I wasn’t in the mood to advocate the other day. I mean, I really, really wasn’t, which is unusual for me because I often find myself talking to people about veganism in all kinds of strange situations: on the osteopath’s table, to my GP, in my dentist’s chair with a water pick in my mouth, in taxis, at the checkout, at a roller disco, in dance class…I don’t like to miss an opportunity to talk to people about veganism.
It wasn’t that I had lost interest in justice (!) or that I suddenly felt that veganism mattered any less. It was merely that I was tired, I wasn’t feeling too assured about my ability to communicate effectively, I was in quite a bit of pain, and I had a voice in the back of my mind that was telling me that I didn’t have what it took that day. Oh, and I was wearing a swimsuit surrounded by sweaty strangers who were also only semi-clad.
I was in a steam room after a swim, and the air was so thick with steam that I couldn’t see my interlocutors. Now, I rely quite heavily on two things when I advocate: 1) nonverbal communication; 2) being dressed in something more substantial than a swimming costume.
I had made an acquaintance there who swims at the same time of day, and we’d chatted about a variety of topics in our previous encounters. The subject this time turned to dogs, and I told her about the newest addition to our family: a dog who came from a pretty horrible situation of neglect, and who is carrying the physical and psychological scars of that life.
And then my interlocutor said the words that should have made my heart leap, but that made me groan inwardly instead: “Isn’t it terrible what some people do to animals?”
The speed of my reaction, despite that sinking feeling, and despite all of the uncertainty that I felt in my own ability, is something of which I’m rather proud. Yes, I felt almost sure that I was going to “do a bad job” because I was tired and in pain, but I calculated that doing a bad job was better than not making the attempt in the first place.
So I took a deep breath, and replied “It is terrible, but it’s hardly surprising that we neglect dogs when we eat other animals and wear their skins. You know, we say we care about animals, but every day we show that the opposite is true.”
Her response took me by surprise: she thought of one animal in particular whom she had planned to eat–the Christmas turkey. She referred to the bird that she ordered as “him”, and said, ruefully, that she wouldn’t be able to eat him. She already thought of her meal as a person. We talked for a while about being vegan, and she asked plenty of questions about food; there were no objections, none of the “buts.” And I’ll see her tomorrow and check in with her again.
What I had feared would be a very difficult advocacy encounter because I didn’t feel fully equipped (being tired and in pain) turned out to be remarkably easy because my interlocutor, once having seen the connection between companion-animals-as-persons and farmed-animals-as-persons, did the rest of the work herself.
I’m glad that I didn’t listen to that voice that told me that I was bound to mess up; I’ve only heard it once before in advocacy, and I didn’t listen to it then. Because if we reflect on what “messing up” looks like, it will become clear that even “messing up” will result in some positive outcomes: if you can’t form your thoughts coherently, at the very worst you will have planted a seed. And if all we ever did was plant seeds, we could never, ever deem that to be a failure.
Advocacy is by its very nature transformative. When we advocate, we question the status quo and encourage other people to do the same. If you have educated yourself already, and have an elevator pitch in your toolkit that you can use in times when you’re not feeling at your communicative best, you may just surprise yourself. Stay educated, stay reflective, and keep at it!