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aml2006-A Meaningful Life

aml2006-A Meaningful Life

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Published by vegetarian

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Published by: vegetarian on Sep 01, 2008
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05/09/2014

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 All advocates are faced withtwo main challenges.The first, and arguably moreimportant of the two,is how to open people’shearts and minds, so thatthey might deliberately andconscientiously consider new ideas.
 A Meaningful Life
 Animal Advocacy, Human Nature,and a Better World
by Matt Ball
 
Effective advocates—those who are truly successful in fostering change—arethoughtful psychologists. They understandthat each of us is born with a certainintrinsic nature. We are then raised tofollow certain beliefs, and taught to holdspecific prejudices. Over time, we discovernew “truths” and abandon others; wemix and match, supplement and refine,continually altering our collection of attitudes, principles, and values.Even though we can recognize that our belief system changes over time, at any givenpoint, most of us are likely to believe that our current set of positions and opinions are“right”—that our convictions are well founded, our actions justified, and that we are each,at heart, a good person. Even when, years later, we find ourselves reflecting on previously held beliefs with a sense of bemusement, it does not occur to us that we may someday feelthe same way toward the attitudes we
now 
hold.Similarly, effective advocates understand that they don’t change anyone else’s mind. Nomatter how elegant an argument is, ultimately, real and lasting change comes only fromopening a person’s heart and mind, allowing them the freedom to explore new ideas andnew ways of viewing the world. Of course, there is no magic way of doing this.The simplest way to encourage other people to open their hearts and mindsis for
our own 
hearts and minds to be open—and not just for the sake of advocacy or argument. Rather, we must be
truly 
open, able to sincerely consider anything and everything that is said during interactions withothers. I believe an open heart and mind is imperative for a sincereadvocate, because no one person has all the answers.So, in the interest of moving forward, let me suggest we set asideeverything we believe we “know,” and try to find the core of our concern, what is fundamentally important. After many years of struggling to distill my advocacy to its purest form,I have come to believe that virtually all of our actions can be tracedto a desire for fulfillment and happiness and a need to avoid oralleviate suffering. That is to say, something is “good” if it leadsto more happiness, and something is “bad” if it leads to moresuffering. This is a simplistic view, of course, but does cut throughconfusion, leaving us with a simple measure by which to judge theconsequences of our actions and evaluate our advocacy.Given that pain—be it physical, emotional, or psychological—is generally the single greatest barrier to contentment,I believe suffering must be our first priority, especiallsince there is so very much of it in the world. In essence,then, my advocacy philosophy can be best described asa desire to decrease the amount of suffering in the world.
Preface
2
Matt Ball, the author of 
 A Meaningful Life,
with his wife anddaughter, Anne and Ellen Green.
 
If you are reading this, I would guess that you are concerned about more than just thepursuit of your own happiness. The questionthen is: How can we make a difference in a world where suffering is so widespread?In addition to starting with open heartsand minds, a basic understanding of humannature shows that people have an affinity forthe known and the immediate. This is truenot only of the population as a whole, but foradvocates as well. In general, most people working for a better world concentrate onthose closest to them, geographically and/orbiologically. Even those who look beyondspecies focus on either the familiar or thefantastic, with a disproportionate amount oresources and effort spent on cats and dogs,endangered species, or individual animalsin high-profile situations.This is not surprising, given our basic humandesire to have a visible impact on the world. We all want to feellike we are accomplishing something, that we’vebeen victorious. It often doesn’tmatter how significant theaccomplishment or victory isor even if the world is
truly 
betteroff—but rather that something tangible has been achieved. Thisneed for visible results is what leads somepeople to say they are unable or unwilling to support Vegan Outreach, because what we do is too slow or too abstract, and thereis no way to see the animals saved.Understanding human nature andrecognizing the primacy of suffering hasled Vegan Outreach to formulate twoguiding principles for advocacy:
1.
We should, as much as possible, striveto identify and set aside our personalbiases and needs. Vegan Outreach’sapproach to advocacy tries to orientitself through a straightforward analysisof the world as it is, motivated
solely 
by the suffering of others.
2.
When we choose to do one thing, weare choosing not to do others. Thepeople who want to create a better world, including those who make up Vegan Outreach, have extremely limitedresources and time. So instead of choosing to “do
something,
do
anything,” 
  we pursue actions that we believe willlead to the greatest reduction insuffering. Once again, this may sound simplistic, but given theendless demands on advocates, we believe it is an importantprinciple to follow.
Principles of Advocacy 
3

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