People & Animals

AV magazine issue 1, 2010 2010 Issue #1 Compassion into Action Approach to Activism

AAVS recently sat down with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, founder of, to discuss her approach to activism. As a chef, author, and animal advocate, Patrick-Goudreau uses tempting, tasty treats and recipes as a bridge to debunk myths about veganism and animal rights, while empowering people so they can make informed food choices. A long-time activist, Patrick-Goudreau has found herself in a myriad of circumstances, from working with fellow advocates to teaching those who are naïve about animal atrocities to debating contrarians with opposing views. Her years of experience have helped her to develop a thoughtful approach to activism that is honest yet compassionate, proactive yet practical. We're happy to share her thoughts with you.

AAVS: As animal advocates, how can we organize ourselves to make change that helps animals?
Patrick-Goudreau: Witnessing the cruelty inflicted upon animals is a traumatic experience, and we need to process the painful accounts of animal suffering and abuse. We need to create skills to help us function in a world that champions animal exploitation and criticizes those who resist it. This goes for veteran activists as well as newbies.

Based on my own trials and tribulations, I've learned the importance of being self-aware in our activism. This can be summed up in six principles: 1) know your intention, 2) remain unattached to the outcome, 3) embrace the peace and the anger, 4) find the hope, 5) connect with others, and 6) remember your story.

AAVS: Sounds like you're talking about a holistic approach to activism. Can you give a specific example?
Patrick-Goudreau: Sure, take the know your intention principle. Before I teach a cooking class or record a podcast episode or write an article or even answer someone's question one-on-one, I make sure I'm clear about my intention, and my intention is this: to raise awareness about the suffering of animals, to be their voice, and to speak my truth. That's it. Whatever someone does with the information I provide isn't mine, whether they respond favorably or unfavorably. All I can do is plant seeds.

AAVS: So your goal is not to get someone to adopt a vegan diet?
Patrick-Goudreau: No. My intention is not 'to make the world vegan' or 'to get this person to change his mind.' If those were my intentions, I'd fail every time. I'd fail because it's not my role to 'make' anyone do anything. All I can do is speak the truth and trust that the truth will inspire others to act on their own values. That's why I don't like the word convert. I prefer the word inspire. The literal meaning of this word is 'to breathe into.'

AAVS: That's interesting. It's not the type of approach that some may typically think about in animal rights.
Patrick-Goudreau: True, but I've seen it work again and again. Intention is everything. People individually and collectively are smart enough to see right through you if you appear to have a hidden agenda. Having a clear intention about your goal and making that goal about truth rather than outcome will make you a successful, effective advocate 100% of the time.

AAVS: Sounds simple, but is it really?
Patrick-Goudreau: Absolutely. It's just a matter of changing your mindset and remaining unattached to an outcome. So, for example, if I were to approach people with an agenda to make them change their minds or stop eating animals, not only am I putting an awful lot of pressure on myself, I don't think it's very effective. People tend to push back when they feel dictated to, so the game plan often backfires. And if you think about it, it's a pretty lofty goal to expect someone to change their thinking and behavior just because of one conversation with me! It's also a little arrogant.

AAVS: So raising awareness is key?
Patrick-Goudreau: Being clear about intention is key, and for me, if my intention is to raise awareness, to be a voice for animals, and speak my truth, my intention will always be met, because I didn't set out to do anything other than tell the truth, and I may have planted some seeds along the way.

AAVS: That's a great approach, and you seem to be so optimistic. But do you ever get frustrated and angry? Sometimes it's hard because change doesn't happen quickly enough.
Patrick-Goudreau: Of course I get angry. It's a natural response. Human greed and the desire for convenience and pleasure drive the sociallysanctioned use and abuse of billions of nonhuman animals. Of course people are going to be angry. But anger isn't a dirty word. It's a very real response, whose roots go deep. In fact, the root of the word anger is 'sorrow, anguish, torment, deep grief.'

AAVS: We at AAVS have a long history of embracing a peaceful approach to advocating for animals. It's one of the reasons why our supporters gravitate to us. So how do you balance the anger that we all have with compassionate actions?
Patrick-Goudreau: We have to embrace the peace and the anger. To advocate for animals is to advocate for nonviolence and peace—peace is a byproduct of a compassionate, vegan lifestyle. It's what you give, and it's what you get back. It is an unexpected gift. There's a very deep peace of mind that comes from disconnecting yourself with the inherent violence of turning living, feeling beings into butchered bodies. To say 'no' to that releases you from that burden of guilt that so many of us experience, which causes us to make every excuse in the book to justify our actions and release us from our complicity.

But while stopping our participation in the institutionalized exploitation of animals brings peace of mind, the awareness of so much cruelty and suffering can also have devastating effects on our psyches. Burnout is common among activists, and many become jaded, hopeless, and angry.

AAVS: So how can we use our anger in a positive way?
Patrick-Goudreau: If we reframe anger so we see it in a new context (i.e. anguish, deep grief ), we recognize that there isn't a contradiction between the peace that comes with living nonviolently and the anger we feel in the face of so much cruelty. Anger can actually be a great motivator. The key is transforming anger into action.

AAVS: How can we do that?
Patrick-Goudreau: We have to find the hope. It's everywhere. Read the stories of people making a difference. Visit an animal sanctuary, and look into the eyes of those who have been rescued. Ask other activists to share their stories. Seek out the hope; it's there. We have to be part of the solution and be active.

AAVS: Surrounding yourself with like-minded people can also be sort of a comfort, can't it?
Patrick-Goudreau: Being able to connect with others and having a circle of people in your community: people you can dine with, people you can cry with, people you can laugh with, people who simply speak your own language is so important. Vegan meetups [] are great places to socialize and share experiences with other activists. If you can't find one near you, try starting one, or host a potluck or cooking party. Volunteering is also a way to meet new people, while making a difference for animals.

AAVS: Activists are still faced with dealing with people who don't have our same ethical beliefs and engage in actions that harm animals. Any advice on how to handle situations like that?
Patrick-Goudreau: One thing that inevitably happens when we go out into the world newly awakened is that we are so acutely aware of all the animal exploitation around us that we may become easily frustrated by those we see participating in it. It's a natural response. We're looking at the world through an entirely different lens, and we want to shake everyone and make them see what we see.

But I can tell you that we will neither make many friends nor keep many friends if that's our approach. We have to stay in touch with our own stories and remember that we, too, were once unaware. In forgetting our own stories and our own process, we lose our humility, and in doing so we risk becoming arrogant and bitter, and that doesn't do anyone any good. When our hearts are open, we will inspire and attract openness in others.

AAVS: Good advice. Any last words, especially for those who are new to the animal rights movement?
Patrick-Goudreau: There are billions of animals who are at the mercy of humans and billions of humans who have the capacity to show mercy, and I encourage all of us to create a foundation of truth and compassion, so that we can build a better world for humans and nonhumans alike.

Interacting with the public on a daily basis, I hear from so many people, newly awakened to the suffering of animals who want to do more. I commend them. We need them. The animals need them. There is much work to be done.

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