Conversations about veganism - why they always escalate and what you as a vegan can do about it
It's clear to you that you want to eat a vegan diet? Great, then everything is fine! ... If it weren't for the direct environment with people who don't think anything of your purely plant-based diet. You're always clashing or even drifting away from each other - conversations and discussions with competing ways of thinking and lifestyles can be exhausting. Experiences & tips.
Vegan diet: I have found a lifestyle that I feel good about and where I know that I am not only doing something good for animals, but also for the environment. It feels right. Unfortunately, not everyone in my immediate environment sees it that way. And that can be extremely frustrating. And not just for me - this confrontation can also get the nerves of the person I'm talking to...
Every situation is unique – and yet the same
Some people choose a vegan lifestyle because friends or family members inspire them to do so. That's great because it means that there are people in your immediate surroundings who have a similar worldview to your own. This can make it easier to get started.
Others, on the other hand, are the “initiators” themselves in the group of friends and are initially alone. They became aware of a purely plant-based diet through their own moral compass, through posts on social networks or through documentaries. Receiving encouragement from loved ones here is more difficult and rare.
But whether you have one, five or 10 people in your environment who live vegan or eat a vegan diet - there is certainly at least one person in your immediate environment who is not at all good at talking about this topic.
What is the problem?
But what exactly is the problem? Why is it so difficult to talk to non-vegans about the topic of veganism? Sometimes I have the feeling that veganism is treated almost like religion or politics: just don't bring it up, otherwise there will definitely be friction between those involved in the conversation.
On the other hand, there are also opposite examples. Most recently, I was pleasantly surprised by my cousin, who eats meat but was still really interested in my diet. We were able to exchange our views in a completely open and relaxed manner.
Why is it that people react so differently to this topic?
In my experience, the biggest sticking point is the asymmetry of knowledge between both parties.
Let me explain: When we have little information on a topic but are (or should be) having a debate or discussion about it, we feel pushed into a corner . No matter whether it is about veganism, politics or artificial intelligence. Because without knowledge we lack a basis for argumentation.
Now it's often the case that, unlike us, the person we're talking to hardly knows anything about the vegan lifestyle. Which is completely normal, because in most cases the person simply hasn't dealt with the issue yet. The “knowledge” that exists consists largely of prejudices and stereotypes.
We note: In most cases there is an imbalance in the level of knowledge.
Okay, what next?
This wouldn't be such a big deal if we just admitted that we don't have enough knowledge to debate this topic.
Unfortunately, shame is a big issue in our society. If we were to be so open about our shortcomings, we could be labeled “weak,” “stupid,” “embarrassing,” or “ignorant.” And we want to avoid that as much as possible. Especially when it comes to a topic that is on everyone's lips and that you should actually know about...
So what do we do?
We feel attacked. We leave the rational level and move on to the emotional level. What matters here is no longer the quality of the argument, but rather how well I can defend myself. And how well I can convey the opinion that I believe I have to represent through responses that are actually meaningless. The more I (subconsciously) perceive this imbalance, the more I show this behavior.
The conversation ends in accusations, in an argument or at least in a tense atmosphere.
The second point: openness, tolerance and self-confidence
I see another sticking point in terms of how the conversation goes and ends in some facets of personality.
To come back to the positive conversation experience with my cousin: I know that she is generally a person who is very open to other views and attitudes. She is genuinely interested in what the other person is thinking. Additionally, she is at peace with herself; she knows who she is and wants to be. At the same time, she is open to learning.
Such qualities give us a feeling of strength in a conversation. Because if I lack this self-assurance or self-confidence, then I am much more likely to take the conversation to an emotional level. I also find it harder to admit that I may not have a sufficient knowledge base to have a discussion on the topic. Which brings us back to point one...
And there is something else:
When the topic of veganism comes up - whatever the situation / comment / question - non-vegans quickly get the feeling (and that's not meant in a derogatory way) that we now have to have a fundamental discussion about veganism, which of course defends your own point of view. However, it is much more common for vegans to avoid this topic because they know how much friction it can cause.
Why can't you just have a conversation and exchange ideas, ask questions, explain things? This works for other topics too?
On the one hand, I think it's because your diet is an emotional issue.
Whether vegan or not. After all, it makes up a large part of our everyday lives. In most cases, our parents' upbringing influences how we eat. And it often stays that way. Because our own diet has been with us for so long, it becomes part of our identity.
On the other hand, I think that many people actually know in their hearts that their omnivorous diet causes suffering and harms animals and the environment.
A so-called cognitive dissonance then arises in the head. This means that a person has cognitions (here: thoughts) that are incompatible, e.g.: “Killing/keeping animals causes suffering” vs. “I eat dead animals”. This cognitive dissonance manifests itself as an unpleasant emotional state. We basically know that something is wrong. How can we get rid of this unpleasant feeling? Either we change our behavior (“I don’t eat animals anymore”) or we change our thoughts (“Eating animals is completely normal” / “The animals aren’t doing so badly” / …).
Which do you think is easier to implement?
That's right, a change of thought. We can suppress or resolve the unpleasant feeling by finding justifications for our actions.
So when I am confronted with these contradictory cognitions again (e.g. when the topic of veganism is brought up), I go into defense mode to protect myself and my cognitions. Otherwise the cognitive dissonance would arise again - and that doesn't feel good.
The conversation can easily escalate.
What can I do as a vegan in such challenging conversation situations?
I definitely don't want the feeling to arise that our non-vegan counterparts are the only problem.
Quite the opposite. I know from my own experience that we vegans are not always easy to talk to! Especially in the beginning, we tend to want to proselytize others. Or try to make the other person feel guilty so that they realize how “evil” what they are doing is. It may well happen that the party that eats a vegan diet is significantly more intolerant than the party that eats an omnivorous diet. After all, we too are not free from the emotionality of the topic.
So how can I behave so that a conversation or discussion is as peaceful as possible?
I believe that empathy is very important. We should remember that we ourselves may have only recently acquired this new knowledge. You too were once at the same point as your counterpart. I understand that. Don’t make the other person feel like they are “worse” or less valuable than you. This is very important. Maybe even express your understanding of the other person's position out loud. This shows warmth and empathy.
Give your counterpart time. Don't throw around facts if you notice that the other person isn't ready to receive them. This can be overwhelming and put you in a position where you feel like you have to defend yourself (see “Knowledge Asymmetry” above).
Set a positive example
Stop proselytizing. Education is important. But this only happens effectively if the other person perceives themselves as an equal conversation partner. So instead of turning the conversation towards veganism at every opportunity, just try to set a positive example. Live your life, subtly drawing attention to something here and there. For example, if you're invited to dinner, bring a delicious vegan dessert (which will convince everyone that vegan food can be tasty 😉), or suggest alternatives that would make you feel more comfortable - and not for everyone others “force” you to eat vegan, but on the grounds that you would feel better that way.
We are all influenced by our environment – whether we like it or not. So why not influence those around you in a positive way? And without arguments or discussions that end with at least one person being angry or depressed? But by moving forward with empathy, understanding and patience? I can guarantee you that this will also have a positive effect on the attitude of the person you are talking to!
Spread love, not hate. 💛🌱
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