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.

8 thoughts on “Not our anger, but our love

  1. This is another great post. Thanks, Tobias.
    If I could comment on this:
    “Conversely, activists who are positive, open, tolerant, forgiving, understanding… in short: not angry…”

    I’ve found that having those positive attributes doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t angry.

    I try my best to be “positive, open, tolerant, forgiving, understanding”, but I still feel angry a huge amount of the time at “so much suffering, injustice, indifference and stupidity” I see in the world. But over the years I’ve seen that how I choose to express my anger and other emotions will have positive, or conversely, negative, results for the animals.

    A lot of times I feel like I’m “faking it” by trying to be all those nice things, but I’ve found that’s the better option if I want to see results that help (and not hurt) the animals. Nobody is ever going to become a vegan because my anger was lashed out on them. But maybe if I’m kind and supportive, even if I have to fake it, they’ll be more likely to one day become vegan. At the very least, I won’t be responsible for potentially having deterred them from ever going there.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that you don’t have to be anger-free in order to also be “positive, open, tolerant, forgiving, understanding”. 🙂

    1. Very good points, Christine. I do think that if you are passionate about something that is unjust, then to feel anger is natural and almost unavoidable – but, as you say, the key thing is how you channel that anger into something positive, as opposed to an out and out rant.

  2. Although I do understand your point (I’ve seen dozens of angry activists that enstranged their public instead of getting some understanding), I’m wondering whether you’re not putting up the same fight as we all blame Francione for: charging parts of the movement, (in this case a rather small part: although the screamers gain loads of attention, I don’t know any personally, while I do know quite a few veg*ns) and believing the way we (‘I’) do it is to be preferred. I don’t think anger is preferred, although indignation (which I believe is often meant by ‘anger’) definitely is. It is because of this indignation that many people put efford in remaining veg*n, even though the general public remains rather negative on the subject. Still, yes, I do get angry at times, which I loosen in sarcasm – so yes, people will notice. And I’m very sure that it is in those moments that people really get to understand what it feels to me, all the animal abuse – which, in my opinion, is very important. What I read here, and what I often see in your posts, is a wish for complete removal of outspoken anger within the whole movement. What would remain then: Jehova-activists? The calm arrogance of conservative Israelites? I think, in all their calmness, they also kind of lose a general public, right due to the complete absense of genuine emotions. No, I will not be angry often, but neither will I be nice all the time. If others believe that makes me less effective, then so be it – I’m absolutely not of the same opinion.

    1. hi stein, first of all, i didn’t have any specific group on mind, i think there is anger in most of us, not just in screaming people 🙂
      What i read in your reply and in others’ confirms in my view that we put too much value in anger. Like i wrote, indignation, not being satisfied with a situation, is not just ok, it’s necessary.
      Maybe the terms i used are confusing. maybe i should talk about rage rather than anger, i don’t know.

  3. thanks for your feedback. what you say comes close (i think) to others who have commented that it’s not about anger, but the expression of anger, maybe?
    Maybe what i’m talking about is more “hate”, but that is such a loaded and judgmental term that i didn’t want to use it.
    Would you say in your comment you could replace anger with indignation?

    1. I would say that anger is like a basic emotion, and indignation is an expression of anger. I agree 100% with the idea that it’s not about the anger, but the expression of it. I can no more rid myself of my anger than I can of my sadness, but what I do have control over is how I will choose to express those emotions, like showing indignation, for example.

      I personally kind of see it like this…if anger provides indignation, passion and energy, then it’s like a fuel. I’m the car it’s going into, and my brain is the steering wheel. I can use my brain to steer the car where I want it to go, how slow or fast I want it to go, if I honk the horn at someone or not, etc.

      Just because I choose not to drive the car in an angry way, it doesn’t mean that anger isn’t what’s fueling it.

      Another idea along that analogy is that If I were to drive the car all over the road, hitting people and running through red lights, people are going to be very wary about getting into that car with me and taking a ride with me to where I’d like to take them.

      I’d much rather that people actually get into the car with me than the other option, which is having them be too wary to ever even get into the car. Even worse would be if my driving made them think that all drivers in that make and model of car are dangerous, so they now give them a wide berth whenever they see one.

      To me, the final destination of the drive in that car isn’t winning an argument, it’s a better world for the animals. And we will never go anywhere if people won’t get into the car with us in the first place.

  4. Anger is a strange thing. It fuels us. Motivates us to act – however, unfortunately it mostly makes us act in a way that is not productive – which is essentially what we are all trying to attain – productivity and effectiveness in achieving the reduction, and ultimately the end of animal (etc) suffering.

    I know that if someone hurls anger at me, I pull down the shutters. I consider that person on a possibly out of control, aggressive mission. It can, however, be just as irritating to have someone being sickly sweet in an almost patronizing way. So yes, as you said in another post, it is about HOW you phrase things, HOW you say things, and probably, like art, the spaces in between are just important as the solid matter.

    Of course I get angry at inhumanity, suffering and injustice – “what gives you the right!!!!” etc… and it is in my nature to be hot tempered. But I also know that anger is, like envy or greed, something that eats away at us, is detrimental to our physical and mental state of being. To be truly useful to animals, we must be useful for ourselves, taking care of our own being so that we can channel that strength, that energy into something more positive.

    Another nice blog, Tobias.

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