Mom Never Taught Me Not to Talk to Strangers
The t-shirt I wore recently when Elena and I were in Lake Worth sparked a nice conversation with a stranger. As we passed a gentleman on the street, he smiled and commented, “Love your shirt!”. I thanked him and we continued on.
On our way back, we decided to give him our Embracing Veganism pamphlet and our card. We ended up talking with him and his companion about veganism for about 15 minutes. As it turns out, our new friend Alex has been vegan for a year and is currently studying plant-based nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. Although he said he’s vegan for ethical reasons and seems to understand the fundamental issues of justice involved, he stated, “Even if people reduce their meat consumption, that helps… although I hate even saying that.” My reply was, “Then don’t say it! When we make statements like that and encourage people to ‘reduce’, we’re tacitly implying that some animal exploitation is still acceptable. Would you suggest to anyone that some use of child pornography is ok as long as they take weekends off and treat the kids ‘humanely’?” He laughed and said, “No, of course not. Thanks, that makes so much sense!”
I assured him we’re not in the habit of just handing literature to random people in the street and hoping something in the content will get them to make the connection that all animal use is morally unjustifiable and start living vegan, but that we had done quite a bit of that in the past in support of various animal welfare organizations and ultimately found it ineffective and counterproductive (especially considering such literature intentionally fails to focus on animal use as opposed to abuse). I asked him to consider whether, if I were an astrophysics professor who really wanted people to become astrophysicists, he felt it would be reasonable to expect that, by standing in the street and handing out astrophysics textbooks to passersby (“Go astrophysicist…?”), those people would go home, read the books, have epiphanies and suddenly decide to become astrophysicists. Alex replied, “No”. I said, “That’s why there are classes on that subject – because some things require education – and that’s why we created a vegan education group.” He agreed and complimented me for “…not just randomly handing information to people, but having an educational platform to back it up.”
Choosing the Message We Carry, and Carrying the Message We Choose
I used to wear rock-n-roll t-shirts every chance I got and have always had a knack for picking out a shirt in the morning that would prompt a conversation sometime that day, so I would inevitably end up talking with people about Paul McCartney, or Elvis Costello, or Fountains of Wayne and so on… and as much as I love those shirts, I’ve retired them all to the closet. Here’s why – while those conversations can be fun (“You like Utopia Parkway too? Let’s chat!”), I’d much rather talk about, educate about and inspire veganism. I still have that knack for picking the right shirt and the conversations still happen, only now they’re meaningful in a way that matters deeply to me and makes real change in the world. Whenever I’m at a concert (and I am a confirmed concert junkie…), the people behind me will be seeing a vegan message for about three hours – rather than, say, a list of Counting Crows 2003 tour dates – and I’m more than willing to discuss their thoughts on it once the show’s over. If that opportunity doesn’t present, at the very least I’ve given them something to think about.
Similarly, since the subject in which I want to engage people is veganism, I no longer wear shirts that promote single-issue campaigns like circuses, rodeos, etc. or the animal welfare organizations behind such campaigns (I’ve donated quite a few to the homeless). Also, I no longer wear shirts that talk about going “veg” or anything other than vegan, as such vague terminology leads us away from being clear and consistent in our efforts to end the injustice of animal exploitation. As it’s been difficult to find shirts with uncompromising vegan messages (aside from the one pictured above), I’ve begun designing my own for personal use. That way, I can be sure the message I carry is one in which I wholeheartedly believe.
The Theory of Positive, Neutral and Negative
I’ve found that when interacting with a stranger, the usual outcome falls into one of three categories: Positive, Neutral and Negative. Positive means that something positive transpires during or as a result of the interaction (i.e.; a friend or connection is made, pleasantries and/or ideas are exchanged); Neutral means nothing notable happens (though one never can tell how a seemingly random encounter may profoundly alter one’s life, which may indicate a 4th category – Neutral-Positive); Negative means something unpleasant resulted from the interaction (i.e.; harsh words are exchanged, disagreement or worse happens). For me, this means there’s at least a 66% chance (2/3 or better) that speaking with a stranger will result in either a positive or neutral/neutral-positive outcome and only a 33% or less chance that it will result in a negative outcome.
Considering those odds, in the interest of engaging in and enjoying life – and creating opportunities for dismantling speciesism through vegan education – I’ll keep talking to strangers!
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how: