Learning from Teaching I: Reflective Practice and Advocacy

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Reflective practice is essential to good teaching: it is based on the premise that if what we do matters to us, we should learn from it and improve. By creating self-awareness around our participation in a process, we gain insight into our investment in that process and can therefore be become more self-critical, self-assured and effective.

I won’t rehearse the topic of reflective practice as it appears in the literature on learning at teaching just yet. Instead, I want to leave you with a set of questions that you might find helpful when thinking about your advocacy encounters.  You should, of course, adapt these questions; they are merely a template to set the wheels in motion.

Advocacy: Reflective Practice

Pre-Advocacy Phase

  1. What are my advocacy goals?
  2. What will successful advocacy look like for me?
  3. How will I monitor that success?
  4. How can I best prepare for advocacy encounters?
  5. What questions do I have about advocacy, and where can I find the answers to them?
  6. Where can I find support if I want to discuss my advocacy with others?
  7. What are the things I need to do if I want to advocate successfully?
  8. What resources would be useful for me in my advocacy?
  9. If I’ve done something like this before, how do I make sure I do a better job this time?
  10. What strategies will I use?
  11. Which of my skills and talents can I bring to bear on advocacy encounters?
  12. What concerns me about advocating? How will I get around this?
  13. What aspects of my advocacy would I like to develop? How will I do that?

Post-Advocacy Phase

  1. What did I find challenging about that particular advocacy encounter?
  2. Could I have handled that challenge more effectively?
  3. What did I do well?
  4. What, if anything, didn’t work as well as I would have liked?
  5. How did this advocacy encounter match up to previous encounters? Am I learning more?
  6. Do I have new questions related to advocacy? If so, where can I find the answers?
  7. Would it be useful for me to talk my experience over with another advocate friend?
  8. Did I use resources appropriately? If not, why not?
  9. What areas of knowledge do I need to work on?
  10. What do I feel particularly comfortable with or adept at?
  11. How will this encounter inform my next one?
  12. What advice would I give to an advocate friend based on what I learned from this experience?

By asking ourselves these questions regularly, we can help to sharpen our own awareness of the kinds of conversations that are involved in advocacy, and, most importantly, make us cognisant of our own strengths and limitations so that we can tailor advocacy encounters in such a way as to make the most of our skills.

Veganism and the Squiggly Red Line: What’s in a Word?

Recently, while working on another blog post, I noticed that the word ‘veganism’ was not recognised by my word processor’s spell-check feature. Although included in both the Oxford English Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, my computer doesn’t recognise its existence. Therefore, whenever I type the word I am confronted by the squiggly red line that I can only interpret a sign that we need to advocate harder and more coherently for veganism, in order that the word itself enters into mainstream discourse.  If we want to create dialogue around our unjust use of nonhuman animals, then we cannot (and should not attempt to) disassociate ourselves from using the word that succinctly points to the philosophy on which the rejection of that use–our recognition of the moral worth of those animals–is based.

Animal rights advocates complain about the misappropriation of the term ‘vegan’ by plant-based dieters, and rightly so. The word ‘vegan’ passes the spell-check test but, according to most large dictionaries, that word describes someone who merely rejects a range of products,*  and ‘vegan’ has, therefore, come to be divorced from its moral and philosophical roots, both in common parlance as well as in the reference tools of computer software.

Those who reject the use of the word ‘vegan’ in their advocacy are not without culpability for this detachment, which goes far beyond the computer screen (how many of you have asked for a vegan menu in a restaurant only to be told about the gluten-free options?). Talking about our moral obligations to nonhuman animals without placing veganism front and centre is as much of a misdirection as speaking of veganism while obscuring its connection to animal rights. As long as we are not clear in our advocacy that moral regard for nonhuman animals necessitates veganism, and vice versa, we will continue to be confronted by that squiggly red line that treats a moral system based on fundamental justice as a non-issue.

Squiggly.

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*Merriam-Webster Online defines ‘vegan’ as ‘a person who does not eat any food that comes from animals and who often also does not use animal products (such as leather)’; interestingly, this dictionary provides no definition for ‘veganism’. The OED Online gives us ‘a person who abstains from all food of animal origin and avoids the use of animal products in other forms.’

Polly and Molly: A Tale of Two Hens

I wrote this poem for a friend who was trying to explain to her son why he couldn’t participate in collecting the eggs laid by the hens kept at his school. I thought it might be useful to someone somewhere. If, however, it offends your literary sensibilities, I apologise profusely.

Polly and Molly: A Tale of Two Hens
Polly and Molly

Polly and Molly

Polly’s a hen and she lives in the wood.
She likes bathing in dust piles; thinks digging is good.
She has three other friends who will join her to chat
And they cluck and they chirrup of this and of that.

Molly, her cousin, lived down on the farm
Where the foxes and ferrets could do her no harm
And though she had friends there just like you and me
She often felt sad that she could not be free.

While Polly and her friends can go where they please
And sit by the river or walk near the trees
Poor Molly saw fences and cages and bars
And at night was locked up–couldn’t look at the stars.

One morning when both hens had opened their eyes
They found that their nests held a lovely surprise.
Each climbed from her bed to stretch wing and stretch leg
And saw that her nest was now holding an egg.

‘My goodness’, thought Molly, ‘can this really be
Is it true that this egg here belongs just to me?’
And she danced and squawked and she kicked up some dust
And she clucked at the egg and she preened and she fussed.

‘It might be a toy, or it might be to eat,
But whatever it’s for it’s a very nice treat’.
So she tapped with her beak and she chirped and she cooed
And she thought that the egg would make excellent food.

Now, Polly was happy as happy can be
For she’d laid her own egg in the shade of a tree.
She pranced and she scratched—it was such a big deal
To have this new gift. Could it truly be real?

Both Polly and Molly were filled with such joy.
Both hens were proud of their latest new toy.
They rolled them and tapped them and licked them, you see:
They would play with them first and then eat them for tea.

But as Molly was singing, the farmer came by
With a basket, and poor Molly shouted ‘Oh my!
He’ll take my new egg and then I’ll have none
And I’ll miss it! Oh dear! This isn’t such fun!’

So she clucked out a warning and hoped he could hear:
‘Please, farmer, don’t take it. Oh, just leave it here.
I want it, you see, and I thought it divine.
But to steal it’s not good, for this egg here is mine!’

But the farmer heard nothing but ‘cluck cluck cluck cluck’
And so poor old Molly had very bad luck.
The egg that she loved was soon taken away
And she cried and she moped and she sighed with dismay.

Her dear cousin Polly could do what she cared.
Her eggs in the forest were safe, they were spared.
She rolled them around and she had so much fun
And then she could eat them when playtime was done.

So while Polly was happy, poor Molly was sad.
The egg was her own and to steal it was bad.
She was vexed with the farmer and said ‘it’s not right
To take this wee thing that gave me such delight’.

Molly’s friends all came by to ask what was wrong
And she talked to them sadly and sang them a song
About how she had wanted that egg for her own
And had wished that this farmer would leave it alone.

But one of her friends had a bit of advice:
‘Molly, just lay another. The farmer is nice.
He has taken one egg; he won’t want any more
And you can have yours like you did once before.’

She then laid a brown egg the very next day,
But the same fate befell: it was taken away.
She sat in her nest, her head under her wing
For she couldn’t believe such a terrible thing.

And every new day, this unfairness befell:
She laid a fresh egg; each was taken as well.
Though the farmer was kind to her he couldn’t see
That her eggs are for her, not for him, you or me.

One day the Jones family happened to pass
And saw Molly digging for worms in the grass
And they noticed a sign on the side of her pen
saying ‘Please give a home to this weary old hen’.

They talked to the farmer and asked what was wrong
And he said that poor Molly just didn’t belong.
She didn’t lay eggs now as much as she could;
She was getting too old; her work was no good.

The Joneses brought poor Molly back to their farm
And they told her that she had no need for alarm
As all of the hens who now lived there were free
To use their own eggs; they would just let them be.

And Molly had dust baths and played in the sand
And made lots of friends on that day like she’d planned.
And the very next morning she got out of bed
And laid a white egg at the side of the shed.

The children approached with a basket that day
So she left her new egg and she wandered away.
She knew what had happened to all eggs before
So she left it there lying beside the shed door.

The children then laughed and they called out her name
And she walked back towards them and heard them exclaim
‘Oh, Molly, don’t worry. We’ve brought you a treat:
Some corn and some carrots and pieces of wheat’.

They petted and scratched her and fed her that day
Then took up the basket and went on their way
And left her the egg! How she strutted and played.
She had been so concerned; she had been so afraid.

But these children were vegan: they knew it’s not right
To take what’s not yours. So Molly, that night,
After playing around with her egg all the day
Cracked the shell with her beak and she feasted away.

Now Molly is pleased she can keep what she owns
And she’s happy to live with the family Jones.
For they talk to her sweetly and pet her with care
And every new egg is just left for her there.

We should always be thoughtful and always be kind
And always remember that we all would mind
If the things that we loved could be taken away.
Deal justly with others. It’s the only way.

Go vegan today and please show that you care;
To take what is not ours is really not fair.
Our animal friends are not things we can use:
They have minds and can think; they prefer and they choose.

To be vegan’s to say ‘they’re not mine; they’re their own.
I respect them and I want to leave them alone.’
Remember these words, and note that they’re true:
They live for themselves, just like you live for you.

Using Social Networking Services to Advocate: Part I

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This week, in a small Facebook group that I manage, I asked a straightforward question.  The first person to respond misread my post and answered the question she thought I was asking rather than the one I had actually asked. Another commenter followed suit, so I edited the question, changing the wording, and even adding caps and asterisks for emphasis. Fifteen comments later, all but one participant in the conversation followed the lead of the first or subsequent misreaders. I was amused, but my question remained mostly unaddressed, and the comment thread cemented my view that, even when used for very basic communication, online interaction can be eminently unreliable.

Social networking services allow us to communicate instantly, widely, and powerfully. With so many different abolitionist vegan voices to inspire us or support us, with the potential to reach a wide audience, and with the backing of a community of like-minded people who are constantly connected it can facilitate particularly effective advocacy (I’ll discuss this in further detail in the next post).

But where much of our communication in face-to-face encounters is aided by nonverbal communication (tone, pitch, intonation, volume and speed of voice, gestures, proximity, facial expressions and even touch) all of this is lost from online interactions and this makes the transmission and reception of a message unreliable and potentially problematic. Messages spread rapidly, words stay around longer to be analysed, re-analysed, overanalysed. Our interactions lack the complexity and forgiveness of face-to-face encounters. We construct personae: versions of ourselves that can’t be probed by those without access to our nonverbal idiom, and we form images of our interlocutors based solely upon their words. Social networking services also create intensely competitive environments, with likes, comments and re-shares often connected to our sense of self-worth. We scan and glance rather than considering and engaging, participating in several conversations at once and not giving any the kind of attention that we would invest in an offline interaction.

Sometimes it feels like we’re shouting over walls at each other, our ideas being carried away on the wind and resulting in misunderstandings, impatience, hostility, disillusionment. We write an advocacy post and it gets no response, so it seems as though our efforts have been in vain (although we can never account for the impact of a post that seems to us as though it is invisible to others). Misreadings are interpreted as a wilful failure to engage. Assumptions are made about our interlocutor’s knowledge and experience, and frustration often results on both sides. Utterances become our primary focus, and we lose sight of the person who articulated them.

At other times we become attuned to the negativity of these kinds of interactions and become less conscious of the progress that we’re making and the community that we’re fostering: the moments of kindness and generosity, the teamwork, the expansion of our networks, the possibility of engaging in transformational pedagogic experiences–learning from others and teaching them in return. Online social networking is one of the greatest tools at our disposal in its ability to amplify our message, yet it is this amplification that can make it seem so diffused, illimitable, impersonal.  To counter these problems, I offer the following suggestions:

  • Stay away from those areas of online social networks that you find toxic or unproductive, and focus your energy on places where you can make a difference.
  • Remember that the people with whom you will be holding discussions are probably as passionate about the issues as you. Respect them and their views, and engage with these views, where appropriate, rather than dismissing out of hand.
  • Take time to pause before responding to anything contentious: walk away from the computer, engage with the ‘real world’ for a while, evaluate whether a response would be useful, and, if so, construct one that is as clear as possible.
  • Ensure that you understand the meaning of that to which you’re responding. Ask questions, summarise, and, before responding to the point being made, attempt to elicit the kind of clarity that would otherwise be aided by nonverbal communication in a face-to-face encounter.
  • Don’t interpret lack of knowledge as wilful ignorance. Err on the side of generosity with your interlocutor, and always be prepared to educate and be educated.
  • Interrogate attitudes rather than making assumptions about the person uttering them. If your initial feeling is right, then at least you have a more solid foundation on which to progress with the discussion.
  • Recognise the educational value of dialogue, but know when to step away.
  • Remember that abolitionist vegans aren’t homogenous: we all have different life experiences, attitudes, expectations, skills, abilities to process new information. If we see our interlocutors as projections of ourselves (with similar backgrounds, abilities, preconceptions, beliefs, understanding), we will never progress with any discussion.
  • Treat all online discourse as though it’s public and permanently visible, but be cognisant that others may not have the same realisation when posting, so respect the assumptions they may have about the visibility of their posts.
  • Be aware that because our sense of self-worth is often tied to metrics in social networking, it can be useful to take important conversations to private message rather than continuing them in a public forum where people (including you) might be less inclined to concede. Before doing so, make sure that you have the express approval, on the thread, of your interlocutor, to avoid this technique being misconstrued as a personal attack.
  • Most importantly, try to connect with abolitionist vegans offline to create a more personalised network of support. If this is not possible, use face-to-face social networking tools, or at least a telephone, to create more reliable bonds with those to whom you feel a particular connection.

Communicating by online social media will inevitably present us with challenges, but it will also help to foster friendships and a sense of belonging. Manage all interactions as you would offline, but be cognisant of the differences between the two forms. To prevent frustration and disillusionment, build several independent networks of support and try to meet fellow abolitionist vegans offline too.

Building Rapport

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If you’ve been following this blog over the past few weeks and putting its suggestions into practice, you’ll have been using the word ‘vegan’ liberally. You’ve also have opened up some conversations and started to get people to think about how we use animals and why that’s wrong. You’re equipped with a copy of Eat Like You Care to give you a template of how you might map out your discussions with nonvegans, engaging their moral concern and moral impulse, and using logic and rationality to lead them to veganism (see here for a superb analysis on the role of justice and empathy in making moral decisions). But there are many other tricks that will help you to advocate effectively, and I’ll reveal a few of my favourites over the next few weeks.

The topic for this week’s post is how to get your interlocutor on side by creating rapport—essential for establishing points of concurrence and creating a positive and fruitful advocacy experience.

In order to persuade, we must establish some areas of accord with those to whom we are speaking. Kenneth Burke writes that

As for the relation between ‘identification’ and ‘persuasion’: we might well keep it in mind that a speaker persuades an audience by the use of stylistic identifications: his act of persuasion may be for the purpose of causing the audience to identify itself with the speaker’s interests: and the speaker draws on identification of interests to establish rapport between himself and his audience” (A Rhetoric of Motives, 1034).

Creating rapport cannot be underestimated in advocacy. You’re more likely to be able to convince if your interlocutor’s contribution to the conversation is valued, and if you share at least some similar views and attitudes. To build rapport, use humour where appropriate (not directed towards the injustices you’re trying to address, of course); ask questions to get to know something of the attitudes and beliefs of the person to whom you’re speaking; listen and pay attention; be patient. Think about shared experiences, similar perspectives, points on which you will already agree. Use these as the foundation of your advocacy, and return to them when areas of disagreement look as though they might become divisive. The following paragraphs will suggest ways in which you may build rapport.

Nonverbal communication
Much has been written about how we can use nonverbal communication to aid persuasion. Useful techniques include using open body language (not crossing arms or legs), holding eye-contact, matching the speed and volume of your interlocutor’s voice, etc., and I won’t reiterate all of that here. All of the writing on body language makes assumptions about ability, and tend to presume a traditionally-abled audience. Remember that each of us communicates (both verbally and nonverbally in different ways), and so you should only use techniques that appeal, if they are appropriate to you, and not stifle your own personality or natural gestures in doing so. Don’t be too preoccupied with body language to the detriment of your message or your focus (controlling body language uses a lot of mental energy, and too much control may make you seem insincere), but you can try the following techniques:

  • Keep your arms unfolded and your hands visible to create a sense of openness and trustworthiness.
  • Sit or stand tall to reinforce your confidence and authority.
  • Don’t fidget; try to be still and not reveal any anxiety.
  • Mirror the body language of the person to whom you’re speaking in order to create a sense of commonality: lean forward when your interlocutor leans forward. Be subtle and sparing in your use of this technique: mirror repositions rather than small gestures, and give your interlocutor a few seconds to settle into position before you mirror.
  • Try as hard as you can to avoid pause fillers (‘um’, ‘er’, ‘like’), which can make you sound uncertain and invalidate your authority.
  • Listen to words that tend to be repeated by your interlocutor, and you will be able to garner a sense of their main concerns, attitudes or assumptions. You can repeat these words later in the conversation to address concerns, question attitudes further, or challenge assumptions.

Choosing pronouns: ‘you’ versus ‘we’
The pronoun ‘you’ should be handled with caution in advocacy when talking about our unjust treatment of animals. It sounds accusatory, it estranges, and it undermines rapport. Your interlocutor may feel judged, alienated and attacked, and all of these will be detrimental to advocacy. When talking about our use of animals, the pronoun ‘we’ points out beyond the conversation to a larger system, and it is this system that you want the interlocutor to reject. ‘We’ also helps to create an unconscious bond that will allow you to persuade more easily when the conversation turns to examining solutions to the problem.

Asking questions
Because questions mostly require responses, they create a sense of dialogue and will allow your interlocutor to participate more fully and openly in the conversation. We’ll be looking at this in a lot more detail in a future blog post, but here are some useful ways to use questioning to build rapport:

  • Open the conversation with some tag questions to which an affirmative response is inevitable: ‘it’s busy here today, isn’t it?’; ‘it’s cold today, isn’t it?’. Although the research on the effectiveness of using such questions to create rapport doesn’t suggest that the impact of these will be overwhelmingly powerful, they will at least establish some points of agreement between you and the interlocutor.
  • Open questions (those requiring longer answers, usually beginning with interrogative pronouns such as ‘who’, ‘how’, ‘what’, etc.) are useful for eliciting moral concern. Asking about beloved companion animals is particularly useful in this regard; make sure that you listen and allow the interlocutor to respond at length. If that response is somewhat reticent, ask further open questions to try to draw the conversation out. Attempt to enable your interlocutor to think about what sets that companion animal apart from others in terms of behaviour, preferences, interests, and so on. This will help to reinforce the idea in your interlocutor’s mind that animals are persons, and you can later relate the injustice of our use of other animals back to this part of the conversation by persuading your interlocutor to think of ‘other animals’ in terms of this companion (use the companion’s name to personalise it even more).
  • Use closed questions to establish shared moral concern and moral impulse. If you’ve read Eat Like You Care, you’ll have seen that its argument is based on shared moral principles. You can use closed questions to seek agreement on these principles, and if you phrase them in such a way that a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is the only possible response, then you have established a firm foundation on which you can build quite rapidly and effectively to convince your interlocutor to adopt the moral standpoint that is veganism.
  • Third-person questions can be useful in allowing your speaker to see the moral problems that you want them to reject in an objective way. Instead of asking people about their attitude to their participation in animal use, you can preserve rapport by asking them to think about the attitudes of other people. This helps to embed your use of the pronoun ‘we’ and creates a sense of common ground between you and the speaker, while othering the concepts and behaviour that you are seeking to change.
  • Socratic questioning will be useful when you move from eliciting attitudes to animal use to trying to convince your interlocutor to adopting veganism. They can help your interlocutor to clarify a position (‘Why do you think that?’, ‘Are you saying x or y?’, ‘Can you give me an example?’), to investigate assumptions and viewpoints (‘Do you agree that…?’), to consider rationale (‘Are these reasons good enough?’, ‘What do you think causes us to…?’). Such questions help to uncover potential objections that may then be addressed.

Encouragement and reinforcement
Be positive about the positives, and redirect the negatives. Instead of explicitly pointing out where your interlocutor is wrong, probe the response with further questions, reinforce the answers with which you agree, and reframe the undesirable response in relation to these areas of commonality. In the near future, we’ll discuss scaffolding techniques that will help you find points on which you concur. Stay calm and assertive (rather than frustrated or aggressive) if you reach an impasse, and know when to close the conversation by reinforcing any consensus that you have uncovered. This will help to water the ground for the planted seed, leave the interlocutor thinking about points of agreement with principles of animal rights issues as the conversation draws to a close or moves on, and allow you to reflect on how to move the conversation forward from these shared principles should you choose to do so in future.

These techniques will help to make your interlocutor more responsive and receptive to your message, but they will also leave you with a more positive impression of advocacy and encourage you to do more.

My interest in, and confidence about, advocacy is largely down to one particularly effective advocate, so it seems fitting to close this post with his words:

1. Every conversation is different, there is no ‘one size fits all’ advocacy situation. It’s the skill of the advocate which makes the most of each one.
2. The best way to get someone to agree with a new idea is to get them to believe they actually thought of it!

Opening Doors

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Quite a while ago, a woman called to my house seeking donations for a dog shelter. She told me some stories about how badly companion animals are treated, and then she said sadly of the ‘carers’ who exploit, abuse or abandon them, ‘they claim to love them, but they treat them like they’re just things.’

I’d never been particularly confident about face-to-face advocacy, and had never attempted to start such a conversation with a stranger before, but I felt a compulsion to lead this discussion to veganism. I knew that if our meeting ended without me trying to make her see the connection between the dogs by whose stories she felt so moved and the animals that we use for food, clothing, entertainment, etc., I’d be weighed down by guilt and regret. So, I took a deep breath and pushed through the fear.

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to quite a few strangers about veganism face-to-face (not all of these conversations have been as immediately or patently successful, but that’s for another post), I look back on this one as the easiest. The reason for that is simple: I was pushing at an open door. It was this woman’s concern for nonhumans (albeit of one species) that led her to my house, and the only ‘work’ I had to do was to help her extend that sense of duty to all other nonhumans.

In fact, many of my experiences of advocacy with strangers have followed a similar pattern: conversations about beloved companion animals or animals who have been mistreated lead on to discussions about all sentient nonhumans. But what makes this kind of advocacy a lot easier than it initially appears is that most people enjoy talking about particular species of nonhumans, and once that conversation has begun, it can flow very naturally towards a discussion of their rights.

Gary Francione analyses what makes this kind of advocacy effective here:

As long as there is moral concern and the moral impulse to want to do the right thing by animals, we can use rationality to demonstrate why this moral concern should extend to all animals and why abolition and veganism are the logically appropriate responses to the felt recognition,whatever its source, that animals are members of the moral community.

But in the absence of wanting to do the right thing, it will make no sense to discuss what logic identifies as the right thing to do.

So, raising moral concern is essential to effective advocacy, but it is not the only prerequisite. Only a rational demonstration of how veganism is the logical response to that experience of moral concern will lead to the conclusion for which you hope (if you don’t already own a copy of Francione’s and Charlton’s Eat Like You Care, add it to your library immediately; it’s a useful primer on the kind of content that our advocacy should involve, and it provides unassailable responses to all of the objections that you might encounter).

One important thing to remember, though, is that you will not be able to lead everyone you meet to veganism, and it would be discouraging for you if you were to expect all of your advocacy efforts to do so. But no exchange that explains, unequivocally, the rights of nonhumans not to be treated as resources can ever be a wasted one. At the very least, you will expose someone to an idea or a perspective that they hadn’t considered before, and we can never tell what kinds of cognitive processes these ideas can put in motion.

With people you meet regularly, your approach can (and perhaps should) be a very different one. Chances are that they will already know that you’re vegan, and conversations around that topic might happen in a fitful and fragmented way, and from other starting points. Again, don’t expect immediate results (in the near future we’ll examine some pedagogic research to see how conceptual change takes place and how we can best effect it), but know that every conversation you have, if you are informed and unambiguous, will either correct people’s misconceptions about veganism, make them rethink our relationship with nonhumans, or help them to understand the foundation of your ethical standpoint.

It may take some time for people to be persuaded. Don’t get angry or frustrated, and remind yourself that you’re not responsible for the moral decisions of your loved ones. Advocate calmly, and without impatience, frustration or anger, and don’t be afraid to step back from discussions to allow the other person time to process what you’ve explored together. Treat every question as though it’s a genuine request for further information, but don’t allow the conversation to be derailed away from the fact that we don’t need to use animals in order to live healthy and happy lives, and are therefore unjustified in treating them as resources. We’ll have a guest post soon on ways in which conversations can get derailed and how to deal with this.

There are opportunities for advocacy everywhere, and they don’t have to be forced. If you’ve been liberally using the word ‘vegan’ (as I recommended last week) you’ll have noticed that some people respond with curiosity. Use those opportunities to elicit the moral concern they already have for some nonhumans, and attempt to show them that this concern leads them to veganism. Remember that the more of these kinds of conversations you have, the easier they will become. Reflect on what you’ve done well and what you’d like to do differently. Read as many abolitionist essays and books as you can lay your hands on. Talk to others about what works for them, ask for tips, and never stop learning. Most importantly, walk away from every abolitionist advocacy attempt (whatever the result) feeling positive, because as long as we’re opening up the conversation we’re making a difference.

‘Invisible’ Advocacy

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Many vegans tell me that aligning their lifestyle with their ethics is only the beginning of what they feel is their responsibility to nonhumans. Yet while they often desire to advocate, some are lacking in self-confidence, others are unsure of how to deal with challenges, many are wary of confrontation or weighed down by the importance of their task. Even more discouraging than the perceived enormity of the process itself, perhaps, is the mistaken belief that advocacy is only successful if it results immediately in new vegans, and that a failed advocacy effort will entrench the interlocutor’s views permanently and unalterably.

The good news is that advocacy doesn’t have to be monumental. In fact, it doesn’t have to be very different from anything else you do on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be performative or dramatic. It doesn’t have to involve a prepared speech. It doesn’t compel you to set up a stall in the middle of a busy street and talk to strangers. It won’t necessarily result in a debate. Its success isn’t measured by the interlocutor immediately becoming vegan. Most importantly, it’s not a competition or a race, and if you advocate well and consistently, then your success may not even be capable of being measured.

There are many different forms of advocacy, and some are highly visible: tabling, the use of social media, and so on. All of these forms of advocacy are worthwhile, if they are approached with a solid theoretical foundation and with adequate preparation. Because of their visibility, they require a particular set of abilities that some people have in abundance: confidence, openness, adeptness at fielding debate. But what if I told you that you may already have the skills to advocate in a very powerful way, that you can do exactly what you do every day but help to make change happen, and that the only thing you’ll need is one word? That word is ‘vegan’. Do not underestimate its power.

You may be the kind of person who talks to cashiers in the supermarket as they’re ringing up your groceries. They look at your unusual assortment of vegetables and ask if you’ve got something special planned for dinner. You smile and say, ‘I’m vegan, so I’m making a vegetable lasagna’. You see an old friend who compliments you on something you’re wearing. You say ‘Thanks; it’s from a vegan shop’. You bring some food to a friend’s house, and you tell them it’s suitable for vegans. Anytime you use the word ‘vegan’, you’re doing some advocacy work. Write it, type it, say it, sign it; it doesn’t matter how you do it, but don’t underestimate the power of a simple word.

So, now you’re wondering how this could be of any benefit to nonhuman animals. Each time you use the word ‘vegan’ in this way, you’re normalising it; you’re removing any taboos, breaking down stereotypes, getting the word into public consciousness. Not being reticent about the word and letting people know that you are vegan is actually quite a powerful first step, and it will certainly help lay the foundation that will open up the conversation about the ethical principles, and may even steer people towards doing their own research into what being vegan means.

Grumpy Old Vegan
(Image shared with permission from Grumpy Old Vegan; the text on the image reads ‘How many seeds that we plant germinate and flourish without our knowledge? This is why vegan education is so important; tangible results never reveal the full picture of what we do.’)

There are other forms of quiet advocacy in which you can engage, like sharing recipes that are suitable for vegans to your social media site, posting pictures of your meals and treats on the same, cooking and sharing food, collaborating with others to use the talents that are unique to you (making posters for someone else’s outreach; baking cupcakes for a tabling event; proofreading the work of others). None of these things ought to be undervalued, because advocacy is not just about persuasion.

There will be benefits to you as a new advocate, too, from engaging in ‘invisible’ advocacy. Seeing that people don’t recoil in horror when you use the word ‘vegan’, and participating silently in the visible advocacy of others will probably increase your confidence and may lead you to seek out opportunities for discussion about your ethical stance, which will be the topic of the next blog post.