It’s important to talk about negative emotions.
We all feel them at one point or another: sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration, loneliness. Sometimes they’re small feelings that we can easily manage. Sometimes they’re bigger feelings that hang around for days, or weeks, and you have no idea how to make them go away.
“Isolation” often involves negative feelings, and it’s important to talk about those. Sometimes, though, isolation isn’t necessarily a negative feeling—but it can have negative results nonetheless.
I’ve felt or fallen into each of these types of isolation in the past, some of them fairly frequently. I’m sure many of you have, too. So let’s talk about it.
Six Types of Isolation in Animal Activism
First, there’s the type of isolation where you just feel alone. You want a friend, a comrade, someone to talk to—frankly, anyone. Doesn’t matter too much. This can happen if you move to a new city, or get a new job, or fall out of your old friend group. Honestly, maybe you’ve never had that close of a friend group to begin with, or you haven’t had one for a while. You’re just lonely, and want connection.
Second, there’s the type of isolation where you want another activist to talk to. You feel like the only one in the world who cares about this enormous problem, and you just want to talk to someone who says, “Yeah, animal exploitation is horrific, we absolutely need to end it.” You want someone on your side. You need someone who understands the emotions you struggle with regularly.
Third, there’s the type of intellectual isolation where you’re only surrounded by people who think the same way as you do. This could look like being a part of a tight-knit, homogeneous activist group where you all think about animal activism in the same kind of ways. It could look like working for a specific animal advocacy organization and not interacting much with other groups.
Maybe you see someone advocating for animals in a totally different way and think, “How could they possibly even think that’s effective?” Maybe you work on corporate campaigns and can’t possibly see how disruptions would ever be effective. Maybe you go to slaughterhouse vigils and don’t see how creating new plant-based products is actually moving the needle.
Fourth, there’s a kind of moral perspective isolation where you think that no one could possibly be an ethical human while they’re participating in animal exploitation. “I don’t care if they’re trying to eradicate global poverty, and they recycle, and they volunteer for their local PTA, and they’re mostly vegetarian. If they eat chicken twice a week, they’re a horrible, evil human being with no moral values.” You think that the ethical point you’ve reached is now the baseline for everyone else to be at right at this moment, and you view people as either “ethical” if they meet your requirements or “unethical” if they don’t. It’s hard for you to support the good that other people are trying to do in the world if they aren’t vegan.
Fifth, there’s the isolation of only knowing other activists and vegans online, and not in-person. As much as the internet connects us, and as awesome as digital technology is, there are many things that can only be had—or are much easier to have—through in-person interactions. Sure, you could get on Google Hangouts and drink a beer with your friend, or have a phone call and “grab a coffee” with someone who you don’t know as well, but it’s not going to be exactly the same. One specific example of this type of isolation is working remotely for an animal advocacy group, like I do. There are a ton of in-person dynamics that don’t really happen between me and my colleagues, because we interact exclusively digitally. This is really hard and can lead to feelings of isolation.
Sixth and last, there’s the isolation that comes from being in a close relationship (romantic or not) with someone who isn’t on the same page as you about animal exploitation. This can feel even worse than simply being alone, sometimes, because you feel like you should be connected with this person on deep issues, but yet there’s this major discrepancy—one of the most important issues to you.
Antidotes to Isolation
So you might be thinking, “Cool, thanks for creating a real bummer of a post. I appreciate all the sadness.”
I get it—it’s not fun to talk about negative subjects when there isn’t some kind of solution presented. First, feel free to acknowledge any of these feelings or types of isolation if they apply to you. It’s ok to acknowledge the feelings without having a clear solution right there.
But since you mentioned it, let’s go ahead and talk about some ideas for solutions.
Type 1: You’re Just Plain Lonely
Set yourself a goal to try to connect with someone in person in the next few days. An easy way to do this is by asking people questions. You can ask the barista at the local coffee shop what they do in their free time. You can ask the person sitting at the table what they’re reading or working on.
You can also find events specifically geared toward meeting new people. A great place to do this is on Meetup.com. Just create an account, search for some groups that sound interesting to you, and go to the next event. Once again, asking people questions about themselves is a really great way to start getting connected to someone. “Hey, my name is Steven. What’s your name? Are you in school, or do you work full-time? What’s one of your favorite things to do around here?” You can also try to connect with other activists specifically.
Type 2: You Need Another Activist
This one might be a little harder than Type 1, just because there are fewer animal activists in the world than there are non-activists. If you can find local activists who live in your city, or even a neighboring city, reach out and see if you can grab coffee. Like I mentioned above, asking the other person questions is a great way to start building the relationship and keep the conversation flowing. You can try to find local activists through Meetup or Facebook Groups.
If you can’t find anyone local, then connect with someone digitally. Reach out, and see if you can schedule a phone call or video chat just to get to know each other and see what they’re working on—something more personal and human-feeling than just typing back and forth.
Type 3: You’re Intellectually Isolated
If you find yourself thinking that your way is the only way to advocate for animals, or if you can’t possibly see how the work of others is effective, then you might be intellectually isolated.
Try to mingle with different types of activists who are working on the issue from different fronts: people working on corporate campaigns; people doing protests; animal sanctuary staff and volunteers; folks who make vegan products; media and content creators; etc. There is a lot of work being done out there, and you’ll be able to do your best work if you can talk with people approaching activism in different ways.
Also, read widely and learn from all areas of activism and life. If you’re someone who “hates history”, go watch a YouTube video on history. If you never read anything about psychology, go pick up a book on it. Staying curious about all subject areas is a good way to keep yourself from getting stuck in an echo chamber.
Type 4: You Think Nonvegans Are Devoid of All Ethics
It can be easy to think that if someone is contributing to animal exploitation, they’re simply not an ethical person. But this kind of black and white thinking isn’t only incorrect, it can also make you feel bitter and angry towards other people and keep you from connecting with them.
Most people view themselves as ethical, and they usually have reasons why they think that. “I’m nice to others,” or “I help out my family and friends,” or “I volunteer at the local food bank,” or “I donate to charities.” And these are, in fact, good things that we want to exist in the society we’re helping to create. We just also know of another facet of ethics that hasn’t made it into these people’s identities yet. It’s our job to show them how the ethics that they already practice also extend to nonhumans—we’re simply helping them extend their ethical identity which already has a foundation built on other things.
Type 5: Only Knowing Activists Online
This one is hard, and it’s probably where a lot of vegans find themselves.
First, consider asking activists who you know online if they want to have a phone or video call with you sometime. Typing or texting back and forth is fine, but it lacks a lot of the human elements we crave: tone of voice, laughing along with someone else, the back-and-forth banter of conversation, the facial expressions. Bring the human elements into the digital realm as much as you can.
Second, consider traveling to see other activists at least once a year, more if you can. The Animal Rights National Conference is a great place to see people, as is the Animal Liberation Conference. You could also just travel to visit a specific person you know, or you could go to a big activist hub like Los Angeles or London to meet up with folks there.
Third, make sure you’re finding value in spending time with the non-activists who live near you. There’s always something to learn, and there’s always a connection to be made with someone different from you, even if that connection isn’t related to helping animals. Who knows—maybe if you invest some time in local relationships, those people will become your vegan activist friends one day.
Type 6: You Have a Close Relationship With A Nonvegan / Non-Activist
This one is really tough, and can be very emotionally taxing.
First, think about the things you do have in common. Make sure to emphasize those when you’re with this person, so that they feel connected to you. This will not only make your interactions positive, but it will also put them in a better emotional space to hear your thoughts about animals. Read up on nonviolent communication and emotionally focused therapy to better understand how your language and emotional connection with the other person are incredibly important.
Second, understand what you need your boundaries to be. Some people choose to take the liberation pledge and not sit at tables where animals are being eaten. Some people set strong boundaries that they’re only going to live in a vegan house or apartment where no animal products are eaten. Be honest with yourself about what you need, and communicate that clearly and empathetically to the other person.
Third, if the other person is antagonistic about your beliefs, or if you feel like you aren’t being supported in wanting to help animals, you always have the option to leave the relationship. This obviously isn’t the easiest solution or the most ideal, but sometimes it might be the best choice. This is especially the case if there are any unhealthy or toxic patterns in the relationship related to your desire to help animals (or for other reasons too, of course).
Finding someone who cares about you and who is willing to talk about any of these issues is always a great step to take, if you can. This person could be a friend, a family member, a therapist, or another activist in your area.
Also, make sure you’re taking care of yourself. We sometimes like to think of our minds and our bodies as separate, but they’re all part of the same system. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat healthy food, exercise daily, and have some kind of practice like meditation or self-reflection.
Finally, here are some resources that can help you out further if you need.
- Animal Activist Support Line – In Defense of Animals
- Sustainable Activism – In Defense of Animals
- Beyond Beliefs: A Guide to Improving Relationships and Communication for Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Eaters, by Melanie Joy
- How to Practice Nonviolent Communication
The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.
We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.