Being a great activist isn’t always as hard as people may think. Here are five important qualities to keep in mind when spreading the animal rights message.
Determination and Passion
A great activist will have a spark inside them that keeps them motivated. This is what motivates us to set up street stalls and give out leaflets to people to educate them about animal rights. You must believe you have the power to create positive change in this world.
Don’t despair if that spark inside is sometimes difficult to find. Think back to what got you interested in animal rights in the first place. Try watching some documentaries. Some people find it helpful to watch videos of the conditions animals are currently living and dying in, such as in slaughterhouses or fur farms. This can be very upsetting to witness, but afterwards you may feel that passion again to go and make a difference. However, you should not traumatize yourself if you find these sorts of images leave a lasting negative impact on your mental health, as taking care of yourself is also a big part of what makes an effective activist.
There are plenty of ways you might reconnect with your passion for helping animals. Figure out what those things are and then seek them out when you feel your determination waning. Reading about what others are doing to help animals can help inspire you to create change yourself, and so can spending time with like-minded people. Maybe spending time with animals, volunteering with an animal-related organization, or learning more about animals by watching a nature documentary will help inspire you to keep up the fight.
Being polite and courteous is important anyway, but even more so when you are out there representing the interests of animals and the animal protection movement. Who would you like to listen to: the person who smiles and says ‘let’s talk about animal rights’ in a friendly tone, or someone who yells, starts off by attacking your position, or uses violence?
Once we start to see the ways animals suffer because of humans, it can be hard to avoid a sense of anger or bitterness towards other humans. Focusing on this, instead of on people’s capacity for compassion and change, is one sure way to never win anyone over. If you find politeness and civility difficult when discussing animals with someone who isn’t on the same page as you, try to remind yourself of the reason you’re having the conversation in the first place, and ask yourself if the way you’re communicating is an effective way to reach that goal.
You also need to be sensitive towards other people’s opinions and beliefs. It can be tempting at times to be judgmental or say things out of frustration or anger, but this can offend people and close them off to your points, rather than get them thinking seriously about the issues. Ultimately, this can discourage someone who may have otherwise taken an interest in the topic.
Some people’s journey to join the cause and disavow animal cruelty and exploitation can take a long time, many conversations and lots of thought. Remember that part of the reason it can take so much work to make the world better for animals is because so many elements of that world are built to keep things the way they are and to keep us from thinking differently. Most people have accepted a whole lifetime of messages about animals existing for human use, and working through that can take time and effort. Just because someone doesn’t come around during one interaction doesn’t mean they never will, but you could permanently push them away by being insensitive.
Even if you are an introvert, allow yourself to be determined and never ignore your passion to get out there and help animals. Let that passion and sense of right and wrong drive you. Of course, you don’t want to appear overconfident as people might see you as cocky and arrogant; it is all about getting the balance right.
Knowing your stuff
Great activists are well read and well informed about animal issues. They understand the need to speak from knowledge and facts when talking or writing about animal rights. They also understand that learning never ends, as animal issues, and our understanding of them, are constantly evolving. Regularly read books and articles and watch documentaries about animals. Not only will your knowledge improve, it’s also likely that your passion will grow as you learn more. This is also the best way help with building up that last characteristic, confidence, if you struggle with it. If you know that you are well-informed and your talking points are grounded in objective facts, it’s easier to feel confident when talking to others.
The best activists do what they can to help the cause, and what that ‘best’ is varies between different people. Not everyone is able to spend most of their time organizing protests or handing out flyers on the street, and not everyone’s skills are well-matched to those tasks. Some people might be better suited to do any number of the other behind-the-scenes tasks, from things like administrative work to scientific research that benefits animals. An effective movement is made up of all kinds of people doing a variety of types of work, not all of which looks immediately like what you think of when you think of ‘activism.’ This isn’t about outdoing others, it’s about doing the amount you can personally do for the sake of the animals. Are you the best activist you can be? Only you can answer that question.
Featured image: activists at a Fur Free Chicago protest in 2010. Image credit Jovan J, CC BY-SA 3.0.