Let Them Engage

Let Them Engage

I have learned that it is difficult to help people or inform people that do not want to be helped or informed. I have friends for whom I care deeply and as much as I try to help them, they will never accept it unless they are in the right position. You can't force someone to take your help. As pure as your intentions, being forceful with education, advice, or even money is still intrusive and ignores the lack of consent from the other person.

If you care about people and you want to help others, the easiest people to help are those that are already looking for it. The challenge is finding the people that are ready for your assistance. In your friend group, maybe no one is ready, but if you search on a larger scale, there are a lot of people that are in a position to accept assistance – just look towards charity organizations for example. You could say that the job of charity organizations is to connect those looking for help with those that are looking to give it.

We can also apply this philosophy – focusing on helping those that are ready – to activism. This, in my opinion, is the brilliance of Anonymous for the Voiceless, an activist group for Animal Rights. They do not hand out leaflets on the street to passerby, damage private property, or get angry with contrarian individuals.

The primary focus of Anonymous for the Voiceless is what they call the Cube of Truth.

(credit: Anonymous for the Voiceless - San Francisco)

Activists gather in a public area, mounting TVs on their body or holding laptops in their hands, and stand in a cube – screens facing outward. On these screens play imagery of animal cruelty that is happening in factory farms, as a result of consumer demand for animal products.

On the outskirts of the Cube of Truth are other activists, patiently waiting for someone to stop and watch, so that one of us in the activist group can engage with them. In this sense, none of the activists are engaging with someone who did not engage first – by stopping and watching. This is what I mean by the title of this article: "Let them engage".

Using this tactic is like applying a filter to the public. The people that stop are much more likely to be interested in having a conversation and to seriously consider going vegan themselves. With just eight people, four in the cube and four standing around, we can have over one hundred conversations in three hours and feel confident with about half of them that they will go home and seriously consider taking a step towards a vegan lifestyle – and this is all we want.

There are other factors that contribute to the success of Anonymous for the Voiceless, such as their strong branding and professional behavior, but I think the most important idea is that they let the public engage first. Closely related is their usage of the Socratic method. By spending much of the conversation asking questions, it encourages people to stay longer and to not be in a defensive mindset, which allows for truly genuine conversation between activists and strangers on the street.

These two things combined – the "engagement filter" and the Socratic method – allow for the most effective form of activism I have ever seen. Activists at the Cube of Truth are able to talk to people who are already receptive and have a genuine conversation with them. There is no anger or intrusion – just people willing to hold a screen for the public to see.

To sum this up, I will end with my own experiences. I only learned of Anonymous for the Voiceless about a month ago and it was the first time I ever truly became interested in becoming an activist. I did not have to yell at people, damage property, or risk being arrested. I only had to be willing to hold a screen or have a genuine conversation about all the facets of veganism.

I went to my first Cube of Truth, just as a witness, but the activists I found there were so kind and accepting that I quickly became interested in participating myself. After listening in to a few conversations, I found myself genuinely enjoying it. It came as a shock to me, actually, that I could enjoy activism. I thought it would be a joyless activity, done out of pure selflessness – but that is not necessarily what I found. Having genuine conversation about such an important topic is actually incredibly rewarding. Since then, I have gone to two more Cube of Truth events, becoming more engaged every time.

I attribute all of my positive experience to the slightly unusual – but very welcome – activist tactics by Anonymous for the Voiceless. Thank you for enabling genuine conversation and not giving into the idea that activism has to be angry*.

If you want to talk to me about veganism, activism, or anything else: send me an email at nick@nickpierson.name or talk to me on Twitter at @NickOnTheWeb.


* I understand anger has its place, but it is not for me, and I much prefer to focus on this extremely effective idea of engaging with people who are willing to participate.