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Posted by tinako on May 13, 2018

20160516_195758A few years ago, I was taking a meditation class and the teacher asked us to, over the next week, make a mental note any time we had a judgemental thought.  I got a lot of chances to notice.

This noticing brought to the forefront a question I’d always had.  I hear “don’t judge,” but how am I supposed to relate to a world in which bad things happen, if I don’t judge them to be bad?  Is the alternative to judging just saying, “Sure, whatever”?

Because of the way my brain works, I need to break a problem down to its structure to move forward.  The intuition that guides others doesn’t work for me, just makes me uneasy.  I realized I needed to really understand what it means to judge, and I came up with this definition:

To express an opinion, usually about morality, as though it is a fact.

Most of us understand the difference between fact and opinion most of the time, but I think there is still confusion, often I think because of the way English works.  I say “spiders are scary” as though it is a property of the spiders.  Spiders = scary.  But it isn’t at all – it’s a property of me that I find spiders scary.  I = scared of spiders.  They are just what they are, flesh, eyes, legs, spinnerets, silk.  If you think spiders are beautiful and I think they’re scary, we could each believe the other person is wrong and have an argument.  Or… we can realize that I am scared of spiders and you are not.  No conflict.  As two examples of real-world confusion on this, my relative is absolutely convinced that all snakes are scary and that therefore they should all die (there are no dangerous snakes where we live).  My friend believes that New York State wine is disgusting and therefore should all be poured down the drain.  They believe I am mistaken for believing snakes to be neat and NYS wine to be tasty.  They are expressing their opinion as though it is a fact.  The only reason we may not experience their statements as judgement is that we are not their targets.  If I were a snake I probably would feel judged by this relative, because scary in this case is negative.  If she says I am scary in my Halloween costume, that is probably good.

As an aside, decades ago I realized that the fear of spiders was part of me, not the spiders, and I decided not to act on it any more.  It is not their fault that I am afraid of them.  My fear went way down.

So, we can usually recognize opinions like that.  But what about opinions about morality?  I think we sometimes think that morality can be a fact.  I don’t think it ever can.  We can say “stealing is wrong” but this is not a truth of the universe like “the earth revolves about 365 times before it goes once around the sun.”  “Stealing is wrong” is an opinion.  “Stealing usually causes harm to the victim” is a fact.  But “causing harm is wrong” is still an opinion.

So where does that leave us?  Do we just throw up our hands and say “anything goes”?  Of course not.  First of all, we are allowed to have an opinion.  When you catch a thief, I don’t think it is judgemental to say, “your actions harmed someone and I think people shouldn’t hurt others.”  A fact and an opinion, clearly stated as such.  The other person can respond, “I think it’s fine to hurt others,” and you are clearly disagreeing about an opinion, which is OK.  (If I say, “You’re bad,” and the other responds, “No, I’m not,” now we think we are arguing about a fact.)  Note that the law is allowed to punish people based on opinions.  That doesn’t make stealing wrong – it just makes it illegal.

I like to do better than us just stating our opinions with folded arms, though.  Instead of shoving my opinion onto others, I prefer to find out what they think and ask them to reflect.  I call this “discernment,” and it’s my functional replacement for judgement.  Here’s the structure:

  1. A conditional regarding what the other person believes.
  2. A humble expression of questioning.
  3. Asking about their strategy.

and in practice it looks like this:

If you believe it is wrong to harm others, are you sure that taking what belongs to others is going to support who you want to be?

The conditional (#1) is hopefully something you have discussed with the person just before this.  You don’t blast forward and assume the person shares your opinion – you ask!  “Do you believe it’s wrong to harm others?”

The question (#2) has to be genuine, not snotty or sarcastic (“Do you really believe that!?”). You are leaving space for the other person to enter into a genuine dialogue with you, a space that is obliterated by a finger-pointing “You’re bad!” – what is anyone supposed to do with that?  To do this you need to open your heart to the possibility that the other person may be “right” – anything less and the other person will see you are not genuinely interested in hearing them.  This is scary because it makes us vulnerable – what if his argument is better than mine!?  But if our opinion changes as a result of open dialogue, that’s good, right?  As long as our well-being is not wrapped up in being right, we will not suffer if we decide to change our mind.  The wish to be open is what makes me try to use humble wording at all times – so that 1. if I am wrong, it is easy to admit it and change, and 2. I am causing less harm to others.  I have come to like finding out I am wrong, because it gives me feedback that I am open, which is how I want to be in the world.

Asking about their strategy (#3) is where we suggest that they reflect on whether what they say they are doing supports the person they have said they want to be.  Do you see that I have made this all about them and what they believe, and I and my opinion are nowhere to be found?  Sometimes the question part takes the form of “I’m not sure that…,” but that’s pretty gentle, and I’m inviting them to help me figure it out.  An important part of asking about their actions is to scrub every whiff of judgement out of your description – just the facts!  Watch for opinions or even trigger words that imply your opinion, or the goodness and badness of something – let them figure out for themselves the compatibility of their actions to their values, when they are plainly laid side by side.

I use this everywhere.  If you talk to me for very long, you will hear this kind of sentence.  I’ll use it now.  Instead of saying “judgement is bad,” I’ll say, “If you’d like to reach people instead of driving them away, I’m not sure that forcefully stating your personal opinions is going to get you there.”  And this isn’t some sort of act I put on – I think this way.

This is a vegan blog, and here’s the alternative to “You’re bad for eating meat.”  First I work out whether the person believes it’s wrong to harm animals for no good reason.  Usually you can just ask people that and 99% of people will agree.  Then: “I can see that you are a caring person.  If you believe it’s wrong to harm animals for no good reason, I am not clear on why you would want to eat animals or anything coming from them.  It all causes them harm, which is the opposite of who you say you want to be.”  I may need to follow up on the issue of what is harm, and what is necessary, but those are pretty easy.  The conversation would be larger than this – just asking what they believe and then throwing my discernment statement at them could be perceived as aggressive.  But you get the idea.  There’s no “You’re wrong, you’re bad, you should change.”

Discernment is a gentler, more loving, and I believe more effective, way to relate to a world where people are doing things we disagree with.  It allows us to engage while being the peace we want to see in the world.

Posted in Buddhism, Musings | Leave a Comment »

Vegan/AR political party

Posted by tinako on November 23, 2016

America’s Party of Science and Ethics

Source: Home

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Vegan Whipped Cream made from Chickpeas

Posted by tinako on May 12, 2016

I would be dubious, but my dad learned about this at a cooking class and said it was good!

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“If You Care”: Unsustainable Violence in a Compostable Bag

Posted by tinako on October 14, 2015

if you careI’m speechless.

If you have a comment for If You Care, you can leave it at their web site.  Maybe you have a thought for Sierra Magazine, which ran this ad in their Nov/Dec 2015 issue.

Posted in Animals, Environment | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bailing the Bog

Posted by tinako on October 2, 2015


…about some, but not others.

I would normally be eating breakfast right now, but since I am Fasting Against Slaughter today on World Farmed Animals Day, it seems like a good time to write.

Two tasks I’ve been doing for an Animal Rights group lately have made me ponder.  I’m organizing the large number of issue flyers we bring to tabling events, and responding to messages for help for animals via social media.  We can refer people to animal rescue organizations and hope for the best, but we are an educational org and don’t do hands-on rescue.  It is heartbreaking to feel so helpless in the face of the real-time suffering people bring to our virtual doorstep.  But as I told a recent correspondent regarding farm animal abuse that she witnessed, rescue is mopping up the mess that meat makes.  And isn’t that true of most of our brochures?  “What’s wrong with…” Leather & Wool, Circuses, Dog Fighting, Fur Trim, Dairy, Cage-Free Eggs, Devocalization.  This display rack represents a small portion of the mess that speciesism makes.

I was thinking this morning that attacking this multitude is like a game of Whac-a-mole, but that is a violent analogy I would prefer to avoid.  So instead let’s talk about dikes, as in the little Dutch boy trying to stop a dam leak with his finger.  To me this metaphor means that one person can make a difference, but it’s not a good long-term strategy, much less a permanent solution.  I like this analogy with Animal Rights, because behind that dike is a body of water, and behind all the exploitation is speciesism.  With the pressure of speciesism present, the only thing holding abuse back at all is human decency, and that is pretty darn leaky.

Now, once we look over the dike at the bog*, maybe we start thinking that the real solution is to drain it.  This means that instead of talking about making cages a little bigger or even not eating chickens, we can speak generally about our underlying assumptions about animals that define how we relate to them.  Speciesism.

After we’ve been working on that for a while, we notice that this bog has other dikes on it, and we wander over to see how they’re holding up.  Just as leaky, and the victims getting drenched all around the bog are other races, other genders, other sexualities, other abilities.  The bog turns out not to be speciesism, but the general belief that some lives are worth less than others.  What is the word that encompasses all the ways that people decide others are not as important as themselves?  Let me know what you think – I’ve been looking for this word that links all these assumptions.


This is more bizarre than usual – I’m suspicious of what BowWow BBQ might be.

Now, some of the people working over on the other dikes have also figured out that we need to drain the bog, so they’re bailing away, and that’s great, but you notice that sometimes they are bailing the water towards your dike.  An example of this would be a social justice or rescue organization holding a chicken barbecue fundraiser.**

“Hmm,” you say, “This is all one bog.  Wouldn’t it be better to bail outside all the dikes?”

“We are focused on those suffering outside our dike,” is the reply.  “Those outside your dike are not as important.  Everyone knows that, so if anyone heard your suggestion, they would be offended that you think so little of this dike that you compare it to that one.” Or, “We need to solve this problem first.  After we’ve bailed this side of the bog completely dry, maybe we can bail your side.”  So they continue to throw the water towards your end of the bog, and you wonder in what way these bailers, who rank the value of lives according to degree of perceived difference from themselves, differ from those who have filled the bog in the first place.  Who is filling the bog?

And water does what it does when it’s pushed instead of drained, and human nature does what it does when biases are rearranged instead of uprooted.  And we remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words freshly:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Here are some rearrangements for you to ponder:

*Disclaimer – I have nothing against real bogs, which are valued ecosystems.  We should only be draining metaphorical bogs, symbols of stagnation, disease and decay.

** An example going the other way would be a sexist animal rights protest.  There are lots of these.

Posted in AR, Social Justice | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

What I Can Do

Posted by tinako on June 28, 2015

Native plants support native animals.

Native plants support native animals.

I was tabling for our local vegan society and a GMO Labeling Bill a few weeks ago, and I was struck by the despair expressed by a few people who came up to me.  “No one cares, even when they know the facts about animals,” said one woman.  An organic farmer said, “Monsanto is so big.  People don’t know.  Who will tell them?”

My responses?  Who will tell them? “Me!!”  No one cares? “On this side of the table, I return to the same locations and every year hear from people who have come to care based on the info that I gave them last year.  In my personal life, I know several people who are vegan directly because I am.”

While I am sad at the effects of animal exploitation and GMOs, I am undaunted by the scope of the problem, because that is not my task.  Someone said,

It is not for us to peer dimly into the future
but to face the issue clearly at hand.

What I can’t do is not my job.  My job is to do what I can do.
What other people do is not my job.  My job is to do what I can do.

And I can show up with a table and some vegan and GMO materials, stand there a few hours and do my best to answer questions.  This is not impossible.

Vegan educator Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything.  Do something.”

I thought about all this as I have spent many hours pulling and bagging invasive alien Garlic Mustard from woods by myself (with permission), and knowing I will have to repeat this for several years in each site before the seeds existing in the soil are all gone.  I would look up and see a large area infested, but before I could lose heart, I looked down at my feet and said to myself, “That area is not my job.  Next year is not my job.  This right here within my reach, this is my job right now.  Now it’s this plant.  Now this one.”  I would think about the relief the remaining, native plants will have with this individual allelopathic poisoner gone, and the relief the animals who live here will have when a co-evolved native plant of use to them can flourish.  After a while I looked around and the area was cleared.  This year.

My son thinks I’m nuts with a goal of eventually clearing an entire woods, but I see no contradiction in attempting the seemingly impossible.  I can’t rid the continent of this disruptive pest by myself, but as long as I have sufficient health, and as long as I care, I can pull that one.  And now it will never seed.

I tutor inner city elementary students, mostly immigrant refugees, a few hours a week.  Will I solve our country’s education crisis?  That’s not my job.  One week my task was to show 40 kids, not all of whom speak English, how to use a protractor.  Done.

In analyzing what is my job, two aspects to consider are, 1. are my efforts efficient and useful?, and 2. what do I do with failures?

As for the first, I try what seems sensible, listen to constructive feedback (seeking out contradictory opinions), watch carefully for results, and adjust.  I will choose this path over paralytic indecision.  As for the second question, first be sure you have defined failure correctly.  If I am vegan, someone asks me why, and they don’t immediately go vegan, have I failed?  Not if my goal was to express my veganism – automatic success.  If I approach a non-profit and they talk with me about social justice for animals but ultimately decide not to make any changes, did I fail?  Not if my goal was to offer a wider view of social justice for their consideration.  If I find I could have done better, I can learn and either try another direct approach or “go around.”

Each plant pulled, each person spoken to, each person who sees me rejoice in my vegan life.  Was I solving animal and consumer exploitation at that tabling event?  No.  That is not my job.  Was I making a difference?  You betcha.

Will you join me?  Please consider volunteering for any organization which is striving to make the world a better place, one action at a time.

Posted in Environment, Garden, GMOs, Musings, Social Justice | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

I cried in the supermarket today…

Posted by tinako on June 1, 2015

The woman in line in front of me was buying a baby chick.

He was dead of course.

And his little mutilated body was displayed in a clear plastic casket.

I could have turned away.

But I felt that to do so would have been one more insult to the short life of this creature.

I had a chance to be the only one to meet him who had ever had a kind thought for him.

And so I stayed with him as he rode the conveyor belt.

And I thought about what his life must have been like.

Only six weeks old, he still had the peeps of a chick when he was sent to slaughter along with everyone he had ever known.

I’m so sorry, I said to him, and I cried.

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Chickens are handled violently in transport.  It's common for their legs to become trapped and be ripped off.

Chickens are handled violently in transport. It’s common for their legs to become trapped and be ripped off when they’re pulled out.  (c) United Poultry Concerns

I’m grateful to the person whose car I was behind on the way home.  Her hatchback plastered with defiant vegan stickers, I bet “CHICKIDEE” would have understood.

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Survey on using animal products

Posted by tinako on May 13, 2015

Prof. Scott Plous

Prof. Scott Plous

Wesleyan U. Social Psychology Professor Scott Plous studies people’s attitudes towards using animal products.  I’m taking his intro to social psych online course and we had to participate in this interesting survey.  I plan to read his research, but this survey shows you what the front end looks like (at least part of it – your answers determine what further questions you get, like a “Write your own adventure.”  It’s open to the public, so give it a try, help Prof Plous figure out what’s going on.

Posted in AR | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

On Smushing Bugs

Posted by tinako on March 6, 2015

16MENAGERIE-blog480I think this book excerpt from The N.Y. Times, “On Smushing Bugs,” is just beautiful.

I love his wording – a “karmic broken-window theory,” “the oubliette of the vacuum bag,” and his natural compassion tested by “the tiny black turd in my mug.”

I love the picture; this man is about to kill, but he is looking, peeking even though it is painful, and he sees.  He sees an anthropomorphic cartoon ant, but… more metaphorically, he sees himself in the ant, as the Buddha said:

All beings tremble before violence.
All love life.
All fear death.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?  What harm can you do?

But mostly I love his humility, his questioning, his looking deeply into himself, looking for the truth no matter where it takes him, even to a cliff or dead end of choices he doesn’t want to make.

This isn’t a how-to essay, and claims only to ask questions, not answer them, so he doesn’t mention that prevention adds a choice between re-washing all your dishes every day or pulling on your executioner’s hood.

I must admit to mixed results with prevention.  But maybe we don’t need all the answers right away.  Maybe looking, within and without, is the path to figuring out how we want to be in the world.


Posted in Animals, AR, Buddhism | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Ringling to phase out elephants by 2018

Posted by tinako on March 5, 2015

I don’t usually just repost news stories, but this one is so close to my heart and so exciting I just have to share:

Mr. Feld says they’re reacting to the changing public mood.  Thank you to everyone who told him what you think of Ringling’s use of elephants.

Posted in Animals, AR | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »