The suffering of a lion

Cecil the lion, the pride of the Zimbabwean plains, is no more. He was shot by someone who planned to make a rug out of his skin, and hang his head over a fireplace.

The tragic hero of this story is both charismatic and photogenic. But the villain too, is worthy of a Hollywood movie: Walter Palmer, a rich American dentist, was armed with a crossbow and attacked Cecil in the dark of night.dentist-lion

Cecil and Palmer are the stars of the ‘Oscar winning’ drama that is holding people entranced all over the world. The battle has already been fought, but now the dentist is on the run, and the hunter has become the hunted. The internet is ablaze with death threats against Palmer. But that’s nothing compared to what the future might hold in store for him. A whitehouse.gov petition for his extradition has been signed by more than 160,000 people. As Zimbabwean prisons don’t have a great reputation, I guess I don’t even blame Palmer for running…

Lions are big, charismatic, wonderful, creatures, but Cecil was not just a lion. In Zimbabwe, he was a celebrity among lions, a kind of a mascot. Cecil was part of a research project by Oxford University, and he carried a GPS, which the hunters unsuccessfully tried to destroy. And Cecil was killed illegally: he was baited away from an area where hunting was prohibited. And he’s a member of an endangered species.

These are all factors that increase our anger and indignation about this evil act. But these factors, even though aggravating, are hardly morally relevant. What really counts, in Cecil’s case, is not that he was famous, big and strong and beautiful, or that he was a lion. What counts is that he was a sentient being, a being capable of experiencing pleasure and pain.

After a shot from Palmer’s crossbow, which only wounded Cecil, the lion suffered for forty hours in hiding, before he was found and killed by the hunters. That’s where our attention should go to. If we think Cecil’s suffering and killing were not OK and believe that he didn’t deserve this, that no-one deserves this, then maybe, slowly but surely, we can start opening ourselves up to the suffering of so many other beings.

The only relevant trait, his sentience, is what Cecil has in common with billions of other beings, who don’t have names, but who can suffer like Cecil did. I am very happy that so many people are outraged about what happened to this lion. And I hope that their outrage and their compassion will spill over to other domains. Cecil was one animal. The other 600 lions that are killed every year can feel too, just like Cecil. The other poached animals are sentient like lions. And the 180 million chickens, pigs and cows that are killed for food every day, they too can feel.

It is this capacity for pleasure and pain, that connects people and animals. It is the quality that does not just connect people of different skin color, gender, sexual orientation or religion, but which also unites human and nonhuman animals. You can experience pleasure and pain whether you are white or black, man or woman, or have an opposable thumb, or manes, or a trunk, a tail or wings.

It will take some time, but one day, we will all realize that in this capacity for happiness and suffering, we are all very similar.

Cecil the lion and the steakholders

Every time there is general omnivore outrage over a case of animal abuse (we can call this “selective outrage”), a lot of vegans are angry. They’ll point the finger at these people who are horrified – for instance right now at what happened to Cecil the lion –  and sometimes seem actually very irritated with them.

cecil-and-lioness-brent-stapelkamp
My question is: would we prefer those people were not outraged at all over such horror? Given that mass outrage over what happens to pigs, chickens and cows is not exactly for today, would we prefer omnivores to be consistent and shut up about Cecil? I guess not.

Trust me, I’ve had my own (too long) phase in which I felt this “I’ll tell the hypocrites”-anger myself. But why would I tell people off like that? Because I thought it would be effective? I get it: we hope that 1. people will see the inconsistency when we point it out and 2. they will change their behavior to make it consistent with their most compassionate feelings. Sometimes it happens. More often it doesn’t. And anyway, I think when we do this, when we are angry and irritated and impatient, it has a lot to do with wanting to be right, with showing them, with all kinds of things which are very different from having impact.

I’m happy, personally, with the omnivore outrage against what happened to Cecil, inconsistent and absurd as it might be. It’s the beginning of something. It’s a seed of compassion that has taken root.

I’ve talked before about what I think is the main reason for people’s different reactions towards different cases of animal mistreatment. I’ll post this picture again (I did so before in this post), because I think it’s very important: the difference in reaction towards the matador vs. the butcher is mainly explained by the fact that people don’t have a stake in bullfighting (i.e. they are not participating), but they do have a stake in animal agriculture. With a pun, we can say it is the difference between being a steakholder or not.

butcher and toreador

I have just read the late Norm Phelps’ Changing the Game, a book on strategy for the animal rights and vegan movement which I highly recommend (I’ll refer again to it in later posts). Here, Norm basically says the same thing:

“People tend to be extremely resistant to moral criticism of things they are personally doing (…) The only way around this is usually to expand the bounds of their ethical awareness gradually, one step at a time. Thus, most people come to the animals’ cause by way of something that outrages their conscience that they are not doing themselves, like fur, vivisection, or dogfighting. As they become more committed, they make the move vegetarianism and veganism. The reason for this, of course, is that when people are not committing the offense themselves, they can follow their fundamental moral principles without triggering cognitive dissonance.”

So outrage over Cecil is a start. We would do good in watering the seeds of compassion we find in people. In the next post, I’ll show you how I tried to do that in a op-ed piece for a newspaper. I tried to appreciate people’s outrage, and make the connection by not alienating them. I welcome your thoughts. Let me know how you think I can make it better

Gary Francione vs. the Vegan Society

When I criticize Gary Francione, I do so mostly because he doesn’t cease to criticize almost every other animal rights organisation or individual imaginable. I am not keen on giving the man and his writings extra attention, but I just feel that at least some people have to speak out against him, and have to speak up for the organisations and the individuals he attacks. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

The day I wrote this, in a matter of hours, Francione had been criticizing on his Facebook page, in order of appearance: the Vegan Society, DxE, Farm Sanctuary, and Mercy For Animals. One imagines our professor writing himself into a frenzy, foaming at the mouth, and forever encouraged by his followers, who cheer him on with every word he writes (the comments are where it gets really ugly).

Let’s take a look at the bones Francione has to pick with the Vegan Society – a favorite target of his during the past few years. Francione is especially unimpressed with some of the Vegan Society’s Ambassadors. Having taken more than one swing at Fiona Oakes (a vegan ultramarathon runner and farm sanctuary owner) for saying that a vegan diet is not for everyone, he now does the same with another Ambassador, the comedian Sara Pascoe*. Francione criticizes Pascoe for a number of things (you can read it on his blog – which I reluctantly link to here – if you must). As evidence, he links to an essay by Pascoe).

vegan society

Pascoe, like Oakes, says veganism is not a lifestyle she would recommend for everyone. Francione is horrified at that. Let me first say that I very well understand that it makes many vegans, including myself, cringe a little bit when they hear something like that. A vegan diet, of course, can be – should be – for everyone. And it will be, one day, I’m sure of that.

Maybe both Oakes’ and Pascoe’s line were not ideal (they certainly go against vegan orthodoxy), but, just to give you another view on this: I for one, can imagine that a phrase like that could be read as a tongue in cheek challenge, actually motivating people (“I am one who can do it”) instead of turning them off.

Francione focuses on some other statements by Pascoe. One is about her “not being against eating animals or farming in theory” – which I personally wouldn’t say, but which only vegans will get worked up about. To most non-vegans, this will probably sound more reasonable than saying you want the abolition of all animal farming. It’s a matter of speaking one’s truth versus being effective, maybe (Francione consistently goes for the former). Francione’s comment on Pascoe saying she doesn’t know “how conscious animals are” seems unfair, because she is talking about pain being even worse if there is less awareness of why it is happening – which may be the case for some non-human animals.

Apart from the content of Pascoe’s statements: an organisation such as the Vegan Society will choose its Ambassadors for their outreach potential and their connecting ability. It is probably hard enough to find capable vegan Ambassadors as it is. To expect that they are always entirely speaking according to the party line, may be expecting too much. Moreover, Francione is digging in Pascoe’s past before she became a Vegan Society Ambassador. It’s not unlike what political rivals do to each other, trying to find compromising quotes and behavior in another’s past.

Lastly, as usual, I find Francione’s criticisms unnecessarily nasty. The Vegan Society is an organisation full of committed people, working for the animals like the rest of us. To say that they are “trashing veganism”, or that the society has become “nothing but a joke”, or that it is “rotten from the top down”, is well… just plain nasty.

Francione ends his diatribe by saying that Donald Watson (founder of the Vegan Society and the one who, together with his wife Dorothy, coined the word “vegan”), “must be spinning in his grave.”

You mean, the Donald Watson of the original Vegan Society, who in 1951 agreed to put this wording into their articles of association?

“An Associate makes no promise as to behaviour but declares himself in agreement with the object. The door is thus widely opened, and the Society welcomes all who feel able to support it.”
(as quoted in Are you vegan enough?)

I can certainly imagine that the communication of Fiona Oakes and Sara Pascoe can be improved upon. But so can all of ours. I don’t see why anyone needs to make a fuss out of this like Francione does, and actually tries to influence his “followers” not to renew their Vegan Society memberships. Deplorable.

The big irony though, is that the essay by Sara Pascoe is, in my humble opinion, so much more helpful, convincing and appealing than anything Francione himself has ever written (that I’m aware of, I obviously don’t read everything). While Francione can see only black and white (the only morally defensible position, according to him, undoubtedly), Pascoe shows more understanding of people’s psychology by giving them permission to slip up occasionally, or have breaks, and not be too hard on themselves. She isn’t patronizing, which cannot be said of Francione, and which is for most people definitively a turn off.

Much ado about nothing, as usual, from Gary Francione.

Not our anger, but our love

“If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.” Ever heard that saying? It implies that being angry is a necessary consequence of being a conscious citizen, who is well aware of the horrors happening in the world – in our case, to animals. In this article anger stands for anger that is actually expressed. We can’t be faulted for feelings as such, even though we can learn to control them.

There is certainly a lot of anger in our movement. We are angry with the people who do horrible things to animals, both in our own and other cultures, in slaughterhouses, circuses, on farms… We’re angry with people making a profit on animal products in restaurants and supermarkets. We’re angry with politicians not taking a stand. And especially lately, we seem also angry with people on our own side of the fence: other vegans, people with different opinions or strategies, celebrity would-be vegans, people taking baby steps…

Sometimes it feels to me that in our (or probably any) movement, anger is somehow put on a pedestal. Anger is seen as a sign of one’s commitment to our cause. Anger is thought of as giving us energy and passion. Anger is believed to be a driving force that keeps us going on and on and on.

Conversely, activists who are positive, open, tolerant, forgiving, understanding… in short: not angry, are sometimes seen (it is my impression) with a bit of distrust. It seems almost perverse to greet all that horror with niceness. Here is something somebody sent me, and which felt very familiar to me:

“I found that I thought that holding on to anger and grief made me a more steady “vegan for life” vegan. And I feared that the happy vegans were mostly just hopping onto this hype-train and would soon return to being an omnivore again.”

I’m usually an almost naively optimistic and irritatingly positive individual. I have faith in the human race, I can see advantages in the most terrible things and I can muster at least some understanding for things that most people won’t even want to hear about. But now and then, I’m angry. About so much suffering, injustice, indifference and stupidity. I do understand how people in our movement can resort to less peaceful behavior. Because the horror of what happens – what we are doing, as a species – to non human animals is so incredibly big, that we feel there is no other option. So yes, I definitely can feel anger, at times.
anger

The problem is that I think this anger doesn’t help me much. On the contrary, I think it actually harms me and the cause I fight for. When I get angry, I tend to resort to judgments, accusations, and black and white or us-versus-them thinking. My thoughts become less rational, I’m more prone to exaggerate things. So when I’m angry, I become less convincing. What’s more, as a movement we’re just not numerous enough for our anger to make much sense. Even if all the people in our movement were outraged, there would never be enough rage to change things, right now. Being angry all the time, moreover, is not sustainable. Rather than motivating you, it will burn you out.

The other option is to try to understand others. We have to understand them, in order to help them open their hearts and minds. It is, I think, our only sustainable option. Cliché as it may sound, we need patience, compassion, empathy… not just for the animals, but also for the people who are abusing animals.  Indignation is worthwile. It is good to not accept certain things (a lot of things, in this world). But we don’t necessarily need to be angry. We can hate the sin but love the sinner, so to speak.

What I’m suggesting is that on top of being able to stand all these atrocities, we now also try to be kind – or at least not be to hateful – to the perpetrators. I know that is a tall order.

I have noticed that there is a part of me that finds being angry somehow devilishly attractive. Isn’t there some slightly fun aspect to fighting, to gossiping, to being against, to focus on a bad guy (or bad girl)? It is as if we (or some of us) need an enemy, need someone to be against. Maybe that’s why it’s difficult to try to see animal abusers not as enemies, but as people with their own problems. People who, maybe, we need to help and try to understand, rather than condemn and punish.

It’s good, I think, to be aware of that. It’s also good to be aware of the fact that in every single one of us (except for the saints reading along) there is a lot of room for improvement. In many ways, we are all part of the same group. The group of people who can use improvement. This is about lifting the whole of humanity, including ourselves, up to another level of compassion.

If we need to let off steam, now and then, we might do it in the privacy of a closed Facebook group, in the gym, or with like minded friends. But outwardly, it would be great if we could be a shining example of compassion, helping people, showing them the alternatives, reaching out our hand. We can say a thousand times that going vegan is not difficult, and that is a moral duty, but we’ll jump further if we show some understanding.One day, we will have opened enough people’s hearts and minds and we’ll be beyond the point of no return. What will bring that day closer, is not our anger, but our love.

PS: let me assure you I don’t always manage to practise what I preach. Sometimes you teach well what you are most needing to learn, maybe.

How to veganize the world in 30 years

How to veganize the world in 30 years is the working title of the book I’m writing on animal rights/vegan strategy and communication. It will be the result of 15 years of campaigning and thinking about these issues, most of them as cofounder and director of the Belgian vegetarian/vegan organisation EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative), which I have recently left. I’ll describe my theory for achieving vegan critical mass in detail, and will devote several chapters to all the implications. Keywords of my approach are “radically pragmatic”, strategic, open minded, rational and practical. Everything I write and say is about achieving maximum impact. Ideology plays second fiddle.

if-theres-a-book-that-you-want-to-read-toni-morrison

My approach is basically also “friendly“. It is non-judgmental, open and tolerant. People in our movement who want to be friendly and pragmatic, often seem to get accused of being lame, of compromising, of selling out, of being only interested in food and not in ideology. Or maybe they are not angry enough to really really care. So I think that it is important that a friendly and pragmatic approach has  arguments behind it for why it works. Writing a foundation for a friendly and pragmatic approach to spreading veganism and animal rights is what I set out to do with my book.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to say that I’m thankful for all the comments and discussions on and about my blogposts, both here and on Facebook, because they help me refine and improve my views. So keep your comments and questions coming, critical or not.

If you like what you read on this blog, sharing the posts helps, of course.

Slavery free Mondays

I feel compelled to write once again on how campaigns like “Meatfree Mondays” are compared to “slavery-free Mondays” or “child abuse-free Wednesdays,” putting part-time vegans/vegetarians in the same camp as part-time slave holders or part-time child abusers.

This comparison may sound justified for just a fraction of a second, if you don’t think about it too much. At first sight, it seems quite in line with our antispeciesist stance, and it is something that might cause committed activists, especially young ones, to easily shout “Yeah! Right on!” The argument is that anything less than a demand to go vegan is speciesist, because we wouldn’t ask for anything less than total abolition of a crime with similar issues that involve humans.

But I think the comparison doesn’t hold water at all. More importantly, it’s ineffective.

First of all, as I wrote in “on comparing animal rights with other social justice issues“, public support for these different issues varies immensely – child abuse or slavery are things which the vast majority of people disapproves of (let’s conservatively say over 95 % of the western world, and somewhat less globally), while eating animals is actually celebrated by about the same proportion of the population. Issues with such dramatically different public support require different strategies, no matter what you think your truth might be.

Secondly, even those who make the “slavery free Mondays” argument do not act the same way when confronted with instances of animal abuse and instances of human abuse. Nobody does that. If we really believed that today, in this society, we should see eating meat in exactly the same light as beating a child or having slaves, the implications would be enormous. It would mean not going to any supermarket – because you wouldn’t support any store where slaves are sold or any establishment that owned slaves. It would mean actively boycotting your local, regional or national government – because you would oppose a pro-slavery government. It would mean trying to stop people from buying or eating animal products, always and everywhere, because that’s what you would do you if you saw someone buying a slave or beating a child today.*

truth vs result

Think also about the effect you are having on the average person when you tell them that eating meat only three days a week is like hitting your child only three days a week. If you think that’s credible or effective, I’d suggest you talk to some of the people you say this to, either in real life or on Facebook, and get their opinions on the matter. If you don’t care that people can’t take your truth and are turned off, then maybe it’s a good time to check what is most important to you: saying your truth, or actually changing things for animals? The two don’t necessarily coincide.

Finally, remember that the general downward trend in meat reduction in western countries and the increase in vegan options is mainly driven by… those “part time slavery supporters” and “part time child abusers” (read more on that here).

* For the sake of the argument, I’m making an abstraction of the fact that supermarkets and restaurants may carry or use products that are the modern day equivalent of slave trade products. Some chocolate is a case in point.

The vegan handicap & the art of vegan conversation

If you’re vegan or vegetarian: you may have experienced it more than once: you are at the dinner table with other people, and the conversation turns to not eating meat. Some people at the table may be able to have a rational conversation about this, but others get a bit (or quite) angry, defensive, or sometimes downright nasty.

For some of your table partners to turn defensive, you probably actually didn’t even have to start to talk. Your mere presence as someone who doesn’t eat meat/animal products, is enough to make them uncomfortable. And this discomfort may impact the whole ensuing discussion. This is what I call the vegan handicap.uncomfortable (1)

My guess (and I think it’s a pretty reasonable one), is that at the basis of the discomfort lies guilt. Most people in their right mind will know there’s something wrong with what’s on their plate. They may believe that it is ok to kill animals for food, but most of them also believe that when we choose to do that, we should give the animals “a good life” and make sure they “don’t suffer” (whatever those words mean to us). They believe there exists something like “humane meat” and that there is no problem with that. At the same time, however, most of them are buying meat from just any source: at the supermarket, in restaurants, in the cafetaria at their work… They are quite aware that they could at least get meat in organic stores, which they might think meets their criteria for “humaneness”, but almost none of them do that. Apart from all this, there may be a voice inside them that tells them that killing animals for food is unfair.

So the people at your table, looking at you, feel guilty – at a conscious or less conscious level – about the discrepancy between what’s on their plate and what they believe they should do. You confront them with that guilt, and they get defensive. They get the feeling that you are or are going to attack them, while your opinion merely represents that dissenting opinion within themselves: that gnawing little voice inside them, that they actually don’t want to hear.

It is very important to be aware of this dynamic. Assuming this attitude of guilt and defensiveness is not a good basis to work on, I suggest that the vegan at the table needs to go a certain extra length to put the omnivore at ease, and not put oil on the fire. All of this means that things you say may sound accusing and guilt-inducing much easier and faster than you expect or intended. It means that – pardon the expression – you should walk on eggshells.

There’s a lot of points you can give attention to in order to put others at ease and make the conversation go better. Here are some of them: behave very pleasantly, have a sense of humor, make it clear that you’re not accusing them, avoid charged words like “murder”, talk in terms of “we/society” and not “you”, explain how you have eaten meat yourself before (and how it possibly took you a while to see things clearly). Avoid sounding holier-than-thou. Don’t tell them things like they are complicit in humanity’s biggest crime ever (even though you may believe they are).  Admit that you are not perfect and that you don’t have the answer to everything. Above all, don’t talk all the time but listen and ask smart questions.
I would summarize this as: be nice. Being nice not just makes the world a better place for everyone (so I’m not talking about faking stuff), but it is crucial if you want to be effective at helping animals. 

This whole attitude of yours is, in my view, a lot more important than the content of the actual arguments you will bring to the table. Your conversation is first of all about the relation between you and the others, not about the content. When you have established a good relationship, when there is the trust that you are not accusing or attacking the other, then you can give more attention to the arguments themselves.

Vegan conversation is an art that we all need to master.

Our language should include, not exclude others

The idea that as a movement we should be open to people who do not share our vegan/animal rights views, is extremely logical. We want others to join us, so we need to be inclusive, not exclusive. We should, I think, do everything to avoid the “us versus them” rethoric that slips all too easily into our language and attitude. And we should try to make everything that we do attractive to outsiders.

Here I think is a case in point where we could do better:

I heard this cookbook contains great recipes, I like the cover and the main title, so it is by no means my intention to put this book down. I am just bringing it up to illustrate a point. What I obviously have a bit of a problem with is the subtitle: “recipes for the new ethical vegan“.

The authors or publishers may have their reasons to choose this phrasing (UPDATE: see comment of coauthor Josh Hooten in the comment section). Maybe they are intentionally targetting a very specific audience and think that with this title they will appeal more to “new ethical vegans”. I think, however, that words like these exclude people. Surely, the recipes in the book are suitable for non-vegans, or “non-ethical” vegans (whatever that may mean) too? Omnivores don’t feel part of the vegan club (yet), so they don’t feel they are being addressed with a subtitle like this. The words exclude them, while they should include them.

A title like that also confirms something what many omnivores still consciously or subconsciously feel: that vegan recipes and vegan meals and vegan products are… for vegans. While more and more people are realizing that (almost) everyone can eat a vegan dish, there are still many who are thinking: I’m not ordering this vegan option because I’m not a vegan. It may be similar to me not ordering a glutenfree option because I have no affiliation with the glutenfree thing.

I find that “vegan” as an adjective is much more useful than as a noun (“a vegan”, “vegans”, “veganism”). The nouns are black and white, binary concepts, while “vegan meals”, “vegan recipes” are things everyone can participate in whenever they want. Many people may not be interested in becoming vegan right away, but they might be interested in trying out vegan meals. If we want to attract, non-binary words and thinking are probably much more efficient.

I also dislike the term “ethical vegan” in general. It may be nice to call ourselves ethical vegans, or we may think that it’s good to show that we are vegans for the animals and not for health reasons, but again this confirms some prejudices: that vegans have a holier-than-thou attitude, a certain self-righteousness over them, which will probably deter many people.

Let our language show people that our doors are wide open.

On criticizing other activists and organisations

It is true that different people or audiences will be touched by different things, and that hence we do need different approaches. Yet this is no excuse not to try to find out which approaches are better than others. Not all strategies, actions, communication styles… are equally effective. Also, because some approaches or actions may theoretically have a net negative effect for the animals (turning more people off than on, for instance), it should be totally okay to discuss strategies and look for the best ones. We have, as a movement, limited resources, and if we want to be effective for the animals, we need to do our best to find out what works well and what works less well. We should then invest most of our efforts in what works well.

thumbs-up-thumbs-down

That being said, when we discuss strategies, actions etc, I think it is good to keep some things in mind, so that when we talk about other people or groups, we are being constructive, even when we are critical. Here are some of the things that I think are important when discussing and criticizing each other’s work (note: I am not claiming I always stick to these principles – sometimes I get carried away).

Be aware that there are real people behind whatever you are criticizing
No matter how much you hate a certain opinion, campaign or whatever… the people behind it are probably well meaning individuals whose main concern is helping the animals. Even if that’s not always true, it is probably better to assume it is. People can be hurt. Especially criticism from people who are on your side of the fence (working also to save animals) can be painful. I am sure criticism can contribute to burnout, and we definitely don’t want people to burn out and leave the movement.

Be a slow opinionist
I’m in favor of slow opinion. It means trying to be thorough before you come to a conclusion. It means being aware of the fact that you never have all the information and that you don’t know everything. It means being aware of the fact that you may have (indeed probably have) some blind spots. Slow opinion also means that you can have no opinion on something for a while, or even forever. Slow opinion obviously also means that you do your research and read and try to get to know the other person’s or organisation’s stance before you criticize them. You may want to ask about it in private first. Slow opinion means that questions are better than statements.

Think twice before criticizing organizations
Animal rights organizations get a lot of flack especially from the “grassroots” part of our movement. Organizations should definitely be examined critically, but don’t be too fast. It’s always good to realize that organizations might have different concerns than individuals: they need to keep more stakeholders in mind, they need to be concerned (yes, they do) about their public image, about relationships with all kinds of partners including businesses, other NGOs and governments. Know that your information on why they do what they do may still be incomplete. Maybe they can’t communicate everything they believe or know, for strategic reasons.

Be civil
Being civil is not just a matter of being respectful to people, but also of being effective. Whatever is not voiced in a calm, polite, reasonable way has a lot more chance of falling on deaf ears. That’s not productive. It’s a waste of time. Being civil helps us make progress faster.
Being civil also includes being honest. Don’t say things that you know are not true, don’t change words, make stuff up or exaggerate things.

Be aware of the medium you are using
If you write on social media (which most of us do nowadays) be aware of the limits of the medium. Watch out for your own biases, prejudices, projections etc. that might influence the way you read what other people write. Often they are not as angry or mean as you are imagining. It’s always a good idea to take a few deep breaths, or wait a while before you respond to a post on social media.

Don’t be afraid of changing your opinion or position
It’s ok to change your view as you are thinking things through or new information becomes available to you. Don’t be stubborn. It’s not about being right, it’s about finding out what works. Don’t be afraid to admit when you were wrong.

Only criticize in public when it has added value
Real criticism is best done in private. It is not automatically wrong to express critical views in public, but be aware of the risks. You might be helping the spreading of rumors or things that are simply not true.

Keep in mind that criticism often just does not work
In his timeless classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie warns us to be very careful with criticism. Let’s finish with a quote by him:

“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Any other points? Let me know…

Disruption done right?

Disruption is all the vogue today. Silicon valley and other startup companies are disrupting any industry imaginable. It also happens in the food business. Hampton Creek is disrupting the egg industry, for instance, with their egg replacing products.

DXE (Direct Action Everywhere) and other animal rights “subdivisions” are into “disrupting speciesism”. They literally disrupt people shopping or eating. There’s many videos on youtube of them doing that. I’ll write about DXE some other time, but I just wanted to say one thing about disruptive protests.

While I admire the courage and commitment of the protesters, I see a lot of anger in most of those protests. I get it, of course. People who care about what happens to animals have every reason to be angry (and sad, and frustrated). The question is how effective anger really is. Personally I don’t like to see angry people. Anger, no matter how understandable, in my view is almost the opposite of hope, the opposite of trying to reach an understanding. It increases the gap between “us” and “them”. If we are angry with people, we make the wall between us and them higher and thicker. It is especially problematic when we are angry about something that the people we want to reach are actively engaging in. If we are angry about eating or buying meat, it is not easy to reach meat shoppers and meat eaters with an angry message.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea of disruption itself, but I wonder if it could be done in a more positive and more effective wayWhat if DXE could find a way to disrupt without coming across as angry and accusing? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Today I found this example of another disruption. It was done in Brussels, during talks about the TTIP trade agreements that many people are concerned about:

Look at the video. The disruptors don’t sound angry, or at least not in a negative way. Their singing (of what I personally think is a wonderful song from Les Misérables) is defiant, proud, and strong, but not angry or negative. I think this is disruption done right. This motivates me, these people make me want to join them. If I were among the audience, I would be attentive. Maybe it’s personal, but positivism, for me, inspires more confidence than anger.