An Obvious Force for Good

written by Martha Readyoff
United States

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There is, for better or worse, a righteousness associated with being vegan.

Four years ago when I told people—good friends, even—that I had decided to become vegan, some replied with a shocking bitterness that bordered on resentment. “Well, I guess you’re perfect now,” I heard more than once.

Needless to say I am far, far—far from perfect. It hurt me that people I thought knew me so well would think that of me; that I had placed myself on some self-righteous pedestal and now looked down on them. When I thought past my own hurt, it occurred to me that committing to being vegan is such an obvious force for good and that most people know this even if they’re not ready to take it on themselves, so they tend to be defensive. If I had those moments to do again, if I wasn’t so caught off guard, I might reply (albeit maybe a little cheekily), “You could be perfect, too! It’s fun and easy! Come on, join me.”

The truth is, I do feel enlightened. But not in a holier-than-thou sort of way. I know and understand the world in a way that I didn’t before, but much of that awareness is heartbreaking. The abject cruelty of factory farming, medical and cosmetic testing, fur farming, and more, has seared in my mind images of defenseless animals punished by unspeakable suffering. What I’ve learned about the far reaching health and environmental repercussions of these industries of pain, I can’t forget.

Rather than make me feel better about myself, this knowledge serves to remind me how flawed I am, and how flawed we all are, as well as what dark things we are capable of, and how much work there is to do. Knowing, I cannot forget. Seeing, I cannot close my eyes. Opening my heart to all creatures, I cannot stop it beating. There is righteousness but it comes at a cost, and the only way to repay that debt is to live a life of kindness and compassion.

Fortunately, that part is easy and fun, a joy to do! I have no illusions of becoming Tolstoy, living a life of ascetic privation. I have never lived so abundantly and gratefully as I have since becoming vegan, for now I revere and celebrate not just my own life but the lives of all animals, solaced by my choice to ease the world’s suffering in my small, flawed way.

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