“Well, anyone working to change the axis of the world must be prepared for the fact that her neighbors won’t always be happy.” The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho
This is a quote from one of my favourite books. It reminded me about a letter I wrote last year called “Letter to a New Vegan” which I submitted to be published in a new book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t chosen to be included. But now that gives me the freedom to share it in other ways, like here in my blog!
Whether you are a “new vegan”, are considering shifting, or are just curious, I think this letter will be illuminating and thought-provoking.
So here it is…
Dear New Vegan,
Congratulations on making the decision to live vegan! I am honoured to have this opportunity to offer my support by sharing my experience.
When I first made the commitment to become vegan, I thought it was all about the food. However, I quickly came to realize I was embarking on a lifestyle transformation. I started to question many of my choices. Was it really just about the food I ate? What about the cosmetics, shampoo and toothpaste I used? Or the products I used to clean my home? What about my clothes and shoes? Basically – where did I draw my boundaries and why specifically there? As time goes on and I experience different things, I find myself continually negotiating my own boundaries. At first I was frustrated by it; I wanted a definitive end-point to reach. Now I embrace it and enjoy the evolution.
There is another aspect of living a vegan lifestyle that I wasn’t prepared for. I had never really heard anyone talk much about it, even now, 11 years into it. So that’s what I want to focus on here with you. That aspect is navigating the social realm.
We become vegan thinking the relationship is purely between us and the animals and environment. But it extends so much further, no matter what your motivation may be. Our choices cause waves throughout nearly all of our relationships. Sometimes it’s a gentle ripple and sometimes it’s a tsunami!
Once it’s known we are vegan, our very presence causes a stir. Sometimes we don’t even have to say a word! And yet you can certainly feel the energy shift.
The experience with newly acquainted people varies every time. At one end of the spectrum it can be a friendly enjoyable exchange with someone being very curious and interested to learn about why you live the way you do. On the ugly end, you find yourself needing to put up a shield against a barrage of downright nasty confrontational spewing of why they think you represent everything that is wrong with the world. Thankfully, it’s not usually at that ugly end.
To be honest, I used to dread meeting new people and the inevitable disclosure that I was vegan. It was quite exhausting. I felt like I was under scrutiny all the time and that I needed to be on guard. Or sometimes it was easiest to go on the offensive. I chalked it up to just being the high price I had to pay to live according to my values within our current culture. It does take inner strength, courage and knowing who you are to stand for what you believe is right.
But it didn’t sit well with me. How could I inspire compassion by yelling at someone, or by withdrawing from interactions with people? I couldn’t. So I decided to delve deeper. I started looking for what was underlying people’s reactions.
As vegans, we represent a rejection of the status quo and the ‘normal’ North American culture and traditions. So our presence naturally puts people in the position to question their own choices. Often this is the first time they are faced with that, which can be quite uncomfortable. Some may embrace this opportunity for self-reflection, while others immediately react in defence.
Once I pinpointed what the root cause was, it changed my experience entirely. I could handle others’ discomfort far more effectively, not taking it personally, and enjoying the process. Even the more challenging exchanges! Now I ask a lot of questions rather than being the only one sharing information. I am genuinely curious to learn each person’s own reasons for why they draw their boundaries where they do. I also enjoy the experience when something I say resonates for someone on a new level. You can see the spark and the shift happen. It is my favourite thing to hear, “I never thought of it that way before!” That is all I need to hear to know I am making a difference.
By living up to my values of freedom and equality for all living beings, I am leading by example, making the world a kinder and gentler place for us all.
And now you are too!
Peace to you and all beings,