Practical Issues > Things To Do > Activism > Army of 1


As a reaction to what goes on in factory farms and slaughterhouses, very strong feelings are understandable and entirely justified. But I believe that our inability-individually and as a movement-to deal with our anger in a constructive manner is one of the greatest hindrances to the advancement of animal liberation. Over time, people tend to deal with their anger in different ways. Some take to protesting, some to screaming, hatred, and sarcasm. Others disconnect from society and surround themselves with only like-minded people, seeing society as a large conspiracy against veganism. I do not believe any of this does much to move society towards being more compassionate.

A different approach is to try to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of humor. This makes it easier to continue in activism and to avoid self-righteous fundamentalism, and also makes it possible to interact positively and constructively with others.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to gain and maintain a sense of humor. One suggestion is to always remember your ultimate goal. In my case, it is the alleviation of suffering. If I allow myself to be miserable because of the cruelty in the world, I am adding to the suffering in the world. More importantly, I am saying that unless utopia is instantaneously established, it is not possible to be happy. Thus, my goal is fundamentally unachievable.

To have any change occur in the world, we need to convince others to think beyond themselves. We must be willing to do the same. Just as we want others to look beyond the short-term satisfaction of following habits and traditions, we need to move past our anger to effective advocacy (e.g., moving from yelling and chanting to constructive educational outreach). If I claim that I can't be happy-that I am a slave to my situation-how can I expect others to be able to act differently?

It also helps to maintain a historical perspective. I realize that I am not the first person to be upset by the state of affairs in the world. I can learn from the mistakes and successes of those who came before me.

Few people came to an enlightened view of the world by themselves and overnight. It took me over a year after my first exposure to the issues to go vegetarian, and even longer after that to go vegan. If I had been treated with disgust and anger because of my close-mindedness and pathetic (in retrospect) rationalizations, I would certainly never have gone veg.

My story is not unique. Not only does it show the shortcomings of anger and the benefits of patience, it also indicates that you shouldn't give up on your friends if they don't react to information as you would like them to.

Shunning your friends because they don't immediately adopt your vegan views not only cuts you off from the very people we need to reach, it also perpetuates the stereotype of the joyless fanatic with no life other than complaining.

"Fighting" suffering is not the only way to make a better world; creating happiness and joy as part of a thoughtful, compassionate life can be an even more powerful tool for creating change.

As long as there is conscious life on Earth, there will be suffering. The question becomes what to do with the existence each of us is given. We can choose to add our own fury and misery to the rest, or we can set an example by simultaneously working constructively to alleviate suffering while leading joyous, meaningful, fulfilled lives.

Being a vegan isn't about deprivation, sobriety, and wallowing in misery. It's about being fully aware so as to be fully alive.

 --Matt Ball, Co-founder, Vegan Outreach