I’ve been giving more thought lately about how wilfully NOT doing something can be an act of power. Generally, we live in a world where ‘doing’ is considered strong, and ‘not doing’ is looked upon as weak. When I say to people that I don’t eat animals or their by-products, I feel that I’m looked upon as being something of an ascete (someone who lives a life of extreme self-denial and austerity), and not someone empowered. Nothing could be further from the truth. I feel that choosing not to eat animals powered me and my life up.
It may not have been obvious from the outside, though. I felt beleaguered and intimated by the disapproval and judgement of non-vegans in the early days of my veganism. I didn’t know how to be a Vegan in a non-vegan world, and pretty much did it all wrong. Go figure, eh? The role models and road maps were thin on the ground. I left a trail of pissed-off people, as I struggled to bring what I was feeling on the inside to the outside. I still piss people off, but in a different way now. I’m not sure what the exact body count is to date, but the brilliant thing about aging, is that it liberates one from caring too much about trivial matters like a body count 😊
Not eating animals feels powerful to me, despite the fact that it makes me a minority in a non-vegan world. Eating them from a place of mindless obeisance to ‘the norm’ seems like the weakness, even though everything in our culture teaches us the opposite – so far. However, back in the day, I had no ready-made narrative, nor much in the way of a culture, to support me in my new-found feelings of empowerment, so it was a bit all over the place. It was an interesting observation to realise how much a common culture gives unseen support to us. Break away from that culture into one that’s unmapped, and we’re somewhat lost and vulnerable. We don’t know the way, because we are finding it out as we go. It’s exciting, but also tough going. By breaking away, we are also showing our individual muscle, and kind of flipping the finger to the status quo, and they do love that – not (and who actually cares?).
When not doing is the right thing to do, there is a direct benefit to the recipient, albeit often unknown, but it’s real, nonetheless. When we choose not to use and abuse animals for food, clothing (“as much as possible and practicable”), and entertainment, we don’t deprive ourselves – we give ourselves power. The person who chooses not to be a bully or take advantage of a dominant position, empowers themselves. That’s no weakness! It’s only deprivation if the loss harms us, otherwise it’s just FOMO (fear of missing out). If we don’t have to take animals’ lives for our survival, then it’s barbaric to do so. Greed has nothing to do with need.
Heard the one about how Vegans are missing out on the pleasures of the flesh? After you pick yourself up from having fallen on the floor laughing at that one, it’s animal flesh being referred to. Get ready to laugh again at this sad ol’ assumption, because we all know that choosing not to cause suffering feels pretty damn fantastic! And that feeling lasts a lot longer than just one meal. The expansiveness of regarding all life as important, is a good place to be in. It’s where the new power lies.
Of course, whoever has a gun to their head may dispute that – and the person holding the gun may dispute it, too. The “might is right” culture has power over life and death in any given moment. It feels strong and powerful – and my guess is that those who eat animals feel this vicariously. It is also ephemeral. Savagery and brutality are harsh task masters. They are indiscriminate about who they hurt. The perpetrator can become the victim at the drop of a hat. A reign based on savagery and brutality is exhausting, and expensive to maintain – physically, mentally, fiscally, socially, and environmentally. Only a handful truly benefit from this, so it is a vastly inefficient way to live. It’s still lingers on as a seductive concept for many though, who are unable to see a different way of having power.
The concept of having power by not doing, isn’t new. Until recently, however, it has mostly been individuals, or small groups, embracing stoicism and deprivation as a personal virtue. This not how Vegans think. We have a world-view of not eating animals and not accepting cruelty as being the new normal. This has never been done before, so it’s no wonder some of us have felt as though we’ve been fumbling around in the dark. But I reckon that the power of not doing, is undergoing a big mind-shift now, and becoming the new power of doing.
NB: This mind-shift works especially well when a vegan cream doughnut is making its way into my maw – i.e. empowering myself by not eating a cows’ cream doughnut. I knew this would turn out well 😊
Header pic by Miguel Bruna.