A personal view by speaker and animal advocate Joanne Kong
The other day, I encountered someone who voiced opposition to animal rights activists, saying that there’s no way people are going to quit eating meat—“How are you going to get people to change?” This person implied that advocating for animal rights is a losing battle, that it’s not a good or right path.
When alone, I realized that this person had the effect of getting a rise out of me, but even though I felt initial anger towards what the person was saying, I realized that I needed to find a stronger point of focus for my advocacy; the essence of what our work is all about. It’s not only about motivating people to become vegan, it’s not even about right vs wrong or who has the better argument. It’s not only about whether enough people will change to make a difference or whether our society as a whole will ever change.
It goes way, way beyond this. It is about the fundamental tenets of compassion, and filling every waking moment of our lives with the highest good we possess as living beings—our capacity for kindness, empathy, and seeing ourselves in every other living being who shares our identities as living, sensitive and feeling beings who are aware. It seems so simple, yet it has profound implications for the world. We advocates give voice to the voiceless, telling the world to bear witness to the tens of billions of innocent creatures who are needlessly killed every year. Who is going to be kind to these animals, prevent them from enduring a horrendous existence that we would never wish on anyone else? Who will comfort them, and touch them with a loving hand?
The preponderance and inertia of our social conditioning and the power exerted by the animal agriculture industry is such that it would be so easy to do nothing, to simply accept the killing of animals for food as the status quo. But I am not willing to give up and say that it is too difficult, or that I can’t make a difference. My goal must be to move people to be courageous and open their hearts to the pain they would feel in witnessing what is the most destructive, cruel, exploitative and oppressive act that happens on our planet today, running like an invisible thread through the fabric of our lives. It is this point of awareness that must be reached, no matter by what path, or how difficult it may be.
That we as a society avoid this emotional pain and complicit guilt—how often have we heard the words, “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to think about it!”—is not about having shortcomings or insensitivities, and it is never about judging the actions of others. Rather, these types of responses happen precisely because our capacity to love is so great that we want to look away, to subconsciously and protectively distance ourselves from the cruelty, suffering and death that take place through the industries that exploit animals every second of every day.
People can reach this point of conscious, compassionate awareness in many different ways, and we can encourage them in specific ways, whether it be through their companion animals, visiting an animal sanctuary, watching factory farming videos online, attending a vegan festival or gathering, or viewing a documentary. Bringing about positive change through animal advocacy must be about imploring people to turn inward—to look at themselves, and embrace deeply, fully and consciously, their great capacity for love and kindness. Too much of our world is about the material and external aspects of our lives, but we can re-awaken the sensitivity of our true selves that reside within. We all have the power to create a new, transformative and beautiful reality. Only then will we as a society be able to extend that kindness to the fellow beings with whom we walk this earth.
About Joanne Kong, see also https://youtu.be/eZWzNfOpbCQ