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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More Musings on Veganism and Proselytizing

Okay, you're probably sick of hearing from me about this, and maybe I need to examine why it bothers me so much, but I got another pissy comment in my Etsy feedback today from someone who didn't appreciate receiving the Compassionate Choices brochure in her order, and I'm feeling disheartened-slash-annoyed again. On the plus side, she was kind enough to base her actual feedback rating on the crafts(wo)manship of the ring itself and the service she received, and therefore gave me a positive overall rating despite her mixed comments.

This particular customer accuses me of proselytizing, which isn't far off from what the original complainer had to say. So it's not the first time (or even the second time, to be honest) that I've been accused of this particular offense. I've been giving it some thought though, and I'm a little confused about the negative connotation associated with the word 'proselytize'. Granted, I don't know many people who like having another person's religious views pushed upon them, but I looked this word up in the dictionary, and it pertains to a lot more than just religion.

intransitive verb
1 : to induce someone to convert to one's faith
2 : to recruit someone to join one's party, institution, or cause
transitive verb
1 : to recruit or convert especially to a new faith, institution, or cause

According to this definition, a proselytizer is anyone working for a cause of any kind. And if you think about it, where would we be in this country without proselytizers? Slavery would still be legal, as would child labor, child abuse, and spousal abuse; women and African Americans would be prohibited from voting; AIDS, cancer, and all kinds of other diseases would have claimed many more lives, and the environment would be in an even sorrier state than it currently is.

Curses on all of those damned proselytizers who have enabled us all to live the privileged existences we currently enjoy!!! How dare they!?! I mean, obviously I'm saying this rather sarcastically, but really - why do people get so bent out of shape by another person's attempt to improve the world and reduce suffering? I guess it's nothing new; throughout history, there have always been those who fight to defend the status quo - who stubbornly resist change despite overwhelming evidence of its benefit or necessity.

Another aspect of my most recent detractor's objection was her assertion that "to use Etsy to proselytyse [sic] is totally inappropriate." Now, I just can't let that go unchallenged, because I object so strongly to her premise.

I worked in mind-numbing office jobs for ten years before finally deciding to take a chance on myself and launch my jewelry business. When I began to seriously research online selling opportunities, there were other sites I could have chosen in favor of Etsy. Ultimately, what drew me to Etsy (and what keeps me there) is the company's philosophy of empowering artists, building community, and celebrating individuality.

Community activism is, for many (although certainly not all) Etsy artists, central to their business model or personal ethics. There are so many amazing people on Etsy, each with her own passions and interests - as evidence, check out Etsy's Team profile page - there are Etsy teams devoted to all kinds of charity and activism, from VeganEtsy (of which I am, not surprisingly, a proud member), to promoting child literacy, to supporting greyhound adoptions, and so very much more. I have met an incredible number of amazing people on Etsy who donate a portion of their sales to all kinds of charities. This spirit of giving and sharing and spreading good karma (for lack of a less-hippie-sounding word) is at the center of what makes Etsy special. I, for one, would be far less likely to continue to give Etsy my business if this were not the case.

I had more planned out in my head to say on this subject as I was lying in bed last night. I guess I should have grabbed a pencil and scribbled some notes because it's gone now. If I think of anything else, you can be sure I will be back to bore you with it soon.


Melissa said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. At the core of etsy's foundation seems to be a spirit of activism and social consciousness. I wouldn't take the feedback personally; nor would I let it deter you from fighting for your beliefs.

winterskeeper said...

Virtually nothing annoys me more than someone proselytizing their religious beliefs. (Now granted, I am an athiest, but still, I think these people are rude, and even a little scary.)

However, I personally believe one of the most important freedoms in our country is the right to free speech.

Along with that freedom comes our individual right to completely and blantantly ignore what we don't want to hear or read.

Belief what you want. Say what you want. Mail what you want. The receiver has the ability to toss it, delete it, ignore it .... or they can get all riled up reactive, and waste time and emotions on something that they don't want to tolerate.

Personally, I think anybody that cares for animals and seeks to protect them is a special kind of someone.

Tamara, use your right to ignore those that judge you for trying to make a difference.

Sara said...

You know I agree with your cause. I do, however, see where people are coming from in complaining. Just like I hate coming home to find religious literature on my doorstep, or worse, the interruption of someone knocking on my door for the same reason. Those people believe in their cause just as you believe in yours. And while I agree that justice often comes with sparks like these, people can use the same means for injustice as well. It all comes down to beliefs and values, and unfortunately, the world can become very divided on that level.

So it comes down to personal choice. You choose to put it out there, and they choose to throw it away/complain. Good enough! I applaud you for putting yourself out there by sending it. After that, it's on them. You are not responsible for their reaction.

the little one said...

I suspect that more people buy from you because of your politics than would if you didn't put it out there. I purchased a ring (one of my favorites) from you because of your commitments and will do so again.

I think the difference lies in some people's view of business and capitalism. They think business should be devoid of political views. How dare you, they think, inject values into a business transaction. But you wouldn't be you if you didn't.

I love your business model and commend you for it. Plus, I suspect that if you lose one client for your vegan activism not only do you gain others, it is also a consequence you're willing to live with. Still, I totally understand your frustration and would feel the same if I were you. In fact, I feel it on your behalf.

ksclarke said...

I agree with the commenter who said that people don't like to be preached to, but that we all have free speech and the ability (and freedom) to ignore what we don't want to here.

My question would be about the proselytizer... what is the purpose? If the purpose is to make the world a better place, I'd question whether the proselytizing has that affect. Are more people responding positively or are more people responding negatively (or is it neural)?

If more people are responding negatively (and I tend to think most people don't like to be preached to) then I'd wonder if there are other motivators for the proselytizer (and I don't know you at all so this isn't directed at you at all). Sometimes I think, though, people feel good by proselytizing. The problem is that if this is defeating the ultimate goal, which is bringing about change, then...

Anyway, something to think about. I am a vegan but don't much like vegan proselytizers. I think often the methods they use defeat the change they say they'd like to affect. I understand though getting frustrated with the changes we'd like to see not happening quickly enough.

Tamara said...

Sara, you are right that preaching/proselytizing can cause bad things to happen as well as good; just think of how many wars have been fought over religion, etc. I get that.

However, I think it's important to bear in mind that the particular cause I am fighting for is based on facts, not faith. That's why I think it's different from someone trying to foist their religious beliefs on you. I think working for animal rights is just like any other social justice cause.

I agree that people have free will and can certainly choose to ignore the message, but it's different from choosing to tune out a religious sermon; it's covering your eyes and ears to the suffering of innocent beings all around you just because you can't handle it or don't want to be inconvenienced.

little one, I think you're right that many of my customers 'discover' my work through vegan avenues, and I know that it does bring some business my way. I'm also certain that I've lost customers due to the brochures in the packages. And you're 100% right - I'm okay with that.

I like what you said about some people believing that business should be devoid of political/social issues. I think just the opposite! Few things have as much power to bring about change as how we spend our money. I spent far too much time working in jobs where the bottom line was all that mattered, and I resolved that my business would be different. Profit is not 100% of my motivation; far from it. I am grateful for the money I make; obviously it makes life easier, but if I could make twice as much by discontinuing my charitable donations and vegan outreach efforts, I wouldn't do it.

ksclarke, I will try to answer some of your questions from my own perspective at least...

My 'proselytizing' is aimed at reducing suffering. That is the bottom line for me. The vast majority of those who receive my pamphlets never mention it to me, so I can't accurately gauge their reactions on any kind of large scale. But I can say that I receive more positive comments than negative ones. So that's something. I know that my outreach efforts have nudged at least a few people either toward vegetarianism, or even veganism. If only one in 100 of the customers I send this information to chooses to change his/her habits, it's worth it to me.

I would love for you to elaborate on your statement that the methods used by some vegan proselytizers tend to defeat the change they say they'd like to affect. Are you talking about things like PETA publicity stunts (which I am not a fan of myself), or what?

Personally, I think there needs to be a balance of clear, factual information (which in the case of animal exploitation can often be hard to witness) and tact/understanding. Sometimes the tact/understanding part is hard for me because I get so upset by the suffering all around us. But I don't think that vegans should shy away from speaking the truth just because it might make someone uncomfortable. I think we owe it to our friends, family, and fellow human beings to educate them about what's going on.

So many people truly aren't aware of the issues; I wasn't until about 7 years ago, when my friend Jennifer Raymond's calm, non-confrontational, but totally factual descriptions of the egg and dairy industries convinced me that being vegetarian wasn't enough - I needed to go vegan.

I am more grateful than I can say to Jennifer for explaining it to me in a way that I could understand without being so judgmental that I got turned off to the message.

My hope is that the brochures I send out will do something similar for at least a small minority of those who read them. I know it's not going to change the world overnight, but who am I to deny other people the opportunity for their own awakening?

And if I shy away from trying to change hearts and minds for the better, and you do, and the next person does, and the next person does, and so on, how will the world ever become a better place?

jarvenpa said...

Interesting discussion. My partner and I have a small bookshop in a small town. We probably couldn't cover our political and social beliefs if we wanted to, but it is much easier to be very out front with what we believe. It's kind of in the tradition of used bookstores/places where political newspapers are done and things are organized--so maybe it is easier or more expected for us. I do know we have lost some business because of this, but I figure we have also gained some. And we have doubtless lost business because people don't expect to be greeted by a rescued pitbull and a couple rescue kitties at the door--but our critters have their own fan club too.
I like trying to have consistency in the various parts of my life, and I admire Tamara for her efforts. It was one reason I have bought beautiful jewelry from her; my "pretties" budget is pretty limited, I want it to go to the best places. Her shop is definitely one of those.

BetteJo said...

I love your work, your jewelry is gorgeous and I especially love all your metal work. That would be why I would shop with you. I suspect that the people who object to a pamphlet are people who have no idea about your beliefs or just don't think it should extend to their buying jewelry or beads from you.

I imagine they feel a little bit blind-sided by receiving the material when it is unexpected.

On the flip side of that I'm also guessing that people who already know your beliefs and commitment to those beliefs - would never object to receiving the information from you because they have some idea where it is coming from. Even if they don't share those beliefs.

I think people respond in a more positive way when they know your heart so-to-speak. And the people who object can't see that through a pamphlet. They have no reference point to know whether you are a pushy know-it-all or a compassionate and driven activist.

No matter what you do, some people will still react as if you are pushing your way of life on them. You're going to win some and lose a few along the way and I'm not sure how you can change that. It's part of the risk of sending the information to people who do not know you.

Honestly? I think it's great that the buyer let you know how she felt - just because I don't think enough people speak up about things they find to be an afront to them. But I think it would have been more appropriate to do it privately in an email.

If you believe in what you are doing - and have only had 2 complaints - I'd say with the volume of your business - most of your customers don't mind the pamphlet or are neither here nor there on the issue.

You're very passionate about what you are striving to do. Do what you believe is right, what more can you do?

(sheesh - sorry this is SO long!)