Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Saints and Sinners

I've been reading Peter's Singer's Ethics into Action and plan to review it once I'm finished, but there is so much material in this little book, and it's got me thinking a lot about how to go about effecting change.

If you don't know, Ethics into Action serves as an overview on the life of animal activist, Henry Spira. Though I haven't finished, I can tell you that this book is a must read for any who care to end animal suffering. Not only does it provide important history of the AR movement and the efforts of one of its key players, but it illustrates the attitudes and actions that are instrumental in reducing animal suffering.

One attitude that is repeated throughout the book is one that must guide all of our interactions. Spira's success with people, even before he was fighting for animal rights, can be traced to his ability to communicate with people, most notably, his adversaries.

When approaching the executives of companies like Revlon, Avon, and Proctor & Gamble, he tried to present a case for action that would benefit both the animals and the corporations using them in testing. Besides providing incentive, the option gave people the opportunity to do the right thing. Spira never cast his adversaries as the villain without giving them ample chance to choose their own role in his campaigns. He was said to understand the pressures that faced a business and its employees (Singer, 1998, p. 101) and that helped him to build a rapport with the very people he was fighting against.

Though these people were in direct opposition to Spira's goals, he knew that he would never reach them "by saying we're saints, and you're sinners" (p. 113). He understood that vilifying the people with the power to make change would get him nowhere, and thanks to this attitude, "he made it possible for all the people in the industry to respond to him and his ideas" (p. 100).

In fact, he took every chance to interact with the opposition. Some were surprised that he agreed to give an interview in Lab Animal, a trade magazine, but he saw it as the opportunity to "reach people who were in a position to to make a real difference to the welfare of the animals under their care" (p. 100). He also met with anyone he could from executives, to scientists, to politicians to get answers, to propose solutions, and to make his case known.

This model of meeting with people, listening to their ideas, and understanding their concerns is an important one. It's tempting to rail against those who commit or support the atrocities we're fighting against, but if you hail these people as monsters, you're doing a disservice to your own efforts.

People accused of atrocity will generally jump to defend themselves and defensive people tend to be dismissive of ideas that counter their own. Further, when people are viewed as monsters, they have no chance for redemption. To label a person as such dismisses their motivations and will keep us from understanding the roots of the problem we are trying to solve.

So get angry, and then channel that rage into positive actions. Talk to your adversaries, learn what moves them, and then make a change.

If you haven't, read Singer's works, including Ethics into Action. If you can't get to it right away, check out Ten Ways to Make a Difference as a primer.

Works Cited
Singer, P. (1998). Ethics into action. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

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