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Conditioning by Doreen Craddock, Vegan Views 25 (Autumn 1981)

A girl at work came back from the washroom. "It's disgusting the way they smoke out there," she said and followed up with, "after all you wouldn't eat a sandwich out there would you?". I agreed with her, you wouldn't. And her remark set me thinking of my own smoking days, and how I would take a cigarette with me into the washroom, resting it on the edge of the basin while I combed my hair, and I accepted at that time that it was the ALL RIGHT thing to do.

The mind soon accepts what it considers to be normal behaviour and, in my long ago smoking days it was quite normal for me to let smoke drift over everyone, and to rest my smouldering cigarette on the edge of furniture or drop ash on floors. Now I can stand back and look at myself as I was then with some distaste. But even worse than taking to smoking cigarettes in our teens (which is, after all, a choice we make freely) is the conditioning from an early age to accept as normal the behaviour pattern of our family/social group/caste system as right, correct, not to be questioned; in fact the only way to live and behave.

So deep and profound is this conditioning (and I don't mean just to US, but to all of humankind) that we grow up not to question things. Our mind accepts our particular lifestyle as RIGHT (and if ever a little flicker of uneasiness dawns at the back of our mind then we quickly extinguish it). Woe betide any individuals who aim to change their approach to living for they must be dealt with severely by their fellows, for they are a threat to the complacency and self-indulgence of others.

But let us step outside ourselves and look: we see people encouraged to kill in wartime and punished for doing so in peace; we see people going to church to pray and then returning home to roast and eat the bodies of God's lesser creatures; we see thoughtlessness and cruelties abounding, and when we try to opt out because we can stand it no longer we meet such strong opposition from our families we are completely stunned. The stronger of us carry on regardless and the weaker of us falter - but never for long, because once the seeds have been sown they push forth into growth and nothing can stop them. Once we SEE, really SEE, there is no going back and all the doubts disappear to be replaced by a certainty that is rocklike. Our sense of values alter and our entire lifestyle alters forever.

Although not many do break free from the conditioning imposed by society since infancy WE can, we have so much knowledge and we owe it to ourselves to throw off all false values and go forward in truth. It IS hard and it needs discipline, and it can be lonely (what am I talking about saying it CAN be? - it IS lonely, terribly so at times) but ask yourself if it is worth it and time and time again the answer comes back as yes.

Articles in magazines try to fool the reader by stating that we can be vegetarian, vegan, a born-again Christian, a Buddhist, an animal activist, without it making any difference to the basic pattern of our life. Of course we alter, everything alters, and we must accept that perhaps we have outgrown previous acquaintances - and that being so we must let them go without any apologies or regrets to them or to ourselves.

Recently I heard a very old man saying that things are not like they were in his days and a vegan answered him with a heartfelt, "Thank God for that". To that I can only add Amen.

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Cross-reference: Meat Eaters - Coping with them