Vegans, let’s talk about our anger. 

Most of us vegans are pretty angry and upset at what’s happening to animals, and we have good reasons to be. We have reason to be angry at the indifference that most people display towards the billions of creatures that suffer at human hands. We especially have reason to be angry because we believe that most people by now should know better.

You might say about anger that it’s a positive, constructive, mobilizing emotion, an emotion that can get people to take to the streets, organize protests and dissent, and consequently, Change.

I’m agnostic about whether feeling angry is a good or a bad thing, or an essential part of a social movement, though my sense is that it’s definitely bad for a person to feel angry all the time. But what I want to talk most about here is expressing or showing this anger. Because, even if anger can help us get going and get organized, I believe acting in an angry way towards people, showing our anger, is probably not a good thing in most cases.

So when I feel anger myself (and I do sometimes), I try to transform it into something productive. And I try not to come across as angry. I try to not blame and criticize and guilt-trip people. I basically try – I don’t always succeed – to be nice to everyone, even if I think they are participating in or doing things that are, at bottom, pretty horrible. What helps me is realizing that, even though I may boycott animal products myself, I am not without sin. And therefore I feel wary of casting stones and being angry at others’ behavior.

Yet around me, I do see so much anger being expressed, in the vegan and in other social justice movements. It is very visible anger, and I think it is anger that alienates, anger that closes hearts rather than opening them.

And I see vegans not just being angry at non-vegans, but also at fellow vegans and animal advocates. Maybe those vegans are angry because they believe other vegans are not angry enough. In the eyes of the angry vegans, the nice vegans are pussy-footing their way around the sensitivities of those who eat animal products. The angry vegans would rather, from a place of passion and emotion, serve meat-eaters the truth, straight up. And they get impatient with advocates who don’t, and who suggest that we are a bit more considerate with omnivores, not just out of compassion, but also because of effectiveness.

I also see many vegans being angry with fellow advocates because they’re not heeding all the issues that they themselves find so important. Some angry vegans will not stop being outraged at how other advocates’ communication is, in their eyes, sexist, racist, classist, ableist, consumerist, or even speciesist. The angry vegans think that the others don’t get the interconnectedness, don’t get how all things are related, and are sacrificing one social justice cause for another. Maybe the angry vegans think their fellow vegans are not abolitionist, not intersectionalist, not anti-system enough. And maybe they’re right; most if not all of us still have blind spots (oops, an ableist term) for some or many of the issues that are important.

But here’s the thing, if we want to, we will always be able to find reasons to be angry. We can become addicted to outrage. I suggest that in the case of people who seem to be constantly finding reasons to be angry, their anger has more to do with themselves than with the righteousness of the cause they are fighting for. It’s probably not a very good idea to use advocacy as an outlet for your anger. Then, veganism, or feminism, or any other social justice movement just becomes… angry-ism.

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For myself, I know that anger doesn’t give me peace of mind. I’m not really enjoying myself or my day when I’m angry. I also don’t feel I’m getting better results when I’m angry. And I know that when I see an angry person or meet them online, I will do my best to avoid them, make a detour not to bump into them (or even block them online). I don’t find them entertaining, I don’t find them credible, and I don’t listen to them more than I listen to a person who manages to be nice and calm (and who could be equally passionate about their cause).

By speaking out against expressing anger all the time, I am by no means advocating that we just be silent, sitting in our room, careful not to step on anyone’s toes. I suggest we be out there, making a difference in the things that matter to us and to others. But we can do that, I think, with less anger, and more understanding. We can choose to trust people. Trust that they will see what is the most compassionate thing to do, some day – maybe not right away. We can see others as potential allies rather than opponents, or even traitors.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all in the business of selling something – our message of compassion – and I don’t think a car salesperson ever sold a car being angry at their customers.

Maybe there will come a time when massively showing our anger will be a productive thing to do. That will be when there are enough of us to make a difference that way. That time is, I think, not yet here. Right now is the time to turn our anger into a productive way of interacting with others, so that, rather than making them turn away even more,  we can open their hearts and minds.

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.

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.

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.