Thursday, September 06, 2007

Be Nice

I had the pleasure of hearing Bruce Friedrich of PETA speak at the Taking Action for Animals Conference I attended at the end of July. Friedrich is the Vice President of International Grassroots Campaigns for PETA; he knows a thing or two about being in your face, being aggressive and most important, he knows how to influence people. Friedrich’s talk was about how to deal with people. His message: Be nice. This is Bruce Friedrich, a Vice President of PETA, the in your face, fanatical, communist, pinko, liberal organization. And here is their VP saying “Be nice.” What could his explanation for this credo be? To illustrate his point, Friedrich includes in his PowerPoint presentation a photograph of a shaggy, long-haired, bearded, grizzled man. He points at the picture and says something to the effect of “Nobody wants to listen to this guy. Nobody cares what he has to say.” He then informs the crowd that the man in the picture was him 15 years earlier. He learned that by looking like a member of the Young Republicans club rather than someone fresh off the commune, people were more inclined to listen to him. How does this kind of philosophy affect daily interactions?

Most vegans have had a similar experience:

When at a family function, barbeque, or any other mass meeting where dead animal is served, you are sitting at the table eating salad and tortilla chips, when someone offers you a charred cow rib, turkey leg, or chicken wing. You politely refuse, but your acquaintance persists—he has an indelible need to know why you will not partake of meat. You say, “I don’t eat meat.” This should be sufficient, but undoubtedly there are numerous follow-up questions: Really? What do you do for protein? But you eat fish, right?

Sometimes, people become belligerent, defensive, or just downright nasty. “Oh, so you’re saying I’m a bad person?! Do you think I’m going to Hell?” It is at this instance, when the carnivore leans over the table to yell at you, that the message of Bruce Friedrich should resonate most strongly.

If you yell back, then the 20 people in the lunchroom will think that the vegan is as crazy as the carnivore. They will come away from lunch confirming their stereotype that vegans are loud, obnoxious, and accusatory.

The point of his message is that being a vegan is not about you. It’s not about being an outsider and pissing people off. It’s about the animals. If you are a vegan for the right reasons, it’s about the suffering. The constant, round the clock, lifelong suffering of animals. And this is why you should suck it up, shave the beard, cut the hair, and buy a suit. It is why you should not yell back at the offensive carnivore. Even if you are correct to want to yell, and you feel that your image is taking a beating, the veal calf does not care about your ego. For that matter, neither does the chicken in the battery cage, or the sow in the gestation crate. And I can personally guarantee that the goose, if he were informed of your verbal assault, would not be thinking about your hurt feelings during his forced feeding. It’s not about you. Whatever kind of verbal abuse you have to take, it’s nothing compared to the suffering animals endure. And if you retaliate in kind, then you may lose the respect of many onlookers, thereby negating any chance of them taking your arguments seriously.

For some people, you may be the only vegan they will every meet. And if you answer an innocent question rudely because you’ve been asked it 1,000 times, then that person comes away thinking that all vegans are rude. This is not fair, but it is true.

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