Recently, several people have crossed my path who are challenging the way I think or the way I choose to live or be. It may start with a conversation on veganism and soon move towards what we, as humans, do to the world. While I am trying to live well, as much as possible, I still find it hard to draw the line clearly – how much can we, or I, do? What is right? What is reasonable? Reasonable is subjective to begin with, I guess I already think and do more than the average Joe or Jane. Still, that doesn’t mean that what I do or how I am is enough. However, I want to remain flexible as I am often in different circumstances. Plus, I’d like to live not feeling completely crappy about existing on this planet. So, where to draw the line?
A few months back, I decided to be a ‘home vegan’. This means that I am vegan (food wise) at home, but not when I am out so that I can be a little more flexible when I’m in a restaurant or having dinner at a friend’s place. I already feel bad sometimes that friends have to prepare vegetarian food just for me. Imagine the hassle when I become a complete vegan?! Also, as I travel to many different places, it has happened before that there was no vegetarian food besides plain rice. Now, I love to eat and I love to eat loads, so plain rice makes me super depressed and cranky. At this particular conference, I decided to eat rice and scoop the curry sauce (without the pieces of meat) onto my plate. And that’s what I had. A friend said that whether I eat the meat or just the sauce that the meat has been in, it’s the same thing as the juices from the meat are in the sauce as well. I understand, but I don’t think it is the same thing. I don’t feel as bad eating sauce that has a coconut milk and spice base in which meat has cooked, than eating meat itself – which on occasion has also happened because the ‘vegetarian’ dish meant that they gave me the regular dish after taking out (most of) the pieces of meat. Or like in Zanzibar, where my friends had made me chips, but they fried the potatoes in oil that they had previously used to fry fish in. My chips tasted like fish. I hated it, but since there was not much else – plus I didn’t want to insult them for their hospitality – I ate it anyways.
I am even further away from being vegan when it comes to clothing. I try not to buy any new items that are made of animal products, but I haven’t chucked out all the leather and wool items that I already had – and had been using for years. And as long as there are no good and reasonably affordable vegan substitutes, I may still buy items that are not vegan if I need them to keep me warm in -10°C weather.
Pets and animals
Another example is a recent conversation about horseback riding. While I’m not very good at it, I do love horseback riding – particularly in nature, galloping on the beach, etc. My friend, however, said it constitutes animal cruelty. She mentioned her experience of elephant rides in Asia and I agreed with her that elephant rides are cruel – mainly due to the way the elephants are treated. But, there is a difference between elephant rides and horse back riding. I tried convincing her that the horses are treated well and trained positively and that our weight is not too much to carry for a big and strong horse. She stood by her case: horse riding = animal cruelty. Of course I do not want to be an animal abuser, but is it really animal abuse? I remember being in NYC as a 19-year old with a couple of other summer camp counsellors. All the other girls wanted to go on this horse-drawn carriage ride. While I may not have opposed that in the country-side, for example, I refused to go on the carriage and tried to convince the other girls not to either. It just wasn’t right, there and then. The horse was in the middle of the city, the horse looked terrible, the person on the carriage didn’t seem particularly kind towards the horse – it was treated as an object. And that is never ok. I mentioned this and one by one, the other girls changed their minds. But going back to here and now, is horse back riding cruel in itself? I don’t think so and maybe I am wrong in this. But I believe that there is no clear right and wrong in general and it all depends on the situation – which makes it harder to draw the line.
Another vegan friend is opposed to most of the ways we interact with animals. I agree that animals are not food, clothes or entertainment. But he believes that having pets makes us *ssholes because we are confining animals. I see his point, yet I also see how much people love their pets – and it seems that many pets are happy to be with their owners. Plus, animals live a healthier and longer life when taken care of. But does it mean that they are happy? We have made the mistake of domesticating animals that perhaps should not have been domesticated to begin with and now, there is no turning back.
In a way, I agree that humans should not have pets – even though I wanted to have ten dogs one day – and not use animals for anything as it doesn’t serve them. At the same time, this is not very realistic as people will always have a special bond with certain animals. While I may not agree with it from the animals’ point of view, I can’t help feeling a little pang of jealousy when I see someone with their horse on the beach or in the dunes – or I see someone having oceans of time to spend with their dog(s). I’m torn somewhere between complete denouncement of animal-human relations and jealousy of successful animal-human relations.
And what about the environment? I love to travel – for business and pleasure – and I do this as much as possible. However, as a conscious human being, I should not do so because I am thereby polluting the environment. I’ve heard of people who rarely fly in order to save the environment. I like this idea, yet, I can’t imagine living without experiencing other places in the world. Basically, everything we do impacts our environment. We are not like ‘regular’ animals – our waste is not biodegradable. Our negative impact on the planet is far higher than that of any other species. I am not sure this can be stopped or reversed. I try to be as eco-friendly as I can, buy local and organic food, never turn on the heating, etc. Yet, I drive a car to work as taking public transport would take three times as long to get there.
Friends and lovers
Now, somethings else that also falls in the ‘where to draw the line’ category. I’m sure everyone has met these ‘new friends’ who are very friendly and there’s a good click, but you realise that they may like you more than vice versa. When do you tell them that you don’t feel the same way? When they look at you in a certain way? When they say something that could be interpreted as more than friendly? When they do something that clearly shows they like you? Definitely the last one (for me), but the first two… You don’t want to be this paranoid person who thinks everyone likes them. But it has happened too often that I tell myself not to say/do anything (yet) and then end up in a very awkward situation later on. And what about situations where you are yourself not sure about where someone fits in, but you simply enjoy their company. This gets ruined the moment someone asks what category they are in – friends or lovers? While it is often clear, I also think sometimes thinking outside the box and not defining everything as something would be better.
My circle of friends and acquaintances is rather diverse – not only in terms of backgrounds, but also in terms of political views. I like diversity, but when it comes to political views, I sometimes have trouble with accepting views that are harmful to others. While most of my friends and acquaintances will never say or believe that they are racist, I have caught the majority of them saying something that implies racism or xenophobia. And when do I say something about it? When they accidentally mention something that implies racism? When they have a clearly discriminatory opinion about something? I guess whether I say something about it or not also depends on my own energy levels and the person who is talking – do I think that showing them what they are actually saying will have an impact on how they think? Do they realise that what they’re saying or doing is harmful?
And what about strangers? If someone physically does something to another person, I know I act (I have done so in the past and I will always step in if I see something, even if I may get hurt, I don’t care). But what if it’s verbal? I remember this one time when I was driving in my car in summer. I have a small car that can be turned into a convertible (Peugeot 206 CC), which is also ironic because I live in a country where it rains all the time and rarely has really good weather. This time, the top was down and I was behind a car that was stopping for a pedestrian crossing. Behind me, there was a moped with two guys on it. They didn’t want to brake and screamed: “You don’t need to stop for her! She’s wearing a headscarf!” (implying that she might as well be run over). I was furious hearing this, but I didn’t do anything. I still think about this particular moment, thinking I should have blocked their way with my car, gotten out and (verbally) attacked them. Others may say that it wouldn’t have solved anything and I would have felt bad about that afterwards. But now, I have been feeling bad about not doing anything since last summer. A similar situation occurred in a tram once. I was on my way home and there was a woman with a pram and she had two other kids. The kids were behaving well, she was talking sweetly to them. This old man started blurting out in general (not directly towards her, but clearly talking about her) that ‘these’ women just po(o)p out babies so they can get benefits from the government and that all they have to do is lie on their back. Luckily the woman ignored the man, as did most of the people. Yet, I felt like someone should have said something about it and I still feel guilty that this someone wasn’t me. I wish I could train people into being good, but I can’t. I love training dogs, but the reason I don’t want to be a full-time dog trainer is because it’s mainly training people how to train dogs rather than working with dogs directly. If it were the latter, I’d do it in a heartbeat (if they’d have me)!
Perfectionism (at work)
Where to draw the line when work is not perfect? I remember having a discussion with my boss on some writing that had to be submitted. We had tried several times to improve it, but it wasn’t good enough. My boss said we should just leave it, but I refused to give up. In the end, after many extra hours in, it was finished and well-received. However, being on the receiving end, I often see reports or writings from our partners that I think are not sufficient or clear enough. I feel like a school teacher, wanting to see better results, asking for them to improve it and send it again. I hate doing this, I wish I could just accept everything as it is and just go with it. But, if it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough – to everyone’s irritation. Plus, similar to the friends/lovers thing, if you decide to condone one mistake or missed deadline, what about the next time and the time after that? It’s a slippery slope.
In the end, I think I may be a little autistic when it comes to rules or lines. I prefer having clear boundaries on what is ok and what is not because it is hard to decide what is right based on ‘feelings’. In reality, everything depends on the circumstances you are in at a certain time and place. I could be strictly adhering to my principles at all times. But if I would, I could not be flexible and it could hurt me back in the end. I would not be able to do my job well, I would ruin professional and friendly relationships, I would go hungry and be cold, not enjoy my spare time and feel guilty about simply existing as everything we humans do leaves (in part) a negative footprint on earth. I have a hard time balancing ‘stand up for what you believe in’ and ‘let it go’. I think the best way to deal with it, for me, is to opt for the strict application of my principles 80% of the time and use the other 20% for flexibility when needed. I know that this is still not good enough for those that apply their principles 100%, but for now this will be the best I can do. Perhaps I can go up to 100% once I am living on my own private island with sustainable cabin and permaculture garden in a couple of years (or a next life)!