Are we being true to our deepest values?
“May our daily choices be a reflection of our deepest values”- Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
The statement above expresses a sentiment long held dear by many people across time and throughout the world. As we move through life, we may often inquire of ourselves, and search deep within, to ascertain whether or not we are being true to our value systems. People of deep faith often ask themselves how they might become more faithful and increasingly spiritual; fathers and mothers will ask of questions of themselves as they guide, love, and encourage their children the best they know how; those who are striving to impact their communities and the world in a positive way will ask themselves if there’s any room for improvement, for growth, for increased focus on the task at hand.
It’s incredibly, almost amazingly, simple and easy to make our way through the day, the week, the month, and the year without stopping to ask ourselves where we are headed, where we want to see ourselves, and perhaps more importantly, what consequences are our choices leading to. On the whole, we consider ourselves to be decent human beings, and to be sure, the majority of people may certainly fall under this heading. We serve our communities, we love our families, we care for our partners, and we provide refuge and safety for the animals with whom we share our lives. If pressed on the issue, we would certainly claim that we are compassionate, kind, and merciful individuals, and that may very well be true. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves in regards to the choices that we make, it remains an inescapable fact that when we support animal agriculture in any way, we are contributing to extreme cruelty towards animals. We are helping to financially support an industry that is hell bent on the creation and maintenance of profits; the bottom line is of ultimate importance.
Perhaps, when an individual is confronted with this reality, they might become defensive, arguing that they are not the ones committing the acts of cruelty themselves. They have not pulled the trigger; they were not on the killing floor themselves. When faced with a picture of entrenched violence, we (quite naturally) wish to turn away; the aversion to seeing a sentient being lose it’s life in a manner of deep cruelty should be taken as a positive, for it means that we find something objectionable in that act. And yet, we might still consider our hands clean from the dirty work, as we have delegated that responsibility to another. How can we, as activists, show the non-vegan that they are still responsible for these acts, and therefore must abstain from contributing to any more violence? Sherry Kolb, a lawyer with a history of activism and author of “Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger?” reminds us that from a legal standpoint, we already consider the individual in the above example to be fully culpable of the crime (in the case of murder in a human context, for example). If a man pays another person to commit a murder on his behalf, he is equally as responsible for the crime if he had pulled the trigger himself, in the eyes of the United States justice system. As a society, we have collectively agreed to condemn both parties as guilty in the above scenario; we see no difference in their culpability, quite rightly; for there is no difference to be had.
Collectively, most people within our communities see vegans as a strange group of people; some may view us as a cult, or martyrs, or prophets, crying out to the wind. Yet there is something that gives us hope, and hope is what we must cling to every day: Veganism, as a system of values, is not terribly different from the values that we already hold so dearly. In general, the vast majority of us already believe, deep down, that is is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering to a living creature. We already teach our children that it is a heinous act to be cruel to an animal. We already understand that our hearts open and our souls are touched when we open our homes to an animal in need of refuge and care. Veganism, at its most fundamental level, is already in line with our most treasured values of compassion, love, and mercy. In our advocacy towards non-vegans, we must remember to gently and thoughtfully communicate this, for there was once a time where we, too, were unable to make this connection.