:

1. Does the person seem to have a genuine question or interest? This entails that we use our common sense and our instincts; in other words, we deduce the answer from both physical and non-physical clues. Some things that you might want to ask yourself are: is the questioner maintaining eye contact? Does the possibility of a real response to her remark exist, or is she just trying to make you look bad? (For example, common sense dictates that anyone who yells "Get a life!" as they run in the opposite direction is not pursuing a real dialogue.) Does he roll his eyes, smirk or fidget nervously when you respond? Assess whether the questioner is sincere. If you've concluded that this is not the case, there is no need to proceed. If you want to respond at all, you might say something to the effect of, "I'm not sure if you're seriously interested in what I have to say. If I'm wrong, let me know; otherwise, I don't have the time to waste."

2. Is there time to adequately address the question? This requires more common sense than instinct: if a fellow student asks you why you're a vegetarian 30 seconds before class starts, do you have time to give the question your fullest attention? If someone asks you about the anti-circus button on your backpack just as you're stepping off the elevator, do you have the appropriate amount of time to detail the horrors of captivity, the chains and the bull-hooks before the door shuts? In the latter case, carrying pamphlets that address the questions your buttons provoke is a good idea; in the former case, saying something like, "Answering your question would take more than the minute that we have until class starts. Do you have time after class to talk?" There is an added bonus to this: if they refuse your information or your request to talk at a more appropriate time, it is likely that they were insincere in the first place.

3. Are you in an appropriate setting to address the question?

First, a short quiz : which is the best location to discuss factory farming issues?

A. In a crowded club with a loud band playing

B. In a big arena amidst a screaming throng of basketball fans

C. In a small, silent room surrounded by books and librarians who shush you constantly, or

D. In a coffee shop, with time to spare?

Answer: D. But you don't have to be in a coffee shop, you could be on an airplane, on a walk, or on your porch. The only thing that matters with this aspect of the criterion is that the setting doesn't conflict with the possibility of having a mutually fulfilling conversation. As in the above question, this is a good way to filter out people who lack a genuine interest; keep in mind that those with hidden agendas may try to grill us when the situation is not conducive to voicing a thoughtful response. I never said the inquisitors weren't passive-aggressive cretins from time to time.

The more you interact with people on the behalf of animals, the more you will feel confident in your ability to determine whether one's interest is honest or disingenuous; you can decide from there whether you desire to engage in a conversation or not. Personally, as I've learned more about whom I could influence and whom I couldn't, I feel like my energy is stronger, less depleted by having to respond to each and every inquiry. One problem with addressing every query regardless of the intention is that if it's insincere, you are not on a level playing field; in fact, you're not playing the same game at all. Another problem is that by treating a comment like, "Get a job," with earnestness adds credence to an otherwise thoughtless comment. Isn't it best to conserve our strength and focus on interactions with people that contain the possibility of success? If we do this, perhaps we won't have to spend the rest of our lives repeating, "But I do have a job, and, no, my shoes aren't leather and of course I care about starving children!" after all.

Repeat after me, "I will never say, 'I have a life' to a passing motorist again."

Let us all heave a collective sigh of relief. We are free.

Go on to Is Animal Abuse Under-Prosecuted In Your Area?
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