BELIEF WITHOUT COMPASSION
Something interesting went down yesterday...
A major revelation by a public figure, Alex Jamieson, followed by a heated, sometimes respectful, other times vicious conversation. And it all went down through a combination of this week's Good Life Project episode and my guest's blog.
Alex burst onto the public consciousness in 2004 as the co-creator and co-star in the Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me. The movie tracked what happened to her then boyfriend, Morgan Spurlock, after eating only McDonald's for 30 straight days and super-sizing his order every time he was asked to.
At the time, Alex was a vegan chef and educator, which made watching Morgan's spiral into health hell all the more difficult for her to watch. Once the experiment wrapped, she nursed him back to health with a vegan diet. She, in fact, had turned to veganism a number of years earlier as a way to heal her own medical problems.
With her new-found notoriety, Alex became a strong voice in the movement to live and eat more consciously and, because it had worked for her, that included being vegan. She's also always been incredibly open to other points of view and compassionate and accepting of those who choose different approaches to life and nutrition. This willingness to take people as they are allowed Alex to resonate with and help a lot of people. To meet then where they were.
But, for the last few years, she'd also been harboring a secret...
She was no longer vegan. Her body, she increasingly felt, was better served with a more mixed approach that included animal protein. She began eating meat again, always trying to do it in the most humane way possible. And her body and health responded well.
Problem was, she'd built her reputation and business around not just healthy living, but the vegan lifestyle. So, she knew "going public" with her evolution would cause not only personal upset among the vegan community, but also have a potential and real impact on the way she earned her living. And as a working mom, that's a scary thought.
So, she stayed quiet, until yesterday...
She'd finally reached a point where she felt she needed to step into her evolved reality and own it, no matter what the consequence.
Yesterday morning, I featured her in this week's episode of Good Life Project. We discussed her decision, along with a lot of other topics, in-depth. At the same time, Alex published a long post explaining why she was changing her approach. And she asked and hoped for compassion and understanding.
You can watch this episode over at Good Life Project or if you'd rather listen, just subscribe to GLP and you'll get instant access to the mp3 vault where can download and listen instead.
What happened after that was pretty stunning. The comment section on Alex's blog exploded.
It was, in many ways, representative of the intense polarity that comes from unwavering belief in an ideology. It reminded me of the climate in Washington these days. Save one big difference. In the end, the voice of compassion seemed to vastly outweigh the voice of judgment.
On one side stood those steeped in vegan orthodoxy, fueled not just by the quest for health, but humane, compassionate treatment of animals. Noble to the core, 100% committed to the cause. To them, there was only black or white. Compassion to people or, depending on the research you follow, nutritional science, plays a back seat to the rights to animals.
On the other side were those who believed in the vegan lifestyle for themselves, but also exalted the good Alex has brought into the world and were willing to extend compassion to her and openness to her choice to do what felt right for her, even if they'd have made a different choice. And, then there were those who'd made the same choice as Alex, but had been hiding the closet for years out of fear of being shunned.
This post is not about veganism or the ethics of eating meat though. I take no position there. It's about something much bigger. Something that affects every person, every day in every way.
It's about how people driven by deeply-rooted beliefs behave toward others who are either non-believers or, worse, who've walked away from the faith.
I am troubled by the potential pain caused by action fueled by belief without compassion.
Belief in ideas, causes, movements and ideologies can be empowering. It can connect you with a likeminded community. I can pull you out of darkness and give you direction. Rules to live by, tools and support to better handle the uncertainty of life.
But without compassion, especially for those outside the sphere of belief, there is no understanding. No ability to see or honor humanity within the context of conversation. There is no opportunity for connection with good people who see the world differently. There is no window for learning, for insight, for wisdom or evolution. There is no place for respect, openness, tolerance or love. There is only martial law. Obey or be shunned. Judged. Outcast. Jailed. Or worse.
It's that way in nearly every form of intense belief. The entry levels begin with a blend of belief and compassion. Because it's easier to come to a set of beliefs and move into a community when there's an openness to where you're coming from. But the deeper down the orthodoxy hole you go, not infrequently, compassion cedes to absolute application of rule of law. Black or white. In or out. And if you're out, you're not just out, your not human any more. Not a brother or sister.
That scares me. Saddens me. Because, fundamentally, it tears apart a world that needs so much coming together. It fragments and silos people into tribes, driven by intolerance and disconnection beyond the bounds of the tribe. It depreciates and isolates the human condition at a time when our ability to connect with, honor and treasure others is our greatest tool for evolution, progress and peace.
Believe what you will. But lean into your beliefs through the lens of compassion. You don't have to agree with non-believers, but when you dismiss their humanity, you destroy your own.
As always, I'm just thinking out loud here. Open to others' points of view. Willing to stand in your shoes.
So, what say you on this topic?
And if the ideas here resonate, feel free to forward this email to a friend.