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Lessons Learned, The Finale

After all this time it seems that . . . the Island's sideways world was a purgatory of sorts where the Oceanic 815 survivors were supposed to learn more lessons or go one way or the other (good or bad), but Desmond intervened to bring them all together and move forward to the light.

Oh wait, wrong series (and by the way I watched only the last season of Lost, so I could be completely wrong about the above).

My random number of 20 Lessons Learned From 4 Years of Blogging at Animal Person (for the others go to #1-6, #7-10 and #11 & 12) ends today with #13-20, which is far longer than I thought it would be. Sorry about that . . .

Lesson #13

Design and multi-media matter.

The design of Animal Person is probably as uninviting as it could possibly be. I don't frequently use photos, I rarely use video, and my posts are often long. As with other lessons, whether this one matters is contingent upon what you're trying to achieve. I usually had a message or an idea and my goal was nothing more to put that out into the world, usually in the easiest and quickest way I could. When I did podcasts they took hours (and that was after learning how to use the program and hardware) and the quality wasn't even that great. If I had it all to do again, I'd do a video blog and I'd get at least proficient at the technical aspects. People are lazy and want to be entertained. Reading thousand-word long posts in black type on a plain white screen with nothing interesting to look at isn't exactly a satisfying sensory experience. So I failed.

Two other aspects of design that I've written about previously are the blogroll and categories. Many people make assumptions about you based on your blogroll. Just know that when you compile it. If I were to do it all again I'd call the sites and blogs I visit exactly what they are: Food blogs, blogs I read. I had "Places I Go/People I Know" for a while, which was accurate. My original blogroll included people/organizations that informed my journey and it brought me much criticism and labeled me a "new welfarist" and brought me all kinds of grief. I actually removed the entire thing just to make my life easier. It worked.

As for categories, I never got that one right, either. It's easy to decide what you're going to confine yourself to when you're starting to blog, but then it's difficult to stick to that list because your personal path might lead you to become interested in other areas. I didn't like the idea of the cloud for categories at first, but now I do because it's a great visual tool to determine what someone's focus (including mine) is. Also, four years ago you couldn't put a Google search button on your blog to search only the contents of your blog. That's a far more useful tool than categories (not that they're the same thing). I should completely redo my categories but with over 1,300 posts to comb through I won't be doing that anytime soon.

Finally, people like to see what's going on in the comments. It facilitates discussion when the most recent comments are right there on the home page and all you have to do is click on them to chime in. Subscription to comments for individual posts is a great feature, as well.

Lesson #14

Be careful what you promise.

I never said I was going to blog daily–I just did it. And the first time I missed a day I actually got e-mails asking if I was okay. I set up an expectation with my behavior, therefore I shouldn't have been surprised that there was an expectation that I'd post every day.

"Daily Blog" has a nice ring to it, and I missed my opportunity to use it. If you can do it, that's great. If not, there's nothing wrong with that. People are comforted by knowing what to expect, though, and if you commit to a certain frequency in advance it helps you with accountability and it helps readers with their expectations.

Lesson #15

It's okay to change your mind.

When I started blogging, I thought that if more people sought out free-range, grass-fed "beef," more animals would be saved/fewer would be created. That original thought was a true statement, as free-range, grass-fed beef requires so much expense and land and water that not as many animals can be sustained as in an intensive farming situation. However, it wasn't honest of me to promote such products because my goal, after all, is for us to not use animals. So, unlike the case of Jonathan Safran Foer, who does not object to the eating of animals "in general," it was disingenuous of me to promote an animal product.

I changed my mind about my approach back then. I think this is why I understand the thinking of people who don't want us to use animals but who promote changing the way we use them to decrease their numbers or their suffering. I understand the impulse to do "something" that alters the number of animals created to be used and killed and the suffering of the ones created. I understand where that compromise comes from in one's thinking because it used to drive my thinking.

And I still wrestle with opportunities to decrease suffering. Why not decrease it if you actually can (after all of the fine print)? The question of course is, are you really significantly decreasing suffering? (And this is why I write about justice instead.)

The same goes with tactics. I'm not going to change my tactics. It's just not in me. But I did change the tactics I'd support. It feels wonderful and heavenly to say that only complete nonviolence will ever change the world in a positive way, but I just don't see that happening. And I don't think that characterizes the past, either. I see the need for a range of tactics, as in other movements.

Lesson #16

This one goes for Facebook, Twitter, and e-mails, as well: Don't write anything you don't want your mother, your child, your employer or a prospective client to see. Because they might. And you might be very, very sorry.

I've noticed a difference in perception in various generations regarding this one. People in their 20s have grown up with technology that I didn't grow up with. Yes, I typed my term papers on a typewriter. There was no Internet. There was no e-mail. In fact, there wasn't even call waiting. If you were on the phone and someone else called, they got a busy signal and you had no idea they were trying to reach you. There was no texting or sexting and privacy was a lot more, well, private.

I don't know what will become of our social mores. I don't know if what's shocking and inappropriate today will be looked upon the same way in five years. But I do know that that's not a risk I'm going to take. If I choose to make a fool of myself over anything I'm no longer going to do that on my blog. I spent years drawing attention to myself and my beliefs, and making sure everyone knew that I was different. And in retrospect, all that did was present me as someone who appeared to have a need to be different or special, and a need for everyone to know what I believed in, whether or not they even cared.

Lesson #17

Treat your blog like a business.

Big fail here for Animal Person. I didn't do the right thing for Animal Person. If I thought I had good ideas that should be read I should have done something (anything) to increase exposure to them. But I didn't. I should have developed a business plan for the blog, with a mission and goals. That's how you build a following and spread your ideas and your writing. Every blogger's goal is to have their blog read, right? Even if your blog is a diary you want people to read it. Otherwise you'd create a word document on your computer and enter your posts in that instead of on a platform designed for anyone in the world who has access to the Internet to see. So take it as seriously as you take your ideas and your writing. Get specific with yourself about what you want to accomplish with blogging. Respect your blog.

Lesson #18

Respect the blogs of others.

I'll enlist The Golden Rule here. If you're a blogger you know that it takes time, energy and thought to create and maintain a blog. Treat other people's blogs the way you want yours to be treated.

Lesson #19

There's a chasm between understanding and altering behavior.

When I walk the average person through my argument for justice for sentient nonhumans, one of three things happens:

1) They agree with me but don't change their behavior.

2) They agree with me and change their behavior.

3) They disagree with me, not about sentience, but about some god putting animals here for us, or some other reason why we can kill animals even though they're sentient. Essentially, they don't care and don't see a need for justice. Most, if not all, will say things like: "I mean, I don't want them to suffer or be abused, but . . . " This leads to another round where I reiterate that there's no way to kill someone without causing suffering or abuse (or injustice). And so it goes . . .

The issue here is that a well-crafted argument does not equal change. (See "On Measuring Success" for more on that). And this leads me to the r
elated . . .

Lesson #20

We still don't know what will make a critical mass of people go vegan.

Obviously (I think), education is the key. But other than multi-pronged, multi-media, persistence, I have no idea what will be necessary to make most people go vegan. Yes, I see on Twitter that someone read Eating Animals and went vegan that day. But I don't think that's the norm. All we know for sure, just from speaking with other vegans, is that there are as many stories as there are individuals. And because of that we should throw everything out there that we can in the service of justice for sentient nonhumans. Films, blogs, books, e-zines, sanctuaries, protests, promotion of adoption (of humans and nonhumans!). And of course, examples of people from all walks of life who have chosen justice over their palate or their fashion sense.

These four years have been sobering for me and I think that deciding to be a parent has compounded my reserve. A couple of years ago a commenter told me that if I couldn't take the heat, I should get out of the kitchen. At the time that may have been rude, but there's something else to consider: I created that kitchen. I created an atmosphere of animosity and insolence. So it shouldn't have surprised me when the people who entered that kitchen behaved in a like manner.

If I continue blogging, I'd like to renovate the kitchen. Actually, I'd like to recreate the environment that once existed, where all kinds of people stopped by and felt welcome and we all learned from each other and supported each other. Part of what was going on at that time was we were simply trying to all figure out how to get the average person–particularly as represented by the mainstream media–to wake up from the slumber of injustice our culture breeds.

If anyone figures that out, let me know.


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. vida #

    While pod casts are a delight to listen to I for one am really happy with words on a page. Your words are interesting and enlightening and I have enjoyed reading your blog. I hope you continue but the harsh feelings that arise in any/all vegan/animal rights, what have you comments must be hellish. I admit to mostly skipping through them, my blood pressure can only take so much. But how to reach people? I sure wish I knew, my grandfather taught by slow and patient example that non human animals are worthy of love and respect and not 'what's for dinner'. That they have thier own lives. We need nonspecieist to board in every home with kids? honestly, I just don't know.

    May 26, 2010
  2. Stewart #

    A quick thought first, I wouldn't frame the lessons you've learned in success/failure, but improvements/considerations.

    Now, as for how to reach people, there exists a myriad of different personalities/experiences/contexts with every individual, as a consequence of this, the methods to reach them most effectively in particular must be specialized. This makes outreach difficult because its hard or impossible to always know or have on hand the particulars needed to reach each particular individual. As such, currently, a generalized formula which has a "hit" rate of 2-3% is regarded as exceptionally effective.

    In a sense, I think we need to abandon the concept that there is a particular "holy grail" approach that is super effective for people in general, but recognize instead that there is a myriad of different "holy grails" that is effective for different groups of people specifically. In other words, we need to learn how to better "niche market" our messages and our outreach. On a personal level, we also need to learn how to better reach an individual directly based on an understanding of that individual's personality type and background. I think we activists tend to try to make or want to have one key work for every door, but it's just not going to happen.

    June 9, 2010
  3. Thank you so much for this excellent series. You've provided a lot of food for thought and useful advice. I started blogging about two years ago primarily to figure out how I feel and where I stand. That process is still ongoing and even though frustration with the vegan movement itself tends to be the focus of some of my posts, I hope to keep learning and keep discovering both the questions and answers that resonate for me. Thanks again.

    July 21, 2010

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