Humans are social animals. We want to fit in. We thrive in groups. We learn from and inspire each other. And because of this highly social nature, we can also just as adamantly ostracize and oppress those who choose not to conform to social norms. In fact, in many cultures around the world, it is a “sin” or at least an unforgivable betrayal to act against some social or cultural norm, even when it goes against what one knows in his heart and mind is wrong.
Think for a moment what situations might elicit some kind of peer pressure in your life. Is it at the dinner table with a group of friends? How about the block party where everyone is eating and serving grilled meat? Or the significant other or child that insists on having what they want for dinner? What do we do when we confront a conflict between our ethics and the culture to which we belong?
Marketers refer to the small minority of consumers in society that embrace change and don’t care much about what people think as the “early adopters.” Early adopters typically congregate in urban centers where society is generally more accepting of dissenting views and lifestyles. In Marketing 101, we learned that a new idea or product must attract innovators and early adopters, so that its acceptance or ‘diffusion’ moves on to early majority, late majority, and then on to laggards.
So what does this mean for the vegan movement? If we look at the studies that try to determine why people avoid going vegan, we’ll consistently find “social pressures” at the top of the list of motivations. But is this necessarily an obstacle for the movement? According to social justice leaders and the lessons we can learn from other social justice movements, the answer is, no.
In fact, when we take a closer look at other parallel social justice movements, we’ll find much the same patterns in how these movements evolve over time. James LaVeck delivers a thought-provoking presentation on what animal advocates can learn from the British anti-slavery movement. British scholar Kim Stallwood presents an illuminating approach to how social justice movements evolve in five key stages. Both Gary Francione and Melanie Joy point to a “tipping point” of 10 to 15% of the population. Once the tipping point is reached, the movement accelerates rapidly into mainstream consciousness.
So, how is this information useful to those of us animal and vegan advocates? I think it points out a real opportunity for us. Knowing that aspiring vegans are weary of social pressures means they need our support and encouragement. Social groups that promote our cause are essential to the welcoming and transitioning of new adherents.
Creating community can take many forms. The most engaging and rewarding is often the local meetup groups. But for those who have difficulty finding them in their area, online community is the next best thing. I often hear from Facebook fans on the Free from Harm page who reside all over the world, some in remote or rural areas. They often comment on how our website and Facebook page helps them “keep the faith” and gives them the resolve they need to keep going, in the absence of local groups.
So please reach out with compassion and encouragement to those in your life who seem to be leaning in the direction of becoming vegan. They need you and we need them, to reach that tipping point as quickly as possible.