As someone who turned vegan primarily for animal welfare reasons, one shady character I have been unwillingly introduced to since my conversion has been Apathy. While the apathy of strangers on the street during moments of activism has been known to send me into short fits of rage, it is the apathy of close friends and family that really hurts.
Every vegan I talk to has had their own experiences with this apathy close to home, and everyone deals with it in their own way. For the most part I'd have to say that every animal welfare focused vegan has tried to tell the people closest to them the things that they now know, to varying degrees, in the hope that their dad will choose to stop eating meat or that their good friend make the switch from vegetarian to vegan. However, it is just as likely that each and every one of us has been disappointed on multiple occasions by a seeming lack of care or action. Luckily a lot of us are determined types who will choose to keep "chipping away at the old block" with varying amounts of success.
As Arthur Schropenhauer once asserted, denial of the truth is usually one step that leads into a change of perspective and lifestyle: "All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." In my quest to become vegan I underwent a period of denial where I began to slowly eliminate certain foods from my diet, but would on occasion break this mantra to eat something delicious and comforting like a chocolate bar. This seems to be a normal 'coping' strategy of many people, and sometimes people just need a little shock or reminder about why they want to change. For me watching Earthlings was the turning point that induced me to change for good.
However, time has also taught me that some people sadly it seems (though perhaps I will never give up hope), may never change. And while a lot of these people will be strangers who I will probably never meet and have nothing in common with, another section will be made up of people who are close to me. Family is the obvious one. People we are tied to genetically, regardless of our personal interests or beliefs. So it can often be a tricky business when members of your close family either show hostility towards your vegan ideals or are passively apathetic towards your views. I count myself lucky that my family are not hostile and do not ridicule me however, this does not mean that I do not suffer. There is little way to describe the disappointment you feel when someone close to you, whom you know well enough to feel has the potential to care if they would simply open their eyes, tells you they "don't want to know" or "can't." I am quite a reserved and at times timid person and often find it difficult to assert myself in these situations. It is something I am working on, however, I also feel that part of my timidity is employed as a form of self protection, against the likely flood of disappointment I will experience if I continue to educate them about animal suffering and they still refuse to change. I understand that it is vitally important not to give up, even though sometimes determination can feel like a double edged sword.
The other form of apathy I have experienced is the kind where the person tells you they care deeply about the suffering of animals, but then only commit to going half way in the direction of change. I understand that these people obviously mean well, but you cannot change the world on a half strength battery and that is the tough reality. If you care enough about making a change you have to be willing to put in 100% of the effort, to make that happen. Please do not sit around and think that other, more dedicated people will do the hard work for you. Essentially it is just a form of well-meaning laziness. It was an incident of this kind recently that prompted me to write this article.
I was grocery shopping with a friend who is vegetarian and who says she hates all forms of animal suffering. I know my friend is telling the truth when she says this and that she is a genuine animal lover, but what she seems to lack is motivation to match this. While shopping we first went to seek out household cleaning products and I started telling her about how I had recently seen a segment on television about how dangerous and unnecessary high chemical and bleach cleaning products are. I explained that the woman doing the segment had given a list of everyday products such as bi-carb soda and vinegar which could be used to clean around your house with less environmental impact and would save money. However, she chose to ignore what I had just said about how damaging chemicals are and reached for the high power bleach. Eventually we also made our way into to cosmetic section where she said she was looking for a cleanser. I volunteered that the cheap brand I was using was fantastic for my skin and wasn't tested on animals and though the supermarket didn't have it in stock, I suggested it would probably be available in the chemist next door. Again, she openly ignored my suggestion and decided to get one of the generic brands that is tested on animals. I would be lying if I said this didn't frustrate me.
I am a bit confused about what others seem to expect from me in these kinds of situations, and I admit that I have probably brought much of it upon myself through my timidity and unwillingness to speak up in the past. A lot of the time I feel like I am expected to be okay with what I know to be their unethical decisions, because my insecurity and fear of confrontation has often lead me to put my feelings into the realm of "no comment." However, what I would like to say to them is that though it is wholly your decision to buy or eat or wear things that you know have ethical implications, do not expect me to be okay with it, because I am not. I am not okay with something that is a matter of life and death, especially when you know it to be so and still choose to do nothing. It is not a personal dislike, but a dislike of the decision being made.
What I would like to say to myself and to other compassionate vegans in contrast, is do not allow other people's apathy to become a burden on you. Do not blame yourself for not trying hard enough to make them see the light when someone shows apathy. Most importantly, do not feel as though you have to push your beliefs under the rug in order to avoid offending your friends or your family. We shouldn't have to feel ashamed of our sensitivity. We should be proud.