I would encourage anyone interested in the vegan movement to get involved in any way that suits you: start a group, educate your neighbors, or join in social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. One of the difficulties, though, of being an online vegan with a voiced opinion is the negativity one may receive from others whose views diverge from yours. While one would hope that our shared commitment to a harm-free life, or as harm-free as possible, would be a tremendous unifying force, it often feels like all our repressed anger at the plight of animals somehow gets released within our movement. Despite our minority status in the world, we are not a cohesive group of folks. Being able to move beyond the mainstream thinking, to accept what is often painted as a radical lifestyle or an extremist political statement, means that by our very nature, we are an independent lot. We have failed to become properly socialized into accepting animals as things. We are sensitive and may easily empathize with other beings. Our filters, which might allow us to ignore what we know like so many others in order to remain comfortable and go about our daily lives, do not work that well. We see. We feel. We know.
Because of the overwhelming task of social change, of our desire to awaken the masses and eradicate speciesism, it is easy to get discouraged. Like in all families, our vegan family often gets the worst of it, for it is within that family that much of the stress and strain must be worked through. And like in all families, this causes the most distress for the most vulnerable among us. Our anger, which is a source of energy, may become toxic if not channeled properly towards solutions. If vegans cannot figure out how to live peacefully with other vegans, how can we ever begin the radical inclusion that Dr. Will Tuttle suggests, where animals are part of our consideration, how can we wrestle with that energy that gets released due to our frustration and personal injuries, and then direct it into positive action for animal liberation? If we really believe in non-violence and peace, how can we use those beliefs to increase the peacefulness of interactions within our movement?
Here is a clip from APM’s The Story with Dick Gordon, discussing what Arun Gandhi learned from his grandfather about passive anger and himsa.
APM The Story: Searching for Change
This is a brief clip from Arun’s interview with Dick Gordon and is part of a wonderful series called Searching for Change. You may find it available on iTunes.
This leads us to re-examine what we are doing to spread peace, to build a more peaceful world. Certainly, becoming vegan and letting go of the violent exploitation of others is part of the process. But if we are creating himsa to others by our very response to them, we are defeating some of the good we might achieve. Think of a teacher who wants to impart wisdom to others. An effective teacher does not become enraged when the student asks questions, or fails to agree with the teacher’s logic. They share what they are teaching and allow the student to absorb what they will. Force feeding, of any kind, is just another form of violence.
The solution-focused aspect of Arun’s anger journal is such an important idea. As a therapist, I often found people were afraid of their anger because they did not know what to do with it and it often became destructive when given free reign in their lives. If we think about anger as a signal, like an electrical impulse, we can begin to view it as empowering. But, when someone is snapping at our heels, we may fail to realize they are acting out of fear, and feeling threatened ourselves, snap back. Please listen to what Sri Raghuram of Yoga Bharati has to say regarding fear and himsa.
Violence in Thought, Word, and Deed
One of the ways to disengage from online drama and dissension is to allow the other person to be responsible for their own illumination. If one leaves a comment that is respectful, realize the other person may or may not accept truth to be as you see it. The other person has an entire lifetime of experiences that colors their perception of the world; you are only able to plant a tiny seed, and seeds take time to grow. Like with child-rearing, often the best we can do is model the behavior we wish to see. We may tell our children how to behave, but they learn far more from watching our own behavior in the world. Keep in mind, too, that online, many silent people may be reading the exchange and may be impacted by your ideas. It always seems that there is much to be learned from dissenters, too. Recently I took part in a Facebook thread that was becoming challenging. It was only hours later that I was able to understand what the other person was trying to communicate. Part of the barrier was the tone of the other person’s post, and an equally large part was my own defensiveness in rushing to explain and protect a colleague that did not need me to defend them at all. If I had allowed the other person’s opinion to stand and let others read it, then they would be free to decide if it was a valid point or not. I realized I had unintentionally caused himsa and vowed to be more cautious in the future.
Here are a few word from Sri Swami Sivananda regarding the more subtle forms of himsa:
The vow of Ahimsa is broken even by showing contempt towards another man, by entertaining unreasonable dislike for or prejudice towards anybody, by frowning at another man, by hating another man, by abusing another man, by speaking ill of others, by backbiting or vilifying, by harbouring thoughts of hatred, by uttering lies, or by ruining another man in any way whatsoever.
Harm Through Abuse and Neglect of Earth
There are other ways we may unknowingly generate himsa, too. If we fail to show concern for the earth, if we fail to recycle, or comsume too much of any resource, that is himsa. When we harm the earth, we also harm the inhabitants of the earth by destroying their home. Every purchase we make takes the resources of the earth for ourselves, but it is infrequent that we consider how this impacts those we do not know or see, those animals, both human and nonhuman, who are affected by our choices. There are many ways our lives may cause harm to others, and we cannot totally eradicate all of them, but still, we must do the best we can. Deepening my awareness of the breadth of himsa has helped me to view my own actions in a new light; and I hope it will help you as well. It takes pressure off your aim to change the world and instead emphasizes that which is within your control — your own behavior.
We do not all have the wonderful grandfather that Arun Gandhi had to guide us towards ahimsa, but we may all learn from the teachings that Arun is sharing around the world. It took sharp words from another person to awaken me to my own creation of himsa to others, however unintentionally. I thought because I did not believe in physical force, it meant I was non-violent; I thought I was supporting ahimsa. But once I realized the broader view of himsa, I realized I still had much work to do to become the person I wanted to be. Like Arun, there have been times I have wanted to fight back, even with words, in self-defense. Learning, instead, to redirect the energy towards something more positive, more solution-focused, will release much more energy for the things I think are significant in life. It also helps me to feel more peaceful and empowered as well.
The Active Force of Ahimsa is Love
Ahimsa is not merely the passivity of avoiding physical force or hurtful words and actions. It is still more, an active role of love and forgiveness that should radiate from the being who practices and believes in it. In our western world, it may feel alien at times, since independence and exploration of the outer world has dominated our thinking, rather than introspection and interdependence. Looking at the world and all those who lives within her more holistically, we realize that we are like cells in a single organism, with each cell’s survival intimately connected with the wellbeing of those around us. Becoming more active in our understanding of Ahimsa requires some effort and much self-discipline. This can have a positive impact on your advocacy, because your focus will remain on your own empowerment rather than an external focus on the actions of others. To have peace without, we must start with peace within. Learning to remain peaceful in light of disagreement is essential in world affairs, as well as within our homes, communities, and the vegan family itself.
Peace by Asa