My Transition to Compassion and Awareness – Abridged
By Brandon Hopkins, Guest Contributor
I wasn’t much for caring about shit when I was an adolescent. I feigned it, sure, like anyone else. I thought myself a prominent punk-rocker and tagged bathroom stalls oh so defiantly with phrases like “smash the state” and “anarchy rules.” But let’s be real, when you’re fifteen years old doing that shit, not only is it expected and therefore sort of forgiven, but it’s also established that you have no clue who the hell you are at that point. Or at least I didn’t. I was just doing what I thought was cool at the time. Not the brightest picture of myself to paint for you, but it’s the truth.
This isn’t to say I don’t still think I’m cool, or that I have no respect for my former ideals – half-assed and misunderstood as they may have been. However, when you’re younger the things you represent and the convictions you carry are in flux more than they are when you’re an adult. At least, for most people I think this is the case. So when I went vegetarian the first time when I was sixteen or seventeen, of course it didn’t stick. Of course I didn’t research or even have any real understanding as to why that might be a good life choice for me. All I knew was I had some vegetarian friends and I wanted to try something new, so there was enough reason for me there to make it happen. Over the following years until I was twenty-three I would do this back-and-forth dance between vegetarianism and omnivorous eating.
Finally I conformed to being a regular, conditioned fast-food omnivore. I had left behind the previous ideas associated with vegetarian living. My friends had split – some went vegan and others bailed out like I did. But something never struck me as right with my choice. My vegan friends all seemed much more impassioned with their beliefs. They seemed more excited, more content, and even more dangerous (as those rejecting a very basic American norm). Omnivores mostly opted to take the sluggish, lethargic route in their lives. They fell into the trap known as normalcy. They watched the world pat them on the back for giving up on having any personal position regarding the very existence, let alone the satisfaction, of other animals (including other human animals), among other things.
I couldn’t believe I had let myself fall victim to such apathy. As a teen who shaved his head into mohawks, wore combat boots and generally marched to the beat of a different drum in school, I couldn’t believe I finally had just settled in my life on being some gross, normal junk-food eater. So when I found that my vegan friends were still going strong, and when I made some other vegan friends around me, I thought this is the kind of thing I have been looking for all along. These people were so powerfully confident in their beliefs. They knew shit, they believed in something, and what’s more: they cared about life. Not the model American, suburban, complacent type of life, either. This was what I had been looking for all along. I wanted the power, the conviction, the compassion. Never had I wanted so badly to believe in something.
So the next step was to deprogram. After having spent my whole formative years flip-flopping on vegetarianism, with limited understanding as to why I should be moving that direction with my diet and ethics, some vegan books fell in my lap (most notably Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, the book that put the final nail in my omnivorous coffin). I was immediately hooked. All I wanted was to educate and advocate the vegan lifestyle. Others be damned, I didn’t give a crap that they weren’t the listening type, or the compassionate type, or the rational type. I just wanted to envelope everyone else in the sheer weight of the power that comes from being compassionate and aware. Since then, I’ve been absorbing every bit of information possible on the subject, in the hopes that the more I know, the better argument I’m making in propelling veganism as the right ethical and dietary choice. I may just be one voice, but it’s a loud one most of the time.