Recently, a story about a rescued elephant has been circling the social media circuit. Raju the elephant had been kept in spiked shackles, basically a prisoner, and forced to perform for tourists for over 50 years. The headline read “After 50 Years of Torture, This Elephant Cried Tears of Relief During His Rescue.” After going viral, CNN posted a more in-depth story along with a video of Raju.
Though I’ve been seeing the article appearing in my news feed for the past week, I put off reading it for a while because I knew it would make me cry. And then this morning I realized that it is ok if it makes me cry. In fact, being afraid of knowing the hard truths is one of the reasons that it took so long for me to become vegan. I’m sure had I opened my eyes and heart earlier I would have made the switch long ago.
This article really got me thinking about the reasons that we as humans can tolerate injustices like those being imposed on Raju and so many other animals, human and non-human alike.
What barriers do we face that keep us from living a fully compassionate lifestyle?
Here are my thoughts on some of the common barriers to compassion, from my own journey and experiences.
For a long time I knew that many products I was using were probably tested on animals. And I knew that there were feathers in my pillows and comforters. But for some reason I didn’t let myself make the connection of what that actually meant. Where did they get all of those feathers? Then recently I was listening to my favorite podcast, Food For Thought, and an episode title “Down with Feathers” came on about where “down” actually comes from. Normally I would not go out seeking this information, and to be quite honest I did not want to know.
This is a reaction I get from people a lot when they ask me questions about being vegan and upon my answering them they say “no wait, I don’t want to know.” Sometimes we turn a blind eye to things that we perceive will cause us pain or discomfort because we are afraid. But in some cases ignorance is not bliss. I believe that at some level we still know those things are there and it causes pain anyway, just in a different more subconscious way.
Perhaps learning to face the hard truths and dealing with the pain is the only way to fully open our hearts and live more compassionately and joyfully.
In the case of elephants in India, Wildlife SOS co-founder Geeta Seshamani, says “the biggest challenge is changing the people’s mindset; tradition is a grounds for justifying every kind of cruelty against captive elephants.”
So what happens when we are faced with choosing between tradition and our values? I remember when I first decided to go vegetarian in October of 2012, right before Thanksgiving, and feeling weird about not having traditional turkey on my plate for the holiday meal. And even when I was planning my wedding and thinking about how I would not be having a “traditional” wedding cake.
To me, the sake of tradition is not a reason to sacrifice living according to my values. Wouldn’t it be so much more satisfying to allow ourselves the right to mold our traditions into something that we truly believe in with our hearts? Why not transform traditions into something we want to teach our children and future generations? Something we can stand behind.
A lot of people tell me that they like the idea of being vegan but that it just requires too much work. In other words, eating animal products is more convenient. With so many wonderful vegan products, restaurants and companies these days, I feel like this argument is becoming less valid. I admit, there may be a transition period where figuring out what to eat can be a little daunting. But there are so many resources available to inform and encourage people looking to switch to a plant-based lifestyle.
Studies have shown, and I think that most people would agree that eating a diet low in processed foods and rich in whole, plant-based foods is ideal. Eating healthfully, whether you’re vegetarian or not, requires a little bit of time and planning. It all comes down to how important your health is to you. A favorite quote of mine goes “If you don’t have time to get sick, you have to make time to be healthy.”
I used to think that being vegan would be “so hard.” That depriving oneself of cheese, butter and ice cream was unthinkable. Having grown up eating meat and other animal products, I can fully understand why it’s hard to give up certain foods that we are familiar with and enjoy eating. This is one of the biggest reasons I hear from people about why they are not vegetarian.
Since going vegan, people have remarked at my “will power” when I turn down foods I would previously devoured without a second thought. But really, it’s not about that. It takes will power to say no to a cupcake when you’re on a diet. But saying no to something that could not have been made without horribly mistreating and killing animals does not. Once I learned about the horrible atrocities inflicted upon animals in order to produce these foods, my mindset did a complete 180 and now, and the thought of eating these animal products and supporting those industries is unthinkable.
The good news is that being vegan does not mean excluding all tasty foods from your diet. In fact, it means opening up to an entirely new world of plant-based foods. I’ve written before about how I feel my options have actually expanded since going vegan!
These are just a few of the reasons why people may be resistant to becoming vegetarian or vegan – reasons which I have experienced in my own personal journey and encountered during my interactions with others.
Have you had experience with some of these barriers to compassion? How have you dealt with resistance in your own journey? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below.