The two WORST things you can think, part one

June 8, 2010

With this being new baby week here at Staying Vegan, we’re buying ourselves a little time by posting a few revised versions of some past newsletters that we think could use a fresh look (or a first look if you haven’t seen it before, since we don’t have a list of archives available.)  The Staying Vegan Newsletter goes out every Monday afternoon with original content, click here to sign up for your free subscription!

This newsletter originally went out on Dec 21, 2009:

Since there tend to be a lot of get togethers this time of year, and with that a lot of “opportunities” to interact with omnivores over food, I thought it’d be a good time to share some advice I got from some marketing folks some time back (Jeff Walker and Eben Pagan I think – it’s been a while, but this approach hasn’t left my brain!)

When you’re interacting with someone who eats meat and veganism comes up, there are two things you’re probably going to think, almost instinctively, and today I’m going to tell you not to do that.

The first thing that’s going to come into your mind is “you’re wrong.” This is totally natural – if you’re talking with someone who eats in a way you’ve sworn off because of issues like health, animal compassion, the environment, or other reasons, and they’re trying to defend their position, a position that you’ve clearly rejected already, then yeah, they can’t possibly be right, right?

No, this isn’t the part where I’m going to say that there’s an element of truth in their words – you’re right, and good for you! 🙂

That said, when you say or think “you’re wrong” you shut off a TON of your brain, whether you know it or not.

So what’s the big deal, right? After all, they’re wrong, and if your brain isn’t listening to wrong stuff, how can that be bad? I’ll tell you why by telling what I think you should be thinking instead of “you’re wrong”:

Ask “why?” instead.

There’s a reason someone says the things he or she does. Sure, it could be that there’s just a lot of idiots in the world (or maybe just at your parties – what’s up with that? I kid!), but if someone has different beliefs than you do, there’s probably a reason. You might not be able to figure that reason out in every case, but if you approach enough people with “why” instead of “you’re wrong,” I think you’ll find some patterns.

Once you know some of the reasons, you’re going to be less frustrated in these encounters. You’re going to have some counter-arguments ready that go to the core of the beliefs of the person you’re talking with. You might not convert anyone to veganism with this approach, but you’ll have a better chance, and like I said, by learning more about the people around you you’re going to be less annoyed, frustrated, and irritated about being the vegan in a meat-eating world and you’ll instead start being – I’m sorry in advance of how corny this sounds – the lever of change.

Next time, I’ll go into the other thing you can’t think – I’d put them together, but people tend to skim these newsletters and I want to make sure some of the ideas get through!

In the meantime, what do you think? Am I wrong? 🙂 Let me know in the comments!


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

C Kane June 8, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Interesting. This is the vegan version of an observation I had a while back about activism in general. When someone says “we have to bomb this entire civilian region in this other country” don’t just think how wrong they are, ask why do they think that? Look for root causes. Then keep the factual counter arguments, but think also about their motivations and their needs. Especially emotional needs. For safety maybe. Ok, then you can talk to them about, you agree we have a right to try to achieve safety, but here’s why this bomb them to hell is not the right response, even from a selfish point of view (later add in moral arguments) How well this works depends on how deeply a Rush Limbaugh dittohead they are, sometimes it’s hopeless but can open minds sometimes.

The parallels go deeper actually. Because one huge reason people don’t want to admit their country’s foreign policy is bad, is because they feel, that makes THEM a Bad Person(TM). They identify with their country. If what you’re telling them about the invasion of Iraq or bombing of Hiroshima is true, then their country is bad, and therefore they are bad, but they know they are not bad persons, thus, what you’re saying can’t be true. They are not thinking these logical steps analytically, at least not usually, but if you had an emotional version of the above, then it’s pretty close. Similarly, if what you’re saying about animals is true, then they have been doing a horrible thing all these years. And they are a horrible person. “But I know I’m not a horrible person (or if I am, it’s too horrible to admit to myself)” they think, so this can’t be true.

I’ve also noticed that the worse the morality, the harder to admit it. Killing over 100,000 Japanese civilians in an unnecessary bombing is much more horrible than internment camps, bad as those are, hence it’s no surprise that the US finally apologized to Japanese Americans about the internment camps, but to this day there’s massive resistance to admit the atomic bombings of Japan were anything but totally necessary and good. We reject new information that conflicts with our self image as good. We identify with our government (we shouldn’t but we do). Maybe more so with our food, or eating habits.

At this point some grant conclusion should come to my fingers to type in, but I don’t have a grand conclusion. However what you said is exactly what I’ve thought about activism. To stop racism or sexism or homophobia or immigrant-phobia, or pro-war positions, isn’t not enough to be right and it’s not enough to scream at others about their actions (it might even do more harm than good) but to understand their motivation, conscious or not. And with leaders that motivation may be ugly, but with people it’s usually, at its core, not an ugly motivation, but wanting to be safe, wanting to be economically safe, wanting to be respected,and if we can show them how to be physically economically psychologically safe and respected while changing their ways, that, plus the factual arguments, might be a powerful combination.

Erin June 9, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I was just thinking something along the lines of “why?” in relation to my daughter the other day. When I tell people that I don’t eat meat or cheese, the response I usually get is, “I could NEVER give up cheese! I LOVE IT!” Many of them feel badly about the animals too, but they are bound by an addiction. So, in when people ask me how I can make the choice to not feed my daughter animal products, I realized that the best argument for a carnist (see me using the word?) is to explain that I don’t want something like an addiction to a flavor to make the decision for her when she’s old enough to choose her own eating habits. I am giving her all the tools and the palette to be happy with a plant-based diet that doesn’t harm other living creatures. If she decides she wants to eat animal products, it will be a rational choice- not an inability to quit something.

Jason June 9, 2010 at 3:00 pm

“I don’t want something like an addiction to a flavor to make the decision for her when she’s old enough to choose her own eating habits”

Just pulling that quote out a bit to make sure more people get a chance to appreciate it 🙂

Al June 13, 2010 at 1:35 am

I love this post, Jason. And I’m using the idea from here on out. Thank you.

C Kane June 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Speaking of one of the related issues I commented on above that the post brought to mind, race, this book was mentioned on the radio the other day, maybe you want to do a book review about it, it’s called “By Any Greens Necessary: A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Look Phat” Sounds interesting.

Becky Brooke July 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm

“I don’t want something like an addiction to a flavor to make the decision for her when she’s old enough to choose her own eating habits”

Loving that post.

Reading this newsletter and all the posts above I have realised that I have been feeling in a rut for some time now with regards to conversing with the ‘opposition’ over Veganism and Animal Rights in general. I have just been feeling a little lost and directionaless … always seeming to get negatively emotionally charged the second I realise there’s even a possibility of the subject coming up. This is a very ineffective response I know but it’s hard to control as you can probably appreciate.

You can’t control what other people think but you can control what you think and this is key, there is sooo much stigma attached to Vegans these days. The ‘what not to think’ approach is surely the best advice I have had in quite a while, and it’s very true. Thanks.


Elevic Pernis | The Road to Weirdom November 3, 2010 at 5:11 am

I myself can attest to the soundness of this advice, a form of Covey’s “Seek First to Understand.” Whatever you say contrary to their belief system, you’ll get screwed. Best way is to avoid argument by understanding where they are coming from.

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