It’s no secret that vegans would love to live in a world without the exploitation and commodification of animals. As idyllic and lofty as this goal may sound, that’s what we want. This kind of world would require a major cultural shift, one in which the pervasive mindset of human dominance over nonhuman animals and the structured hierarchy of animal life must be smashed. Because this is such a gargantuan undertaking, it’s not uncommon to feel like we are doing nothing even when we most certainly are.
We all wonder from time to time if we are really making a difference. We may occasionally get feedback from someone that invigorates us and reaffirms our purpose, but it can otherwise feel like endlessly throwing our desires into the universe and hoping it sticks somewhere. While it can feel rather nebulous or even hopeless at times, it’s useful to remind ourselves that people must travel through their own transformations. As a wise Chinese proverbs says: Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.
I’d like to share an anecdote from my childhood, one that has helped shape me into the vegan and animal advocate I am today. It was such a small thing at the time and took a good 5-6 years to click, but once my heart opened it became one of my points of center that kept me in alignment with my ethics.
I was in third grade, I think. I boarded the bus for my long ride to school. We were no doubt being brats, making Dave the bus driver crazy by “secretly” skipping seats and having Boyz II Men singalongs with a boom box – yup, a boom box – that someone brought on the bus occasionally. As a side note: it will come as no surprise that in the driver’s bidding for bus routes each year, ours was always dead last.
Mid-ride, we pulled up to a classmate’s house. She got on the bus, face beet red, and sobbed quietly in her seat. Her beloved dog, the one she’d grown up with, passed away the night before. She was inconsolable.
And we all laughed in her face.
I grew up in an animal-less house. With this in mind, you can see why I didn’t understand how my classmate could cry about a “dumb animal.” It’s not like it was a person or anything, it was an it. A thing.
Years after the school bus incident, I went vegetarian with the intention of continuing through to veganism, and I also finally convinced my mom to let me adopt a cat. As a budding vegan, I cared for the lives of cows, pigs, chickens, etc., but it was even easier for me to make a personal connection with my cat since I shared my life with her. She taught me what it was like to unconditionally love and respect a being of another species, virtually tearing down the cultural construction of “human as superior” as I knew it.
I started to think about that moment in grade school again: a girl and her dog. I finally understood it, and wished so badly that I could go back in time and hug her while she cried. And it still pops up in my memory from time to time. I can’t believe how heartless we were, and that there was once a time that I was so speciesist. Now that I have a dog of my own – really, he has me –, I have made an even stronger connection with this memory and hold even more compassion for my classmate and her grief for her companion. And so it is that a small action or event can have evolutions of impact over time.
As vegans and animal advocates, we must remember that there was once a time that we did not feel the way we do now. We navigated this path to veganism at our own pace, and the perfect chain of events for our individual selves led to our choosing this. Everyone has their own moments, and it’s wise to honor that while also continuing to defend and speak up for animals. Even if you don’t think anyone is affected by you and your experience, I assure you that the seed has been planted. Look how it was for me. One of the biggest moments that kicked off my life as a vegan wasn’t even influenced by a vegan. So, imagine what an impact you can make as a vegan dedicating yourself to the liberation of animals.