You are not your audience

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In much of my writings, posts and memes, I suggest that we “tread lightly” when we approach other people about animal rights, going vegan etc. We should not overload them with information, we should check what they are interested in, etc.

Many people seem to understand this, but often (like the other day) I’ll get reactions like this:

“Oh, so we have to give them candy and massage for them to listen to reason? Fuck it, I’ll keep telling them what they need to know no matter how hard they cover their ears.”

It is ironic that this person writes about “what they need to know“, while she seems to be talking more about “what she wants to tell.” I would call this ego-centric communication.


Do we think that continuing to ramble to people while they (literally or figuratively) cover their ears, helps? Maybe sometimes something sticks. But chances are that in the best case we are wasting our breath and our precious time because the person is really not hearing us. In the worst case, our rambling is actually counterproductive.

We need more audience-centered communication. “What they need to hear” is not as important as “what they are open to hear”. I call this principle YANYA, or You Are Not Your Audience. You are not the same as the people you want to reach. Like a car salesman, you have to adapt your message to what you think people like, are interested in, are open to, are ready for.

“Telling them what they need to know” is equal to the car salesman talking endlessly about a car’s horsepower or technical abilities (because that is what fascinates him) to a young parent who is only interested in the safety aspects.

“Telling them what they need to know” may sound noble and courageous and right, but it’s not necessarily what helps animals.

It’s about your audience’s needs. Not your own.



26 thoughts on “You are not your audience

  1. Tobias: Thank you so much for the tactful reminder that it’s what helps the animals, not an activist’s own sense of gratification, that matters.

  2. Along with the egocentricity of the example, note the total lack of respect for the audience: ” candy and massage.” Because people are so willing to listen to the wisdom of those who disrespect them…

    It’s also weird in a specific way, but that’s another story…

  3. I absolutely, 100% agree that you are not your audience. I agree that the most compelling and persuasive methods to engage people in a paradigm shift usually begin with an understanding of and appeal to their interests and perspectives.

    However, we don’t have even close to enough evidence to be making claims that this or that form of activism is counterproductive. And since I have an interest in logic and truth, and I am your audience, you may want to consider rephrasing 😉

    1. I think what is implied in what i wrote is that anything might be productive if it is tailored to the audience… (it’s almost a “by definiton” thing).
      But I think it’s worth pointing out the possibility that some forms of activism or communication *might* be counterproductive (and of course this possibility exist, that’s the very least we can say, though i would personally go much further). This idea in itself is an antidote to people who think that doing anything is fine, just because there will *always* be *some* positive impact. The problem is that they don’t take into account the people they turn off.
      I do agree that there is by far not enough research to make a lot of solid conclusions. But common sense often helps (a bit).

    2. You can find quite a few studies and papers on Faunalytics’ website (formerly the Humane Research Council) that provide evidence and claims regarding the effectiveness of different types of activism, which are productive, counterproductive, etc.:

      This may be of particular interest for this blog post’s subject:

      The author “does make a strong case that confrontational tactics could be used as one of the many tools for effective animal advocacy”, and “the essay explores these tactics with a positive outlook, while noting that there can also be “considerable risk of backfire effects and encouraging a powerful opposition, making their effectiveness highly dependent on certain conditions…In other words, confrontational actions can arouse strong emotions in the public and this can increase organic sharing of the news online. The question is, what if the emotions aroused are negative and not favorable towards animals?”

      1. Counterproducitve does not merely mean unproductive. It means that it inhibits the productivity of other actions. It’s a very difficult thing to prove. And given all the potential intervening causes in the case of social movements it may be impossible to prove that something is counterproductive.

        We do have some evidence of what people SAY has worked for them or hasn’t worked for them. We haven’t got much evidence of how people actually behave after certain types of AR actions. And we certainly haven’t got enough evidence to claim that certain actions are truly counterproducitve.

        Please note: I am NOT arguing in favor of any particular form of activism. I have my preferences, sure, and I stand by my favorite methods (which happen to align with the central point of this article above). However, I feel it’s paramount that we do NOT attack methods which haven’t reasonably deserved attack. It’s your gut telling you that other methods are counterproducitve, not the evidence telling you that. The evidence is lacking. Let’s be logical.

        1. What you say might be true for individual cases. But if I am to be the most obnovious vegan in the world, to the point where I get daily media attention because my comments are so extreme and radical, I will get MORE attention, and the effectiveness to society as a whole might be much and much bigger in the grand scheme of things than when I carefully approach some people who might be interested in hearing what I have to say. It’s how we came to be in the era of Trump..

          1. Teun, that’s a theoretical possibility yes. But of course attention does not automatically equal impact. Some people (including AR groups) believe that all media is good media. I don’t share that view.

  4. It’s common sense to understand that our message will be ignored and our credibility discounted when we speak to others in a condescending way. If the rest of the world thought like we do, then the world would already be predominantly vegan. Since it is not, we must conclude that other methods than those that opened our eyes to the truth are needed for many people.

  5. I remember once when a meat loving factory farm owner was trying to convince me that I should stop all my “veggie nonsense”. I could see he was starting to get very frustrated with me, because in his eyes I wasn’t getting his message, even though he knew with 100% certainty in his heart that he was speaking from reason.

    As his frustration grew, he said to me, “Oh, so I have to give you candy and a massage for you to listen to reason? Fuck it, I’ll keep telling you what you need to know no matter how hard you cover your ears.” Of course, that didn’t change my opinion at all! I’m still proudly not eating meat!

    In fact, all his negativity towards me had the opposite effect of getting me to eat meat…I now have my heels even more firmly dug in on the veggie side than before he started trying to “tell me what I need to know”.

    And even if for some reason I could see the logic in his arguments, why would I want to be like him and think like him? He was so negative and attacking…one of the most derogatory people I’ve ever met. I wonder how he’d feel if I were to speak and act so disrespectfully towards him the way he did towards me? Maybe eating all that meat makes people go crazy?

    Luckily for me, when the alarm clock went off this morning, I realized it was only a bad dream. Whew! Good thing for the animals that I wasn’t his audience!

    1. Long story short…humans are notorious for not responding to reason and disregarding common sense…if humans weren’t this way, all the world would already be vegan, nobody would smoke, everyone would get their companion animals spayed & neutered, disputes between countries wouldn’t escalate into war, there’d be no mass shootings, and nobody would tell me those jeans make my butt look fat. 🙂

  6. I think that sometimes you should remember yourself and your own long path to veganism. How many of us have become vegans overnight? We are livng in a world where we e.g. constantly are manipulated and mislead by commercials. Think about the horror of the meat industry trucks. They have stickers copied from story-books about happy small pigs, cows, chickens on the trucks. I realised a while ago that they have some kind of numbing effect on your mind. It blocks you from thinking about the horror of it. They should be sued for deceptive advertising like the tobacco companies.

  7. Another great article. Thanks.

    You don’t persuade someone of an viewpoint by shouting the same points at them over and over again – if the rightness of your position was all that mattered in convincing someone of something, then we wouldn’t have any social problems at all
    To convince someone of a viewpoint that is not only different to their own, but one that they are having profound difficultly accepting, it is the persuasiveness of the argument that matters. By taking into account the individual’s motivations, as well as avoiding insulting or offending your audience, one can construct a message that is more likely to persuade, or at least be considered, instead of instantly rejected.

    To even be considered as a plausible idea is a huge victory, compared to alternative: discrediting the entire animal rights movement by coming across as a self-righteous bully.

    People are not going to change their mind on a social issue by having someone repeatedly tell them, often whilst making them feel stupid, that they are wrong, or a bad person.

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