Suppose I asked you to write an online dating profile for yourself. And suppose I told you that you could only use one word to describe what you desire in a significant other. What quality would you first and foremost be looking for?
Mine would be: open-mindedness. It’s the quality that guarantees you can talk and have good conversations no matter what. It’s the quality that helps guarantee empathy, because you’re open to listen to everything and consider all kinds of things. It’s the quality that assures, in short, growth.
The opposite of being open-minded, is being dogmatic. Being dogmatic is basically the attitude of not questioning things. One is not necessarily dogmatic across the board, about all kind of topics imaginable, but one can definitely be dogmatic about certain topics.
If you are a vegan today, then chances are big that, like me, you spent quite a bit of your life accepting certain dogma concerning the consumption of animals. You were in a certain box. I call this box the box of carnism (Melanie Joy’s term).
Being inside the box of carnism – being subject to the ideology of carnism, made you accept all kinds of dogmatic ideas. Like the ideas that eating animal products is natural, normal and necessary.
Now, the thing is that I realized – only after many years of being vegan – that to a certain extent, I had ended up in another box. The vegan box.Just like I had been dogmatically accepting all kinds of beliefs before, I was doing the same now. I was thinking of veganism in the only way that one is allowed to think about it: honoring the decade-old definition. I would point out that as soon as one made one exception, one isn’t a vegan. I repeated the eternal mantra that it wasn’t about welfare but about rights (and I used welfare and welfarist as dirty words – when did they ever turn into that?). And so on…
So, a couple of years ago, I largely got out of that box. And I began questioning everything once more. I believe I am largely coming to the same conclusions as when I was in the vegan box, but here’s the thing. It is the very act of questioning that is important. It is that that will guard us against fundamentalism. It is that which will keep us open-minded. It is that that will keep us away from dogma. Dogma is what prevents us from improving.
And the need for questioning, for introspection, for self awareness is not over. It is possible that I will end up in yet another box. It could be called… the box of openmindedness, the anti-dogmatic box, the pragmatic box. We can make boxes, ideologies, out of everything.
One box is better than another, but it is better not to be in any box at all and to keep our thinking free.
You can check the presentation on open-mindedness, rationality, empathy and positivity that I recently gave at the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxemburg: