We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.
~ Paulo Coelho
Judgment and Acceptance in the Vegan Community.
To judge others is, to a large degree, inevitable. As humans, we make decisions about how to respond to those around us by evaluating their behavior and even their motives, and then responding accordingly.
However, there is, I believe, a qualitative difference in the types of judgments we make. Sometimes we are making judgments of others based on how their actions specifically and directly impact us, or based on what they have told us of their motives. Other times, we are making judgments of others based on our standards of right/wrong and good/bad behavior. Again, this is probably just our humanness in action. But, I think most of us would agree that there are some things we need to not judge others about – things that involve personal choices and personal moralities. And, there are other instances where we may have a good reason to feel a particular judgment, but that does not mean that we must say it, because in the saying we accomplish little but diminishing the person who we have judged and there isn’t much value in that.
Lately, I have noticed a significant amount of judging going on in the vegan community. This has been interesting for me, because before I was much engaged in social media, I had never encountered a vegan who was harsh in his/her outward critique of omnivores or vegetarians, and I was flummoxed when the omnis around me would mention such behavior. I only knew vegans who were committed to their own choice and willing to help others work toward it if they so desired. But, now I’m starting to get what they were talking about, except that it seems to be more directed from one vegan/vegetarian to another than it is toward omnivores. And, it can get a little vicious.
I became vegan because it was the right choice for me, partly due to some health concerns, and because others (in books, in life, online) had offered me persuasive, but not accusatory, information about non-meat animal products. I’m happy that I made this choice. But, I’m not as sure that I would have done it in response to someone berating me for not being vegetarian enough or telling me that I might as well eat meat if I wasn’t going to be all vegan. I suspect I would have closed up (out of anger, and probably some guilt) and not even considered veganism as an option.
Even if we set aside consideration of whether it is kind to judge others so harshly, it seems to work against the underlying goals of a vegan community. It seems to me that there is little value in browbeating other vegans or vegetarians in public settings for not embodying the principles or philosophies of veganism in exactly the way that we hope/think that they should. Even if one believes that the ultimate goal should be no utilization of animals for anything ever, isn’t it better if an individual is moving in that direction than if he/she gets shut down in the path by public humiliation?
My opinion, and it is only mine but it does and will inform the choices I make online, is that the best thing we can do, as vegans, is to keep the information flowing and support one another in the process, regardless of where we might be in it. So, while I’m not going to eat an egg now and then as a treat, I’m not going to reject or scold someone who does, and I’m not going to dissociate myself from someone just because he/she has “imperfections.” If I selected my friends and associates based on their degree of perfect adherence to my moral compass, I think I would be rather lonely.
There are certainly plenty of things that we can do to be active in promoting a vegan cause that don’t involve belittling others in a way that ultimately may work against our ends. For me, the primary effort is in providing information, whether that be online or in face-to-face encounters, and giving support. For someone else, that may be working for a vegan community group or starting a vegan restaurant. It could be working for animal rescue or against corporate farming. But, whatever we do, there have to be compatible ways that we can also offer acceptance and support to those heading in the same direction that we are, even if they aren’t moving as fast or in the same way.
Photos: Patrick Denker