How do I convince my relative that she is wrong to be so concerned with animal rights & veganism? She is a good person but its seems that she is more concerned w/animal welfare than people welfare. Where did this attitude come from?
We have a two-word answer for you: You don’t. In general, it is usually ineffective and often destructive to try to persuade anyone to abandon their convictions and sign on to our own beliefs. Trying to change the religious, political or social beliefs of others generally achieves nothing but damaged relationships.
Arguing about facts is fine because the answer can easily be discovered. We could insist that Mount Rainier is 14,400 feet high and thus some 2,000 feet higher than Japan’s Mount Fuji, to anyone who claimed the opposite. But arguing about beliefs is quite different. We would nod smilingly at the person who expressed the view that Mount Fuji is the most beautiful mountain visible from a major city. We believe that this distinction belongs to Mount Rainier near Seattle but why would we argue? We have different beliefs.
Your relative’s views are part of her belief system and have nothing to do with facts. That said, it is not impossible to influence the beliefs of others but seldom by direct face-on confrontation. When we watch our Christian friends successfully evangelize, it is never the result of sophisticated arguments and persistent debates. Instead, we have seen atheists being brought into the church by warm empathy, compassion, and hospitality. When we invite secular Jews to join our Shabbat meals, we don’t initiate arguments about God and His Bible. We focus on being good hosts, we gently answer questions, and hope that exposure to our family and God-fearing lifestyle might eventually have some impact. But setting out to convince someone that your beliefs or values are better is seldom a good idea.
Now, if you don’t mind, we would like to turn your question around and ask why you feel the need to change your relative’s ideas?
We agree with you that, while animals may not be treated with cruelty or abused, people’s welfare takes priority. We also happen to be fans of eggs, steak and cheese. We think that pets can be wonderful and farm animals are a blessing, but animals are not children. All of these convictions are based on the idea that people are not merely highly evolved animals but an entirely unique creation made in God’s image.
For the past five decades the belief that we human beings are on this planet as a result of a lengthy process of unaided materialistic evolution has been hammered into the culture. Politics, entertainment and education joined forces in this quest to secularize society. The natural consequence of this indoctrination is that people start believing that, like animals, we function on instinct and therefore have no moral obligation to lift ourselves above nature. Clearly, it isn’t polite to eat your cousin or wear his skin, so the relative whom you describe is really just being a good disciple of society’s moral message.
While we oppose any government regulations equating people and animals and object to PETA’s violent tactics, when it comes to individuals we don’t feel a need to eradicate the personal beliefs of those who think differently. Why is this relative getting under your skin? Is it possible she makes you feel guilty or insecure?
Occasionally we have been asked by a friend or relative to donate to a cause that is not a priority for us. If the cause is not important to us but it is innocuous, we might give a token amount. If, for whatever reason, we object to the charity we might even explain that while we value the relationship, we aren’t comfortable attending that dinner or making a contribution. While we might hope that our friend or relative’s eyes get opened and perhaps that we have the opportunity to offer a counter-point, we can be firm in our own convictions even if others disagree with us.
We encourage you to focus on those areas where you and your relative agree rather than being hyper-sensitive to areas of disagreement.
May you be wise as an owl, (but don’t eat one),
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin