I’ve been working in animal welfare for a good few years now and in that time I’ve seen some truly horrendous suffering - things that still haunt me in the early hours of sleepless nights. I’ve worked on many projects and campaigns that have tried to end the cruelty and suffering of animals in shelters, farms, markets and on the streets. I’ve been vegetarian for fewer years than I’ve worked in welfare but still a reasonable amount of time. I aspire to be vegan but fail in that regard on a regular basis. I try to do my best. I do a lot but there is still always a lot more I could do and there always will be.
There are many people like me, who care about the same things that I care about and try to do what they can to improve the lives of animals in whatever way they can. People who are at different points along the path. But unfortunately there are also people who have a tendency to sit in judgement when it comes to issues of animal welfare. I’m not talking about the people who are perhaps ignorant of the issues and might question why people like me bother to care at all. Those are, of course, the people whose attitudes we work to change.
No, the people I'm talking about are the ones who should probably know better. They may be well intentioned but they often judge people who are trying to do something with the same contempt as people who do nothing at all.
I’ll hear them say things like “They campaign against cruelty but they still eat meat”, or “Why campaign on saving dogs when there are farm animals are being killed every year for food”, or “They’re vegetarian but if they knew how much suffering that cheese caused they’d be vegan”. Accusing anyone that is trying to do something as being a hypocrite because they don't do everything.
Yes, of course we could all do more but it really is time to stop this criticism of anyone not meeting gold standards. Because a sanctimonious view of the world is in many ways as damaging to animal welfare as the behaviour of those we are working to change.
Everyone is a hypocrite to some degree. It's the nature of being human and living in a world where we all have to make compromises and risk our integrity on some level. All of us are hypocrites and none of us are perfect.
What I have learned by working in animal welfare is that to improve the welfare of animals we need to work with people. We need to inspire and motivate people and it's essential for us to try to see the world as they see it. If we expect people to see the world from the animals’ point of view then the very least we can do is try and see it from theirs. We might not like what we see but unless we try, we’re never going to be able to find common ground and a way to change their beliefs and views.
I’ve also learned what doesn’t work. Judgment and criticism, particularly of those who are actually already trying to do something. If it were that easy to improve the welfare of animals and end suffering we’d have done it by now. But it isn’t, and every time people who are already trying to help are criticised, it risks damaging the entire concept of an animal welfare movement.
Unless the animal welfare movement can unite, work together and support our common goal we'll never be able to do the things we set out to do. And in the end it's not us who will pay the price for this, it's the animals that will suffer in our name.