Though many ethical vegans will say that going vegan was one of the best things they’ve ever done, it’s not a lifestyle anyone chooses because it’s “easy.” Still, I’m a firm believer that any challenge that arises related to veganism is simply an opportunity to practice resourcefulness and skillfulness— or as author Naseem Taleb calls it, to become more “antifragile.”
The holiday season is notorious for presenting challenges of many kinds— from navigating complex family issues to budgeting for and choosing gifts… not to mention the many additional challenges this year amidst COVID-19. Vegans grapple with all of this on top of eating, purchasing, and living in a way that is still viewed in most places as “radical” and counterculture. With the heavy focus on food and gifts, it’s no wonder that many ethical vegans feel even more anxiety and stress about the holiday season than the general population.
In my work as a therapist, one of the maxims I return to again and again is the Serenity Prayer. Even for folks who aren’t dealing with any kind of addiction or don’t “pray” in a traditional sense, the intelligence of these words is undeniable:
[God], grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Any difficulty in life falls into one of these two categories— or, perhaps more often, is a mixture of both. Let’s explore a few examples of challenges that are common for vegans during the holiday season using this lens.
Accepting the Things We Cannot Change
This category is most useful when we consider it as “something I cannot change right now.” For example, in this exact moment, I cannot change the fact that most of the world eats animals. I’m not saying that this fact will always remain true— just that it’s the reality right now.
It’s important to mention here an idea phrased perfectly by activist and scholar Angela Davis, who once said, “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I’m changing the things I cannot accept.” As ethical vegans, this is part of our “big picture” logic for choosing this lifestyle: we refuse to accept the “norm” of eating meat just because most people do it. Accepting the current reality is not mutually exclusive with wanting to change the future reality (hence many things being a hybrid or dialectic of both acceptance and change).
Acceptance is not just an attitude of resentful resignation, nor is it the same as agreeing with or liking something. It is simply an acknowledgement of “what is,” such as: “I accept that this is my/the present reality.” When we accept instead of resist reality, we create less suffering for ourselves (and usually each other, too).
While some situations like the above example are fairly universal, others will vary person to person. For instance, “My family is going to eat animals on Thanksgiving, so if I want to attend their gathering, I will have to be around people eating animals.” For me, that is a true statement, and it’s a current reality I am willing to “accept” so that I can be with my family (in whatever small or outdoor capacity we finagle this year). For someone else, it may sound like this instead: “My family is going to eat animals on Thanksgiving, so I will choose to not attend the gathering and will schedule 1-on-1 time with them instead without food involved.”
Whichever option is chosen, acceptance is an empowering perspective in that it takes the focus off of resentment or self-pity and reminds us that we always have options, even if none of those options represent a “perfect world” solution.
The Courage to Change the Things We Can
Changing what you can (meaning the change is possible within the current reality) when you identify a solution that is more aligned with your values or preferences is another way of approaching empowered choice. Here are a few examples that relate to the holiday season:
- I don’t wish to contribute to a traditional consumerist holiday, so instead of prioritizing convenience by shopping at Target or Amazon, I will purchase gifts from vegan merchants or organizations, gift cards to vegan restaurants, or gift “experiences” such as a massage (bonus points for finding a vegan massage therapist on vKind!)
- I know that my family is not likely to provide many vegan options at our holiday gathering, so instead of feeling mad at them and sorry for myself, I will take it as an opportunity to impress them with a few vegan dishes that I’ll bring for myself with enough to share.
- When I go somewhere without many vegan options, I’ll remember to be aware of my language; instead of saying, “I can’t eat that” or “I’m so bummed that I can’t buy those boots,” I’ll say “I choose not to eat those foods” or “I like that style, but I like the ethics of this other brand even more.”
- I received wool socks again despite dropping reminders that I don’t wear products made from animals. Instead of getting annoyed and letting them sit around, or just returning them for cash, I’ll donate them to my local homeless shelter.
The Wisdom to Know the Difference
The common theme— whether the challenge at hand requires acceptance, change, or both— is empowered choice-making. That’s also part of the meaning of “the wisdom to know the difference”: I choose to recognize what I cannot change and to accept it, and I choose to change the things that I have agency to change.
Suffering stems from a lack of acceptance, and it also stems from a disempowered perspective of believing you don’t have options— when in reality, there may just be no “ideal” option, which means that you have to get creative. This holiday season, whenever you feel challenged or stuck, look for the buffet— not of food (curse you, COVID!), but of creative solutions.