When (non-vegan) people say ‘It must be hard to be a vegan’ and ‘Isn’t it hard to be a vegan’, I don’t know how to respond. The part that they think is hard – giving up on torturing, killing and eating animals with central nervous systems – was actually much easier for me than I expected. Thus I am tempted to say ‘It’s easy’. However, there is another aspect to being vegan which is hard – living in a society which encourages practices which you feel are ethically wrong. However, very few non-vegans understand this, because they are either don’t know how much harm they do to beings with free will capable of pain, or they are in deep denial. That is why I will almost never say ‘it is hard’, because most will assume that it means something other than what I actually mean, and if you think it’s easy to explain it to them, you’re clearly don’t have much experience telling people that things they do habitually are unethical.
There are many facets to ‘living in a society which encourages practices which you feel are ethically wrong’. For vegans, this sometimes means ‘lack of convenient/suitable vegan food/clothes/toiletries/etc.’ However, I have worked out most of the practical problems, so I now feel that being vegan is only slightly less convenient than being non-vegan.
The facet which is hard for me is … other people. Specifically, non-vegan people. Sometimes, when a person I respect or admire suddenly makes a reference to their support for the torture and killing of animals for pleasure, it makes my heart sink a little. That does not mean that I necessarily stop respecting or admiring them – I used to support the torture and killing of animals myself – but it is disappointing.
And that’s people who I don’t interact with personally. When it is someone who I have a close personal relationship with, often a relationship which existed before I became a vegan – it’s even harder. You can try to explain, you can try to persuade … but if they still don’t get it? Do you continue a personal relationship with someone with such ethical values? Even if cutting off all such personal ties means that your close personal relationships can only be with other vegans? Might such social isolation be harmful in the long run to non-human animals, since if we vegans cut ourselves off too much from non-vegans, how can we hope to create meaningful change?
Furthermore, how much persuasion is not enough, how much is too much? Too much means that people won’t listen, won’t change, and ultimately will torture and kill more animals. Not enough also means people won’t listen, won’t change, and ultimately will torture and kill more animals. Is it better to show righteous anger, or to show calmness and patience?
And it’s also very tempting to turn an attempt to ‘persuade’ someone into an attack. The vast majority of vegans have thought about these issues much more than most non-vegans, and are much better informed about the facts, and for those reasons alone have the upper hand in many debates (I think vegans also have an upper hand because we are right, but just having spent more time thinking and researching about these issues by itself is an advantage). It is much easier to ‘win’ by making the other person feel bad than to ‘win’ by actually getting them to choose a better path. I think this might be why there are so many ‘vegan police’ – there is an emotional satisfaction to picking all of the faults with other people’s ‘veganess’, whereas the slow work of changing hearts and minds does not offer such instant gratification.
Aside from staying within ethical limits, when I face these dilemmas, I try to think of what would ultimately be of greatest benefit to the animals who are suffering, whether in factory farms or degrading wild habitats, and use that to point the way. But that is often not obvious.