As defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, activism is a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue. Most of us have come across various forms of political or environmental activism.
Generally, activism has to do with promoting, encouraging and campaigning for change in society. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with marching down the streets holding provocative campaign slogans. The online world has added another level to activism which can involve activities such as spreading information and marketing material through blogs, tweets and videos.
My personal experience
Over three years ago I adopted a vegan lifestyle for various reasons including animal treatment, personal health and environmental reasons. I enjoyed the process of doing deeper research about how the food I ate landed on my plate and the environmental and health impacts thereof. Little did I know at that point that I would soon be part of a “niche group” in society that is becoming increasingly politically active. Since my lifestyle switch I attended various events promoting veganism and spoke to many seemingly like-minded people. I entered the world of vegan activism which showed shocking footage of factory farming and criticism of the meat and dairy industries.
When activism turns into pure criticism
Yet to my surprise, there were a lot of intense discussions about vegans and non-vegans and I witnessed several rude disputes from both parties. I particularly disapproved of certain vegans claiming that the rest is doing bad and “we” are doing good. People often criticized the unreflected, non-compassionate and selfish behaviour of omnivores. This type of discussion leads to even more separation and severe judgemental statements. Making people feel guilty and judged about their consumer behaviour is not helpful in any way. Moreover, showing shocking pictures and videos of factory farming may seem like a great method to raise awareness and provoke thoughts and actions. However, I have witnessed many people shy away from or simply avoid seeing these images because they are difficult to digest. Without knowing the depth of the arguments, people quickly lose interest due to the negative connotation of the topic. As a result, few fruitful discourse occurs.
Attractivism vs. activism
Hence, I argue that attractivism is more important than activism. Attractivism entails attracting people to your cause by being positive and compassionate about your message without dwelling on the differences. Not scaring them off with guilt campaigns.
Exchanging opinions, discussing facts and sharing experiences has been highly insightful and an inspiring experience to me. Showing why the vegan lifestyle is an attractive one to adopt makes much better conversations and focuses less on negativity and finger-pointing. Most people do care about their health and the treatment of animals as well as avoiding adverse environmental impact. Hence, we shouldn’t only focus on the physical or visible component of veganism (or “fill in the blank”). The thoughts revolving around your message and mission are at least as important as your visible behaviour. I believe the energy we invest in a cause crucial to us should be directed to a solution-oriented, educational context without finger-pointing.
Learning from the past, present and future
Perhaps all of us need to be reminded about our ever-changing perspectives and circumstances. Looking back and looking forward may be humbling to you as it is to me. Let’s take animal treatment as an example. Our ancestors viewed animals instrumentally, meaning they considered animals to exist for their own survival as food or for transportation. Nowadays, that necessity is no longer given and people dismiss previous behaviour as misinformed or even cruel. Today, in the twenty-first century of western societies, most people believe animals are there to be loved and cuddled (especially if they’re adorable dogs). We often even brush their teeth and call them our children. The next generations may come up with a whole new perspective, judging today’s attitudes as absurd and misguided. Hence, what makes sense to one generation may not make any sense at all to the next one.
Unfortunately, activism is often about “we against them” allowing very little space for attracting helpful measures. While I have become very passionate about my lifestyle and could easily talk for hours about all aspects of life without animal products (#veganmania). Nonetheless, I only feel superior toward my past self, not other people. I am certain that activism and differences in opinions need not go down that dark road. Besides, we rarely behave in consistent coherence with our values. Next time you find yourself in heated activist discussions, try to add an attractivist approach. How you campaign for something makes all the difference in reaching your audience effectively. In conclusion I would like to leave you with the following quote:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something,
build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” (R. Buckminster Fuller).
 J. Jasper & D. Nelkin (2007), p.255: The Animal Rights Crusade: http://neoliberalfeminism.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/The-Time-Bind.pdf#page=233
About the author
Mirjana Naum is a twenty-something business consultant specialized in change management and collaboration. She enjoys reading and exploring the world of the unknown. As a multilingual nomad she has had the honour to travel to multiple countries including Austria, Spain, Canada, Serbia, Brazil and Thailand. She is also a plant-based foodie who gets a kick out of meeting new people and spending time in nature. Find her on Instagram @gl0balfoodie or on LinkedIn.
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