How do you talk about being a Vegan without making the person you are talking to feel badly about their own non-Vegan choices? Start with loving kindness, says Mahesh Hayward. It’s not your job to try and convert others but the example you set might just help them think more about the reasons behind a vegan lifestyle and how that might work for them too.
“My name is Mahesh and I’m a Vegan.”
This statement conjures up all sorts of pictures in people’s minds. Also, it makes me sound like I’m attending a AA meeting, and when I say it out loud everyone should clap and shake my hand. But the truth is that when most people hear the ‘V’ word it evokes an altogether different type of response, sometimes with an almost violent undertone.
When people point the moral finger at others the response can be very defensive with a mix of justifying slurs and a lot of odd face pulling. I don’t make any secret about the way I live my life, and many people will engage with me about it in my day-to-day work. But, there are ways to approach a subject you know will make other feel defensive and advocating what is essentially a peaceful message with a barrage of abuse isn’t the way to open people’s minds and hearts. In fact your more likely to get told precisely where you can stick your tofu.
So is there any ‘good way’ to approach the V word - or should we just be happy with our own lives and stop acting like evangelists at every given moment, knocking bacon sandwiches out of people’s hands and shouting MURDERER at anyone tucking into their favourite sushi?
You’re not going to convert anyone by making them feel bad about the person they are - that’s never going to work. And let’s not even think about using the word convert, let’s use inform or educate instead.
We have, in choosing to become vegan, opened our eyes to something very important to the wellbeing of both the planet and our own health, therefore we need to be just as mindful about how we traverse other people’s feelings and cultural upbringing.
Often, when I get around to the Vegan conversation I use the phrase “Plant Based diet” rather than the actual word Vegan. In my experience just that single word brings up too many barriers and the red mist starts to come down over people’s eyes. I’ve discovered for myself that PB (plant-based) is more of a user-friendly way to start a big topic.
Let’s look at how to start or even continue the conversation with an omnivore and how to keep that conversation light and without conflict. Here are my top five things to consider:
1. Remember, you have probably eaten meat or dairy at some point in your life so you are not ‘pure’, and self-righteous people are not attractive.
2. Play to your strengths; if you have great skin show that off, if your hair is big and bouncy flick it in their direction. Visual benefits to a Plant Based diet work well.
3. There are three main reasons for choosing a vegan lifestyle - the animals, the planet, and then benefits for the body and mind. Choose the one that you think the individual will most connect with.
4. Show them your lunch or set up a Pinterest board with lots of easy and quick dishes for them to see. Cooking is a big factor and can feel like a big obstacle in the beginning.
5. Lastly (and most importantly) educate them with loving kindness, this is the key!
Picking up on the last tip, for me this is the only way to help others to see how you feel about the lifestyle you have chosen. The important word I used was FEEL, because this is hard to show sometimes, therefore your message should always be given with love. If love and compassion are the emotions that keep you on a Plant Based diet, then they are the tools that will show others what you hold dear inside of you.
So, before you react when a flippant comment is thrown your way, just take a moment to consider why the person is coming from that place. Is it from a lack of knowledge? Maybe. Does this person hate animals? Highly unlikely. Would a response of rage help my cause? No! Loving kindness is the most powerful tool in your Vegan tool belt; use it wisely and remember you can’t put fire out with fire.
Compassion for our planet and for the animals isn’t the only driver in a Vegan life. You must show your empathy to everyone you meet, regardless of what you may think of them. You can’t say you’re a kind and loving person if you have boundaries; your compassion can’t just avoid the things you judge to be wrong and care for the rest. To open your mind and have the awakening it’s now your responsibility to use this important knowledge wisely and with a sense of maturity.
Approach each conversation you have in a warm and sensitive manner and amazing things can happen. My biggest test was some months ago in the barbershop. One morning a man came into the shop for a haircut and we started to talk, “First time in the shop?” I asked him. The man nodded and looked down, he seemed a little nervous, so I asked him about his work. He told me what he did or a living and my first response was to stop cutting his hair, I wanted nothing to do with this man. But, I had to remember that he wasn’t awake, he hadn’t made the connection with the part he was playing out in the world. This gentleman in my chair was a slaughterhouse worker. I asked him if he liked his job and he said it’s just a way to make money, and told me he had no skills to offer any other employer. I ended up feeling sad that this man felt he was only worth the job he did, so I told him about night school and Open Uni.
Sometimes we must look further than our own judgements and remember we are all able to evolve and learn, just give someone the tools and watch them grow...
I’m going to leave you with a wonderful saying and I think this sums up this whole article:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself”
Be well and take care…
Mahesh Hayward is a regular Lush Life columnist writing on the challenges of Modern Living and Wellbeing