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The President of In Defense of Animals on Influencing Change

Why do people resist veganism so strongly when you tell them about animal cruelty? I posed this question to Marilyn Kroplik, Psychiatrist and President of In Defense of Animals . Her valuable insights became the foreword of Myths of Choice: Why People Won’t Change and What You Can Do About It.

READ the foreword to learn from someone whose whole life has been devoted to getting people unstuck and embracing the imperative of animal social justice.

Insights into Why People Won’t Change and What You Can Do About It

As a psychiatrist and animal activist, I’m privy to pain. Joyous, happy, pain-free people usually do not look for me — so every day I am flooded with sad narratives. No surprise!

What is astonishing, however, is the epidemic of existential angst I hear about daily in towns across America. Statements like, ‘What’s the point? Working my whole life — and then I kick the bucket!’

After Clare Mann invited me to write this foreword, I found Victor Frankl’s book researched the term “existential angst.” Here is what I found.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl characterised the American culture as suffering from Existential Hunger, or the condition called an ‘existential vacuum’ in which a person doubts their life has meaning. Widespread in the twentieth century, the vague symptoms were described as a loss of interest in life. Frankl hypothesised it was related to the advent of industrialisation, with the waning of animal instincts and social traditions leaving people without direction or initiative. As a group, seeking conformity over individualism and needing to depend on others, they neglected their own personal lives. Life was empty — a huge hole could never be filled. Such a sad picture! This reminds me of the composite portrait in Clare’s book; a patient burdened by all seven myths, and she’s itching to change.

Next I began reading Clare Mann’s masterful book: Myths of Choice: why people won’t change and what you can do about it. Clare co-partners with the reader as she gently takes you through 50 written practices, asking questions about your life, values, emotions, beliefs, and myths that are influencing you in your life. Enjoy this in-depth process of inquiry. I went ahead and did some research on myths because I was definitely rusty in the myth department.

I discovered that myths are complex social and cultural influences, not just symbolic and certainly not true. Rather, myths are beliefs based on our own personal values and experiences that give meaning to our lives. Meaning grounds us, providing a base to jump from and fly to even greater heights in life. Without meaning we are simply lost and disoriented with anxiety creeping up. In existentialism, myths help us to understand our human condition, enabling us to deal with the ‘givens’ of life (freedom, death, isolation, and meaning).

Myths can become a big problem, especially if they are believed as factual or considered dogma. We need to question our myths and their meaning regularly, making sure they still fit and bring us positive benefits. Clare does an exquisite job in helping you re-evaluate them. In the text, she debunks seven myths to effect changes and healing, transforming stuck situations that are resistant at first to change. There may come a time where a myth is no longer viewed as a myth, but as a factual truth, and that’s when the problems begin.

As an existential psychologist, Clare explores the reasons people resist making changes. She challenges the reader to identify their unconscious social myths that limit choices, constrict life, and extinguish freedom. The good news: you are already free! Jean-Paul Sartre said so in 1943 when he wrote that humans are ‘condemned to be free.’ How awesome is that? So why is change so difficult for people?

People fear change — it’s natural for us humans! Even the thought of change can trigger a fear response. What’s interesting is that people fear being labeled as ‘the outsider,’ and dread no longer fitting into their ‘comfortable’ culture or social groups. Change feels unsafe and threatening to a person’s identity since their worldview is about to change soon. This fear intensifies when family and friends lack insight. By understanding myths, interwoven in people’s psyche, now you can help a patient, friend, or social justice movement in moving your message with boldness and greater efficacy. It’s not trickery! It’s about coming to terms with conscious and unconscious choices and realising how people live in a perennial trance; a state of assuming, which is not freely chosen because it is moulded by myths.

Myths help you to understand change and its complexities, based on culturally shared assumptions, and especially in relation to a person’s identity and sense of belonging. Messy dynamics! Existential therapy explores our human condition — questions about life and death: Who am I? What is my purpose? Is there a God? What happens when you die?

Before dealing with big questions like these, Clare helps you to first understand your own emotions and delicately guides you step-by-step, gradually and methodically, in a non-judgmental way. She is an excellent role model as an extraordinarily compassionate human. A great balance of strength and compassion through a well-planned enquiry process. Most people need a great guide or teacher who can help them to navigate the emotional terrain of paradoxical questions — she is a wise therapist.
I wish you well in entering Clare’s world, and more importantly, in discovering your own mind and body, heart and relationships, perhaps in new and fearless ways. I found courage in Clare’s words, and wisdom in her style of counselling. In lifting the veils of denial, endemic in our culture, you can explore the paradox of our human condition: a species capable of immense love and sensitivity but also, immense hatred, brutality, murder and wars. Through self-inquiry, your eyes open wider, crafted mindfully by yourself.

Thank you Clare, for opening my eyes.

Marilyn Kroplick, MD,
Psychiatrist and President of In Defense of Animals

https://www.idausa.org/

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Vystopia: Key to Creating a Kinder World?

Where were you when disaster struck in Haiti, the first tsunami in Indonesia or, more recently, catastrophic bushfires in Australia or the Queensland floods? We tend to remember these disasters and open our hearts and wallets to help people in need. Some of us go further, getting on planes to provide help. What makes a person do this? They seem to be so moved that the only way to assuage their anguish at others’ suffering is to take direct action, often at personal cost to themselves. Others at this time may seem indifferent or unable to empathise with other people’s plight. Do we need a particularly moving, emotional connection with the victim? Or, can we expand compassion gradually to encompass suffering beyond our immediate family and community?

The 2019 Queensland floods brought the community together, with one household reported to have opened its doors to nearly sixty families who had lost their homes. Our hearts are warmed by such generosity and these actions are championed as the moral and right thing to do. However, when the vegan uncovers a hidden disaster at a magnitude of almost unimaginable scale, why aren’t we as quick to come to the rescue? We may even resist the information, believing it to be fake news.

Imagine you asked someone to watch footage of a natural disaster like the New Zealand earthquake, only to be told it was fake news or propaganda? They insisted it was only a tremor and the country’s building standards are excellent, earthquake proof and so it’s not possible. You would think they were either mad, naive or heartless, especially when presenting them evidence of the subsequent devastation, building collapses and fatalities. How could they possibly deny the facts?

If you can grasp the messenger’s frustration, then you have glimpsed the world of the ethical vegan who has become aware of another disaster: the industrialised abuse of animals. The abuse is so pervasive and hidden that it is almost impossible for us to make any consumer choice without animals suffering somewhere along the supply chain. Industries work very hard to keep this a secret and governments collude with the deception; the live export animal trade and dairy industry being two such industries.

Over the last ten years, I have worked with vegan clients who have become so aware of these hidden atrocities that they have compassion fatigue. They are deeply anguished over the industrial abuse of animals and even further distressed when others deny it, refuse to look further, or see vegans as preachy and opinionated. I believe the vegan’s experience is existential in nature, making them feel like a stranger in a strange land. I have called this experience Vystopia: an awareness of the greed and ubiquitous exploitation of animals, while realising that most of the world around them are unconscious colluders with the system.

When people are challenged to examine how their consumer choices support those abuses and embrace veganism, there is enormous push-back. Despite irrefutable scientific evidence of the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the enormous impact of animal agriculture on global climate change and deep-seated animal abuse, many deny they have a part in it.

Why do people resist veganism?

There are many reasons people resist adopting a vegan lifestyle. Many believe it’s just a diet, whereas veganism is the philosophy of the non-use and non-exploitation of animals. Not eating animals is one vegan behaviour, in addition to avoiding products and services that use animals for testing, entertainment, religious practices or scientific research. Accepting that we are unwittingly colluding with hidden practices that damage animals, people and planet is a hard medicine to swallow. Why is this?

  • Wilful Ignorance: we cling to our existing beliefs because the changes we must make to our lives appear so great.
  • Avoidance of Criticism: we fear the backlash of family and community who think we are crazy and causing damage to our own and children’s health.
  • Anxiety: we are forced to accept that we have been lied to on a huge scale, making us more anxious as we ask, “What else don’t I know?”
  • Fear of Alienation: we resist being ostracised from groups we value.
  • Conformity: we fear having to pay the price of standing out from the crowd.

I believe our resistance is because we know, at some level, that we can be better than we are. We know that when our choices cause unnecessary suffering to others, we are responsible and can decide whether we continue as part of the problem or act to become part of the solution.

Veganism is a moral baseline for creating a more compassionate world. The flow-on effect of exercising our compassion through veganism is extensive. We have the potential to improve our own health, support the environment and inspire others to change. An increase in compassion is also linked to a reduction in violence for both animals and humans. Vegans can also extend compassion to themselves by learning about their own vystopia and working together to become stronger voices for the animals.

When you consider the positive implications of a lifestyle such as veganism, the question isn’t, “Why would you go vegan?”, but rather, “How can I go vegan?” Compassion in our daily choices has far-reaching consequences, and it’s up to us to make a difference.


First published in Nourish Magazine - April 2019 - Nourish, Australia’s premium vegan food and living magazine and is filled with vegetarian and vegan recipes, health and wellness, news and more. The magazine is read by many vegetarians and vegan-curious people. http://www.nourishmagazine.com.au

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The Power of Group Intention in Creating a Vegan World

Imagine picking a ripe lemon off a tree, cutting it in half and then in quarters. You then lick your fingers, sticky with sharp lemon juice. You then take one quarter and rub it across your mouth and teeth.

With your head back, you take another quarter, bursting with juice, and squeeze it into your mouth. You bite into the third quarter and chew it slowly. You hold the last quarter between you thumb and third fingers and squeeze the juice into your mouth - and savour it.

How are you feeling right now? When I conduct this imaginary exercise with people, I see people grimacing and distorting their faces. Why is that? It’s because your body has a memory of the sharpness of the lemon and it’s as if you are experiencing that right now, even though there is no lemon present. Of course, some people enjoy eating lemons and for them, the experience is different.

So, if the inner reality of our bodies can be changed with our thoughts, can we use those thoughts to change our outer reality? Anyone who suggests this, is usually labelled as New Age or delusional. We live in an era when science has become the arbiter of all truth and the Law of Attraction isn’t sufficient for many of us to take unsubstantiated ideas seriously.

However, scientific studies into the relationship between focused intention and outer reality, are revealing just how powerful our thoughts are in affecting the outer world. The implications for creating a vegan world are very exciting.

1. Transcendental Meditation and the Maharishi Effect

In 1960, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi predicted that one percent of a population practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique would produce measurable improvements in the quality of life for the whole population. Later studies in the 1970’s were conducted to see if meditators using the Transcendental Meditation technique were having an effect in reducing violent crime. The results were astounding:

“This study demonstrated that the Maharishi Effect has immediate effect on crime as well as a long-term effect that persisted over six years, which was independent of the influences of major demographic variables known to affect crime.”
(source: https://research.mum.edu/maharishi-effect/summary-of-13-published-studies)

In the 1980s and 1990s, research projects in cities across the USA examined the relationship between large numbers of people meditating for peace and reducing violent behaviour in their respective cities. The results were, again, unexpected and revealed that when large numbers of people collectively meditated for peace in their city, reduced social violence, terrorism and even war, when conducted on behalf of cities affected by armed conflict.

More than 23 scientific research studies on the subject have been published in leading, peer-reviewed academic journals showing cause and effect outcomes. The interested reader is encouraged to review these studies at https://www.peacefulcities.org/about/research/ .

2. The Power of Intention

The journalist Lynne McTaggart in her book, The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World (2007), explains her research into understanding consciousness. She viewed consciousness as a field of all possibilities where intention orchestrates its own fulfilment.

Her investigation revealed correlations between people’s intentions and local and personal outcomes. However, the more sceptical readers criticised these findings, saying that they do not show “cause and effect” between intentions and outcomes. Her latest book, The Power of Eight (2017), counters this criticism as she shares the results of several years of scientific research with very large groups of up to 10,000 people in group intention experiments.

These findings reveal the power of “group intention” where people come together with a shared intention and meditate repeatedly on achieving that outcome.

She has shown that the “group mind” is capable of:

• Changing the basic physical property of leaves
• Making plants grow up to twice as high as normal
• Altering the molecular cluster structure of tap water
• Altering the pH of polluted water
• Lowering violence in a war-torn or crime-ridden area
• Improving the health of patients with diagnosed conditions

The results are extraordinary and reveal empirically the power of focused, group intention on effecting outer change. Her research indicates that even a small group of people can obtain significant results.These two studies highlight the rapidly changing view of consciousness and its effect on what we perceive as physical reality. The implications for creating a vegan world are immense, and shows how imperative it is that we learn to collaborate and join forces with other vegans to align our intentions.
McTaggart has experimented with groups of eight, which is discussed in her most recent book, The Power of Eight, making this very manageable for others who want to conduct their own intention meditations.

The interested reader is encouraged to read about these studies as well as how to set up their own group intention experiments: https://lynnemctaggart.com/the-intention-experiment/

3. Having a Vegan Intention

These studies have huge implications for vegans who often become depressed, thinking a vegan world will never be possible. They encourage us to look within and align our thoughts and intention with the vegan world we so desire.

The power of intention often happens without a person consciously desiring an outcome. For example, over the years, I have seen clients who are bewildered at why family or friends have become easier to live with, almost the next day after the client has entered therapy. The difficult relationships they talk about suddenly become easier overnight, even before they have consciously made any changes themselves. It’s as if by investing in therapy to bring about change, they trigger a change at an energetic level, long before the client puts new skills and actions into place.

All sorts of activism is essential to bring about change and this can range from undercover work in factory farms and testing laboratories to making delicious vegan food to share with our families. However, these studies add a new dimension to what we can each do to accelerate the creation of a vegan world. We need to move from bemoaning the state of the world to showing people the truth of what is happening and sharing this more compassionate, healthy and abundant vegan world.

If our thoughts are negative and angry, then according to these studies we resonate negativity which feeds into the outcomes we don’t want. If we find a way to process the vystopia and anguish which so many of us experience, we are then better resourced to be resonating with the world of compassion we want and must create.

4. What Can We Do to Influence a Vegan World?

There is a lot we can do to accelerate the creation of a vegan world. The findings of the studies discussed above encourage us to align our intentions with our thoughts, feelings and actions and become more specific in what we so desire.

a) Clarify your intentions

These studies indicate the importance of having a very clearly defined, specific intention. Therefore, it’s not sufficient to have a desire for a vegan world. We must become very clear and specific about what a vegan world looks like. For example, a specific intention of a local group seeking change in their area, would be: “We intend to have a whole vegan aisle in a specific supermarket within the next three months”.

b) Inner and Outer Alignment

It is absolutely essential that we take good care of ourselves because burn-out is common, especially in front-line animal protection. We must learn to process the difficult emotions that come with the “burden of knowing” or else we become disillusioned. Our anguish is counterproductive to collectively creating a kinder world. There are some key practices that I recommend to align our intentions with our actions:

1. Practice good nutrition
2. Exercise regularly
3. Relax and have fun
4. Develop a positive mindset
5. Learn to meditate
6. Minimise stress
7. Gather support

c) Learn to collaborate

To benefit from the power of focused Group Intention, we must learn to collaborate. This can be challenging when strong emotions are present and we differ in our ability to resolve our differences. However, we have what is known in social psychology as a Superordinate Goal.

This is a goal which transcends our individual differences and conflicts and which is more attainable when we work together to attain it. Our superordinate goal is animal protection and a non-speciesist world.

5. The Path to Collaboration

In order to ensure we effectively collaborate, here are some key things to remember:

a) Be generous and forgiving.

We all vary in our ability to communicate effectively and people often react to what we say because it has been misinterpreted. If this happens to you, clarify what you mean and keep an open mind that what you hear people say is not always what they intended.

Words can so easily be misconstrued. By asking questions without blame or criticism for what you think you heard, you’ll be able to maintain rapport and concentrate on the task at hand.

Forgive people when they behave in ways you dislike, remembering that people’s hearts are usually in the right place and the animals are relying on us to get the best outcomes for them.

b) Set clear boundaries.

It’s your job to educate other people how to treat you and to set clear emotional boundaries of how you want people to act towards you.

When working with other people, demands will be made of you so be realistic about how much time and energy you have to put in. Learn to say no when things get too much and take time out to rejuvenate so you can be advocating in the long term. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support.

c) Learn to have difficult conversations

Difficult conversations are often avoided to prevent conflict, feelings of self-conscious, losing control of our emotions or being undermined. When you can manage strong emotions that accompany strong opinions and adopt some key skills, you will find these easier.

Many of us have made this journey ourselves from non-vegan to vegan, and it's worth remembering our own experience as we talk with others.

The key is to ensure you maintain rapport and respect for the other person’s position, and this can the done through careful use of verbal and non-verbal language.

Note:

This article was first published in Issue 11, Jan/Feb 2019 of the Australian Vegan Magazine. To subscribe to this magazine visit: https://www.tavm.com.au/

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