Friday, 10 August, 2018
Activist James Aspey has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to veganism and animal rights – from undergoing a year of silence to taking his inspiring speeches all over the world
On 1 January 2014 I went vegan.
Prior to that, I had gone vegetarian as an experiment. I was surprised at how great I felt, and soon discovered we can be far healthier and are likely to live longer lives without eating animal products. That led me to the question, “If we don’t need to kill and eat animals for our health, why do we do it?” When I couldn’t find a better reason than taste, I knew I could never go back to contributing to such unnecessary violence against innocent beings. When I learned there is at least as much cruelty in dairy, eggs and other animal products, I knew being vegetarian wasn’t enough and I needed to be vegan.
The most profound change I experienced was the way I viewed animals. I never cared about or even liked animals growing up. I always thought that they weren’t mentally capable to care about their own lives, so why should I? Since going vegan, my view on this has completely changed. I now look at an animal and see a person, a non-human person, who has their own life, desires, thoughts and feelings, just like I do. It has enriched my view of life on this world.
I also feel much healthier, and have more energy than I did before. I have perfect blood test results, and haven’t even had as much as a sore throat in four years. I feel better every day knowing I am walking a far more peaceful path than the one I was on before. Making a difference
But I wanted to do more than just change my own life – I wanted to raise awareness of animal rights and lead others towards their own vegan journeys. I decided to take a vow of silence for a year to raise awareness for animals and promote peace over violence. I thought it would be a great way to draw attention from a crowd that doesn’t necessarily care about animals.
My first words were spoken on live TV to a huge audience – it was a great way to get exposure for the vegan movement and to start people thinking about the choices they make. I learned a lot during that year, firstly that animals aren’t actually voiceless. They scream and cry, but most people don’t listen. We live in a world that has conditioned us to only care about a few species, while ignoring, or even worse, justifying and contributing to the suffering of others.
I was the worst public speaker ever while at high school. After school I was a personal trainer for several years, and in that time started training groups. This is when I started “public speaking”, although I didn’t realise that’s what I was doing at the time. I worked on cruise ships and the bulk of my work there was giving lectures on health and fitness.
Once I completed my vow of silence, people started inviting me to do speeches. I didn’t know what I would say, but didn’t want to miss the opportunity so I accepted, and went there unprepared. I told my story and what happened during my vow of silence.
Once I had two dairy farmers in the audience at one of my talks. The Q&A got heated. By the end of it they were understanding of my position, shook my hands and one said, “Thank you for opening our eyes to this.” That was when I realised that the best way to spread this message is with patience, respect and compassion while also being firm and clear about what it is we believe and what the animals actually deserve.
After my first talk, so many people told me they were inspired to go vegan. This surprised me but I was happy to learn I had a speech that got the job done. Since then it has been refined countless times and is now very effective in inspiring non-vegans to go vegan. I’ve given over 250 free speeches all around the world. The largest was to 25,000 people in Israel.
Tips for activists
For people who are interested in getting into public speaking, my advice would be to start stepping out of your comfort zone until the places you were once uncomfortable, become comfortable. Then take another step. And repeat.
There’s no need to lack confidence when it comes to this topic. Simply explaining your reasons and the connections you made is a powerful way to help the animals, because it guides other people to make the same logical conclusions.
If you speak about it from your point of view without being pushy or making it about anyone else, you’re far less likely to receive a defensive response because they’ll be far less likely to feel attacked. Speak up for the animals the way you’d want to be spoken for if it was you in their situation, and focus on the fact that every seed you plant is meaningful.
It’s important to know that activism is still activism even when it’s not in front of a crowd. We can make a difference just through speaking to the people in our lives. But remember it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it and also the person you are at the time you say it. Learn the basic answers to the most common questions and objections that people have, and then learn how to deliver those answers in a peaceful, humble and informative way. Simply speak your truth, and aim to have conversations, not arguments.
Remember, the people aren’t our enemies. It is the conditioning and unjust societal beliefs that are the enemy. Most people are victims of that conditioning, just like we were. I like to remember this wonderful quote by Martin Luther King – love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
All images by Simon Holding.