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Have Vegan Activists got it all wrong?

One sunny Sunday afternoon a few months back, I was visiting family in Queensland. We decided to check out the local Broad Beach market, finally arriving at the food stalls where the smell of freshly baked bread made me salivate. I decided to buy a giant New York style pretzel, and noticed a group of people standing in front of the nearby sausage stall.

They stood in a square shape, outwardly facing the crowd. They wore black t-shirts, and their faces were hidden by masks like those in the picture above. Flat screens were strapped to their chests, with videos of industrial animal cruelty playing on repeat.

Their black attire, masks and shock tactics had a dark, aggressive undertone. They appeared to be unapproachable, and many people moved to avoid them as they walked along the footpath.

I later discovered this group are vegan activists called  Anonymous for the Voiceless, or “AV” for short. I have since seen them pop up around town. They usually choose an area with heavy foot traffic, and their intention is to draw focus away from their faces and towards the video footage.

I suppose they meant to draw a connection between the sausages for sale, and the source of that food. They certainly stood out. But was it the right type of attention they were seeking?

Surely there are other ways to raise awareness about animal cruelty?

I admire the concept of veganism, and understand the notion and karma of not consuming animal products. Having spent some time reflecting on their choice in message communication, I can’t seem to work out how they came to the conclusion that shock tactics would win people over to this philosophy.

For individuals who are so dedicated to the cause against animal cruelty, would they not have considered a more effective way to do so, and in turn, increase the number of vegan converts? How did they decide that portraying themselves in this Clockwork Orange-style would be the answer to end factory farming?

I’ve spent a number of years studying communication, delivering talks on it and coaching leaders on how to better engage their teams and be successful leaders.

Regardless of your religious, political, or dietary beliefs, the methods of effectively conveying a message always come down to the fundamentals of communication.

PhD scholar Brene Brown’s studies show that we are hard wired for meaningful connections. Once we truly connect with someone and trust is created, we are open to receiving new information from them.

Looking at neuroscience, trust helps our brains to release oxytocin, the ‘feel good’ chemical. This places our minds in what’s called an ‘open state’. In this state, we are capable of sharing information, working collaboratively and co-creating. On the flip-side, when we’re having an unpleasant interaction with someone, perhaps talking to someone we don’t yet trust, our brains will release the stress-related hormone, cortisol into our systems, triggering the ‘flight or fight’ response. This has the opposite effect on our minds, which is not conducive to creativity, problem solving, or having a calm conversation.

For effective communication to occur, we want to do everything in our power to put the persons mind in an ‘open state’. In order to do this, there are a few fundamental factors that need to be met:

TRUST- We need to trust the other person, know that they have our best interests at heart and are being open and honest with us.

Although not their intention to create distrust, how can AV expect people to trust them when their faces are hidden? When I speak to a vegan I know well, I can see their love for animals. Their desire to actively prevent animal cruelty has taught me a lot about myths we are fed (pun intended) about the meat industry.

Why not choose to communicate this message with the same compassion as they wish animals were treated?

AUTHENTICITY- When Brene Brown studied vulnerability, she discovered that the most authentic people have the courage to be imperfect, the compassion to be kind to themselves and others, and form real connection as the result. Is the use of shock tactics to gain attention being authentic? Is it the best way to change someone’s core beliefs?

CURIOSITY- To negate the risk of pushing your own agenda and closing someone’s mind, it is more effective to come from a place of genuine curiosity. That is, to ask questions to understand where the other person is coming from, so you can share ideas and information and form a mutually beneficial outcome from there. No one likes being told what to do, or have information shoved down their throat. It’s about learning and acceptance.

We know that the graphic warnings and advertising against cigarettes will not make people quit smoking. If you have a chemical addiction to nicotine, you’re going to smoke regardless.

With new research and insights into the impact of positive psychology, the QUIT smoking campaign have changed their tactics accordingly. Statistically speaking, they are getting better results compared to the old scare tactics.

When I quit smoking twelve years ago, it wasn’t because of the warning labels or graphic images on cigarette packets. Rather, in my own time, I decided to read Allen Carr’s ‘Easy way to stop smoking’. This book uses positive psychology principles, referring to how good you’ll feel when you quit and are no longer governed by this ‘nicotine monster’ in your gut.

If vegan activists applied these principles and delivered their message with compassion and authenticity, imagine how many more people they would influence and gain respect from? Perhaps vegans would not cop as much flack?

A group of individuals in plain, everyday clothes, sharing a message about their love for animals and even perhaps some tasty vegan treats and recipes would be more engaging than shock tactics.  They could form a meaningful connection and create discussion, encouraging people to make small lifestyle changes to improve their health and compassion for animals.

Thanks for taking the time to allow me to share my thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think, and I encourage you to comment below. After all, life is about learning and exchanging ideas if they are presented in the right way. Personal attacks or trolling will not be tolerated.

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