Authenticity Above All Else

I just changed the name of my section to People and Animals instead of Animal Rights. The reason? Questions…lots of questions and lots of complexity. There was a time in my life when questions and complexity made me so nervous. Does God exist or doesn’t He? Should  I give this relationship another try or not? Would it be better to take this AP class or to do a thesis ??? I have to laugh at myself for that last one. Seriously though, every question had the potential to make me lose sleep, weight and sanity. And then, little by little, therapy session by therapy session, prayer by prayer, win and after win and loss after loss I came to realize that complexities make up some of the most beautiful parts of this life.  Those questions that are really worth asking often have no “right” answer. And, in a fascinating plot twist, when you attach yourself stringently to an answer, you often end up “kicking against the goads” so to speak as you fight feverishly to convince yourself and everyone around you that it is THE answer. I have found the joy in embracing the unknown and the mantra that “there is no right answer” to guide myself through the murky times.

I’ve found the same grey areas exist in the world of animal rights just as they do in relationships, finances, spirituality and, er, course registration. Just 6 months ago I was enlightened by a fellow vegan and activist that there is an important difference between animal rights and animal welfare. I had been using them interchangeably. Ah. So much to learn. And that’s just vocabulary. There are other questions that I could lose sleep over. Bigger questions. Do I really think that NO ONE should eat meat? If I have children will I feed them animal products? Is all laboratory animal testing condemnable? Do animals have to die in a grass farming model?

I know vegans who would scoff at these questions, or choke on their tempeh burger in horror at my even asking them in the first place. “Of course no one should eat meat! Ever!” And more power to them…. IF they have really deliberated all sides and made a well-informed decision. (Although, really I would argue that the words ever, never, always, and forever should just be banned from all debate rhetoric.) Yes, we don’t want to imagine animals suffering for ANYTHING. But isn’t the intersection between human and animal more intricate than that? Doesn’t it deserve intellectual devotion and flexibility? I believe there is always an exception to the rule. This all reminds me of a disconcerting conversation I had with a Christian pastor dear to me. Before I left the midwest for the west coast, I met with him and shared that I had taken a step back from organized Christianity. That I was trying to reconcile the ongoing discomfort I felt in services with my deep spiritual faith. He advised me to hold fast to the Christian faith because those who walk away from the church get into some “really weird things.” Be that as it may, isn’t there virtue in checking out those weird things in a temperate and humble way? Do we fully know what we believe in if we don’t consider the alternatives?

I can’t honestly say that I will agree with every animal rights position, certainly not with every animal welfare position. I am not trying to represent a movement or align myself with an organizaiton. This is why I changed my category name. As I wade deeper into these grey areas and sacrifice my natural desire to maintain some kind of comforting absolutism on the topic of animal rights, I am finding that it is the intersection between human and animal that is at the center of my sorrows. It is the philosophies and ethics that are represented by our actions and inactions toward our fellow species that I want to understand and challenge. I will embrace the hard questions knowing that I may never get a satisfying answer to any of them. I’ll just try to be authentic.

And, incidentally, this authenticity not only makes me happier, but it makes people around me happier too. You might enjoy trying this out with me. What absolutisms can you let go of? Which hard questions are squelching  your authenticity? Here’s to you! In whatever wonderful road of grey area you find yourself!