Self-care tools for people who advocate for the more-than-human world.
Being part of an interconnected, interdependent Earth family brings endless challenges, doesn’t it? So many "-isms" get in our way of compassionate connection: Racism, classism, genderism, ableism, speciesism … and the list goes on.
Consequently, many of us have become wary about this reality. How do we tend to our broken hearts? How do we avoid burnout? What is the right balance between taking care of others and taking care of ourselves?
[Read: “Compassion Fatigue.”]
As an animal chaplain, a lot of my activism centers around exploited or endangered species—which often comes with the hazard of being exposed to a lot of graphic imagery. While research has shown that shocking imagery can change attitudes about animals and increase human empathy, it can also activate trauma, leading to overwhelm, burnout, and stress. Especially if the imagery is not balanced with pictures of hope.
Hope also appears in the form of like-minded others. For example, I’m endlessly grateful for In Defense of Animals, which provides an overflowing toolbox for animal advocates. I recently sat down with Lisa Levinson from the organization In Defense of Animals to learn more.
Sarah Bowen: In Defense of Animals’ mission is “to fight for animals, people, and the environment.” Why is it important to connect all three?
Lisa Levinson: All animals are a part of the environment—including us humans! And we all depend on an environment that is in balance to survive.
When human development reduces prime habitat for wild animals, they lose access to survival resources like food, water, and shelter. Without these, animals may forage or hunt closer to human communities, increasing human-animal conflicts. For example, coyotes may hunt in suburban neighborhoods, and geese may nest in office buildings or public parks.
Until our society embraces the importance of coexistence with our animal neighbors, conflicts will continue to result in animal suffering, such as coyote killing contests and lethal goose roundups.
Combining animals, people, and the environment is important because we are all interconnected. In Defense of Animals selects actions based on our current campaigns, sent out in a weekly newsletter and available on our website. We also join coalition efforts with other animal protection and environmental organizations.
If someone is new to animal advocacy, how do you recommend they get started?
Signing petitions can be an incredibly convenient and effective way to exercise our right to express our concerns and take action for animals.
While signing a traditional petition letter can be very effective, In Defense of Animals alerts go a lot further than that. We provide a platform that sends personalized letters to a variety of people. We also offer suggested messages you can use to make phone calls or post on social media.
We see a great deal of success with alerts to lawmakers, especially when those who take part are constituents of the legislators. Petitions with large numbers of signers often also catch the attention of the media.
If every Spirituality & Health reader signed just one action alert, we could make a huge difference for animals.
What would you say to someone uncomfortable sharing their information online?
In Defense of Animals takes the privacy of our petition signers seriously. Sensitive signer information is confidential, and only the necessary details are shared with petition targets who receive the letters, such as legislators.
Animal activism can be a harrowing and heartbreaking endeavor. What helps you continue to fight the fight each day?
Animal advocacy is both heart-wrenching and rewarding. Every action makes a difference, whether it’s purchasing a cruelty-free product, contacting your legislator, signing a petition, or donating toward a cause.
Taking action to help animals can relieve anxiety about their suffering. And once we take action, we have contributed toward the resolution of a conflict or toward healing.
On a spiritual level, our soul has helped tip the balance of the Universe toward compassion for all beings. This feeling of alignment and solidarity can provide an antidote to frustration and helplessness.
How can we help sustain our activism in the face of burnout?
While helping animals is key, we must also take care of our own wellbeing. Practicing self-care and connecting with like-minded people for support really helps. Personally, I spend time in nature which refreshes my spirit and reconnects me to my purpose.
In Defense of Animals offers emotional and spiritual support via our Sustainable Activism Campaign, including online support groups, video tips, free webinars, retreats, and a 24-hour support line. We also provide a list of resources to help prevent and heal activist burnout and compassion fatigue.
What would you suggest to our readers who have become aware of animals in danger near them?
How do you view the relationship between spirituality and animal activism?
For me, spirituality and animal activism are deeply intertwined. The root of this connection is compassion for all beings.
I started Vegan Spirituality to explore veganism as a spiritual practice. We gather online and in person to co-create a spiritual community based on vegan values. If compassion for all living beings is fundamental to your spiritual beliefs, join our Vegan Spirituality community to help nurture your spiritual self.
Want more spiritual practices for dealing with challenging situations? Check out Sarah’s WTF Prayer Ritual.