How to stay positive in a non-vegan world
Pretty much every fellow vegan I know says going vegan is the best decision they have ever made. At the same time, though, a lot of them have a hard time staying positive now that they’ve become aware of all the horror inflicted on animals that’s condoned and even supported by the vast majority of people. I personally have no problem staying positive, so I want to share some of my thoughts with you in the hopes of giving you a more positive outlook as well.
I’m not a therapist
Before I start, I want to make it clear that I’m not a therapist. I’m an author, and there are limits to how much I can help you with a single article. Therapy is simply much more powerful. So, if you aren’t happy and this article doesn’t change that, then please consider finding a good therapist. Don’t let the stigma hold you back. Therapy has been proven to be 32 times more effective at increasing happiness than money, so it’s worth considering. If you’re interested, a good place to start is a free 20 minute initial consultation with the vegan therapist Clare Mann. You can also ask her to refer you to another vegan therapist if you’re looking for someone local, or you might find one who is at least plant-based (and possibly vegan) through plantbaseddoctors.org.
That said, let’s dive in! The first thing I want to emphasize is the importance of grieving and having some realistic expectations around that. Because unless you were born into a vegan family and have been told the truth about the animal industries your entire life, you have been living in a fairytale, and waking up from that fairytale is rough.
It’s rough because the fairytale was so comforting. You were living in a fundamentally good society where humans and farm animals had a mutually beneficial relationship. The farmers took care of the animals and in return the chickens provided us with eggs and the cows provided us with milk. At the end of their peaceful lives the animals were humanely slaughtered, great care was taken to avoid any distress or pain, and that’s how the animals also provided us with meat. To respect what they had given us, the whole animal was used, partly for food and partly for other products like leather. The animals got to enjoy much better lives than they would have had in the wild and we got to enjoy nutritious, tasty and useful animal products. Win-Win!
If you’ve believed that fairytale for decades, then it’s an enormous shock to realize that we’re actually talking about prisons of the worst kind for innocent animals who all get executed before reaching even 10 percent of their natural lifespans. For “products” that we don’t even need. And what’s even more shocking is getting confronted with the dark side of the people around you when you bring it up and they actually start defending it.
Now, obviously, what happens to the animals really is bad and so is the defensiveness of the people around you. But you need to realize that the shock makes it feel infinitely worse. The world has been like this your entire life. The animal industries weren’t less cruel when you were a kid and the people around you weren’t more kind. You were just oblivious to that part of reality. So, you’ve been too comfortable for decades, and now it’s catching up with you. That’s good. That’s a healthy process. But it’s also a grieving process, and you can’t expect it to happen overnight when you’ve been living in a fairytale for decades.
So, the first step to a more positive outlook is actually to allow yourself to grieve. Don’t try to suppress your emotions. Embrace the sadness and anger. Emotions don’t go away if you suppress them. And it’s okay to talk about it all the time, or to write about it. Just allow yourself to go through the process. Grief is an inescapable part of growth and it always lasts longer than you want it to, but it doesn’t last forever.
Scope of influence
Accepting and expressing all the emotions that you should have felt a long time ago is a big part of the process. But even if you’ve done all of that, you’re still living in a world where billions of animals are killed every week for no reason. So, how do you deal with that? Well, mainly by differentiating between what is inside and what is outside your scope of influence.
The simple truth is that you live on a planet with eight billion other people who all make their own individual decisions and most of those people are just completely out of your scope of influence. They will live their entire lives without even knowing you exist, and so do the animals who are killed for and by them. So, you can focus on all the cruelty they inflict on animals, but what good does that do? It makes you feel miserable, and neither the animals nor those people even know that you’re thinking about them.
I strongly recommend that you only focus on the actions of the people you can actually reach. And by that I don’t just mean the people you know, I’m also including strangers. The moment you approach a stranger for a conversation or hand them a flyer, you’re reaching them. And making a video or writing an article, like I’m doing right now, is definitely a way to reach strangers too.
But everyone you can’t reach, all those billions of other people and the animals whose lives they affect, are only relevant to the degree that they can help you influence the people you can reach. If a news item or graphic video can help you wake someone up, use it. If not, disregard it. No one is being helped by you watching it alone and feeling miserable about it, it just drains you for no reason.
Learn from others
Instead of focusing on the cruelty inflicted by non-vegans outside your scope of influence, focus on fellow vegans’ efforts to end it. There’s nothing more uplifting than being reminded of the fact that you’re part of an ever growing movement that will end animal exploitation forever. And it’s not just uplifting to follow animal rights advocates, it will make you a better advocate as well.
Read my free e-book Questioning Meat, which has convinced thousands of people to give up animal products, watch Gary Yourofsky’s famous speech, explore the wealth of information on Bite Size Vegan, watch Earthling Ed’s debates with non-vegans, check out Vegan Sidekick’s cartoons, or follow any of the countless other vegans doing amazing work on behalf of the animals.
Use your influence
Once you’ve stopped focusing on what’s outside your scope of influence and you’ve learned from successful animal rights activists, you can focus on actually using the influence you do have. I want to make it clear that I’m not saying you’re only a real vegan if you’re an activist. I don’t want to guilt trip you into spreading veganism. But we’re talking about happiness here, and there’s a fundamental truth about happiness that I have to share with you: The only way you’re going to be happy is if the degree to which you’re disturbed by animal exploitation is matched by your efforts to end it.
So, let’s talk about spreading veganism, starting with your inner circle. Having an inner circle that’s vegan too can be a great source of peace. Your inner circle should be a place to recharge, not a place where you’re constantly confronted with support for animal cruelty. That just leads to tension or it leads to you dissociating, and neither of those are particularly beneficial to your happiness. So, how do you get a vegan inner circle?
In an ideal situation, just by talking about veganism to the people close to you. I mean, you keep those people close because they’re good people, right? They care about doing the right thing. And they care about you. So, they have two strong reasons to want to talk to you about veganism. And if you’ve read my book and learned from the vegan activists I mentioned before, then you will be able to take away any objections they might have and they will go vegan.
Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. They might get defensive and just refuse to even discuss veganism with you. That doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation, though. It just means that you need to have the conversation on another level first. You need to be completely honest with them, not just about the animal industries, but about the relationship you have with them.
Basically, you need to just be open about why they’re in your inner circle. Make it clear that you value having them in your life because you think they’re good people, tell them about all the good qualities you see and respect in them. And then tell them that you understand they were raised to eat and use animal products, as were you, but that after looking into it you realized that what goes on in the industries is actually not in line with your values at all, and you don’t think it’s in line with theirs either. That’s why you want to talk to them about it.
If they are the good people you believe them to be, then that should be enough to open them up to an honest conversation about animal exploitation and their role in supporting it. But if it’s not, or if the conclusion of that conversation is that they simply don’t care enough to change, then unfortunately all you can do is come to terms with the fact that you overestimated them.
Does that mean you should remove those people from your inner circle? Honestly, yes, I think you should. I realize that this may sound radical. But we are talking about fully grown adults who knowingly and willingly pay for innocent animals to be killed, despite someone close to them doing everything in their power to convince them to stop, because they simply don’t care enough to change their behavior. Does that sound like a description of respectable people who you really need in your inner circle?
I’m not suggesting you remove them from your life completely, but I do suggest you delegate them to the realm of acquaintances until they grow a conscience. If you want an inner circle that helps you stay positive you need to have some standards. Keep the people you’re able to get through to close and replace the ones who don’t care with better people.
Of course, there are many more people you can talk to about veganism than just the people in your inner circle. Namely, the people in your outer circle. I strongly recommend you do that as well, as it’s really rewarding. You’re saving lives with every person you get through to. And I advise you to just adopt a salesperson’s approach to this. Invest your energy in the people who are most receptive and don’t waste your time on the people who aren’t. The one advantage of being surrounded by non-vegans is that you can always find another non-vegan to talk to.
If you want to reach strangers with the vegan message there are also many ways you can go about that. Online activism, in particular via social media, is definitely the easiest way and has been a huge factor in the rise of veganism. Just set your posts to public and create or share good vegan content. Or use literally any app that allows you to chat with strangers to talk about veganism, I even know people who use Tinder for that. And of course you can also get more professional about it and start a YouTube channel or a website, or write for this one!
And the opportunities don’t stop there, there’s lots of activism going on in the physical world as well. And you don’t necessarily have to be comfortable with approaching strangers to engage in it either, although that’s certainly welcomed. Physical outreach can take many forms, ranging from chalktivism to the Cubes of Truth organized by Anonymous for the Voiceless. I recommend you join some of your local vegan Facebook groups and ask what activists in your area are doing.
We will turn this world vegan
I hope this article was helpful to you. If not, don’t hesitate to reach out to a vegan therapist like Clare Mann. I genuinely believe that a positive outlook is warranted because we truly will turn this world vegan. The animal industries don’t have a single argument against us, all they rely on is old habits and propaganda, and that can’t last forever. If you compare today’s vegan movement to what it was like only a few years ago you can see how fast we are growing, and we will continue to do so, until every cage is empty!
After I published this article, various people asked me to write more extensively on how to get a vegan inner circle. So I did, you can read it here: How to get a vegan inner circle