I’d like to talk about beliefs. I’ve always been an opinionated person, and I’ve had many strong beliefs over the years, although some of them have changed.
I’ve never been a religious person. I truly mean never; when I was a small child, I tried to feel what everyone else around me seemed to be feeling at church, and I tried to pray, but I never had the sense that it was connected to anything. I never had any sort of experience that gave me a reason to believe. I don’t have that kind of faith.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have any faith at all, however. I have a code of ethics. I have a sense of right and wrong. I’ve come to certain conclusions through years of trial and error, research and observation.
I have faith that it is wrong to hurt another person unless it is in self-defense. I have faith that every person has self-ownership and deserves complete freedom — as long as their choices don’t cause harm to others.
I have faith that the same principle of self-ownership and right to life applies to animals. I believe this deeply, strongly, unquestioningly.
I haven’t always felt this way. I have always loved animals in the general sense, in the way most people mean it when they say it. I had favorites, just like everyone. My favorite animals have always been whales and cows, with cats coming in at a close third place.
For some reason, I didn’t see anything wrong with loving cows and yet eating them.
I do now. I now believe those two things are fundamentally incompatible. You can’t love a thing and still expect it to die for your pleasure.
I see now that I didn’t truly love cows, I only loved what they looked like, how they acted, and how it made me feel to see them. That’s not the same as loving the cow for itself.
My vegan lifestyle came on slowly, as a religious conversion does for other people. Bits and pieces began to fall into place one at a time, and then with increasing frequency. I began to seek out more information to help me make some hard decisions.
I watched some documentaries, which were upsetting. I watched some videos of animal slaughter, and animal abuse, and I cried and cried.
It hurt me deeply to watch those videos, but I continued to do so, because I intended to make my decision in full awareness of all the facts and the bigger picture. If I chose to keep eating meat, I would do so knowing exactly what it cost.
I know that there are people who won’t watch those videos when confronted with them, let alone seek them out. I have very little respect for that. I think if you’re going to do a thing, you should know exactly what the repercussions are, and be willing to face them with open eyes.
Being unwilling to watch something that you know will make you uncomfortable means you’re denying something to yourself, denying a quiet little suggestion of a feeling deep within yourself, out of convenience.
If you are afraid to see something because you think it will make you unhappy to see it, I would think that would make you wonder why exactly you think it would make you unhappy. I wondered that about myself, and then I pushed my own boundaries and went outside my comfort zone. It changed my life.
I think people are afraid of that. I’m proud that I overcame my own fear.
Over the course of approximately two years, I went from decreased meat consumption to full-on, no honey, no wool, never-step-on-a-bug veganism. My heart opened up to the animals, and there was no going back.
My veganism is my faith, it is my religion. That’s how strongly I believe that what I am doing is right. I feel it in every part of me, and I experienced a lightening of my spirit as soon as I made the decision. It has made me feel like a better person. It has relieved my conscience.
It gave me a joy that I had never experienced before, being a part of something that made a concrete difference in the world, having a direct impact, saving lives with my decision.
As you might expect, I get hassled a bit about my unconventional, minority lifestyle. I get all sorts of questions and suggestions, not all friendly or well-meaning.
Sometimes people make jokes to me about having a burger or a steak or a piece of bacon just this one time, or ask me if there isn’t something I like eating so much that it trumps my desire to not eat animal products, or try to taunt me with how delicious their slice of cheesecake is.
To me, it’s as though they’re suggesting to me that I forget about my marriage vows when they aren’t convenient, that I go ahead and sleep with someone who isn’t my husband just because it would be fun.
Isn’t there someone you want to be with badly enough that it trumps your belief in monogamy? No?
Do you think it isn’t the same? If so, maybe you’re assuming that my belief in animal rights is not as important as your beliefs, that it isn’t as strong and unbending.
That seems inconsiderate and disrespectful. My faith runs just as deep. It guides my behavior and shapes my thoughts and feelings about the world.
Becoming a vegan has greatly increased the amount of compassion in my heart. I have always had a sometimes uncomfortable degree of empathy, which has often made it difficult to separate others’ emotions from my own, difficult to avoid being affected by others’ feelings.
Becoming vegan was, to me, an inevitable extension of that. I expanded my empathy to include animals, who I now see as people — just different kinds of people, non-human people.
Sometimes I think they are better people than we are.
Is it possible that a vegan diet is not the healthiest way to eat? Of course. Do I care? No, I do not.
Unless it were unequivocally killing me to abstain from animal products, there is no way I would ever go back to eating them, any more than I would become a cannibal. It means that much to me.
Believing that there are health benefits to the dietary portion of my lifestyle is an added bonus to what already feels right to me. I try to talk to people about veganism from all different angles, dietary, compassionate, environmental, and whatever else I can come up with, because people care about different things.
Ultimately, though, at least for me, it’s about the animals.
That’s my faith, my dogma, my doctrine. It’s a matter of love, it’s a conviction, and I won’t ever betray it to satisfy a fleeting urge or to make things a little easier on myself at a party or a restaurant.
I won’t ever stop advocating for the animals, because I won’t ever believe that they belong to anyone but themselves.
I appreciate the cyclical nature of our time here on Earth. I like the idea of starting fresh with a new journey around the sun. I know that picking a starting point is rather arbitrary, but I’m fine with January 1st.
It’s a good thing to celebrate. Time is linear, or at least that’s how I think of it, but we all make a big circle in space each year and come back to where we started from, over and over.
Our lives are constructed of all the experiences we’ve had up until now, sure, but it’s nice to break things up into 365-day chunks and think, maybe I’ll do this one better. Maybe this will be an easier year.
2014 wasn’t my best year. I wasn’t 2013’s biggest fan, either, but I have gone through a lot of change and emotional upheaval over the past 12 months. I’m learning more about myself, and I’m learning how to fit myself into the world. Now that I’ve got a little bit better of a handle on that, I’d like to spend 2015 shaping the world as much as possible.
I don’t mean that in a grandiose way. I simply feel that I have been going along for the ride for quite some time now, and I would like to make some changes and have some influence on things.
One way I hope to do that is to finish my book and get it published. It may not be feasible to have it actually published within a year, but my goal is to have a polished final draft completed by the end of 2015, and ideally have submitted it to an agent or even a publisher through an agent. I would like the publishing ball to get rolling at some point in this upcoming year.
That’s really my main New Year’s resolution this time around. I also want to do more writing. After I’ve finished my final draft of my first novel, I want to jump right back into some other projects that I have hanging in the balance.
This year is also going to be about taking good care of myself, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. That means being open about who I am, and unapologetic for the way I am and the things I believe. It means standing up for myself, and being more vocal about the things that are important to me.
I may use this blog as an outlet for those things. I hope to, at least. I’m attempting to set a trend by writing on the first day of the new year — it may inspire me to continue writing and blogging on a regular basis.
So, here are some of the things that are very important to me, which you might see more posts about in the future:
– ethical veganism/animal rights
– literature and literacy
– personal freedom
– women’s rights and issues/women’s liberation
– physical health/dietary veganism
– mental health and mental illness
– LGBTQ rights and issues
Some of those shouldn’t come as a surprise, but others might not be so obvious, because I can be rather quiet about my opinions sometimes, when I don’t want to stir the pot.
This year, while attempting to remain reasonable and respectful (as well as respectable), I intend to do a little pot-stirring.
I have been getting really depressed about the things I’ve been seeing in the news. The point blank murder of two police officers unknown to the shooter really set me over the edge. I couldn’t handle it. I don’t understand how someone can justify that to himself.
Maybe, in the context of his life and experiences, he did think it was just. Still, to be able to pull that trigger not only once, but twice, right in the heads of two strangers, not even white men, up close and personal, is a kind of callousness that I can’t even conceive of.
I spoke with someone yesterday who helped me to put all this into perspective. She acknowledged that there is a great deal of darkness in the world, and it is sometimes unbearable to witness it. What she told me, however, is that if the darkness really had overwhelmed the light, then we would, frankly, all be dead.
The fact that life continues on means that more people choose the light rather than the darkness. More people are at least trying to be good, to be doing the right thing. The people hurting each other have a large impact, and it’s a very visible impact, but they are the minority, which is why it shocks us.
Generally, what we have in this world are many societies that all manage to function one way or another, sometimes with a lot of darkness within them, and a lot of errors in judgment. There are still people who rise up out of bad situations and decide, of their own free will, to choose the good, to choose the light.
There is no logical reason for survivors of abuse or war or genocide to become good people. As my friend put it, they have been conditioned to only expect pain and suffering and darkness. Somehow, however, they find purpose in becoming a person who contributes positive energy to the world. They have no reason to become good people. They have no reason to want to be good people. They do it anyway.
More people choose that than not. If you believe the news and social media, we are a sick society full of people who harm each other, break laws, and simply spread violence and hatred wherever they go. Those people exist, and they are doing those things.
The thing is, our society is not full of them. They are overwhelmingly outnumbered by those of us who are horrified, shocked, disgusted, and saddened by their acts. Most of us obey the rules, because we want to live safely and contribute to the safety of others. Most of us try, even just once in a while, to be kind to another person, even if it’s only one, or perhaps it’s not even a person, but a single animal. There is a glimmer of light.
Pay attention to your encounters during the day. People will smile at you, tell you to have a nice day, thank you for holding a door, or simply nod at you as you pass by. Those people are the light. You may be surprised by how many of them there are. They are the goodness in the world.
Maybe some people are too busy to thank you or to smile. Pay attention to what they are doing. One of them might be a mother busy with her child. She is trying to take care of the child. She is shining her light, just not at you. It’s still there. I think that the chances are, especially if you live in a mostly or even somewhat peaceful society, which I think America is, you will find more people who will interact with you in a positive way than those who will frown at you, swear at you, spit at you, or threaten you. More people choose the light.
People in worse circumstances than yours manage to find happiness. They manage to find hope. I couldn’t tell you how they do it. Somehow they have an inner certainty of that inherent goodness in the world, that goodness that outweighs the bad, and they allow that to fill their lives despite all the many reasons they have not to.
There are those who cannot see the light, but they struggle on, trying to find it, allowing themselves to hope that it might be there, that they might one day find it. They don’t, in the majority of circumstances, turn to the dark, decide to kill a neighbor to have what he has, decide to rob a store to get food.
Most of the homeless people you see on the street are asking for money or for food. They aren’t taking it by force. They are hoping that some of the people passing by might shed a little light on them. They aren’t choosing the dark.
Again, if more people chose the dark than not, we wouldn’t be here. There wouldn’t be anyone left to choose the light, because we would all have been annihilated by greed and malice and hatred. We would all be dead.
We are not all dead. We are not all so hardened by life that we aren’t moved by sad things or beautiful things. For those of us who still have even just a seed of goodness in our hearts, know this: we have the greater numbers. There is power in numbers. The sheer amount of good people in this world has made it so much better than it could be, and we’re constantly working to make it even better than it is.
We are in the majority. We should not lose hope, because we are the hope. We are the light. The light always wins.