Optimism is a Conscious Choice

On Founder Friday last week, Andrea Kahn asked how I remain optimistic for big change in the face of so much animal mistreatment.

Andrea: I love this question. Many things enable me to stay fired up, but most fall into one of the following buckets:

  1. The Catskill Family. Many of you have heard me say, “This work ain’t for the faint of heart.” It’s relentless, it’s unpredictable, and yes, Andrea, you’re right: we humans act as if we’re the only species that matters, and the consequences for our fellow “Earthlings” are difficult to bear for those of us who choose to see the truth. But the Catskill family is the perfect antidote when I feel overwhelmed or discouraged. Just now, I had the most wonderful snuggle with a soulful sheep named Scout, who pressed her head hard into my chest (I was sitting on the ground with her) before rubbing her cheek on mine: she wanted love but was also offering it. These 300+ animals and their quirky individuality, their joie de vivre, their hearts and their “who-ness” buoy me when I feel overwhelmed. And the Catskill staff? Let’s just say I’m blessed to be among people with more grit, grace, courage and heart than most of us achieve in a lifetime, all of whom choose optimism: choose to believe that collectively, we can influence the world for good. So when what I’ve just described is one’s work environment, it’s quite easy to stay positive.
  2. And yes: I believe that optimism is a conscious choice. I’ve always been a “glass half full” kind of person. Despite how easy it would be to choose cynicism, I choose to believe in humanity’s inherent goodness, and in my own capacity, and that of others, to truly make a difference. There is goodness, and capacity to change, in all of us, and I’ve personally witnessed profound change (from refusing to look at the truth of how our species treats animals, to seeing that truth, to going vegan, to becoming an advocate for animals) in hundreds of people over the years. The more optimistic I am, the more able I am to see the changes all around me. The more change I see, the more emboldened I am to work even harder to usher in that blessed day when all are free from exploitation.
  3. Finally, I can get to “giddy” pretty quickly just reviewing the scope and pace of measureable change relating to the right of animals to live free from human exploitation. Mind you, the challenges we face are daunting: the current administration’s rollback of animal-friendly legislation, the dramatic increase in meat consumption by developing countries, the success of “humane washing” efforts, the fact that veganism doesn’t “stick” for most of us, and at the root of all the misery we cause, speciesism: the still largely unquestioned presumption of our superiority over all other species. Yep: an uphill battle for sure.

I’d argue, however (remember, glass half full gal here) that we’re winning, because measureable change is pretty much everywhere.  Just consider the dramatic increase, in the last few years, in vegan food products, vegan restaurants, vegan butcher shops, vegan food delivery services…and the dramatic decrease in dairy milk consumption, down by almost 50% since the 1970’s. Consider that almost 20% of college and university campuses now have vegan dining stations. Consider the success of films like Cowspiracy and What the Health, along with the fact that a strong animal rights message is imbedded in the newest Star Wars! Consider that vegan cookbooks and “health” books, like Dr. Michael Greger’s How Not to Die, are making it to the top of New York Times’ bestseller lists. Consider that sanctuaries for farmed animals are popping up around the country, that Ringling Brothers was driven to extinction, that the trial of Anita Krajnc, the founder of Toronto Pig Save arrested for giving water to pigs, made headlines around the world—and that almost weekly, we can count on major media for an animal–friendly headline. NPR recently interviewed scientist Jonathan Balcombe about the personality and behavior….of fish. Consider the frenzy around “clean meat,” with a cadre of friendly competitors backed by huge investment racing to scale meat grown in laboratories, thereby removing cruelty from the equation.

Get my drift? This is the largest social change movement in history. Why? Because we’re asking every single member of the human race to change their behavior as it relates to all other species. That’s one tall order. But with dramatic change happening in all segments of society, both at the individual level and, albeit more slowly, at the institutional level, I’m confident that a profoundly different world order truly is around the corner. As my dear friend Karen Dawn, creator of the fabulous DawnWatch, wrote in her 2017 round up of animal-friendly media coverage, “the world is changing fast and fabulously.”

Yes indeed it is.

And that, dear Andrea, is what keeps me optimistic!



*Director's Corner, Catskill Conversations