Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lincoln and the First Step

We finally watched Lincoln, and found it amazingly relevant. The hero is clearly Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones). More than anyone, he had reason to preach no compromise on equality, demand full abolition of any and all discrimination, and insist on nothing less than full and total rights immediately. He clearly would have been justified in raging with hatred at the venomous racists in congress (even a century-and-a-half later, knowing history vindicates Thaddeus, it is difficult not to be outraged when watching a re-enactment of this long-past debate).

Yet Rep. Stevens didn't give in to his understandable anger. Instead of being "true to himself" – justified and righteous, and on the losing side – he chose possible progress over personal purity, incremental advance over impotent anger.

This – progress over purity – is VO's hard-won mantra (although not always). I wish one of us had summarized it as well as Jonathan Safran Foer, who, in his interview with's Erik Marcus, explained the two motivations for his book, Eating Animals: To be useful, not thorough; and to get new people to consider taking the first step, rather than demanding the last.

I was reminded of this on Facebook recently. Our friends at Compassion Over Killing have VegWeek, a positive, inviting / non-intimidating way to get new people interested in taking the first step. But in a FB post promoting VegWeek, all the judgers came out of the woodwork: "Why just a week?? Be vegan forever!" "When you say 'veg,' you had better mean Vegan!!" Etc.

Of course, we all want our views and convictions to be validated, especially when currently held by only a minority. But the question is: Do we seek to justify our views / glorify ourselves, or do we want to get as many people as possible to take the first step for the animals? We may, like Thaddeus Stevens, burn with righteous anger, but we can also recognize that to make real progress to reduce real suffering, we need to get past our fury and embrace effective, thoughtful, focused advocacy.

If we really care about the animals first and foremost, we can abolish our personal desires and demands, and focus on making real, practical progress for the animals who are suffering to death every day. To do so requires opening the hearts and minds of others. This isn't done by anger and hatred, but by compassion and understanding.

You and I have each other for support; the animals need us to be uncompromising and unwavering in our dedication to helping them as best we can.