Friday, January 7, 2011

The Videos, Part 2

To cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.
—Samuel Johnson, English author (1709–1784)

Yesterday, I talked about the importance of vegans watching videos that expose animal abuse. They educate and galvanize us, but they also have a role to play in our conversations with non-vegans.

Of course, I wasn't so sure of that at first. After all, I make wonderful vegan foods, and my efforts to educate are pleasant. I make them cookies, and take them to sanctuaries. I can even count a full seven people converted. I show them a world where we cook up exciting dishes and hug animals and feel like everything is OK.

It's tempting to believe that the happy efforts are enough, but if that were the case, my vegan convert count would be much higher. People need to see the footage because it's easy to forget a phrase like "animal suffering" while pulling up to the dinner table, but it's much harder to forget the visuals and audio that videos like these burn into our minds.

However, some people react to the videos by getting angry at the people showing them or denying that this sort of thing happens all the time (as if once isn't one time too many), or accusing the film makers of sensationalism and clever editing. This attitude drives people further from compassion because it becomes important to defend their own position in the debate as not-a-monster.

So how do we strike a balance between exposing horrors and inadvertently condemning people?

By creating empathy.

The problem with videos that showcase such graphic images and sounds is that we have to cope with them. Some cry, some change, some lash out, some shut down. Just as soldiers have to divorce themselves from emotions during battle to carry on doing what they have to do, people try to deny that what they're seeing is wrong, that animals suffer, or that they are part of the problem.

And I can't blame them. I don't want to be a part of that either.

I also don't want to be a person who shows Meet Your Meat to someone and leaves them on the defensive. I won't post videos like that to Facebook with no explanation, even though every time someone posts about bacon or foie gras, I want to comment with a link to footage and hope that they feel like a murderer. But that only speaks to my rage, and is in no way a solution.

Sharing these videos is an important part of activism. They expose horrors and help engage the senses in a way that rhetoric sometimes fails to do. If we want to win people over to helping animals, then we need to show them beyond a shadow of a doubt that our help is needed. We also have to lay the appropriate groundwork.

Footage needs to be part of a broader conversation and before showing them, we have to be sure the the people we're reaching out to agree that animals suffer, that animal abuse is wrong, and that good people who don't know the truth are not evil. After showing them, we have to take the time to listen, and maybe to ask questions.

Videos should be a powerful moment in a conversation, not the period at the end of the last word.

Priming a person by getting her to think about animals and empathy will make it easier for her to make the right connections while watching. Likewise, engaging in dialogue afterward will help her voice and develop her own thoughts, which is a far more powerful method of teaching than lecturing is.

Further, we can better encourage people to embrace their innate compassion if we listen and encourage than we can by steamrolling them with our own ideas. We can't force someone to be kind, but we can cultivate kindness in others.

Ohio Dairy Cruelty Video
The Cove
Meet Your Meat

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