Hearing Them Out

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Hearing Them Out

From National Humane Education Society (NHES)
June 2009

Meet them where they stand

Most of us in humane education have been there. It’s a not a fun moment. In fact, it makes our stomachs turn a little bit. You’ve just finished showing a tough video about the tragic reality of pet overpopulation. Or, maybe you’ve clicked to the final power point slide about the cruelties of factory farming. You’re sure your audience will be as impassioned as you are by the injustices that happen to animals in our nation. But then it happens. Maybe it’s a joke. Or more likely, a sardonic comment. Someone in the crowd slyly says, “I hate cats.” or “Mmmm, I love bacon.”

No matter which direction each of us comes from in the animal rescue and advocacy field, most of us can agree that our audiences need opportunities to express their own beliefs, emotions, and philosophies in response to the information we share. Exploring their reactions is a vital part of cultivating humane and sustainable change.

With the urgency of animal suffering present in our minds, the difficulty of humane education is to provide this platform sincerely and to accept contradictory or seemingly uncaring points of view. It is tempting in these moments to desperately tell audiences you should, you must, or we have to care about animals or treat them with kindness. This may seem benign; after all, aren’t we simply trying to encourage people to do the right thing?

Yet, if we attempt to indoctrinate our positions regarding animals and their place in the world, we do a great disservice to both the animals and the audience. If we disregard the knowledge and experience our audience members bring us, then we lose them at the door. After all, guiding audiences through humane education lessons is entirely different than simply attempting to replace their animal treatment paradigm with our own.

So if you do work as a humane educator, take those seemingly negative or uncaring remarks—because they will happen—and try to make something positive out of them. Respond with a good measure of respect and interest in the audience’s views. Try to understand where people—especially children and teens—are coming from, what their home life might be like, and who their role models are. Simply talking with children and teens reaffirms for them that we care about their opinions and experiences, and they just might surprise us with how much they learn and take home from a lesson. Even when they appear uninterested or negative, they most likely will walk away from such a candid discussion having learned something new. Perhaps it’s an unplanned lesson about respectfully agreeing to disagree: a good start toward cultivating humane attitudes.

For more information, visit National Humane Education Society.

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