10 Habits of Highly Effective Advocates
How To Positively and Effectively Engage With Adversaries
Note from the publisher - Although this article specifically covers how to be an effective vegan advocate, I believe you will find Colleen’s 10 habits outlined below applicable to any cause you might advocate for. Whether you are trying to advocate for the homeless or a new library, understanding how to find common ground or the power of language, are lessons that can apply to any type of advocacy.
The mission in the work I do is to empower people to make informed food choices, to be a voice for animals, and to give people the tools and resources they need to live according to their own values of compassion and wellness.
My mission is also to inspire advocates to be the best they can be: the most joyful, most effective, most articulate ambassadors of compassion to help stop non-human animals from being systematically used, violated, and killed.
One of the reasons I was so compelled to share this article with you is because of the in-fighting I keep hearing about within the vegan and animal advocacy movements. I say “hear about” because I really stay out of it as much as possible, but I’m shocked and stunned to hear about what goes on. I know shocked probably sounds like hyperbole, but I’d rather still believe the best that’s in people and be surprised when they demonstrate otherwise than to be cynical and just expect people to be jerks. One thing I’m pretty amazed by is the prevalence of videos on YouTube where different YouTubers talk about other YouTubers in these nasty back and forth reaction videos. I’ve spent a few seconds witnessing this, because I find it so ugly I wouldn’t waste my time, and though I haven’t seen many, I am certain it’s safe to say this is characteristic of the Internet and YouTube -- not vegans, but still. It’s kind of amazing to me. Expression is a good thing, but not at the expense of integrity and advocacy.
HABITS of Highly Effective Advocates -- in my opinion -- and that’s to stay focused on what your mission is. Whatever it is. I don’t care what it is. But this in-fighting and complaining and finger-pointing and accusations -- I can’t help but think some folks have lost their way.
You can’t possibly be focused on your own mission when you’re insisting that everyone else’s mission is wrong.
So, I will start there and say Highly Effective Advocates create and stay focused on a mission, on their vision. It might morph and evolve over time, but staying focused is key to staying effective. And now, I’ll continue with the 10. Enjoy.
10 Habits of Highly Effective Advocates
My mission is to do everything I can to help us shift from the commonly held paradigm that sees non-human animals as ours to do with whatever we please to one that sees animals as ours to share this planet with – not as subjects of ours but as co-habitants who deserve to be regarded as autonomous beings who have the right to their own lives, their own bodies, their own offspring, and their own self-determination.
I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing and guiding thousands of people experience this paradigm shift and manifest their deepest values in their daily behavior; i.e. become vegan, and yet I’ve never set out to recruit people to the “vegan club,” which is often how it is perceived and characterized -- by vegans and non-vegans alike -- as if becoming vegan is some goal to attain, some club to join, some milestone to reach, some badge to wear. Highly effective advocates know it’s not.
1. Hence the #1 habit of Highly Effective Advocates: They know -- they convey -- that being vegan is a means to and end and not an end in itself.
Effective advocates know that being vegan is the MEANS to the goal and that goal is unconditional compassion and optimal wellness, integrating all aspects of what that implies: physical wellness, spiritual wellness, emotional and mental wellness. The goal is to live in such a way that doesn’t intentionally cause harm. The goal is to live according to compassion. The goal is not to “live according to veganism.”
That would imply that there are rules and doctrines to live by, and to me, that misses the point of what being vegan is all about. When you think being vegan is the end goal -- the badge, the destination, you get hung up on trying to be perfect or achieving a state of purity. You feel guilty, you feel overwhelmed, and you feel judged for “not doing it right” or for “not being perfect.” You’re told that you’re not a “real vegan” because you eat peanut butter made on equipment that was touched by dairy products. You just wait for the self-appointed vegan police to come knocking on your door to take away your vegan status.
Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as a licensed, certified vegan -- there is no such thing -- and if perfection and purity are what you’re trying to attain in a world that is by its nature imperfect, then I’m afraid you’ll be gravely disappointed.
Compassion is the goal. Veganism is the way to get there. If we forget this, not only do we miss the entire point of what it means to be vegan, we will also lead a frustrating existence filled with anger and judgement.
PEOPLE DO NOTHING WHEN THEY THINK THEY HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING, which is completely self-defeatist and does nothing to help the animals. Highly Effective Advocates understand that perfection is the enemy of the good.
2. Highly Effective Advocates recognize and truly believe that non-vegans are compassionate -- they’re just not manifesting their compassion in their behavior.
I’ve seen too many vegans write non-vegans off as cruel and insensitive, but I don’t think that’s the whole truth about people. I don’t believe people wake up in the morning trying to figure out how they can contribute to violence that day. I don’t believe that’s how it works. That doesn’t mean there aren’t sadists out there doing horrific, unspeakable things to animals -- human or non-human, but the majority of people mindlessly contributing to violence against animals are doing so mostly out of ignorance and conditioning -- not sadism and blatant cruelty. I think the truth is people are SO sensitive that they don’t want to believe that they’re contributing to harm or violence against animals, and so they choose the easier route --- ritualizing, rationalizing, and romanticizing their consumption of animals rather than experiencing the self-reflection and openness required to shift your worldview and change your habits. We humans have a great capacity to compartmentalize our emotions and support things we would never participate in directly -- and then justify our behavior so we can sleep well at night. I know I did.
But that doesn’t mean the compassion isn’t there. Before I became vegan, I was a compassionate person, but my compassion was blocked. HIGHLY EFFECTIVE ADVOCATES know the compassion is there in the non-vegans we encounter -- it’s asleep, it’s hidden, it’s blocked -- but it’s there. It’s blocked because of all the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we’re told about the necessity of eating and using animals. We live in a culture that doesn’t support us making the most compassionate choices. We live in a world that in many ways embraces animal exploitation and abuse and looks with suspicion – and in some cases – hostility upon those who oppose these things. We live in a world that tells us that compassion in children is sweet and desireable whereas compassion in adults is sentimental, that there’s no room for it in this “dog-eat-dog” world, that it’s for suckers, that it’s for sissies. As if compassion is the problem.
What I know for sure is that the problems we face in our world are not because we have so much compassion we don’t know what to do with it. The problems we have are because people aren’t living according to their own values of compassion and kindness. HIGHLY EFFECTIVE ADVOCATES know this and seek to guide people to their own compassion. But they also seek to be compassionate themselves. The idea that only non-vegans compartmentalize their compassion is a false one.
We’re all taught to compartmentalize our compassion and reserve it for only a select few (mostly for those who look like us, who live like us, who believe like us, behave like us, and sound like us), doling it out as one would limited, scarce rations -- as if exercising it fully and authentically would deplete us of it or waste it on the “wrong people.” And so we actually wind up rationing our compassion.
And we all do it...even we vegans. We all decide who is worthy of our compassion and who it should be withheld from. Who deserves it and who should be denied it -- based on who they are or what they do or what they have done in the past -- using righteousness and -- ironically compassion -- as justification for our intolerance.
And so we make it conditional, pulling it out when someone meets our criteria for someone deserving of our compassion.
And we wonder why the world is in the state its in.
HIGHLY EFFECTIVE ADVOCATES KNOW that as Ambassadors of Compassion, we need to raise the bar, give people the benefit of the doubt, and expect the best that’s in them, realizing that when we do so, people rise to that expectation. When we speak to the highest in people, people respond with the highest that’s in them. It’s amazing, and I see it every single day.
Highly effective advocates know that the person they’re speaking to is a compassionate person, and it’s that compassion they speak to directly.
Choosing the perspective that sees people as asleep rather than evil -- makes us better advocates, better voices for those who have no voice.
"Highly Effective Advocates know that as Ambassadors of Compassion, we need to raise the bar, give people the benefit of the doubt, and expect the best that’s in them, realizing that when we do so, people rise to that expectation."
3. And part of the reason for that is because Highly Effective Advocates remember that they, too, were once unaware of the atrocities they were contributing to. And that brings us to the third habit of highly effective advocates are humble: they remember their own story.
It’s imperative for those of us who have already become awake to remember where we came from, to remember that we, too, were once asleep. Perhaps we made stupid jokes, said silly things, defended our behavior. Perhaps we said “I’ll never be vegan,” perhaps we made fun of vegans. The point is if we remember our story, we’ll be less inclined to be self-righteous when we encounter people who are not where we’re at.
In forgetting our own stories, our own process, we lose our humility, and in doing so we risk becoming arrogant and self-righteous – not a great formula for remaining joyful, demonstrating compassion, or attracting people to a compassionate way of life. Highly Effective Advocates are humble.
We know we’re no better than anyone else for being vegan; we’re just better than who we used to be.
"Highly Effective Advocates are humble."
4. One of the easiest ways to remember our own story is by practicing the fourth habit of Highly Effective Advocates, which is to find common ground. Highly effective advocates make connections rather than create separations.
Highly Effective Advocates find common ground with people who may on the face of it seem like “the enemy” or “the opposition.”
They find common ground and build from that common ground, choosing to stand together against violence rather than stand against one another.
That’s a great strategy for dealing with disagreement in any relationship about any issue, but it’s not always easy to do, because you have to be more willing to find resolution than you are eager to be right; you have to be more willing to solve the problem than you are anxious to “win the argument.”
The question HIGHLY EFFECTIVE ADVOCATES ASK THEMSELVES IS “DO I WANT TO BE RIGHT OR DO I WANT TO BE EFFECTIVE?”
Highly Effective Advocates know that people are surprised (and relieved) to hear that vegans had a pre-vegan life. So, a helpful response when people say things like “I love meat,” or “I could never give up cheese” is “I did, too. I loved meat. I didn’t stop eating meat because I stopped liking the taste; I stopped eating it because I realized it was made of animals.” Not only will you be finding common ground with people, you’re also practicing HABIT #3: You’re remembering and reinforcing your own story. Just saying to someone: “I used to think the same thing.” “I totally understand,” “I can totally relate” is incredibly effective and incredibly kind. If people find ways to identify with you, then they’re more inclined to consider the changes they need to make themselves.
HIGHLY EFFECTIVE ADVOCATES UNDERSTAND that creating common ground is all about COMMUNICATION. In fact, the word “communicate” is built from the word “common”; it literally means “shared by all.” And I love that, because this issue is not me against you; vegan against non-vegan; my moral superiority over your moral superiority. It’s about all of us being against violence and cruelty. This is a value “shared by all.” It’s about all of us being for the dissemination of truthful, unbiased information about what makes us thrive and be healthy. This is a value “shared by all.”
Ambassadors of Compassion and Highly Effective Advocates find that common ground and recognize that everyone’s a HERO IN THEIR OWN STORY. Approaching someone with the presumption that they, too, care -- that they, too, are compassionate, means not only getting at the truth in general but helping others tap into their own truth about themselves. From there, in agreement, on common ground, you can only go up. Meeting someone on the common ground of compassion not only has the potential of awakening and heightening their own compassion for animals, it also has the potential to awaken and heighten our compassion for someone else -- regardless of where they are on the continuum of wakefulness.
5. Because Highly Effective Advocates know that compassion is unconditional -- the 5th habit, in fact, of Highly Effective Advocates.
In other words, if I profess to be a compassionate person, it doesn’t mean I get to be compassionate only to those I like or who agree with me. It means I have to strive to be compassionate towards everyone. That’s the thing about compassion – it’s gotta be equal opportunity or it’s just inauthentic. It’s easy to be compassionate towards like-minded people. The challenge is choosing to have compassion towards those with whom I disagree.
Compassion isn’t compassion unless it is felt for everyone -- the guilty and the non-guilty, the kind and the unkind, the good and the evil.
Authentic compassion is showing compassion for those who are unlike me or disagree with me. And yes, authentic compassion means having compassion even for those who are not compassionate. But know this: practicing unconditional compassion doesn’t mean you are a martyr or a doormat; it doesn’t mean you accept rude behavior, betrayal, violations, systemic injustices, downright cruelty, and personal and criminal offenses.
The more compassion I give, the more that gets created in the world. The more compassion I withhold, the less there is. Likewise, the more violence -- and that includes thoughts -- I put out in the world, the more violence I create. The more violence I withhold, the less there is.
We might feel justified in hating or resenting or judging people who support or commit violence against animals -- meat-eaters, slaughterhouse workers, hunters, but in terms of efficacy, what purpose does it serve?
We can’t have compassion on our lips with hatred in our hearts - for our own sake and for the sake of the animals.
"We can’t have compassion on our lips with hatred in our hearts - for our own sake and for the sake of the animals."
6. Highly Effective Advocates know the power of words, the power of communication; they know the power of language -- both body language and verbal language -- the sixth habit of highly effective advocates.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but sometimes -- as someone who identifies as vegan -- sometimes you get a little push-back, sometimes hostile comments, once in a while you get defensive reactions, sometimes passive aggressiveness, sometimes aggressiveness, occasionally stupid jokes, and always questions, questions, questions.
If we don’t think communication is a skill we need to learn -- unless we want to hide ourselves away from society all together, we’re never going to shift the paradigm. Communicating effectively means finding our voice and expressing ourselves, our desires, our needs, our wants, our values in a way that is productive, effective, truthful, and compassionate. It means knowing the difference between using words that provoke thought and words that provide shock. The former shifts paradigms; the latter exists for its own sake.
Of course, learning to communicate is useful for everyone and for every area of our lives -- not just as vegans or advocates. But understanding how to communicate as an advocate, as an ambassador of compassion will not only make you a more effective spokesperson, it will also deepen your connection with others and yourself -- because you’re starting with the foundation that this topic is a sensitive one in our society -- a topic that makes people defensive, emotional, irrational, and fearful.
Starting there -- just having that awareness -- just being sensitive to the stuff that comes up for people when you - the vegan, the animal activist -- shows up -- is what separates the highly effective from the highly ineffective advocates.
Because whether we like it or not -- unless we want to stay in the vegan closet and never let our light shine -- we are all ambassadors. Our audience is everyone we encounter. Whether we like it or not, if we’re the vegan someone encounters, we represent ALL vegans. Although it may feel like a lot of pressure and although it is indeed a great responsibility, it is also a great honor to be a voice for this abundant way of life, to be the “vegan in the room” who people come to with their questions, with their stories, with their fears, and with their hopes. What an honor to guide them to their own truth, to their own compassion -- and to do so confidently and joyfully.
"Because whether we like it or not -- unless we want to stay in the vegan closet and never let our light shine -- we are all ambassadors."
7. Joyfully -- because we have a sense of humor -- the 7th Habit of Highly Effective Advocates.
They know that you can lighten up even the most intense information by adding some levity, by changing the tone of your voice, or by laughing or smiling. If we have sense of humor, it shows that we can take these issues very seriously but not so seriously that we don’t also know when to laugh or be playful or even -- inoffensively snarky. And that joy and sense of humor will reflected back to them, making this lifestyle a lot look a lot more attractive!
8. Highly Effective Advocates don’t take everything so personally -- the 8th habit. They know where they end and another person begins.
Even if people seem passive aggressive and make snide comments or stupid jokes, Highly Effective Advocates know that they’re not directed at them but are rather age-old defense mechanisms. Highly Effective Advocates know the power they hold as the vegan in the room and know that as such we hold up a mirror to one another, and in that mirror is often a reflection that holds an image of something that needs to be examined but is very threatening. It’s rare for someone to have a mirror held up for them and say “oh, thank you very much for reflecting back my fears and insecurities. I’ll work on them right away.”
Rather, to protect themselves they deflect back to YOU what they don’t want to see often get defensive or passive aggressive. If we can understand that this type of reaction has NOTHING to do with us, not only will it sting less, but we may find that we have sympathy and compassion rather than judgment for that person. We may find that the compassion we strive to live by can be directed toward someone whose discomfort and fears of their own vulnerability are so great as to keep them guarded and blocked.
Highly Effective Advocates know what’s theirs and what’s not theirs. They know they can ask for what they want or show up fully as the joyful vegans they are without worrying about whether or not who they are and what they believe are going to rock someone else’s boat.
9. That’s because Highly Effective Advocates practice the 9th habit: they plant seeds and remain unattached to how and when and if those seeds germinate.
I started off by telling you my mission, and as you heard, my mission is not to make people vegan or to change someone else’s mind. If those were my intentions, I’d fail every time. It’s not in my power to make anyone do anything. All I can do is speak the truth and trust that it will inspire others to act on their own values. That’s why I don’t like the words “convert” or “recruit.” I prefer “inspire.” or “empower.” I never set out to convert anyone. Whenever I set out to do my work – whether I’m writing an article, writing a book, speaking to a group, or speaking one on one, in my mind, I make sure I’m clear about my intention. And my intention is this: to raise awareness about violence against animals, to be their voice, and to speak my truth.
That’s it. I believe intention is everything, and people individually and collectively are smart enough to see right through you if you appear false to them – if you appear to have a hidden agenda – in other words, you’re saying one thing but you really mean another. Having a clear intention about your goal and making that goal about truth rather than outcome will make you a successful, effective advocate 100% of the time. I believe we’re here to be teachers for one another, and I am grateful for my role as a conduit. But that’s all any of us are. And that there are so many of us -- so much opportunity to be conduits of compassion is what gives me hope:
10. The 10th habit of Highly Effective Advocates: They have hope.
I honestly could not do this work or consider myself an effective advocate or call myself a joyful vegan if I did not have hope or rather - choose to dwell in the hope. It’s such an honor and a privilege to witness people’s transformations, and what I know for sure is that people are making changes all the time to live healthier and more compassionate lives. Because of this awareness -- because of my FOCUS on that awareness, I have hope.
What I know for sure is that veganism – i.e. living compassionately and healthfully – is more mainstream than ever before. Because of this awareness -- and my FOCUS on that awareness, I have hope.
What I know for sure is that more people are speaking up on behalf of animals, on behalf of truth more than ever before. Because of this awareness, I have hope.
My hope is that we embrace our unconditional compassion and express it unapologetically and at full throttle – and expect others to do the same. Though the problem isn’t that people wake up in the morning trying to figure out how they can contribute to violence and suffering, the problem is that we don’t wake up in the morning wanting to create as much compassion, peace, and nonviolence as possible. If that were on our to-do list every day, imagine what we could accomplish. Imagine what our world would be like.
My hope is that our daily choices be a reflection of our deepest values and that we use our voices to speak for those who need us most, those who have no voice, those who have no choice. It’s up to each one of us to create the compassionate world we say we want to live in; as Ambassadors for Compassion -- as Highly Effective Advocates, we can make this happen.
And this, too, is my hope.
My hope is that we can all navigate through this world with the grace and integrity of those who most need our protection. May we have the sense of humor and liveliness of the goats; may we have the maternal instincts and protective nature of the hens and the sassiness of the roosters. May we have the gentleness and strength of the cattle, the wisdom, serenity, and humility of the donkeys. May we appreciate the need for community as do the sheep, and choose our companions as carefully as do the rabbits.
May we have the faithfulness and commitment to family of the geese, the adaptability and affability of the ducks. May we have the intelligence, loyalty, and affection of the pigs, the inquisitiveness, sensitivity, and playfulness of the turkeys.
My hope is that we learn from the animals what it is we need to become better people.
May it be so.