Today’s post is by contributing writer Rima Danielle Jomaa, MFT.
When I became a vegan 10 years ago, I experienced many emotions. I was excited to embrace a new lifestyle that protests injustice. I felt liberated from the belief that I had to harm animals to be healthy and normal.
The thrill of living oppression-free soon turned to rage as I opened my eyes to the crimes committed against nonhumans. I joined the animal rights movement and spent years learning how to live as an activist. I attended a variety of events, campaign meetings and protests, and I held the megaphone to lead chants.
Sadly, I didnt always use my voice in positive ways. My anger caused me to push away people who loved and supported me. Because they didnt share my views, I judged them.
I didnt understand the value of good allies, fostering communication, acceptance, and creating spaces for change. Its a process that evolves forever and requires us to be open and humble. Here are some lessons Ive learned.
1) Human Connections Matter
It is natural for people to experience anger, sadness and frustration over the injustice of the cause they are fighting for. If they dont deal with their pain in a healthy way, they risk speaking from the emotional pain. This can be experienced by others as judgment, anger, and shaming. Someone might delete and block a friend because of a heated exchange. This can take years to recover from, if either person makes a reconciliatory attempt.
Learn how to respectfully communicate with those who love and support you even when you are triggered, even when they disagree. Silencing them divides us into an us vs. them mentality. Censorship is oppression.
Society often prefers vegans to be silent. At a barbecue, I see a roasting pig as equal to a roasting dog. I get angry, sad, frustrated, hopeless. I can speak up and make a situation uncomfortable by being that vegan or swallow my emotions, keep the peace and continue being invited places. You know what Im referring to when I say that vegan because jokes made at the expense of the pushy vegan are common in our culture.
If youve ever complained about a pushy vegan before, stop and consider if you are pushing your views onto others in the same way. This comparison produced many lightbulb moments for my clients when talking about this topic.
When it comes to debate, discussion and dialogue about triggering topics, make sure that you have consent to give your opinion. Respect goes a long way in keeping people on your side. Plant seeds of love, even if inside you are screaming.
The psychologist Melanie Joy helped me understand how my tactics were damaging my relationships, and therefore not helping animals at all. Her book,”Beyond Beliefs: A Guide to Improving Relationships and Communication for Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Eaters,” discusses how to navigate relationships between people with opposing views, whether veganism is involved or not!
2) Focus on the Message
Veganism is altruism. Its compassion, love, equality and justice. In action, it looks like showing love to the people that are triggering you the most. Radical acceptance means creating safe spaces for everyone, not shaming or guilting them into feeling bad enough to change. That rarely works.
Guilt and shame are useful emotions to process, not to inflict on others. The former is called self-work. The latter is called emotional manipulation and abuse.
When I am being silenced by society, I remember that activism isnt about being the loudest or being right. Its about being the change, even when youre standing alone.
I ponder: How do I act when no one is watching and Im making choices in my day? How do I treat others whose opinions differ from mine? Can I show grace to those on a different path?
I go inward to forgive the oppressors because we are all part of a broken system. I forgive and love myself as I strive to evolve.
3) Be the Solution, Not the Problem
Social media is the perfect stage for our unresolved emotions to play a leading role. I have been appalled and filled with sadness at how friends treat friends as they fight hate with hate.
Theres name calling and willful division, like people want to draw sides. As Ibram Kendi discusses in How to Be Antiracist, one can work diligently towards being antiracist while still holding racist ideas. Racist and antiracist describe ideas and policies — someone can hold both. Shaming someone for a racist idea and labeling them a racist does not teach them the antiracist solution. Its about growth and learning, not separation and segregation.
If youre just waking up this month to injustice in the world, you probably dont know the best way forward. Slow down. We all must do our work as we seek to create change.
4) Taking Care of Yourself Is Activism
Activism is a lifelong marathon, not a sprint. Acting from anger causes more damage than good. When I was residing in anger, my self-righteousness justified my judging others for not behaving in ways I deemed just.
Now I process emotions and balance so I can be a positive force of change. Ive accepted that I cant change everyone and I realize that the world gains more when I treat people with love.
Activists have a hard time taking care of themselves because it seems counterintuitive. They feel guilty if they dont dedicate their spare time and resources to their cause. They risk burn-out and compassion fatigue, making them less effective. Leading a balanced life ensures youll have the stamina to stay present when it matters.
Psychotherapy, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, breathwork, hypnotherapy and dancing are ways you can go into your body to release and process emotions and to heal.
Rima Danielle Jomaa, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, hypnotherapist, vegan lifestyle advocate & yoga teacher from Los Angeles, now living in Costa Rica. She’s had a virtual practice since 2018. Rima promotes an overall program of wellness through mental, physical & spiritual health and nutrition. She approaches each client from a unique perspective as each client is unique and collaborates with them to understand their needs and goals.
She is a Gottman leader, specializes in psychedelic integration work, and enjoys working with clients that are on their spiritual path in life and needing help finding their way.rimathejunglegirl.com/therapy,Instagram@rima_danielle.