Our Choices Impact Animals: The Dynamics of Choice
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FROM April Lang, LCWS, SEP, Psych Central Exporing Veganism
May 2019

The first step in this process is to ask ourselves, “are my choices an accurate reflection of who I am?”

In addition to being a therapist, I’m a humane educator, encouraging people to think about the world’s animals in ways they might not have considered before. This new blog, aptly named, Exploring Veganism, will hopefully do the same thing. My fellow blog contributors and I also want to help those of you who are not vegan gain a deeper understanding of what motivates and triggers the vegans in your life as well as what factors led them to go down that path.

Veganism is definitely gaining traction in the world but the majority of people still consider non-human animals (henceforth referred to as, “animals”) to be expendable objects not worthy of consideration. This blog post will look at some of the reasons why this attitude still prevails across large swaths of society and in the process, offer up the possibility that this view of animals, and consequently the choices we make that impact them, might not align with our conception of ourselves.

Just a personal choice?

It’s not unusual for non-vegans to bristle at the suggestion that they adopt a vegan lifestyle because it represents the most humane way of interacting with the planet and all its inhabitants. “Becoming vegan is a personal choice” is a common response and one, which is both puzzling and triggering to many who have adopted a vegan lifestyle. They can’t fathom how the people they love and respect and who demonstrate remarkable compassion in so many other areas of their lives, could have such a cavalier attitude towards animals.

All choices are not equal

Each and every day all of us are making lots of choices. Many of these choices are simple and benign like whether to watch a comedy or documentary, or whether to hang out with friends or finish the book we’ve been reading. Minimal thought is required when making these kinds of decisions because the impact on others will be negligible. But there are other daily decisions that do deeply affect others, even if those effects aren’t clearly discernable. Many of those decisions concern animals.

Mindful or Mindless choosing

How much deliberation goes into choosing sausage for breakfast? Do thoughts about pigs’ lives and deaths ever enter our consciousness? Are we mulling over the fact it takes approximately 60 minks to make a coat, before buying one? Circus time! How many of us first research the training protocols used on the elephants and tigers who will be entertaining our kids? Seldom do we ponder the implications of our choices where animals are concerned.

This is not surprising because historically, their lives never did merit much attention. That is slowly beginning to change and people are becoming more curious about animals’ lives. The result of that curiosity is that we are now more cognizant of the intelligence and emotional capacity of these sentient beings. Still, this newfound awareness and knowledge has not yet fully transformed our relationships with the worlds’ animals. The reasons for this are varied.

Driving our views and choices

  • We are influenced by family and peer groups that show disinterest in the lives of animals
  • Society sanctions animal exploitation, e.g., our agricultural system, medical and industrial research, sports, entertainment, apparel
  • We derive pleasure from what animals provide, e.g., we enjoy the taste of the sausage, the perceived glamour of wearing the mink coat, and the joy on our kids’ faces when they see wild animals doing tricks
  • We assume change will be taxing, so we don’t bother to make an effort to alter our ways
  • We don’t want to be the odd person out – we’d rather fit in with our family and friends

As we can see, family, friends, and society definitely influence how we view and treat animals. However, we mustn’t ignore the role of our minds’ powerful defense mechanisms which are pretty adept at reconciling opposing parts of ourselves.

Defense Mechanisms at work

  1. Denial – neither I nor anyone I know have seen any animal abuse so it’s not happening; if animals are being harmed it can’t possibly be as bad as they say or happening as often as reported; the people disclosing this abuse must have an agenda
  2. Suppression – don’t think or read about animal exploitation; refuse to discuss the subject if it’s brought up, avoid places where it might be witnessed
  3. Compartmentalizing – consign one value to those for whom we have empathy and another to those for whom we have little or none
  4. Justification –we’re in the majority: if most people don’t’ regard animals as worthy of consideration, then they must not be

Are we our choices?

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all make choices that satisfy our desires. However, if we were to become more thoughtful when making decisions, it’s possible that what we normally crave might begin to feel less desirable and less in-line with who we really are. The first step in this process is to ask ourselves, “are my choices an accurate reflection of who I am?”

April Lang, LCSW, SEP is a psychotherapist based in New York City and has been in private practice for twenty years. Part of her practice is devoted to working with ethical vegans and animal advocates, as well as people who are suffering from the loss of their animal family members. She is also an animal advocate, humane educator, and writer. You can learn more about her by visiting HER WEBSITE.

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