Living with anyone can be challenging, no matter how much we like the people we live with. There are countless stories about people regretting living even with their best friends. Now imagine living with the people you don't share views with. In that case, you have one more issue on top of the usual concerns. Some people are quite vocal about their non-veganism, and if you have to interact with them, negative feelings may arise on both fronts. While that is certainly difficult, there are ways to make such cases a bit less hard on you.
Here are some pieces of advice you can use to deal with negative situations and to even turn them into positive ones.
Keep Your Cool
Faced with sneery comments, you may be tempted to snap and rant. Sounds cathartic? Sure, but only for a short time. The feeling of letting everything out will soon deflate and you will feel drained. Communication is a two-way street, and to achieve meaningful communication, both parties have to participate. Any words said during a frustration-infused monologue will likely fall on deaf ears.
Though ten times more difficult, it would be better for you to remain calm. This takes a large amount of patience and self-control, but it’s rewarding because it enables communication. By active listening and showing interest in questions and comments of non-vegans, you display that you are taking them seriously. Nobody ever learns by being yelled at. Instead, to accept something as valid, we have to come to that conclusion ourselves. Therefore, if you aim to help somebody understand what animals or the environment are going through, try to provide them with a safe space for conversation where they won’t feel attacked. As vegans care deeply about animals and are sensitive to their suffering, it sure is difficult to approach such topics with calmness. I know it is for me. So when I sense I’m getting stirred, I try to summon my inner Earthling Ed. Just like Ed, focus on your desired result and ignore all the instigation. Your goal is to inform, not to "win" an argument.
Keeping your cool is easier said than done. You can't always control your anger, but one thing you can do is learn to recognize it. When you notice you're shouting words out of frustration, stop speaking. If needed, go away for a while until you cool off, and try to resist the urge to argue just to be right.
You’re Not Alone
Feeling isolated from time to time is completely normal. But as a vegan, you may get that feeling a bit more frequently than you usually would. Even if you have some vegan friends, that worm of loneliness can still get to you; maybe they have supportive families or roommates and you’re struggling with yours.
But you can turn such doom and gloom into something positive. Knowing you’re experiencing such feelings means that other vegans have also been in your shoes, and if they made it, you can too. Even without local support groups in the form of vegan potlucks or vegan activist groups, whose in-person activities are probably hindered by the coronavirus pandemic, there are online communities where you can share your thoughts and hear from others. Since you’re already reading a blog post on the Vegan Hacktivists site, we invite you to join us at the Vegan Bootcamp. The Bootcamp is a place for all vegans; from those starting veganism and looking for tips and tricks to the long-term vegans who are there for chatting with the community. In whichever ways you decide to cope with isolation, always remember that you don’t have to go through it alone. Reach out to people. While we all live in different circumstances, talking to others in vegan communities can help you feel less isolated.
You’re an Advocate for the Animals
When things get heated and when we feel cornered, we will naturally get defensive. If agitation persists, we tend to use any means to save ourselves, and some of these means are not necessarily glamorous: sarcasm, witty remarks, or maybe even insults. These often won't achieve anything, the other party won't instantly turn vegan because we outwitted them. If anything, such behavior will make them warier of vegans and veganism.
Being vegan is about adjusting our lives to live a bit more selflessly. Of course, that doesn't mean putting ourselves last, but it means that we have a higher goal in the background of our actions. While it's easier to snap at those making us uncomfortable, we need to ask ourselves if that approach would be beneficial for the vegan movement; for the animals. If I yell at my sister in a debate and accuse her of being a selfish omnivore, I probably won't inspire her to try a vegan cheese alternative. But if I calmly ask her how come she loves her dog so much, and what exactly makes her dog different from a pig, she might consider a package of fake meat next time when she's shopping. These were just examples, but the point here is to remember that we're not doing this for ourselves, we're doing it for the ones who can't speak, so we'd better be careful with our words to make them count.
Plant a Seed
Living with non-vegans presents many chances for feeling discomfort, whether you're sharing the fridge, utensils, or just talking about climate or animals. As all households and social dynamics are different, there's no perfect formula for distributing vegan and non-vegan fridge shelves properly. If you have direct issues with someone, explain your situation to them. You should always feel comfortable where you live. But that's just one part of the problem.
A bigger issue is communication, especially about veganism. If it comes to it, remember that you can't force anyone to go vegan. The best you can do is to potentially inspire them to give veganism a go, and if you can do that, great! However, don't forget to respect yourself and your mental health. You are a complex person, not a walking encyclopedia on everything vegan. You have a right to distance yourself from an uncomfortable situation. But if you decide to discuss veganism, remind yourself who you're doing it for.
At the end of the day, we only have control over our lives. If we live compassionately and if we make others feel encouraged to ask questions, we can unwittingly plant a seed of curiosity. If anyone is aware of the importance of seeds and the mighty plants they become, it's us vegans.
If you're interested in topics like this one, we once again invite you to the Vegan Bootcamp. We have different courses ranging from information on the dairy industry to fitness, but the ones which would specifically be useful to people living with non-vegans are: Self-Care, Family and Friends, Community and Effective Vegan Outreach (written by Seb Alex!).