We sometimes get so excited about something that we stop realising what we’re doing. We sometimes find an issue so important to us that we forget how we’re representing it. We forget to actually be the thing we want to represent; and by that, we kill it instead of spreading it.
What I want to talk about today is radicalism. Because there are many people (and sometimes I am one of them without noticing it at that moment) who feel so strongly about a specific problem that they just want everyone to understand right away – and to perceive the world in the exactly same way in the blink of an eye.
There are also many people who meet radicals and then they think of the whole movement as a radical one itself – they generalise the whole thing just by an encounter with a few people.
I believe that both of these things are not right as they don’t reflect the reality and they cause lots of misconceptions and misunderstandings. And that’s why it’s important to talk about it.
Let’s start with the first example.
I think it is important for us to have an issue that we feel very strongly and passionate about. I also know what it feels like to fight for something and not being able to achieve it instantly. Fighting for animal rights sometimes feels like an endless battle that we’re never going to win because there are so many people out there who think otherwise; and that just makes me so sad at times. However, I also know how happy I am when I realise how many people have turned vegan in the last couple of years.
But the thing is, I also feel great when somebody becomes a vegetarian. And when somebody cuts down on meat. And when they stop using plastic bags or stop driving a car so often or buy themselves a bamboo toothbrush. And that’s where the difference between radicals and non-radicals lies. Everyone included in a certain movement wants the same thing. It might be for different reasons but it’s the same goal after all. When it comes to veganism, I believe the goal is to 1) set animals free 2) save Earth from its destruction caused by humans 3) live a healthier and more natural lifestyle. Two of these goals can be achieved only by a very large amount of people participating in the movement, taking an action and changing their lives. Therefore I can see why there are vegan radicals. It’s the same with for example feminism or religious fanaticism.
It’s so easy to loosen the leash and express all of our emotions, shout if we feel like it, release all of our anger and judge others because they don’t have the same goal as we do. Because they don’t try hard enough. Because they don’t want to change and we can’t change the world without them; because they destroy all of our hard work.
The thing is, this is not how you make people understand. As my friend Veronika said:
“You don’t make people understand by scaring them, but by inspiring them.”
I didn’t become vegan because someone shouted at me, called me names or judged me for eating meat. I became vegan because I was inspired by kind people and documentaries which showed me the seriousness of the topic but which also expressed some hope at the end. I felt like I was kindly invited to join the movement; not pushed into it by force. It was my choice to change my lifestyle. Yes, it was necessary to do it. But not because someone coerced me into doing it; it was necessary because I felt like I needed to do it in order to help our Earth and all those animals. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go on. And I turned vegan because it was the kinder way of living.
To me, veganism is kindness. Representing kindness in an agressive way does not make any sense at all. I truly understand how frustrating it is when you try to make others see the problem and they just refuse to do it, sometimes just because they’re too lazy to face it and actually admit that what they’re doing might not be entirely right.
However, I believe that we should always try to inspire people. Not change them. Just inspire them so that they would want to change themselves. It has to be their choice. Not yours. And when they cut down on meat, I don’t think it’s right to tell them it’s not enough. I don’t think we should say that refusing all animal products is the only way that makes you legitimately good. Because everyone has their own journey. And I know there are animals dying, I know it would be great if the process was faster. But it just doesn’t work like that. Either the world will slowly change, or it won’t change at all.
And making small steps is a legit way of changing one’s lifestyle. Someone is able to change in a day; and someone needs to take small steps in order to achieve their goal. And the fact that people approach the problem differently and try to solve it more slowly doesn’t make them despicable or bad. We need to realise this.
Perceiving the world in a radical way is very dangerous. It means we don’t accept anything other than our own view; or own opinion; or own solution of the problem. But we must remember that others are not the same as we are. We must remember that they have their own journey which can be influenced by us, but only if they let us in. And they never let you in if you shout at them. They let you in if you show them kindness. If you inspire them to be a better person. That’s how we ought to spread our beliefs.
Radicals actually very often kill their own belief by representing it aggressively. Instead of making others understand, they make them hate the whole movement. Which backfires completely because instead of helping the world (which is the original intention), you make more people destroy it. They turn away from the movement because they were judged and shouted at just because they weren’t the same. We must remember what we were like before we joined the movement – and I don’t think we used to be bad just because we didn’t know what we know now. Many people just don’t have enough information. And they sure won’t understand the topic more if you call them names.
Instead of judging people for drinking milk, we should be happy about them not eating meat. Instead of being angry with people for buying honey, we should appreciate them for using reusable bags. There is always some space for improvement – and someone just needs more time than others. But everything counts. We just need to calm down and be more patient and more understanding.
When it comes to the second example (i.e. generalising), I think we should always remember that there are radicals in every movement. There are always people who act aggressively because they might not agree with what I’ve just written. But they do not define the movement itself. And it’s important to realise that and not to generalise. Because generalisation does not reflect reality in any way. It comes from misunderstandings and seeing the world in black-and-white colours. But the world is not black-and-white. It’s full of colours. That’s what makes it so beautiful.