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
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
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!"
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
Go on to Is Animal
Abuse Under-Prosecuted In Your Area?
Return to 22 September 1999 Issue
Return to Newsletters
** Fair Use Notice**
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been
specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this
not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the
copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright
Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your
own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright