Besides working as a consultant in Compassionate Communication for congregations, I am also active with the Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry (UUAM) where I serve on the Board and also am the Reverence for Life Coordinator. Through these capacities I have frequently witnessed the intricate dance we do with one another as our faith calls us to be prophetic witnesses to suffering in the world. How do we hear of another's pain, or anger, or express it ourselves, without shifting into blame and judgment, or withdrawal and disconnection? Sometimes we step on each other's toes and all too often, individuals decide to sit the dance out entirely and resign their membership in their congregations.
This relationship or conservation struggle can center on any one of many different justice issues or oppressions, and in the case of those involved in animal ministry, it often includes diet choices. In a week's time this will be fore front in my thinking as I go to attend the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky. Part of my work there will be to staff the UUAM booth where there will be much opportunity to speak and listen compassionately, as well as with integrity and authenticity. This won't be easy as my experiences and understanding of the world can prove difficult for others to hear, and vice versa.
So what are we as a people of faith to do? (and by faith I mean striving to respond compassionately to the understanding that beings are beautiful, are interconnected, and are capable of both experiencing and causing suffering).
Here's my plan. No matter the conversation I will seek to go beyond ideological assumptions, statements, and judgments. I'm with the author of "Better Angels of our Nature," Stephen Pinker, on this one - ideologies are the cause of much of the violence in the world, and in the case of my relationships with others, can cause daily and multiple micro-instances of oppression and violence. Now I know there is no getting rid of the ideological filters that each of us have, say for instance, whether one "should" or "should not" eat animals. But in knowing that, I can humbly strive to go beyond ideologies, mine and others, so that we can listen and speak as honestly and empathetically as we can.
How, you ask?
The goal for me then is to always go back to the needs of those involved. I seek to hold tenderly the needs of the person with whom I am talking, as well as the needs of the marginalized and oppressed. In the case of other species, then, I try to shift the conversation away from blanket statements about what is the right thing to do and away from lengthy discourses covering every possible rationalization about the issue. For if there is one thing our subconscious minds can do, is come up with a story about why we do what we do. Instead I speak about my needs, listen to and guess the needs of the other human, and then speak about the needs of animals. I'm willing to let go of specific strategies or outcomes in this complex world, but I am not willing to concede awareness about the states of others and my desire for their flourishing.
A possible conversation might go like this at the UUAM booth using classic Nonviolent Communication formulations. In person it would probably be much less stilted, but hopefully you can grasp the consciousness I seek to develop and convey through this sample dialog.
Other person: I saw your ad in the last issue of the UU World magazine and I was frankly offended. Who are you, especially as a UU, to tell others what is right or wrong for them to do?
Me: I'm guessing you really value choice and respect, and you didn't experience that while reading the ad. Is that right?
Other person: Yeah, you're right. I get so tired of others playing the purity card in our congregations. Gosh, I'm doing the best I can.
Me: So you'd like some ease and understanding about how hard you are trying to make compassionate choices, especially given how overwhelmingly complex you see the world as.
Other person. Right again! I just don't see what's so bad about eating animals when it does so much good for humans.
Me: Would you be willing to hear why I don't eat meat?
Other person: Well, er, okay, but plenary is going to start soon.
Me: Thanks. I appreciate the chance to share, and I'll be brief. It's that I feel sad when I think of the lives and deaths of chickens who are raised for meat. I so want them to not suffer and feel pain, and to flourish in all ways possible. I long for that for them, and for you and me too. What comes up for you when I share this?
Other person: I guess it's complex and maybe someday I'll have time to think about this more.
Me: Yes, the situation sure can make one's head and heart burst open, at least it has for me. Would you be willing to take any literature or remember us so that if you ever need a listening ear, information, or support, you can contact me or someone else at UUAM?
Other person: Okay, sure. Thanks. Can you also help me decide for whom to vote for Moderator?
Now dear reader, can you tell me what comes up for you after reading this blog entry? Would you be willing to contact me here, or better yet, come by the UUAM booth at General Assembly?
In the hope of holding all needs fully,
|The ad highlighted in the dialog and in the last issue of the UU World.|
What needs of yours, other humans, and other species come up for you when you see this ad?