Golden Rule

I’ve just finished my first two months of being vegan.  And I’ve noticed that I’ve been living my life more consciously.  Not only have I become an expert ingredient reader, but I’m more conscious of how I live my life as a whole, how my actions affect others,  and how I treat myself.  So, I thought I would mark this anniversary by reflecting on the Golden Rule.

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Treat others as you wish to be treated.  That’s the Golden Rule that has been instilled in us since we were very small.  It’s the basis of all major religions in the world.  It’s repeated so often that it’s joined the ranks of motivational poster sayings.

But most of us don’t really live the Golden Rule.

When you really think about it, we don’t treat ourselves very well.  If we treated other people like we treat ourselves…the world would be a really crappy place to live.  We reserve a lot of judgment, self-doubt, criticism, guilt, and name calling for ourselves.

What we need to recognize is that the Golden Rule isn’t just about treating others well.  It also reminds us that we need to learn how to treat ourselves with the same compassion we extend to others.

I am the first to admit that I’m a harsh critic of myself; but when others are genuinely compassionate and caring towards me, that little nagging voice of inner-judgment in my head gets smaller.  So lately I’ve been trying to direct some compassion inward.  This not only means being  mindful of my self-judgment, but also compassionate towards my physical body and the things I put in it.

I went vegan because I wanted to live the part of the Golden Rule that tells us to treat others well; for me this meant animals.  But now I’m also trying to live the part of the Rule that asks that we treat ourselves with kindness as well.

I don’t eat animals because I see it as an act of disrespect towards them and towards myself.  I do not condone the torture that is used in factory farms, and the suffering that animals have to go through for people to enjoy a meal.  I do not eat any animal products because I wish to treat all beings as I wish to be treated– with compassion.

But, in these past two months I’ve also recognized that being vegan is a way of caring about myself as well– emotionally and physically.  Since becoming vegan I have experienced first hand the health benefits of this compassionate diet.  I have more energy, I am less stressed (although stress never completely goes away, especially for college students), and I feel that I am living a fuller life.

I feel better that I am not forcing others to kill or torture animals so that I might enjoy a meal.  I feel better that I am not putting anything in my body that had to suffer or endure pain.  And I feel better because I’ve learned how to eat healthier and make new and exciting meals for myself!

In other words, now I’m truly living the Golden Rule; by treating myself just as compassionately as I treat others.  This doesn’t mean that I’ve eradicated that little nagging voice of self-judgment completely.  But now whenever it speaks up, I refuse to let it beat me down; and instead I act compassionately toward myself and others… by making myself a vegan cupcake :)

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How can you be vegan?

A dear friend of mine once told me that her parents found the idea of veganism harder to grasp than homosexuality, because: “homosexuality you’re born with, but vegan…well I don’t know where that comes from”.

I should say that my friend’s parents are Texas conservatives and highly religious, so I found their remark very funny.

For those that might find the choice to be vegan odd, especially if you live in the land of red meat, I have tried to explain myself here.

Being vegan for me is a continuation of social justice.  However, when compared with other pressing– and depressing– issues of the day, choosing lettuce over lamb sometimes seems insignificant.  With so many wars and conflicts, inequality and oppression, I sometimes find myself asking, what does it matter that I don’t eat meat?

It matters because I recognize that there is something in my life that I have the power to change.

We spend a lot of time wishing and hoping for things to change.  So when the opportunity presents itself to actually make the world a better place it’s important that we take it.  We cannot give up simply because we cannot change the big things.

Paraphrasing from something I’m sure I’ve seen embroidered on a pillow somewhere: If we fail to take the first step, we will never begin the journey.

Because, as I see it, being vegan, or vegetarian, is one of the easiest ways to live a compassionate life.  I’m not physically fighting against factory farms, I’m not petitioning congress, I am simply removing my support from an industry that produces a product I do not wish to consume.  What I’m trying to say, is that I’m no radical and that I think everyone can be vegan if they choose.  Because unlike trying to Free Tibet, or stop racism, or fight for gay rights, being vegan is an individual choice that doesn’t depend on a bureaucracy or government to make a change.  All it takes is you.  If everyone became vegan, there would be less suffering in the world.  If everyone asked the government to free Tibet….Tibet probably still wouldn’t be free.  That does not mean that we shouldn’t take on the big issues.  But nor should we ignore the small fights.

I accept that I am only one person.  But I am going to use my personal agency to the best of my ability.  And that includes signing petitions to Free Tibet as well as eating a plant-based diet.

This quote from Dominion, Matthew Scully’s book on the morals and ethics of how we treat animals, describes perfectly what I believe:  There is not a limited supply of compassion.  And there should be no hierarchy of who we extend our compassion to.

“And it is true that there will always be enough injustice and human suffering in the world to make the wrongs done to animals seems small and secondary.  The answer is that justice is not a finite commodity, nor are kindness and love.  Where we find wrongs done to animals, it is no excuse to say that more important wrongs are done to human beings, and let us concentrate on those.  A wrong is a wrong, and often the little ones, when they are shrugged off as nothing, spread and do the gravest harm to ourselves and others (Matthew Scully, Dominion).

I believe veganism is a concrete way to promote social justice in a world that has enough suffering.  People might dismiss it as trivial and think it will accomplish nothing.  And I say, no, I am not ending the suffering of animals.  But I know that I am ending the suffering of a few.  And that is not nothing.

I don’t think we should wait to extend the hand of kindness to animals until after we have solved all our human problems first.  Because that is never going to happen.

So let us offer our protection to the weak, and perhaps it will help us learn to be more compassionate to each other as well.  It can’t hurt.  Often times tackling the easy things first can create the momentum that pushes us through the harder things as well.