When we’re advocating for animals, it’s tempting to say things like “you think it’s rough for you, imagine what the animals are going through!”
I get it. Most of us do have tremendous privilege compared to animals.
Here’s the problem: when we minimize someone’s suffering through comparison, we’re distorting their subjective experience to suit our message. It’s called gaslighting and it’s a potent form of psychological manipulation. It’s also a type of emotional abuse.
We may use this tactic when non vegans are worrying about making the change, or when other vegans are considering activism, or even when our fellow activists are struggling with one another.
Perhaps this tactic is acceptable when it’s for the greater good. Or is it?
Gaslighting destabilises people and can leave them highly suggestible. We might convince them to become vegan, but that’s likely to change as soon as they’re back with their non vegan companions. Plus, gaslighting sends a message that it’s ok to emotionally abuse people – and as activists, we can be better than that.
Before using this logic, I encourage you to pause and think. No matter how true it seems, we cannot possibly know the extent of someone else’s hardship. The only one who can evaluate our circumstances is us. (One reason why Socratic questioning is so effective).
Rather than minimizing someone else’s hardship, empathize with their struggles. This helps open their minds to the suffering of others, including the animals. To put themselves in the hooves of the animals. To imagine being sexually exploited, separated from their babies, and left crying in terror as their family and friends around them are tortured and killed.
Yes, there is suffering. People and animals are suffering. By refusing to consume animal products, we all reduce the amount of suffering in the world. And each of us benefits too, because one way to cope with suffering is to alleviate someone else’s.