By Psychologist, Clare Mann Bsc, MSc, MA, PD Dip Couns, Reg Psych. CPsychol
Clare is a psychologist, bestselling author and co-founder of The Animal Effect Communication Platform.
Clare’s advice for day twenty-two:
TYPICAL COMMENT: Vegans often wonder how to respond when someone says they have a right to eat what they want. They might even use humour saying things like ‘Let’s go a burger house, I would love to eat some animals tonight!’
ISSUE: There is a difference between someone who has no compassion and wants to cause you pain by glorifying eating animals and someone whose normal sense of humour involves ‘pushing people’s boundaries’. Ascertain where the person is coming from and modify your response accordingly.
RESPONSE: If you think the person is being deliberately provocative, say, ‘It seems to me that you’re deliberately trying to trivialise animal cruelty or my personal values about it. If you were exposed to the same information I have, then I hope you wouldn’t be doing this. If you are deliberately trying to provoke me for a reaction, then you’ll probably not be open-minded enough for us to have a conversation. If I am wrong, let me know and I will share with you what I know about the subject.
NOTE: This response is firm but also gives the opportunity for the person to say a mistake has been made and that they are not deliberately trying to upset you. If the person is ‘trying to push your boundaries’ but is not being malicious, say, ‘You seem to be joking but there really is no funny side to this. I know you have a sense of humour but the information I know about animal cruelty is so awful that I can’t make light of it. It’s resulted in me becoming a vegan (exploring the 30 Day Vegan Challenge). I would love to share with you what I know so you too can see what it was that made me go down this path. Can I tell you (show you) more?
TIP: When people make light of animal cruelty or meat eating, ascertain whether they are being deliberately provocative or their sense of humour means they ‘push the boundaries’ on lots of subjects. Make it clear that it’s no laughing matter. If they are just pushing boundaries, still be firm, but give them leeway to say ‘Hey sorry, it’s only my sense of humour. I am not making fun of something that you obviously know more about’. If they feel judged about their natural style by an angry response, they may feel embarrassed and say ‘don’t be so serious’ in an attempt to keep face.
Clare’s advice for day twenty-three:
TYPICAL COMMENT: A question you may come across is “What’s wrong with eating animals? In the wild, animals eat each other all the time?”
ISSUE: Presumably this is an attempt at justifying meat eating as normal and yet the argument ignores the fact that we are not living ‘in the wild’ and also that our intensive farming methods are far from ‘normal’ and linked to engineering the need for greater consumption. There are myths to dispel about how many animals actually eat each other in the wild and the assumption that if certain animals eat other animals, then it must be normal for humans to do so.
RESPONSE: ‘The ‘normal’ argument is an interesting one because it assumes some things are evolutionary or natural because they occur in the wild. The reality is that we are not ‘in the wild’, nor are we obtaining animals under natural conditions. The vast majority of animals for food are kept in totally unnatural conditions and humans consume them at far greater rates than would ever be possible if they had to obtain them ‘naturally’ in the wild. The fact that we cause them so much pain and suffering, fill them with antibiotics because of the unnatural conditions we breed them in and give them growth hormones to speed their growth is argument enough that it is not ‘natural’ to eat animals as we do. I think there is also a myth about how many animals are carnivores. A great new book by author Jeffrey Masson entitled ‘Beasts: What they tell us about the roots of good and evil’ (2014) would be a great source to consult to dispel these myths that it is natural to eat meat and therefore justifies our modern diet’.
TIP: Whenever you are talking about a concept, clarify that you and other person are talking about the same thing. In this example, identify what is considered ‘natural’. Modern farming methods are far from natural and so we can’t say that meat eating in modern society is natural. Always offer the other person the opportunity to be given more information. Don’t think you have to have all the answers – just provide people with information so they can make informed choices. Do however share your opinion with them.
Clare’s advice for day twenty-four:
TYPICAL COMMENT: In an attempt to challenge the strength of your convictions, you may be asked ‘What would you do if you found yourself on a desert island? Would you eat meat or starve to death?’
ISSUE: This sort of question presumably is asked to test the strength of your vegan beliefs rather than a practical consideration of whether you would eat meat if your survival relied on it. It’s a good idea to point this out to the person and clarify with them what they are really asking you about.
RESPONSE: ‘Hopefully I won’t find myself on a dessert island with nothing else to eat because my choice to be vegan (try to 30 Day Vegan Challenge) is based on my new found knowledge about how animals are treated in our society and the enormously positive benefits a vegan diet will have on my life’. (Note: Use every opportunity to inform the other person of the positive benefits of veganism rather than merely reacting to their attempt to challenge your beliefs). Continue: ‘Because I haven’t found myself in such a life and death situation, I can’t say exactly how I would act. However, I do know that our desire to live is very strong and so if I were in a life and death situation, I most probably would do whatever I had to survive. It goes without saying that this is no doubt what animals would do too because they have a natural desire to live too’. Because we are unlikely to find ourselves in such a life and death situation, we have choice. I choose to be a vegan because of XYZ (health, ethics, sustainability etc). Would you like to know more about veganism and the enormously positive effect on health as well allowing animals to live their lives for their own sakes?’
TIP: Clarify what the person is really asking you. It is most likely about challenging the strength of your convictions. Point out that we have choice in what we consume and that like us, animals have a desire to live their own lives for their own sakes, rather than being incarcerated in cruel ways that cause much suffering. Offer them the opportunity find out more so they can make more informed choices.
Clare’s advice for day twenty-five:
On the 30-Day Vegan Challenge, there may be times when you realise right away or later that you have eaten something or used a product that wasn’t vegan. This certainly happens to all vegans despite making great efforts to check items thoroughly. If you have already done this, you will recall your reactions. If it haven’t various reactions are likely. Some people are able to shrug it off and move on, vowing to be more diligent in their questioning of others or examination of ingredients. Other people feel guilty but are able to forgive themselves since they realise it was a mistake. Some feel that they have been deceived by unscrupulous product manufacturers who are deliberately not be as transparent as they could be. Some people find this enormously distressing and it is usually people who have adopted veganism for ethical reasons that seem to suffer the most. If your choice to become vegan was prompted by learning the extent and reality of animal exploitation, your reaction might be like a traumatic re-enactment of the original distress, anger or grief, knowing that you have colluded with the cruelty (even if unwittingly). Dealing with such reactions is no different to dealing with other issues where your values or beliefs or chosen standards have been violated. You can’t undo what you have done but you can choose how you now react. You can go down the path of self-blame and guilt, or extend the compassion towards yourself that has been aroused in you about animals. It is preferable to adopt the latter, since self-blame only depletes your energy further and minimises your ability to tell others about what you know and the benefits of veganism. Self-criticism can be a habit, so refer back to Day 2 of the Challenge which was about changing habits and positively putting in place ways to keep your spirits high and enjoy being part of creating a vegan world i.e. One that is underpinned the philosophy of the non-use and non-exploitation of animals. The associated lifestyle has far-reaching positive effects on your health and emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. Don’t allow your unintended mistakes to undermine your commitment to creating a more compassionate world. Forgive yourself, move on and direct your energies to living your life true to your values.
Clare’s advice for day twenty-six:
It’s really helpful to learn to read signs from other people of when to continue talking or walk away, returning later to discuss vegan philosophy and lifestyle or provide further information.
EXAMPLE: I recently met a friend I hadn’t seen for several years. He ordered food and I said ‘I’ll just have a drink as there’s nothing I can eat here as I don’t eat animals’. He said ‘Ok, but there is nothing you will do to convince me not to eat meat!’ I felt an immediate emotional reaction within me. It would have been easy to say e.g. ‘Do you know how animals suffer for us to eat meat’ or ‘I don’t know how you can eat animals when they are so badly treated in factory farms?’ It probably was what I felt like saying because of the intensity of my emotional reaction. However, would it have moved him along the continuum of increased awareness? Probably not, because after all, he was only ordering his dinner and my response would have triggered a strong emotional reaction in him and conflict would probably have resulted.
MY REPLY: I inferred from the brusqueness of his response that he was resistant to my comment that I didn’t eat animals. I looked for the signs of how best to respond. I then said ‘I’m not here to convince you to do anything. However, I really would like to share with you why I have chosen to be vegan. What you decide to do beyond that is your choice. Can we do that? Now, why don’t you order?’
NOTE: My response indicated that he wasn’t under pressure to change and increased the likelihood of him agreeing to talk further, which he did. Note that I asked him to agree to a conversation, rather than hoping we would return to the subject at some stage. As a vegan you have become aware of information about animal exploitation, food values and health that a lot of other people are yet to discover. Never assume a person’s response is given in light of the same knowledge you hold. Their criticism, ridicule or humour may be more to do with feeling embarrassed or judged rather than being indifferent to suffering or exploitation of which they are currently unaware.
TIP: Accept that often you will feel strong emotional reactions to people resisting the message of veganism or humorously undermining your lifestyle choices. Keep an open mind as to their level of knowledge and don’t assume that they are indifferent to suffering, exploitation or incorrect advertising. Take a deep breath and ask them if they want to hear more. If they say yes, then tell them. If they make light of the subject or show resistance, it’s probably a good sign that a cooling off period would strengthen your message when you finally share it. Agree a time with them to return to the subject.
Clare’s advice for day twenty-seven
‘What you focus you will tend to multiply’.
On the 30-Day Vegan Challenge, you have undoubtedly become more aware of vegan food and cruelty free products that are available and sometimes how difficult it is to source them in certain areas. If you have chosen veganism for ethical reasons, you may find yourself becoming more sensitive when seeing images or hearing stories about animal cruelty. This is because when we focus on something, we tend to see things related to it more often, even if these things existed before. It is all too easy to become disheartened if you live in an area where obtaining vegan products isn’t easy. You may also become overwhelmed with the extent of animal cruelty as you hear new stories about how institutionalised animal exploitation is. You must become vigilant and actively choose to be positive. You can become disheartened and wonder if things will ever change. Alternatively, you can choose right now to accept that you are part of a global, positive change on the planet, which is simultaneously enhancing your personal health and wellbeing. What you focus on tends to multiply. Remember, only a few years ago, it was impossible to get soya milk in a café. Now it easy and almost 100% guaranteed in major cities. There are special sections for vegan and vegetarian foods at supermarkets where people previously wouldn’t have known what vegan meant if you had asked them. I remember in the 1970s in the UK when only one vegetarian restaurant chain with vegan options existed. It was called Cranks. The work ‘Crank’ humorously indicated that way people tended to view this food choice but the creators saw through the criticism and knew that by taking action, things would change. Today we see veganism growing with well-known leaders and celebrities often adopting it as better choice than carnism. Because of your daily choice to eat and shop vegan, you are individually contributing to the growth of veganism on the planet. Each day you choose with your palette and purse to move social awareness of compassion and responsibility towards a positive end.
TIP: Surround yourself with like-minded people and talk about how exciting it is to be part of a social justice movement that is sweeping the globe. Enjoy your increased vitality and good health and the growing community of friends with whom you are building lifelong connections. Remember, what you focus on, multiplies. So focus on the positive and enjoy the journey!
Clare’s advice for day twenty-eight:
The Good News, Bad News, Good News Sandwich
You’ve reached Day 28 and clearly taking the Challenge seriously. It’s about now that family members and friends realise that your vegan choices aren’t just a diet fad. It’s likely that you will never return to your pre-Challenge days. Because certain foods that may have been shared at traditional events or outings are no longer on the menu for you, they may feel uncomfortable and look for ways to get you to revert to how you were before. If you haven’t received it before, now may be the time when you get criticism, ridicule or cynicism. Refer to Days 7 and 10 and remind yourself of effective ways to deal with these issues. Today let’s look at how to respond to the overly concerned friend or family member saying things like ‘I am really concerned that you will become ill on your new diet’ or ‘I’m only saying this because I love you but…’ and complete the sentence with something about you being unpopular or causing offence to others. How do you respond to this, especially when you probably are (or should be) proud of completing your intended goal and living your life according to your values?
ISSUE & AVOIDING CONFLICT
Whilst comments about your health or popularity may be an entirely healthy concern, they most likely relate to the impact your choices are having on your relationship with the person commenting. For example, the other person may lament the fact that you no longer share certain meals or are likely to avoid going to certain restaurants. They may feel challenged by your choices, at some level realising that what you stand for is something they should sit up and listen to. Thus when someone voices concern about your health or popularity, your response may meet with resistance because of the challenge your choices presents to them or your relationship with them.
THE GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS SANDWICH
This technique is useful to minimise conflict. Imagine a sandwich with two pieces of bread and a filling. The bread represents something positive (good news) and the filling the information (or your response) that may be resisted or cause potential conflict (bad news). By putting good news forward before the challenging piece, you minimise resistance. Adding something positive at the end reinforces the importance of your relationship with them.
EXAMPLE: In response to concerns about your health, the sandwich technique would work as follows: ‘Thank you so much for your concern about my health (good news). ‘ I have chosen veganism because I strongly believe that it is a compassionate choice and great for my health. (Potential information that the person will resist i.e. bad news). I will most certainly continue to take good advice and will keep you up to date with information as it become available. (Allays their fear and invites them to be part of the solution). Would you like me to do that? Again, thanks so much. Your concern really means a lot to me (good news)’. In response to concerns about your popularity: ‘Thank you for your concern about me potentially offending people and therefore being unpopular. (good news). However, I have chosen veganism because I believe it is a compassionate choice and true to my values. It is unfortunate if people become offended, but it’s not my intention to do that (bad news). Could you tell me more of why you think this is happening so I could avoid it without being untrue to my values? (invites the other person to work with you to improve how you come across – good news). Note: The above words are examples to demonstrate the principle of the technique. Choose words that suit you. The techniques are also valuable when discussing non-vegan issues.
TIP: Use the Good News, Bad News, Good News Sandwich when you sense criticism or an underlying concern that is not being clearly voiced. The techniques softens a response and minimises conflict as you invite the other person to work with you and reinforces the importance you place in your relationship with them.
Clare’s advice for day twenty-nine:
Lessons from Neuropsychology on How to Stay Positive
Neuropsychologists broadly agree that there are three different parts of the brain: the frontal cortex (thinking and problem solving), the mid brain and the reptilian brain at the back (survival functions and emotions). The blood flow in the brain corresponds with different moods and openness to other people and directly links to our ability to access different parts of the brain. When we are calm and relaxed, the blood flow is towards the frontal cortex and we are open to other points of view, evaluate things, problem solve and maintain an open mind. When the blood flows to the reptilian brain, we are unable to access these problem-solving functions, instead we are in ‘fight or flight mode’, become focused on ourselves, and are highly emotional and resistant to new information. A key point is that a person’s blood flow is influenced by other people’s blood flow i.e. there is a contagion effect.
EXAMPLE: Have you ever noticed that when you are around angry and negative people, you can feel negative? Likewise you feel lighter and more positive around positive people. If we were to wire you up to ascertain the blood flow in your brain, it would most certainly indicate blood flow to the back of the brain when negative and irritable and to the front part of the brain when positive and humorous.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-AWARENESS The more self-aware you are, the more you are able to protect yourself from picking up negativity from other people. This is a valuable piece of information and reminds us to spend time around positive people who are solution-focused and hopefully We are able to influence the flow of blood in our own brain by slowing down our breathing, giving ourselves a supportive pep talk and nourishing ourselves and avoiding limiting and negative self-talk. Likewise, we can influence another person’s brain blood flow to move towards the frontal cortex by being supportive, kind, empathic and non-judgemental. That is why counselling and coaching are such powerful and supportive tools.
TIP: Develop routines that support you and increase your self-esteem and surround yourself with like-minded people who talk about solutions and the vision of a more compassionate world. When you become upset by information about animal cruelty or negative effects of non-veganism on other people or the planet, look for positive ways in which you can create a better world by remaining positive and sharing the vegan message with others.
Congratulations! From Clare Mann:
You have reached day 30 of the Vegan Challenge and shown your commitment and perseverance. Now its time to continue practising all the skills you have been taught so they become habitual.
ACTION: After reading this section today, look back over the 30 days advice I have given you and prioritise what you need to refine and practice. Put aside 30 mins each day to focus and learn about veganism, contact people in your local vegan community to discuss your ideas, questions and contributions.
RESOURCES: Throughout the Challenge, you have received numerous resources to call upon beyond the daily input from Kym, Angela, Robyn and myself. These provide rich sources of information and assistance and I encourage you to make it part of your daily routine to explore them and increase your knowledge and expertise in all aspects of veganism.
I offer counselling for vegans 1:1 or for couples in Sydney, over the phone or on Skype. Information available via www.thesydneypsychologist.com . You can have an Initial FREE 20 mins phone consultation to help you decide whether I am the right person to consult and for me to assess whether I am the best person to assist you.
Here’s to your success!