Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mumblings and Musings About Earnestness in the Animal Movement

I like communication. No, really. I like to bounce ideas off of people and also appreciate it when someone else takes the time to contextualize his or her opinions or conclusions for me, whether by filling in blanks with information previously unknown to me, or by walking me through the process of how he or she came to connect certain dots. I listen as well as I can, and being human, I'm as guilty as the next body of being preoccupied with personal matters or of wielding my grains of salt unapologetically. Whether or not I have a pretty good hunch that I'll disagree with what's presented, I have--at the very least--a genuine interest in listening and in trying to understand where the other person is coming from and how he or she got to that point. Every once in a while, I get to note where he or she may have missed a dot; sometimes not. At the very least, I walk away from the experience with something to consider, whether or not my own opinions regarding the subject at hand have budged a hair's breadth.

I rarely plug my ears unless it becomes clear to me that someone is just arguing for the sake of arguing and that his or her opinion or view isn't grounded in anything other than a need to just be plain old contrary. Going out of your way to give people the benefit of the doubt leaves you running into a lot of people like this, but it also leaves you better able at assessing when to walk away from a discussion that's really just someone's indulging in an opportunity to snipe or browbeat. I also walk away when it becomes apparent that someone is merely engaging in so much rote recitation--the passing on of a convenient "this is how it is and I don't have to justify a thing to you" sort of statement that might as well be a "no comment" as far as its usefulness and sincerity are concerned. I see less of that with individuals and more of it with enormous and well-funded welfarist orgs that actually keep people on the payroll to come up with variations on empty and dismissive statements (or to bombard people with simplistic propaganda). For instance, I sometimes wonder how many spay/neuter surgeries could be performed with the money HSUS spends on Twitter PR alone any given month, but I digress...

Call me naive, but I guess that on some level, I'd like to think that at least some people are also willing to listen, and by this I don't mean just staying mum while contemplating the next thing they'll say, themselves, while you're yammering: I mean an earnest sort of open-minded listening that--at the very least--leaves them with a better idea of how I came to connect my own dots. Only when two participants in a discussion are willing to listen will anything fruitful come of the discussion for both those participants. I see people in the animal movement who could save a lot of time and energy in learning to listen.

By this, I don't necessarily mean learning to let themselves be talked out of their convictions and am certainly not saying that everyone should hold hands and pretend to
share the same convictions. What I think would help tremendously, however, would be to spend time discussing how we came to our conclusions rather than just repeating those conclusions over and over again to each other--and to all around us--just to try to drown each other out. We don't have to agree; we also don't have to walk away from disagreement. I'd like to think that most who are seriously committed to helping nonhuman animals are willing engage in critical thinking and possess a certain amount of intellectual honesty. Maybe that's just my still being very much immersed in learning theory and learning the history and politics of the movement, myself. Maybe I merely belie my nasty naive streak in expressing hope for dialogue so that we can--at the very least, and even as we disagree and debate--maintain some sense of civility and stay focused on the issue at hand rather than get lost in the politics and posturing.


Elizabeth Collins said...

Thanks for this! I needed to hear it, you are just in time actually as I have been losing my diplomacy lately! You are so right, it is true all around and I am glad to have read this today, as inevitably I am entering into public debate with people and I have a long way to go in the art of listening. Great entry.

Stephanie E. said...

Right on. But I'll say that I absolutely don't see this as a problem just for organizations, big or small. I witness it just as often in the online convesations between individuals not connected to specific organizations. And it's dismaying.

Nicole said...

I agree. You are right on.

By the way, that is a really interesting counter on the side bar of your blog. I haven't seen it before, and I think it seems pretty effective in getting viewers to think about that. It's pretty shocking at how fast it all adds up.

Carol said...

Thank you! Really good to hear this. :)

Philip Steir said...

Thank you for this post.
I think when dealing with AR people who have disagreements on the best way to help change the world for the better for non human animals is to discuss with them not just how they came to their conclusions but ask them why they went vegan to begin with?
Nearly 99% of the people who might believe in welfarist tactics became vegan because they were told about that option... not about humane meat or cage free options. Sometimes letting people listen to their own answers is more powerful than telling them anything. Especially in the regulation and better treatment vs abolition argments. It works nearly all the time for me and all I have to do is sit back and let them tell themselves how they got to animal rights in the first place.
You just have to ask them the simple questions.

Carol J.Adams has a great answer here on how to engage someone about eating animals....

Tim Gier said...

At the risk of appearing as wanting only to "hold hands and pretend to share the same convictions" I have to say that I agree with everything that you said, and that I like the way you said it! Bravo.

M said...

Thanks, Tim (and everyone -- I'd forgotten to chime in on this one when I'd first posted it)!

There are obviously a lot of points on which many in the animal movement won't agree. I honestly believe that, in many cases, some stick to their guns re: certain positions without really understanding those positions thoroughly or without having at least weighed differing positions. Whether or not you start off at 'A' and still end up at 'A', doesn't it make you a better advocate to -- at the very least -- understand why others endorse 'B' or 'C'? Even if you reject 'B' or 'C'?

I guess that I'm an idealist in that I'd really like to see more intellectual honesty and critical thinking in the movement and less posturing or personal bickering. I'd like to see more open debate without ad hominem attacks (people confuse the two or too often let debate morph into ad hominem exchanges).

I'm not even sure that I endorse agreeing to disagree, since assessing the best way to bring about the end to a status quo by which over 10 billion animals in North America alone are slaughtered each and every year is somewhat different from not seeing eye-to-eye on what constitutes a good sitcom. That being said, I think that there'd be so much less time and emotional energy wasted if we could keep the focus on the issues, themselves, instead of shooting off in all directions with smear campaigns triggered by personal(ity) conflict(s).