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Vegetarian Journal Jan/Feb 2001

Note from the Coordinators

Empathy and Justice

Debra Wasserman
Charles Stahler
"Walk a mile in another's (non-leather) moccasins before passing judgment." "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We know these platitudes well, and yet our own intense desires for justice often conflict with the empathy necessary to make these "golden rules" work for us.

As we have pointed out in past issues of Vegetarian Journal, there are innumerable buyouts of businesses going on. Many of these companies were founded upon the ideals of the vegetarian and cruelty-free movements and have grown with your support. However, aggravation at the big business that absorbs them leads some people to the assumption that the owners sold their dreams to make a buck. Former supporters may forget to employ empathy to understand the actions of the owners, who are under enormous pressures, emotions, and obligations and usually have factors to consider that remain unknown to the public. We often hear from the "vegan police," who criticize many individuals, companies, and materials as not being vegan enough. Perhaps they should consider empathy, which could lead to encouragement of the positive actions of those companies and long-term change.

Having empathy doesn't necessarily mean pitying an individual and then condoning destructive behavior. It means understanding the person's motivations, situations, feelings, and beliefs before attacking him or her, and it means customizing an approach, or determining that no approach is needed at all, based on the other person's perspective.

We believe that justice and empathy are important. It's difficult in this society to maintain an empathetic perspective, especially when dealing with the American tendency to turn debates into "us vs. them" scenarios. There are many positive changes effected via protests against the establishment. We never really get to know our enemy, though, and they never get to know us.

On our e-mail parents' list ( to sign up), there was a great recent discussion about in-laws. It seems that a grandmother of a vegan child stuck meat into the child's mouth. As an outsider, a scenario like that can fill us with immediate rage, but we can also understand the grandmother's concern for the welfare of the child. She really believes that the child will be hurt by the family's abstinence from meat. It is an extremely difficult and frustrating situation for all the parties. That's one reason why we are here—to help with support, information, and empathy that you need while living your vegetarian ideals. Often justice and empathy are at odds with one another. The empathetic individual can seem weak. The "golden rule" of "Do unto others. . ." may not always work, as when others often don't return the same respect.

In order to encourage positive work for vegetarianism, we have set up the Audrey Fluke Vegetarian Award (for an activist with words of encouragement) and the Ruth E. Caring Award. The Ruth E. Caring Award is a $100 prize for a person who promotes vegetarianism showing EMPATHY AND SUPPORT FOR OTHERS, while still fighting for justice. The nominee is able to work under less than ideal conditions and to make do with the resources he or she has. The selected individual strives to give ENCOURAGEMENT TO THOSE WHO TRY and works to make change. He or she is able to see several sides of an issue and look at the full picture.


To nominate someone for the Ruth E. Caring Vegetarian Award, send your nomination to The Vegetarian Resource Group, PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203. E-mail to Nominations become the property of The Vegetarian Resource Group. Deadline is April 30th of each year.

Debra Wasserman & Charles Stahler

Coordinators of The Vegetarian Resource Group 


Excerpts from the Jan/Feb 2001 Issue

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

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