Have you ever taken a loan from a friend or family member?
Do you accept gifts? If so, how expensive a gift would you be willing to accept?
When was the last time you asked someone for help?
Did the help you request require a significant cost in time, effort, or expense (construction, long distance drive, deep cleaning…)?
When I think about the benefits of having a vegan diet, one of the compelling ideas is “Do no harm”. We intuit that other creatures possess some level of consciousness, and we are negatively impacting that consciousness when our appetites cause it to endure a harsh environment, deprivation, suffering, and death (perhaps a death attended with significant emotional and physical pain leading up to it).
When others do for us, we realize that they sacrificed something of their time and life force to do it. We only hope that they were able to experience well being, and that, in time, perhaps we can repay them for their kindness, and thereby cancel the debt that we now owe them.
Some people cannot abide the sensation of being in someone else’s debt. Some people will avoid the sense of obligation that the sacrifice of others (no matter how small) places upon one’s shoulders. If you can become completely self-sustained on your own efforts, or on the blessings of things which are not conscious creatures, you can also keep your “footprint of obligation” small.
A third way
On the opposite ends of the continuum of obligation are DEBT on one end, and GRATITUDE on the other. Could it be that people who successfully avoid becoming obligated or indebted to others, are also bereft of gratitude? Could such people be missing out on the many opportunities to experience what is arguably one of the most sublime forms of spirituality available to us as conscious beings standing at the top of an evolutionary hill of skulls? Gratefulness. Are vegans a manifestation of a uniquely materialistic and non-spiritual world view? This possibility isn’t intuitive, as we tend to project spirituality, compassion, kindness, and caring on those who strive to “do no harm”. We have long benefitted, in a very one-sided way, every moment of every day from the sacrifice of other creatures. Rather than cultivate an attitude of entitlement, denial or avoidance, why not acceptance? And not passive dismissal or exoneration, but true and active gratitude. The only appropriate response to the millions of years of outpoured blood, adaptation, and extinction is indeed gratitude. Can you be grateful when you eat? Can you be fully aware, yet fully accepting and fully thankful for the completely sacrificed life that was paid in exchange for you (and your family, and your friends) to exist for another few days and weeks? If not, then what you may likely find yourself desperately in search of is exoneration. You want to be let off the hook. You want to escape your responsibilities. Or at least you want to “pay your own way” on your terms. This desire for exoneration may lead you to denial that anything of value is being sacrificed for your benefit. Or it may even lend to a sense of entitlement, “God gave me these animals… they’re mine! They’re not human… they aren’t conscious in the same way we are, and they were intended to be eaten and there’s nothing to feel guilty about it”. As we learn more about consciousness, this position becomes harder and harder to defend. Or on the other end of the continuum, where vegans dwell, you may be led to exonerate yourself by “dropping out” of the food chain. By not incurring any debt that would befall you if you partook in the sacrifice of the lives (or even the discomfort) of other conscious beings. Sure, you avoid the debt. But you also avoid the cause or the target for expressing any gratitude. What if this becomes an end in and of itself? To what extent is such a person exonerating themselves from expressing gratefulness to anyone for any reason?
I’m asking myself often, “What hook am I trying to wriggle off from? And from what do I crave exoneration?” Veganism offers us just the sort of exoneration we all crave. We play the lottery in the hope that we will be exonerated from working for a living. We use religion to exonerate us from the knowledge of our mortality. Insanity holds the sweet promise of exonerating us from… everything. But if we embrace uncomfortable (even damning) truth… such as the truth that all of us standing today have won (and continue to win) our existence at the high price of pain and death paid by others we can experience gratitude. And perhaps, equipped with that, we can escape the self-exoneration trap, and do something truly compassionate for others. Or… maybe I’m just telling myself all this to get off the hook for eating meat.