May 16, 2007

Lazy Blogger Round Up

Posted in science, vegan at 12:49 pm by nevavegan

(subtitle: Having some faith, the bucket effect, and acting like we believe in ourselves)

I’m completely addicted to reading science, sociology, and psychology news. It’s better than comics and chocolate cake to me. Hey, I never claimed to be 100% sane.

So, I’ve stumbled across so many great articles lately and was hoping to compile them in some kind of sensible way.

The big one, which has been blogged up lately is the study that showed people responded more, and gave more money, when presented with the story of one suffering individual, as opposed to a suffering multitude. One puppy in need of help? Great, let me get my wallet. 500 puppies in need of help? Maybe some other time. The article mainly concentrated on how this psychological response affects our less than helpful handling of the Darfur crisis. But it is of course good information to keep in mind for anyone fundraising for any cause.

FWIW, I don’t really know anyone who isn’t upset about Darfur, and yet the magnitude of it really is paralyzing. Many of my friends feel that in the face of such horror, sending $10 to UNICEF really isn’t a decent solution. They put things this huge in the realm of stuff the government should handle. But our current government, bogged down in endless war, isn’t going to take care of Darfur.

Anyway the story has been played up as further evidence of just how not-nice people are, though really it only calls for a fine tuning of technique and playing up the individual stories. Of course, sometimes it’s that our minds just have trouble understanding the huge numbers involved in some cases—it just get dizzying and you can’t imagine it, so it becomes unreal. Compassion fatigue is part of it too; people might not have it in them to really feel for so many people or animals.

But there was actually another story about charitable giving in the news at the same time that got lost in the shuffle—people give more money when they are laughing. So if you want to raise a lot of money for your group, don’t hire a blues musician to play at the benefit, get a really good comedian.

Also of note, just thinking about money makes people selfish, and just thinking about power makes people less empathetic.

Ok, everyone, visualize nesting doves, or something else soft and money-free.

Well, I thought it was interesting.

Anyway, part of the difficulty, in my unprofessional, un-asked for opinion is that people don’t have much faith in other people. So when they’re making a donation, or volunteering their time, or however they choose to help out, they’re looking for something that feels “doable,” manageable to them. If we don’t believe that other people are going to step in and also contribute, then donating our $20 or even $200 to help out thousands of displaced people is just throwing money away. It’s not enough to even help with such a huge problem. But $200 to help out one puppy? That just might work. We need to keep in mind that it’s about a bucket that is hopefully being filled from many sources. So we add a few drops and somebody else adds a few drops and maybe someone else tosses in a whole cup. But it’s little by little, it’s not just all on us. To get anything done we have to have some faith in that. “I’m not in this alone.” Repeat as needed.

Other interesting news: Nearly everyone is empathetic. Wow, we’re not all budding psychopaths here. Good news.

The other thing I wanted to talk about is the power of taking ourselves seriously and acting like we know what we’re doing. That doesn’t mean being arrogant, or acting like we’re always right. It means projecting the idea that we’re proud of what we’re doing and we believe in it.

The reason I bring this up is that same old thing I’ve blogged on before, this supposed retirement of the word “vegan.” I don’t know, I kind of think we’re acting like we’re ashamed of our very values, so there’s this push to distance ourselves. But why should we be ashamed of it when at the core being vegan is such a tremendous gift to the animals, to the planet, to other people, to the very cause of kindness and compassion.

People have said to me that they feel we need to align ourselves more with mainstream values, which seems odd to me. I feel pretty average most days. I already feel like on some core level my values are pretty mainstream, it’s just about how I apply them. But I also wonder where we draw the line on mainstreaming our values. Does this mean we have to promote “humane meat?” Does this mean animal groups should fire their homosexual employees because middle American still has some kind of chip on their shoulder when it comes accepting homosexuals as human beings. Do we stop pushing for what we know is right because some people disagree?

Often when we talk to other people they respond as much to the emotional signals we give as the words we say. So if we’re projecting that we feel there’s something wrong with veganism, that’s the message they take away. If we are able to project our actual feelings, our deep commitment, our compassion, our belief in what we’re doing, that matters too. Always with respect, always with kindness, but that doesn’t mean compromising the main point of our message.

Sometimes also, people just give us what we expect. If we expect them not to care, there’s a built in excuse for them to tune us out. If we believe in our message and expect people to be affected by it, perhaps some will live up to those expectations. It remains to be seen, but we shouldn’t dismiss ourselves as some kind of joke before we even walk out the door in the morning.

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