Ever wondered where the movement would be if we could just stop infighting? Melanie Joy joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her most recent work that aims to tackle the issue of infighting and to get activists communicating more compassionately.
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Dr. Melanie Joy (she/her) is an award-winning psychologist and educator and she’s the author of seven books, including the bestselling Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows; Beyond Beliefs; and How To End Injustice Everywhere. Her work has been featured in major media outlets around the world, and she has received a number of awards, including the Ahimsa Award – previously given to the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela – for her work on global nonviolence. Melanie has given talks and trainings in over 50 countries, and she is also the founding president of the international NGO Beyond Carnism. You can learn more about her work at carnism.org.
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Jasmin Singer: Welcome to Our Hen House, Melanie.
Melanie Joy: I am so happy to be here. It's been years.
Jasmin Singer: I know, I know! That's bananas to me because the interviews that we've had in the past, they really stick with me. And maybe it's also because I'm constantly reading your work that I feel like you're always there with me, but you really have played such an important role in my own evolution, both personally as well as as an activist. Which I'm not sure why I'm differentiating those two things, but so first of all, thank you for all that you've done to change the world for animals and to change my own world. I really appreciate you.
Melanie Joy: Well, well, thank you. And you have done some things for me in my life to help me too. And you know, I love Our Hen House and I'm so grateful and really I've been so looking forward to having this conversation.
Jasmin Singer: I have to this book that you just published, congratulations, How to End Injustice Everywhere, it's called. The subtitle, by the way, is also equally important, Understanding the Common Denominator Driving All Injustices to Create a Better World for Humans, Animals, and the Planet. Dr. Joy, you have written so many important books- Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows.
I said that right, right? I sometimes worry that I flip it. But I got it right?
Melanie Joy: Everybody flips it. That's fine. Most people when they say the title, flip the animals around. Sometimes like, you know, a sheep comes in or a cat. But...
Jasmin Singer: But that's kind of good! It kind of makes the point even more. But anyway, that book penetrated the mainstream press and I still think it does. I see it referenced in not vegan worlds. But it's such a provocative title and it says everything in it. This is a provocative title also, Melanie, why did you write How to End Injustice Everywhere?
Melanie Joy: It really emerged out of Why We Love Dogs, ultimately that's where it came from. When I wrote Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows, I, at the time, was studying. I actually wrote my doctoral thesis on the psychology of eating animals, which is what led me to identify what I came to call carnism, the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals.
And so what I did was I identified carnism, this system, and also what I was researching was the psychology that keeps the system intact. And the question that I had was, why do people eat certain animals but not others? Why do people eat any animals at all for that matter?
And this led me to identify the system that I came to call Carnism and then to really look at how it's structured. Like, what are the social structures that keep it intact? What are the social beliefs that keep it intact and practices? And I think most importantly, what is the mentality that keeps it intact?
Like, how is it possible for people who are rational and compassionate, and who care about other animals and their impact on them, who cringe at images of animal suffering, to nevertheless directly support an industry that slaughters more animals globally in a single day than the total number of people killed in all wars throughout history? Like what is going on here?
What kind of psychological gymnastics need to be engaged in in order for people to act so antithetical or so contradictory to how they really would want to and say that they want to act? And so after I wrote Why We Love Dogs, what I had was not just an understanding of carnism and what I called the carnistic mentality, but sort of a blueprint for all systems that are unjust. All systems that are based on the exploitation and unjust treatment of certain individuals. And so How to End Injustice is sort of like a natural evolution after writing Why We Love Dogs.
The same mentality, basically, that drives us to slaughter and consume non human animals is the mentality that causes us to harm humans, and also to harm the environment. And, I want to be really clear that I am not comparing the experience of victims of unjust systems. The experience of each set of victims will always be unique.
I am saying, however, that the systems themselves are structured similarly, and the mentality that enables the violence is the same. So I really believe, especially at this critical point in time, we need all the resources we can get. We don't know if we're going to make it. We don't know if we're going to have a planet to leave to our grandchildren.
And those of us who are working to end injustice, whether it's toward animals, humans, or the environment, really need all the help we can get and all the resources we can get. And if we can work more effectively by understanding the mentality of injustice, and we can work more effectively by being more unified with other justice movements, and if we can work more effectively by reducing the infighting in our own movements, which are also based on this same problematic mentality, then this will no doubt help us in this sort of like race against the clock, race against time.
Jasmin Singer: Wow. Yeah, it certainly is a race against time. And while we're clarifying, before we really jump in, I want to clarify one more thing. It is a very ambitious title, but you quickly state exactly what you mean to do in the book and what you don't mean to do. So before we really jump in, can you go into that a little bit?
What are you doing? What are you not doing? Because How to End Injustice Everywhere, It's a big ask,
Melanie Joy: Right, the title is not This Will End Injustice Everywhere. It is a way to facilitate the end of injustice everywhere. And so, when we look at injustices in our world, when we look at some of the most pressing problems in our world, and also in our personal lives actually, like, unjust wars, poverty, racism, patriarchy, carnism, animal exploitation, you know, climate change, Toxic workplaces, abusive relationships, infighting in our movements, right?
We look at some of these, you know, really pressing problems, we can actually see that they all share a common denominator. And this common denominator is relational dysfunction. It's dysfunctional ways of relating between social groups, between individual humans, between humans and non human animals, between humans and the environment.
And so what this means is that building what I call relational literacy, which is the understanding of and ability to practice healthy ways of relating, and this of course includes communicating because communication is the primary way we relate, is a common denominator in transforming and ending all of these problems.
Relational literacy is not the solution to the world's problems, but it is an integral part of any other solution. If our collective level of relational literacy were not so low, we would not elect relationally dysfunctional leaders or vote for relationally toxic policies. So the more we can build our relational skills, and other related skills, which we can talk about, the more effectively we will be able to target problems in our world. And I also think we really need to look at, it's not enough to just look at who is oppressing or abusing whom. We really have to get to the core of the problem, which is the mentality that drives us to oppress and abuse in the first place.
Otherwise, you know, if we fail to pick out the common threads that are woven through all systems of injustice, we're just going to trade one form of injustice for another if we don't target this core mentality. So this is what I'm focusing on in the book. I talk about the structure of unjust systems and the mentality that drives injustice and ways to shift our thinking and build more resilient movements and also communicate more effectively about the causes that we want to communicate about. I'm not talking about how people can run organizations effectively or fundraise effectively or what kind of campaigns are most effective.
There are brilliant activists and advocates of all movements who have been doing this work for a very long time and writing about that.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, and small aside, that's something I really appreciate about you and your work, speaking to the core of Our Hen House and why Mariann and I started it nearly 14 years ago. It is kind of recognizing where there are holes in the vegan movement, the animal rights movement, the Animal Liberation Movement, whatever you want to call it, and you are really filling a hole there. And, and I believe strongly that every single person listening to this right now has something that they offer that's unique to the movement that isn't currently being done. And I very strongly encourage people to really noodle on what that is.
But back to you, why is it necessary to understand the psychology of injustice if we want to achieve justice?
Melanie Joy: Well, when we look at our different causes, right? You know, different movements, each movement has its own mission, right? Mission to end animal exploitation, social justice missions, environmental justice missions, whatever. Each of our movements, however, is ultimately working for the same meta mission, right?
The same overarching mission, which is to create a more relational world. We all are asking people to change, or demanding that people change the way they relate. What's different is simply the content. We want people to change the way they relate to non human animals. We want people to change the way they relate to human animals.
We want people to change the way they relate to the environment, for example. And so, our meta mission is ultimately to create a more relational world. And when we recognize this, and we really understand the key principles of healthy relationality, healthy relating, basically. Then we are much less likely to harm other movements, harm other causes, as we promote our own.
So, for example, Vegans are, you know, less likely to use images of objectified women, to promote veganism or to reinforce pathologizing, you know, ideas of eating disorders when they promote veganism. And people who are working for social justice are less likely then to compare certain human groups with animals in a derogatory way as they work towards social justice.
So it's really important for us to not recreate or use the same mentality that is driving the problem in the first place in order to promote our own goals, our own mission. Otherwise, we're just recreating injustice in new forms. We're reinforcing injustice in new forms. And also, this same mentality, I call this the non relational mentality, this same mentality is what drives infighting in our movements. And, you know, there is so much lost. Resources, so many lost resources and productivity and energy and so many people leaving movements that need all the help they can get because of infighting. And when we recognize this mentality, and develop the skills to shift it, we are much better able to reduce our contribution to infighting and help our movements become more resilient.
Jasmin Singer: Okay, I want to talk about relational literacy and infighting. Let's separate those two things for a moment. By the way, just to follow up real quick, those examples that you just offered, you know, perpetuating eating disorders and fat phobia, perpetuating really inappropriate and unethical comparisons of the experience of the oppressed, did you just say that vegans are less likely to make those?
Because I feel like that's a criticism I hear a lot, that people are making those comparisons.
Melanie Joy: Oh yeah. No, I said when they're more aware and when we have higher levels of relational literacy, and understanding, we are less likely to make these kinds of comparisons because doing so is non relational.
Jasmin Singer: Thank you for clarifying.
No, it was probably me. It's early in the morning and I'm still caffeinating because you're in Berlin. By the way, how's Berlin doing lately?
Melanie Joy: How is Berlin doing?
Jasmin Singer: How's Melanie in Berlin? Are you eating well? I'm a Jewish mother. You know, are you are you eating okay in Berlin?
Melanie Joy: Berlin is like kind of a vegan, well you have to come, when you come I'll take you around. It's, it's very, very vegan friendly here.
Jasmin Singer: Okay, amazing. I just, I've only ever been to the airport there in the layover, and I think I've told you I got a Jasmin keychain there that has no E, so apparently the name Jasmin in Germany doesn't have an E, so if you ever see anything else that says Jasmin without an E, please get it for me and I'll Venmo you.
I digress! I'm going back to the interview now. Thank you for bearing with that, like, tangent.
So you suggest that building what you call relational literacy, is one of the most important things to do to end injustice. Can you unpack that? What is relational literacy and how do we build it?
Melanie Joy: Yeah, so it's one of the most important things to do, just period, in my opinion, and certainly to help end injustice, and ending injustice is one of the most important things we can be doing. So relational literacy is the understanding of and ability to practice healthy ways of relating. There are a lot of principles and tools for building relational literacy.
I have a book called Getting Relationships Right that I wrote, literally, to be a one stop guide to building relational literacy. And on our website infighting.org we have a bunch of information on it as well. So, all of these principles and tools, however, are based on one simple formula and it's at the core of all of them. And this is what I call the formula for healthy relating This applies to any interaction that you have, and that includes communication, communication is the primary way we relate. Any relationship that you have, relationships are really a series of interactions. It applies to how you relate to other animals, how you relate to the environment, how you relate to other humans, how we relate as social groups, and how we relate to ourselves. We are always relating to ourselves through our self talk, for example, and through the choices that we make that impact our future selves.
And so here's the formula- in a healthy interaction, we practice integrity and honor dignity, and this leads to a greater sense of security and connection. And I'll quickly unpack this for listeners. So integrity is the integration of our core moral values of compassion and justice, and our behaviors. When we practice integrity, we basically treat the other person with respect, the way that we would want to be treated if we were in their position.
Dignity is our sense of inherent or fundamental worth. When we honor someone's dignity, that means we perceive them and treat them as no less worthy of being treated with respect and occupying space on this planet as anyone else. When we practice integrity and honor dignity, this leads us to feel more secure and connected with another individual or with ourselves when we're relating to ourselves.
And if you just take a moment and think about a healthy relationship you have in your life, chances are, you trust that that other person treats you with respect and sees you as fundamentally worthy. They don't look down on you, and you probably feel secure and connected with them. And like most things in life, the formula for healthy relating exists on a spectrum, right?
A relationship or an interaction is not like healthy or unhealthy, it's just more or less so. So on one side of the spectrum are healthy behaviors, I call these relational behaviors, and on the other side are dysfunctional, unhealthy behaviors. I call these non relational behaviors. And these are the opposite.
They are behaviors that violate integrity. So you treat somebody differently than the way you would want to be treated if you were in their position. They violate integrity, harm dignity, and they lead to a sense of disconnection and insecurity. So you can come back, like at any moment, when you're having an interaction with somebody and things are starting to go sideways, or you're just feeling off, you're not quite sure what's wrong, you pause.
You can always come back to the formula and ask yourself, am I practicing the formula? And do I feel like the other person is practicing the formula toward me? The more we practice the formula, the healthier our relationships become, and the healthier our groups become, right? So, this formula, it's not just that a behavior is more or less relational, a group or a system can be more or less relational. In a relational system, right, if you have a healthy family system, for example, or a healthy workplace, that's your system, or a healthy movement, that's a system, that system is one in which enough people feel secure and connected enough with each other. They practice the formula. They feel secure and connected.
In a dysfunctional system, people feel insecure and disconnected from each other. And so the formula is really important because the more we practice it, the less we contribute to infighting. And pretty much the problems of our world that we're talking about, you know, we think about injustice, injustice happens when we collectively, or individually if that injustice is on an interpersonal level, it happens when we violate the formula.
Jasmin Singer: Okay, With that in mind, now that we have a better understanding of what relational literacy is and how to build it, let's talk about infighting, because infighting is something that everyone listening to this right now realizes is a problem in the vegan world and has been, certainly, since I came into this movement 20 years ago. It's changed, like the big reasons, the big issues have shifted a little bit, but how do you define infighting?
Melanie Joy: So, let me talk about what infighting is not first. Infighting is not in disagreeing. Disagreements, you know, are normal, natural, and necessary. They're really important for us to be able to have. Disagreements about all sorts of issues, like from philosophy, to strategy, to ideology, to values, right?
They're essential for creating a really diverse and impactful movement. And some of these disagreements are especially important. Like when women, or BIPOC... like, you know, people challenge imbalances of power in the movement. So, we really need to be careful not to refer to healthy challenges that are helping a movement evolve, as infighting, or we could be weaponizing the concept, and silencing critical voices.
Infighting is also not the same as in bullying, which is, you know, one person using their platform to bully somebody else, their power or platform to bully somebody else. You know, infighting refers to usually two or more people involved. Infighting is basically the same as what we could call outfighting, as any kind of fighting, except that it's directed toward members of one's own group.
And infighting, basically, we fight. People fight when they have a difference. Usually that's like a difference of opinion or a difference of need. So we fight when we have a difference with somebody else and we use some form of aggression to get that other person to change. So that's generally the way it happens.
It's when we use aggression to impact somebody else and very often it's to get somebody else to change. And so a lot of the infighting that we see in movements in general, and we'll talk about the vegan movement, or I would say the animal justice movement here, is it revolves around this concern, at least ostensibly, that somebody is doing something that's harming the cause.
I have a right to belittle you, to publicly shame you, or humiliate you, or to say what I want to you because I see you as harming the cause. What you're doing is hurting animals. You know, very often people, not just vegan people, but people, generally, we tend to believe that we have the right to abuse somebody, as long as we're seeing them as abusive themselves.
And this is part of the same mentality that I was talking about earlier. So, a lot of infighting that happens is actually really subtle. And vegans have consistently told me, like you just said, you know, like, oh my god. I've been in this movement for a long time. I have seen so much infighting. It's horrible.
That's so true. Most of the infighting is actually quite subtle though. And so it's like an eye roll, for example, which is an expression of contempt. Most infighting in general is expressed through shaming behaviors. You know, the primary way that we aggressively get somebody to change is by somehow shaming them.
It's like basically the idea is if you can make somebody feel badly enough about themselves or about something, they'll just change. Of course, generally it doesn't work that way. But this is what infighting is. Infighting basically happens when people don't practice the formula for healthy relating.
When there's a difference and we violate the formula for healthy relating. And it shows up in all different ways. The primary way it's expressed is through communication. Because communication's the primary way we relate. And we see it on a movement wide level, you know, like advocates, activists fighting each other, you know, from different countries... or within the same country, it doesn't matter, but individual activists and advocates fighting each other, but we also see a lot of infighting on the organizational level. Teams and organizations that fight each other and interact in relationally dysfunctional ways.
Jasmin Singer: So, how big of a problem do you think it is in the animal justice movement, and what are some ways to address it, or end it?
Melanie Joy: Well, it's a huge problem. It's a huge problem. It's like, if you could imagine that the movement is like a lifeboat, you know, and the crew on that lifeboat is like animal justice advocates that are trying to pull as many animals out of the water as possible, save as many lives as possible, while some of the people on the boat are like shooting holes in the bottom, you know? So where it is causing massive, massive losses to the movement.
On infighting.org, we have actually a bunch of statistics, financial costs, burnout, recidivism, people quitting the movement, people just becoming frustrated and misanthropic and advocating ineffectively. So they're actually not only not attracting new vegans, but they're turning people off to veganism and making them even more resistant.
It is a huge problem, and I think the reason it has gotten this far and it continues to be a problem is because for most people, it's an abstraction. It's like, okay, I'm really frustrated about infighting, but like, what am I going to do about it? What do you do about it? But at infighting.org, we've really broken it down for people. Like, okay, here it is, this is the problem, here are the causes, and here are the costs, and here are ways that you can immediately become proactive as part of the solution.
And we can talk about if you want the causes.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, let's do that. I wanted to just underscore the importance of infighting.org and for everyone here listening to this, I really think you need to bookmark this site. Read a little bit from it every morning while you're caffeinating like I'm doing right now. Also get How to End Injustice Everywhere, which by the way is a book that is not only focused on the animal justice movement.
There are certainly a lot of ways it is, but there are also a lot of ways it isn't, because this is an issue that is social justice movement wide, not just animal justice movement wide. Let's go back to what you were just saying though, Melanie. You offer practical tools to raise awareness and reduce infighting within justice movements.
What are some of those tools and strategies?
Melanie Joy: Well, it might be useful to talk about some of the causes first, because the tools will make more sense.
So there are a lot of causes, but there are like, I think, eight key causes that we list on the website. But I'll talk about the big ones. So one we've already touched on, which is that most people need to really build relational literacy.
Most of us have simply never had any real instruction, formal instruction, in how to relate in a way that's healthy, and that includes how to communicate in a way that's effective. Building relational literacy can literally transform your life, and that includes effective communication, and can certainly go a very, very long way toward reducing infighting because we can come to our differences with the ability to discuss them and learn from them and deepen our understanding. Right? And so what this means is that when we approach a communication, we don't approach a communication as though it's a debate. You know, the debate model is helpful in only a small handful of situations, right?
When you're in a courtroom or running for political office, for instance. The debate model is a win lose model, right? So in a healthy communication, our goal is not to win, which means to make the other person lose. It's not to be right, which means to make the other person wrong. Our goal is mutual understanding.
And when we bring this into our communication, it can transform our communication. It doesn't mean we don't have an opinion, but the agenda that we approach a communication from, if it's healthy, will increase the chances that we will have a productive conversation rather than a divisive debate.
So often when vegans disagree with each other, we have like, I don't know if you've seen these like, YouTube debates, vegan versus vegan, and they're just like fighting each other. But, you know, when you invite somebody to debate you, what you're basically doing, nobody wants to lose. The goal of the debate is to win.
You're inviting somebody to come up with all of the reasons as to why their position is right and you're wrong. And if they do that, by the end of the conversation, they'll probably have sold themselves on the rightness of their position. So, you know, simply learning to shift from debate to discuss, this is one of the tools of effective communication, can be very transformative.
Another big cause of infighting is that we have high rates of secondary traumatic stress in our movement. A lot of us have become traumatized from witnessing what we've witnessed, from knowing what we know. Even if you're not traumatized with a capital T, chances are you're dysregulated.
You know, dysregulation is the experience of your nervous system being out of balance. When you're dysregulated, that means that you feel a charge inside of you. It could be really mild, but it's there. You know, you might feel overstimulated, you might feel angry, you might feel frustrated, you might feel anxious.
When you're dysregulated, you are emotionally out of balance. Your nervous system is out of balance. And studies have shown that in this state, even if it's mild, you're less rational and you're less connected to your empathy. And that means that when you go into a communication with somebody, especially when the stakes are high, you know, animals' lives and deaths, for example, you are less likely to engage in a productive way and you are more likely to be defensive in that conversation. And dysregulation is contagious.
And this is really, really important for advocates to be aware of. Dysregulated people, dysregulate people. So, think about, like, imagine that you're like, fine, you're waking up, you're like, having your morning coffee or tea, and you're reading your email, just casually. You've had a good night's sleep. You open an email, subject heading URGENT, all caps. That's all it takes, right?
Jasmin Singer: You're already stressing me out! Let me take a sip of my tea real quick as you continue to dysregulate me. Go ahead.
Melanie Joy: So you went probably from regulated to dysregulated immediately. And studies have shown that when you are on the receiving end of like non relational communication, you are likely to reproduce that communication yourself. And studies have also shown that And when you're dysregulated, you're more likely to reproduce non relational communication.
So a lot of us are chronically dysregulated and we don't even know it. And we're dysregulating people around us and we're getting triggered easily and we're reactive and we're fueling the very dynamics and the very sort of body state and mind state that makes it really hard for us to practice the formula and communicate effectively.
I mean, you can know the formula. You can know all the principles and tools for effective communication, but if you don't know yourself and you don't know when you're dysregulated and how to, what's called self regulate, to bring yourself down back into a place of regulation. It's going to be very hard for you to practice those tools.
So, really it's important to learn about your experience of dysregulation. We have tools on the website for you to do this. And learn how to self regulate. There are a lot of somatic, like, basically body based exercises that you can do to do this. And other types of exercises as well. And learn to help others regulate. This is called co regulation. Co regulation is the act of somebody with a regulated nervous system helping somebody with a dysregulated nervous system come back into a place of regulation.
And one way to do this is to practice the formula. And another way to do this is to simply be a calming presence. What psychologist Kathy Weingarten calls a compassionate witness. Somebody who is listening, somebody who is witnessing, somebody who is not judging. And who is acting as a calming presence.
What happens very often is that whoever is dysregulated dictates the level of regulation in a dynamic. Like, two people encounter each other, one person's dysregulated, the other is not. Usually what happens is the one who's not dysregulated becomes dysregulated as a reaction, as opposed to saying like, oh, wait, hey, I noticed that this person here is dysregulated.
I'm actually going to try even harder to stay regulated and hope that my regulation can help them come into a place of regulation.
Jasmin Singer: Oh, I love that. I love that because it's also a very clear and explicit way that we advocates can support other advocates. I know that's really important to Our Hen House listeners. And to be clear, you're not saying we shouldn't be angry. I mean, anger is something that makes a whole lot of sense, given what we know about animals.
You caution, however, that righteous anger often prevents advocates from reaching their goals. So let's talk about anger. Anger is appropriate and necessary, right?
Melanie Joy: Yeah, absolutely. So, anger is the normal, like, legitimate response. It's an emotional response to witnessing what we perceive as an injustice. Your anger is a sign that your moral compass is working. Your anger is an important emotion because it gives you the motivation, the impetus to take action on your own or another's behalf, to rectify something that's unfair or unjust.
What matters is how we relate to our anger. When we relate to our anger in a healthy way, we can use it for transformation, for good, for ending injustice and problems. When we relate to our anger in an unhealthy way, it ends up becoming harmful and creating more toxicity. So when we relate to our anger in a healthy way, this means that we understand it.
We see it for what it is. It is nothing more than an emotion. That's it. Anger is an emotion. It is a data point, alerting us to the fact that we are witnessing something that we think is unjust. That's it. And so, when we relate to our anger in an unhealthy way, we are merged with our anger. We're blended with our anger.
The anger and we have become one. We're looking at a situation through the lens of anger, right? So it's the intensity of anger, but it's not just the intensity of anger, it's our relationship with it. In the former case, when we relate to our anger in a healthy way, we are distant enough from it, even if it's intense, that we can see it for what it is and identify it.
We can say, for example, I'm feeling angry, not I am angry, or even better yet, a part of me is feeling angry. And if you're ever, like, really hijacked by your anger, this is a strategy you can use. You can actually say that to yourself, a part of me is feeling angry. You can even say, A part of me is really feeling angry, because you know what?
No matter how angry you are, there is always that witnessing self within you, that witnessing part of you that has not gotten hijacked by an emotion, even if it's a really small part of you in the moment. So when we're merged with our anger, we say, I am angry. And, very often, it has the charge of contempt. And contempt is a relationship killer.
Contempt is an incredibly, incredibly damaging emotion. Contempt is the feeling that we have when we've placed ourselves in a position of moral superiority to another, or others, and we're looking down on them, and we're seeing them as inferior in particular as morally inferior, right? So when we're in a position of contempt, we're much more likely to harm people's dignity, to act against the formula. Remember the formula includes honoring dignity because a person's dignity is their sense of inherent worth and we're thinking of and seeing somebody as less worthy of being treated with respect. When you feel contempt for somebody, that is a red flag.
That is a red flag that you have lost connection for your empathy with them. And you've lost connection for your compassion with them. So, when you feel contempt, that's a good time not to take action. And that means not to be communicating from that place. Because if you do, there's a good likelihood you're going to shame that other person.
And shaming behaviors are incredibly toxic and are epidemic in the world and certainly in our movement and are something that cause, we can talk about shame if you want to, but cause a lot of harm.
Jasmin Singer: Wow. Okay. So, I don't want to take this in a different direction, and you're the psychologist, not me, but I felt like I would add that some of the work that I've personally done around that moment of anger, of like, recognizing that I'm feeling angry, has also involved parts work. And I've done that with myself, not with a therapist, just for the record, for anyone listening, and what that has looked like is reparenting or expressing empathy for little Jasmin, honestly, and reassuring her that she is safe, seen and heard. And I know it sounds kind of woo and a little silly, maybe, to some people, but it's been revolutionary for me in terms of being able to then approach my anger from a healthy way and not a vulnerable, terrified way.
Melanie Joy: I love that you said that, you know, and what you're referring to is internal family systems, right? And psychologists today, many of them say, you know, there's not one unified psyche per se. Our personality, our psyche is like made up of a lot of different sub personalities, sub parts, and, when we really understand these parts, particularly when they get activated, right? We have a lot of young parts. For example, when you're a child and you have an experience that has been hurtful to you or traumatic to you, you know, the way your psyche deals with that is by creating like its own personality, its own part of your personality to manage those feelings. And, what happens later in life is that if we haven't worked on ourselves and sort of integrated these parts, you know, they can become activated.
So, for example, you could have a part of yourself that's terrified of abandonment if you had a parent that was unreliable. And so any sign of potentially being rejected can trigger this abandoned part. All of a sudden, you can feel completely hijacked by your terror of being abandoned and blend with that part, look at the world through the lens of that part.
And one of the ways to heal that part, is not to do what most of us have learned to do which is to tell it to shut up, or to ignore it, or to just power forward, but to say, you know what? All of the parts of myself exist for a reason, and they all want to keep me safe.
They just are doing it in their own way, and you listen to that part, and you understand that part, and you say, okay, I, a part of me is feeling anxious, a part of me is feeling afraid of being abandoned. Why? What's going on? You dialogue with it. You know, these are vulnerable parts, and then we also have these other parts, they're called protector parts, and they're the harder parts.
These are the parts that tend to get more angry rather than afraid or sad. And so when your anger is triggered, you can also do that. When it's really triggered, right? When it's not just, okay, I'm feeling angry and it's an emotion. I'm going to pay attention to it and ask myself, what's going on here? Do I need to take action here?
You know, that's not necessarily a part getting triggered. That's an emotion. But when you get hijacked by your anger, that can very easily be a part of you. And you can pause and say, Oh wow, there's this part of me that's really angry and really dialogue with it.
Ask yourself the question What is it that I'm so angry about? You may well have really legitimate reasons to be angry, but get to know that part of yourself and get to know why that part feels so strong that it's taking control of you and basically hijacking your perceptions
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, and this is all directly related to what we're talking about today because, you know, if I personally, and the abandonment thing you used as an example is literally my story and probably so, so many other's stories, but dealing with that and not conflating it with what I'm feeling in the moment relating to, let's say, a fear of being shamed, you brought up shame, fear of being shamed for inserting myself into an infighting situation in order to help mitigate it.
All of that is very important so that we can show up as like our best relational selves. I'm not sure if I'm saying all of this in a way that is nearly as exquisite as you are, but I want to go back to shame and I want to go back to why justice is an important reframing of what we need to accomplish for animals. So tell me about the problems with shame and how we can refocus.
Melanie Joy: Yeah, well, so shame is... let's differentiate shame from guilt first because many, many people conflate these two terms. They think they're the same experience, but they're not. So guilt is how we feel about a behavior, right? We feel guilty when we think I've done something wrong or I've done something bad.
Guilt is a really important pro social emotion. People who don't feel guilt or people who don't feel the necessary remorse they need to, to course correct and change their behaviors, in the future. Shame is not how we feel about a behavior, it's how we feel about ourselves.
When we feel guilt, we think, I did something bad. When we feel shame, we think, I am that. Shame is the feeling of being less than, of being less worthy than others. It's the feeling we have when our dignity is harmed. And, people are understandably, highly, highly defensive against feeling shamed by others and feeling shame in general.
Shame is an incredibly corrosive emotion. It is an incredibly widespread emotion, thanks to the relationally dysfunctional mess of a world that we've all been born into. Most of us carry around a lot of shame, because shaming communications, shaming attitudes, shaming beliefs, shaming behaviors are so common.
Why else would we buy things that we don't need, to the degree that we do, and do a lot of things that we do in our lives? So, shame is very corrosive and very problematic, and most people are highly defensive against even the threat. Studies have shown that we're defensive against even the threat of being shamed.
So if you even think somebody is going to shame you, you become dysregulated, essentially. Which again, means that you're less connected to your rationality, and you're less connected to your empathy. So often, when people in general, here we'll talk about people in the animal justice movement, you know, we have a difference of opinion from somebody, whether it's somebody who we want to get to go vegan, or another vegan whose opinion we disagree with, the assumption that we have is like, well, if I just make them feel badly enough, then they'll change. They'll want to change once they feel ashamed enough.
And, by the way, I would avoid guilting people as well as shaming people because most people don't separate those. Most people do not separate their behaviors from their character. And as soon as people feel guilty, it automatically flips right into shame because of the way that we've been conditioned. And, you know, we don't need to make people feel guilty or to make people feel ashamed in order to get them to change their behaviors or their attitudes. In fact, what the research shows is just the opposite. The more you shame somebody, the more likely you are to create the opposite outcomes of what you want.
You're communicating to somebody when you're shaming them, when you're looking down on them in the first place, before you even open your mouth, if you're looking at someone and thinking of them as somehow inferior to you or to others because of choices that they've made in their lives, how they live their lives, the fact that they eat animals, the fact that they advocate veganism in a certain way, whatever it may be.
When you have that attitude towards someone, you're not a safe person for that person to be open to. Right? If you want somebody to really open up and reflect on their attitudes and behaviors, you want that person to be vulnerable. It's like you're asking them to drop their sword in a sword fight while you keep yours pointed at their face.
They're not going to be vulnerable with you if you're not a safe person, and you're not a safe person if you're standing in judgment of them, placing yourself on a higher rung of, the moral ladder. And when you really understand, and I can imagine a lot of people listening to this are thinking, because I hear this all the time when I have this conversation with vegans, Oh, but I am morally superior because not eating animals is morally better than eating animals. And to that, I would say that not eating animals is less harmful than eating animals, to animals, of course. Not eating animals reflects the values of compassion and justice toward animals more than eating animals does. Not eating animals is engaging in a relational behavior, whereas eating animals is engaging in a non relational behavior. All of that is true. That has nothing to do with your moral value or your worth.
That doesn't make you better than anybody else. Because human beings, we, all of us, we are nothing more nor less than the hard wiring and biology that we were born with and every single experience we have ever had throughout our lives. We can't be more or less than that.
It's just not possible. So expecting somebody to be different than who and how they are, I always say this is like expecting a tree that's been rained on not to be wet. When you look at somebody who's eating animals and you think that you wouldn't be doing that if you were them, that's not true, because if you were them, you'd be doing exactly what they're doing.
Because you would have been born into their body, and born into their life, and grown up exactly the way that they have. This does not mean that we don't hold people accountable for problematic behaviors. We obviously have to. But if we can hold people accountable while honoring their dignity in the process, we are much, much more likely in encouraging them to change those problematic behaviors. And so many times I hear vegans expressing the sentiment of like, when people engage in a behavior that's causing harm, that's not compassionate, this gives us a free pass to not be compassionate toward them.
Think about it, right? Compassion is a feeling, compassion is a state inside of you. People have more or less access to their compassion because of their experiences and their hardwiring. No other reason. It's horrible when you can't access your compassion. It is such a painful, terrible feeling.
Think about how you feel after you've been sitting on the phone with Verizon, like, or T Mobile for 45 minutes, and then you get disconnected,
Jasmin Singer: Oh my god, that happened to me yesterday, yesterday!
Melanie Joy: You get it, like, immediately, it's really hard to stay connected to your compassion. So, I talk about how when we can access our compassion, that's a privilege, that is a gift that we have. Just because you can access your compassion more than somebody else, that doesn't make you better than they are.
It means that you have more access to your compassion than they do, because of your life circumstances and your biology. That's it. So just as we wouldn't look down on somebody who doesn't have as much food to eat as we do, we shouldn't look down on somebody who doesn't have as much access to their compassion as we do.
We should recognize our compassion as the gift that it is.
Jasmin Singer: That is so beautiful. I do this thing while I'm interviewing people where I mark a clip so that we can potentially put that online later, and I marked 10 clips in what you just said. So I feel very strongly that that is an incredibly powerful and extraordinarily important point that you're making. And Melanie, we have to close up so that I have time to do some bonus with you. So let me just ask you a quick and super easy question. How do we end injustice everywhere? Where do we start?
Melanie Joy: The good news is that I believe the only reason that infighting is as problematic as it is, is because we have never collectively, actively tried to address it yet because it's been this sort of abstraction. And now we have tools. We have understanding. Honestly, if we can take on the industry of animal exploitation as well as we have, we can heal our movement.
So just come to infighting.org. There's lots of information and lots of tools, and please share this website, widely. And, How to End Injustice Everywhere also has information and tools in it as well that hopefully will be helpful. And so, you know, I think that most people in our movement are doing an incredible job.
And, you know, I feel honored and privileged to be able to support them. And this is just one more tool to support the great work that's already being done.
Jasmin Singer: Melanie, there were so many more things that we could have discussed and I just, I want to really strongly encourage listeners to please continue this dialogue.
How to End Injustice Everywhere. Get the book, go to infighting.org and bookmark that. And thank you so very much for joining us today at Our Hen House.
You have to come back sooner than later, please, to maybe we can have more of this dialogue. I really appreciate it. And if you could just stick on the line with me for just a few minutes, I promise I won't take too much more of your time, but thank you, Melanie.
Melanie Joy: Thank you. I could talk to you forever. It's like amazing. Thank you.
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