Belief Without Compassion

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Something interesting went down yesterday…

A major revelation by a public figure, Alex Jamieson, followed by a heated, sometimes respectful, other times vicious conversation. And it all went down through a combination of this week’s Good Life Project episode and my guest’s blog.

Alex burst onto the public consciousness in 2004 as the co-creator and co-star in the Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me. The movie tracked what happened to her then boyfriend, Morgan Spurlock, after eating only McDonald’s for 30 straight days and super-sizing his order every time he was asked to.

At the time, Alex was a vegan chef and educator, which made watching Morgan’s spiral into health hell all the more difficult for her to watch. Once the experiment wrapped, she nursed him back to health with a vegan diet. She, in fact, had turned to veganism a number of years earlier as a way to heal her own medical problems.

With her new-found notoriety, Alex became a strong voice in the movement to live and eat more consciously and, because it had worked for her, that included being vegan. She’s also always been incredibly open to other points of view and compassionate and accepting of those who choose different approaches to life and nutrition. This willingness to take people as they are allowed Alex to resonate with and help a lot of people. To meet then where they were.

But, for the last few years, she’d also been harboring a secret…

She was no longer vegan. Her body, she increasingly felt, was better served with a more mixed approach that included animal protein. She began eating meat again, always trying to do it in the most humane way possible. And her body and health responded well.

Problem was, she’d built her reputation and business around not just healthy living, but the vegan lifestyle. So, she knew “going public” with her evolution would cause not only personal upset among the vegan community, but also have a potential and real impact on the way she earned her living. And as a working mom, that’s a scary thought.

So, she stayed quiet, until yesterday…

She’d finally reached a point where she felt she needed to step into her evolved reality and own it, no matter what the consequence.

Yesterday morning, I featured her in this week’s episode of Good Life Project. We discussed her decision, along with a lot of other topics, in-depth. At the same time, Alex published a long post explaining why she was changing her approach. And she asked and hoped for compassion and understanding.

You can watch this episode below. Or if it’s easier, just subscribe over at Good Life Project and you’ll get instant access to the mp3 vault where can download and listen instead.

What happened after that was pretty stunning. The comment section on Alex’s blog exploded.

It was, in many ways, representative of the intense polarity that comes from unwavering belief in an ideology. It reminded me of the climate in Washington these days. Save one big difference. In the end, the voice of compassion seemed to vastly outweigh the voice of judgment.

On one side stood those steeped in vegan orthodoxy, fueled not just by the quest for health, but humane, compassionate treatment of animals. Noble to the core, 100% committed to the cause. To them, there was only black or white. Compassion to people or, depending on the research you follow, nutritional science, played a back seat to the rights of animals.

On the other side were those who believed in the vegan lifestyle for themselves, but also exalted the good Alex has brought into the world and were willing to extend compassion to her and openness to her choice to do what felt right for her, even if they’d have made a different choice. And, then there were those who’d made the same choice as Alex, but had been hiding the closet for years out of fear of being shunned.

This post is not about veganism or the ethics of eating meat though. I take no position there. It’s about something much bigger. Something that affects every person, every day in every way.

It’s about how people driven by deeply-rooted beliefs behave toward others who are either non-believers or, worse, who’ve walked away from the faith.

I am troubled by the potential pain caused by action fueled by belief without compassion.

Belief in ideas, causes, movements and ideologies can be empowering. It can connect you with a likeminded community. I can pull you out of darkness and give you direction. Rules to live by, tools and support to better handle the uncertainty of life.

But without compassion, especially for those outside the sphere of belief, there is no understanding. No ability to see or honor humanity within the context of conversation. There is no opportunity for connection with good people who see the world differently. There is no window for learning, for insight, for wisdom or evolution. There is no place for respect, openness, tolerance or love. There is only martial law. Obey or be shunned. Judged. Outcast. Jailed. Or worse.

It’s that way in nearly every form of intense belief. The entry levels begin with a blend of belief and compassion. Because it’s easier to come to a set of beliefs and move into a community when there’s an openness to where you’re coming from. But the deeper down the orthodoxy hole you go, not infrequently, compassion cedes to absolute application of rule of law. Black or white. In or out. And if you’re out, you’re not just out, your not human any more. Not a brother or sister.

That scares me. Saddens me. Because, fundamentally, it tears apart a world that needs so much coming together. It fragments and silos people into tribes, driven by intolerance and disconnection beyond the bounds of the tribe. It depreciates and isolates the human condition at a time when our ability to connect with, honor and treasure others is our greatest tool for evolution, progress and peace.

Believe what you will. But lean into your beliefs through the lens of compassion. You don’t have to agree with non-believers, but when you dismiss their humanity, you destroy your own.

As always, I’m just thinking out loud here. Open to others’ points of view. Willing to stand in your shoes.

So, what say you on this topic?

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63 responses

63 responses to “Belief Without Compassion”

  1. This is a really important topic to be aware about and to think about. Having strong beliefs means that you can live a comparatively doubt free life. The stronger your belief the lesser doubts you’ll have and lesser indecision you’ll face. I know this because I’ve been on the extreme edge where I had absolutely no beliefs and so I didn’t act at all. I had doubts about everything and I let things happen to me. Having beliefs makes life easier.

    And that’s why beliefs are very dear to people. That’s why when someone comes along and says something against their beliefs they are filled with rage and hate. Normally compassionate people also lose compassion when someone who held the same beliefs as them, changes his beliefs.

    It’s really hard to be open to other’s beliefs. Your beliefs are your reality and by definition you believe that it’s the “true” reality. Those who don’t have the same beliefs as you are ignorant or fools or satanists! Some people believe that everyone creates his own reality and that there are many realities. For them it’s easier to be open to others’ beliefs.

    But for the rest it seems impossible to be compassionate towards those who betray their beliefs.

    Now here’s what I believe. I believe that no one can ever know everything. No one’s beliefs can be perfect or completely “true”. So you have to leave room to grow as a person and transform your beliefs as you grow. If you don’t do that you become a dogmatic orthodox fanatic. Everyone should keep growing all their lives, never accepting that they finally know the absolute truth. And when you have such a belief in the dynamic nature of truth, you find it easier to listen to others’ point of view and make your own judgments about it. I think it’s about having flexible beliefs. Those that can evolve and grow along with you.

    But again this is just my belief. I wrote a blog post on a related topic called Ideological Warfare. http://eddyfy.net/2013/02/27/ideological-warfare/

    • Jonathan, thank you for this! These thoughts have been swirling around in my head the past few days as I’ve watched good people attack each other on Facebook about beliefs and lifestyle choices. People get so, so stuck. I couldn’t identify the X-factor that keeps a person from getting stuck. But you’re right, it’s compassion.

      Thanks for your good work!

  2. Brad says:

    You really hit the nail on the head with your post today. This is a major problem in the US and will force a civil war brought on by politicians and the media. Intolerance runs throughout our nation from politics to sports teams.

    • Gloria says:

      What are Your beliefs? Where do they come from? Do you really know why You ‘think’ the way you do? Most of us don’t really know…it is by default that we believe much of what we believe.

      The most powerful thing you may ever read:
      Your beliefs are Creating THIS Reality!

      You are the Consciousness that is creating the reality you see…And your Consciousness ONLY creates THIS reality because it is currently the program you are running.

      Think: television programming, education system, patriotism…Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving.…graduate, get job, get promoted, have good health insurance, succeed, get married, buy house, have children….

      All programs to reinforce the Main Program – The Construct.

      Think of the Reality your Consciousness could Create if you reject just one of those programs and you do something crazy like skip Christmas and go to a “third world” country to helps others, or just meditate, or do nothing special. Or, if you just celebrate LOVE for Christmas, instead of buying stuff – imagine the shift to the World Consciousness. Or, you quit your successful job as a Wall Street banker to have a simpler life.

      You interrupt the programs, the foundation that holds the Construct together….you begin to hack the system.

      You have to hack the system to create with your Consciousness WHAT you really desire…To See. xo

  3. Diana says:

    Beautifully, perfectly said….

    Belief without compassion leads to the worst in human behavior. (Think: Religious Fanaticism.)

    Thanks for writing this post and sharing your thoughts.

  4. Martina says:

    Good post, Jonathan. It is very troubling that our society has become and continues to become so ploarized in out ideologies, that we cannot remember to love people and treat them respectfully.

    Somewhere along the line we have confused disagreement with a license to disrespect other human beings. It sounds as though she made a bold stand, and unlike so many in the public light was not afraid to say, “I was wrong,” or “This is what I think now.” This is an action that should be valued and supported.

    Fame, hopefully does not mean that you stop thinking. Notoreity should not lock anyone into any specific box.

    Hopefully, we all (the famous and the not-so-famous) continue to grow, mature, and yes, maybe even think differently about some things we may have held sacred in the past.

  5. Great post, Jonathan.

    I took a bite of chicken for the first time in 15 yrs when I became pregnant with my second child. I had been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for years, but my body had changed, I’d developed allergies to some of the sources of protein I’d relied on in the past, and I had to make a change. I felt like a hypocrite, after yrs of sharing why it was “the way” to go to others.

    The experience opened my mind to how and why people often shift from one frame of mind to another — and that it IS ok to change, and ISN’T ok to judge the person who has changed.

    There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind or pushing forward your opinions. The problems come when those opinions join forces with hate and intolerance.

  6. Thank you Jonathan for one of the best posts you have ever written. Regardless of whether we want to acknowledge or believe that we are all connected, that every human on the planet is part of a larger whole, we need to start operating from a place of love vs fear.

    Operating from a place of love, compassion and understanding is the antidote to not only societal ills, but also personal disease and affliction. Those who lack compassion do their own body, mind and spirit a disservice. They create an internal environment of fear and anger which in turn sets the stage for pain and disease.

    Your wisdom and insights are the remedy for a world full of disease and dysfunction. Thank you for sharing your beliefs.

  7. Milo says:

    As someone who hasn’t eaten meat from a young age but continues to eat fish, I can relate to Alex’s situation. I often find I have to explain myself to both committed carnivores and veggies/vegans. So I’m relieved when people are compassionate about what could appear to be a hypocritical choice.

    I greatly admire people who choose to be vegan or vegetarian and treat animals with compassion as well as fellow humans. In the end though, we all have the individual right to decide how we live!

  8. Michael Max says:

    Compassion in the face of change. Now that sounds like true nourishment.

  9. Inis says:

    The mentally that either you believe as I do or you’re a heinous person is so destructive for politics, society and individuals.

    When you find yourself in that mindset – and we all do it, consider for a moment that you could be *gasp* wrong, or that you and the other person are both right, or that there is no right or wrong just shades of opinion.

    My Grams grew up Amish in Pennsylvania Dutch country. During her adolescent Rumspringa, she decided she wanted to try modern life. Some Amish communities allow visits with ex-family members and allow members to come back if electricity wasn’t all they expected. Her community did not.

    When she left, she had to leave her entire family behind — forever. She struggled with the feeling of not-belonging to either world her entire life. And she missed a few close siblings.

    Like a lot of folks, I have strong opinions. My Gram’s personal pain of either/or philosophies reminds me to be kind and do my best to state my opinions without pushing away the other side.

    Our problems are big. Adult discussions that include respect and openminded compromise is what we need, not the my-way-or-the-highway screaming matches we’ve seen for the past 5-6 years.

    Looks like the U.S. political divide will hit close to home. My husband and I are both about to be furloughed due to sequestration. On the bright side, I’ll have time to write 😉

  10. […] But without compassion, especially for those outside the sphere of belief, there is no understanding. No ability to see or honor humanity within the context of conversation. There is no opportunity for connection with good people who see the world differently. There is no window for learning, for insight, for wisdom or evolution. There is no place for respect, openness, tolerance or love. There is only martial law. Obey or be shunned. Judged. Outcast. Jailed. Or worse.- Jonathan Fields Belief Without Compassion […]

  11. Pascals says:

    Although I have been a vegetarian for most of my 46 years, I stopped calling myself one a decade ago. I just could not abide the orthodoxy and divisiveness so present in that community. It saddens me as well, Jonathan and I appreciate you bringing it out into the open.

    Everyone believes their dogma is the right one, but that attitude taken to its extreme creates the problems in the world we now face.

    When someone inquires about my eating habits, I merely say that I eat what I want to eat and you should too. Same can apply to any other personal choice. Why do we continue to create such suffering in the name of morality?

    • Cara Brown says:

      I love that you don’t label yourself. It occurs to me that what we eat is so deeply personal, even intimate. And yet our culture has such permission to impose beliefs about it with incredible license. This carries over into weight and health-related eating. Overweight, underweight – there is an enormous lack of compassion.

      I am so inspired by this discussion. It’s the gift in the pain that inspired it.

  12. Andrea says:

    Thank you, Jonathan. I need to hear exactly this today.

  13. Viki says:

    I say… I love it when you think out loud. Well thought and spoken. Truth with a capital T! I will overlook the minor errors in your blog because I loved what you had to say. LOL! 🙂

  14. Liza says:

    Jonathan…there you go again, reading my mind! I’ve been inspired to think about this very thing recently. Especially when it comes to “communities” building around the same ideology. Or what I’ve heard called a “Bliss Bubble”. It sure can feel good, yet without diversity, we don’t evolve, and it’s not nearly as FUN : ) Thank You for your awesome post!

  15. Jenean says:

    From an evolutionary point of view, I find the response to her decision fascinating.

    For humans to evolve there must be a spark, someone who pushes us to choose a better path.

    Alex is the light to spark the conversation within her community..to get the fire started if you will.

    If only love responses were received, it may have reached a few hundred or thousand people and then fizzled out.

    With the addition of an accelerator, such as the very negative comments left by a small few, this has sparked the flame to burn bigger and brighter.

    Now with emotion tied to it, this will go farther then ever imagined. People will share with those who may have never heard otherwise and people will begin to put compassion in their daily awareness again.

    While it is disheartening that Alex will have to find a way to deflect the negativity directed towards her, she must be applauded for not only standing in her truth and treating herself with love and trust, but for choosing to be the soul that sparks a compassion revolution that will have beautiful consequences for years to come.

    Thank you Alex for possessing the Moxie!

    And thank you Jonathan for being the wind that fans the flames!

    Much love,

    Jenean

  16. Brandi J. Waits says:

    This is a great episode! I am a recovering vegetarian. I enjoyed this lifestyle for five solid years. It was one of the easiest things for me to transition to (i.e. meat eater to non-meat eater). It worked for me for many years. A year ago, after a 20 mile training run – I was driving down the highway and had the thought – I want a burger! I had not craved a burger in years. I had always vowed that I would live the VEG lifestyle until it no longer worked for me. I withheld my temptation for one week. Finally, I caved in and enjoyed a burger. Since then, I have allowed myself to eat meat/turkey/chicken when I am craving it. The truth is – on most days – I continue to enjoy a vegetarian diet – By removing the RULE that I cannot have meat – I realize that I normally gravitate to fruits and veggies. I feel as though my diet is more balanced and I feel healthier. I love the line in this episode – Be Open To Experiment. Your body does (in fact) know what it needs. Food doesn’t have to be our enemy. It can be our friend!

    I have also come to believe that life is truly about finding BALANCE IN ALL THINGS! As Aristotle so eloquently stated – Aristotle thought that the practice of virtues would equate to happiness, in the sense of being all you could be. By virtues, Aristotle meant the act of achieving balance and moderation.

  17. Paul says:

    Jonathon,

    This is a symptom of something that started with “political correctness” and I believe, like Brad says above, will end in a civil (can war be civil?) war. This is why we have a situation where is it OK to incarcerate or execute US citizens with out due process and abort millions of babies, but deprive citizens of their property rights to protect a fish or bird.

    Regardless of your political leanings, read “Amertopia” by Mark Levin, it is a very good history lesson about how we have gotten to the tyranny of the masses and where our government is going.

    Remember that government was the largest mass murderers in the 20th Century: http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM

  18. Sharron says:

    Thank you for writing this post. I wonder if fundamentalisms are a response to anxiety and fragmentation, when what we really need, as you articulated so well in your post, are compassion. For me, this means softening, stepping into someone else’s shoes, and celebrating our flawed interconnection rather than seeking for an impossible ideal of perfection.

  19. Sharron says:

    Oops, I meant *is* compassion.

  20. Sayward says:

    Jonathan, your writing is brilliant and inspired. I totally agree with what you’ve said, and would add a couple more points:

    Our bodies are not always the same, and require different foods at different times – in summer when we’re young we may eat differently than in summers when we’re middle-aged, and older. When we’re REALLY old we may eat totally differently altogether. As with the rest of the seasons.

    Also, where we are makes a big difference. If I’m in South America I eat differently than I do when I’m in North America.

    Also, what type of exercise we’re getting changes how we eat: if I’m doing a ton of hiking with backpack in high country, I eat quite differently than when I’m spending my days in front of a computer.

    Everything in life is always in a state of change, of flux, according to the external and internal environments dancing with each other. The body requires different sources of nutrients all throughout its existence, and some of them come from animal meats. I am an ardent animal adorer of every kind, and revere them as co-spirits on this planet. But on the occasions that my body calls for meat, which isn’t too often but does happen, I eat meat. I bless it, send thanks to the animal spirit, and eat it without guilt. Someday the worms shall munch on me 🙂 And I hope I feel them well.

  21. Brilliant Jonathan – And so wise. Reminds me why the War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on Cancer and every other “War on..” is never won. We need to make peace with it before we can move forward.

  22. In my experience, orthodox followers of almost any belief system tend to have a strong need for the validation of their worth as people. Since, their self-worth is strongly tied to their rigid beliefs about “the right way” to live – anyone who doesn’t adhere to their system of right and wrong is not worthy of their compassion. Scary, but very common.

  23. PAK Bush says:

    I’ve been pondering this same question for some time now and find your post quite insightful. Thank you.

  24. carole says:

    I think if we can learn to hold our beliefs a little more lightly and focus our attention on our values, we would find we are more in alignment with others. Most of us value many of the same things…love, harmony, health, a good future for our children.

    Beliefs are created by the mind, and we all know how our minds can change with new information. Values are of the heart and tend to be more fundamental to the truth of who we are.

    Alex believed in veganism. However she listened to new information from her body, and moved in the direction of her value, which was health.

    You are right that beliefs tend to be dualistically black and white. They also tend to drive us towards a goal (being a vegan). Values are much broader, and give us a direction (health) in which to head instead of a goal to reach.

    Underneath many beliefs lie our values. Many religions at their core are about love. Love of the divine, of others, of self. While beliefs divide us, values unite us.

    Carole

  25. jesinalbuquerque says:

    Perhaps the most useful phrase I have learned: None of my business. A close second: Not my problem. These phrases bring me great peace of mind, and also keep me from annoying other people so much.

  26. Phil says:

    It’s not about beliefs because beliefs take courage and it is very hard to be courageous without compassion.
    Most people do not hold beliefs, they chant slogans.
    And they chant slogans to hide their fears and inadequacies.

  27. As a recovering Catholic allowing her artist voice to sing in order to break the silence around physical and emotional violence, I know compassion and forgiveness is all that’s real. Your words on this post, Jonathan, shall be printed out as a frequent reminder of what’s at stake for NOT using my voice…compassionately. Do unto others…Thank you.

  28. ricki says:

    In an ever changing world, it is those too strongly held beliefs keep people from growing and evolving. As individuals we are commissioned to come to our own truths but my truth is not your truth. The idea that there is only one truth is the faulty premise. My current practice is the root out all conclusions and discard them so that I can meet each day anew and learn what there is to be learned today.

  29. Connor says:

    Worldview are just that. People hold such strong beliefs about certain topics (ie religion, lifestyle, dietary habits) that anyone not holding these beleifs is seen as a bit of an ‘outsider – outside the tribe. I think there’s a bit of cultural differences in willingness / ability to be open to novel ideas from outsiders.

    You bring up a great point about compassion, Jonathan, i feel like empathy plays a bit of a role here as well. People become so vested in their beliefs, they have a hard time taking a step back to acknowledge the other side of the equation.

  30. Sal says:

    The issue I have with this and with AJ’s blog post yesterday and this blog, is the use of the word compassion. Compassion, when it comes to choices that adversely affect others, is not something you just show to yourself, that’s called being selfish or self indulgent. My understanding of the blog was that it was about being compassionate to ones self as opposed to just non-human animals, but they are not mutually exclusive, compassion is a whole, a circle. When you kill a being for another’s health, whether you think it is morally wrong or not, can surely never be compassionate in any way or form? You talk of showing compassion in reaction, and that can be done of course, but if we don’t then show that compassion to all living things, it’s just selective compassion and not an innate and valuable trait.

  31. James says:

    Thank you for your sharing Sal, it got me thinking about how even any ideas of what is compassionate and what isn’t can be a fixation we can hold to and then, in doing so lose the fragrance of what we were wanting in the first place.

  32. Jan says:

    I used to work in family medicine and found those most threatened by another’s beliefs or actions were trying to cope with that uncertainty about which you write so eloquently. “Don’t threaten my sense of control” is often what it’s about. If another lifestyle or belief system works for someone else, we have to acknowledge we haven’t found The Formula for keeping us safe. It’s easier to displace our fear onto another than admit we’re terrified.

  33. Funny, just yesterday, a woman came toward me wearing a sweatshirt with VEGAN emblazoned in big, bold letters. And I thought how strange it is that we have to proclaim who we are to others so vociferously, so defensively, as if what matters is what others think about our decisions more than what we ourselves think. As someone who wrote about food marketing for over a decade, I know how absolutely firm people can be. But I think it’s crucial that we learn to understand the value and necessity of nuance rather than absolutism. Thanks for raising this point!

  34. MG says:

    Compassion is important, but it doesn’t resonate with me as an issue that pertains to Alex’s situation. In fact, I’m worried about the ways in which Alex seems to be making herself out as a victim in this situation.

    Let me be clear that I’m not concerned with Alex’s eating choices. I’m not a vegan, so there’s certainly no room for me to lecture that others should be vegan.

    But, I’m concerned that she seems to be milking the “poor me” and “I’m a victim” aspect of a handful of negative comments on the internet. It fuels the incorrect notion that vegans or animal rights activists are militant or unreasonable or something else negative. ANYTHING on the internet that expresses any opinion will get negative comments. ANY change will get negative comments. Some people have a hard time with change. My college switched from trimesters to semesters and there was 100 times the negative commentary than what Alex received. And you know who is more militant and aggressive about what they eat than vegans are? Meat eaters and people who are committed to an unhealthy American diet full of processed foods. Write an article in the mainstream press about being vegan or vegetarian, about drinking less soda, or about mandating healthier school lunches and you’ll get called a Nazi, a Communist, and every swear word in our language. I am worried that Alex’s handling of this matter will lead to generalized negative comments about the vegan community, which are not accurate. Just challenge dominant food culture and see how much more vicious everyone will fight to protect that.

    Also, I think it’s possible to have compassion for Alex and her personal choices while also strongly disagreeing with the method and logic she used to reveal her non-vegan status. I’m in this boat. Again, I’m not a vegan and am not concerned with her eating animal products. I am concerned with her lying and her logic in her “coming out” blog post.

    First, Alex lied – or omitted information which is a form of dishonestly – for quite some time. Then she was called a hero and courageous for telling the truth. I don’t think she is a hero and I don’t think she was courageous. (I also don’t think she is evil or a terrible person.) Telling the truth and not being misleading is just the most basic level of human decency. It’s even more important when one is a public figure and when one is making money (selling a vegan lifestyle) from those misrepresentations. Wanting to protect one’s income is not an acceptable reason for lying or misrepresenting one’s self, and finally telling the truth is not something to be celebrated as “brave” or “heroic.” It’s just the right thing to do.

    Finally, as I posted in the comments on Alex’s blog, Alex’s logic for this decision was harmful and faulty. If she wants to eat animal products, she should eat animal products. But her logic was dishonest and not courageous. Just be honest… you want to eat animal products. It’s selfish (when one knows better in terms of the suffering caused to animals and the environment), but we all make selfish decisions every day. I do in countless ways. I could do so much more to reduce suffering of humans, animals and the environment, but I’m imperfect. I don’t try to justify this behavior with convoluted, new-agey sounding logic. Alex further pushed logical boundaries with her declaration that all eating decisions are “inherently good.” No. Almost every choice we make has a moral/ethical component. Eating certainly does. Some choices clearly cause less harm and suffering be it for animals, the environment, farm workers, others. Again, that doesn’t mean we always have to make perfect choices, which is an impossible standard. But it also doesn’t mean that every choice is equal and good. And, as many people pointed out in the comments, the cravings justification is bogus. We all crave all sorts of things that our bodies don’t need, and we all choose every day whether or not to give into them.

    I have lots of compassion for everyone, including Alex, who tries every day to do the best they can for themselves, the environment, other people and other animals. It’s hard and complicated, especially when one is trying to go against the mainstream culture. But I don’t have compassion for twisted, incorrect logic that Alex uses to justify her decision or about her milking this process for sympathy or using the tiny minority of a negative reaction to paint the vegan community poorly. I also don’t have a lot of compassion for people who lie or misrepresent themselves, especially when those lies and misrepresentations lead to financial gain, media attention and celebrity status.

  35. Eva Papp says:

    It’s evening, and I just said goodbye to my last psychotherapy patient of the day. Thought I’d read me some Jonathan Fields to relax and got pulled into reading the comments on Alex Jamieson’s blog. So much humanity expressed there: pain, consciousness, compassion to animals AND humans, authenticity, goodwill, anger, generosity. I don’t see polarization, I see lots of efforting toward the good, however variously it’s perceived. And in that, I take comfort.

  36. Summer Bock says:

    Thanks for everything you wrote. I love Alex’s work and have been horrified at the onslaught of verbal attacks.

  37. Linas says:

    Jonathan,

    I’m so glad that there is one more (strong and wide heard) voice in the world that can bring such an important issue so clearly and eloquently. Makes you feel warm and rethink places were you yourself might be acting blindly because of your own “belief without compation”. And makes you think “what can I do to bring more compassion into this world?”.

    It’s definitely sad to witness acts of “blind belief” that divide and hurt people, but it is also empowering to remember/realize/hallucinate that the world IS becoming more and more united.

    And that “hallucination” spurs my engines and drives me to jumpstart my day in full power – there are so many things that I can do to spread open-mindedness, open-heartedness and compassion around me.

    Thanks for the inspiration – it’s huge, warm and powerful.

    Best,

    Linas:)

  38. Melissa says:

    I read your blog post and watched the video with interest after reading Alex Jamieson’s post.

    I agree with you about compassionate communication, and I would certainly not wish to engage in any communication that couldn’t result in positive change or increased understanding. But I also feel that when a person who seemed to be ostensibly on the same page as me about something of which I feel passionately, and then she publicly rejects it, it’s hurtful, and it feels like a betrayal.

    When I watch her on this video just keep saying she had a craving for meat, and decided to “let herself,” it feels to me like she’s saying that her taste cravings are more important than the lives of animals, the health of the environment, and the movement many of us have been working hard to promote.

    She does not claim that she was having bad health because she was vegan, she just says she “craved” animal protein. Since she is a person who does not normally eat any kind of junk food, I wonder if she tried to assuage her cravings with some Tofurky sausages or something first. That’s how I once fed my cravings for meat, and quite successfully. It’s not healthy, but it’s certainly not more unhealthy than animal meat, and it doesn’t harm animals. Just as Morgan Spurlock could bounce back by eating healthfully after his 30 days of McDonalds, Alex’s body could no doubt recover from eating some Beyond Meat (which is also gluten free), but an animal’s life will not be returned after it is slaughtered.

    When I hear her say these things in the video about how you have to listen to your body, and there’s no such thing as wrong, and how she finally “let” her body have what it craved, it doesn’t seem to me to be a very thorough philosophical position to take. On her site, she talks about how her cravings before her vegan transformation were destroying her health. She seems to be a person who struggles in particular with fighting certain types of urges.

    People crave many things that don’t do a body good. They crave cigarettes, vengeance, and to eat candy. Folks with OCD may have a craving to flip the light switch to such an extent that it interferes with their lives. Just because your body craves sex does not mean you should take it. Just because you crave rice crispy treats does not mean you should eat them, and if you began having a craving to nibble at the ends of your hair, I suggest you resist.

    A craving is more of a psychological state than a physical one. We mustn’t elevate cravings to be, due to their very existence, valuable. To me, that feels morally and spiritually irresponsible.

    It’s not that I don’t respect her, and I feel awful for anyone who becomes the target of any brand of anonymous internet vitriol. I hope you do not think I have attacked her. I simply feel that her statements should not go by without some counterpoint, and there is nothing about her statements that make her immune to critical responses. This is what a dialogue looks like, and hopefully she’ll take some time to consider what the more-reasonable responses have said.

  39. […] email from Jonathan Fields (love him) landed in my box and it was talking about a friend of his, a vegan advocate who has been […]

  40. Mike Rudd says:

    Jonathan,
    What a great post, thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    It is needed in this country, and other places in the world, to have true honest beliefs but also be rooted in empathy and compassion for all others in this world regardless of their viewpoints.
    Every single one of us can do better, if we strive to do what you say each and every day and rule positivity and kindness over all else then World Peace doesn’t sound so impossible or crazy. Thanks again for the post.
    Carpe Diem!
    Mike

  41. FaithedOut says:

    […] Fields posted this wonderful piece – “Belief Without Compassion” – yesterday. In our hyper-polarized society, his words are deeply significant – […]

  42. Jennifer says:

    Good for Alex!

  43. Way to go Alex! And thank you Jonathan for that very important insight on compassion. I recently wrote a similar “coming out” story about eating meat and immediately received some angry response. I replied with kindness but they responded again with the same head-strong, inflexible, and almost hurtful tone. This is the same mindset that causes wars, and surely comes from a place of fear and survival instinct. If you believe that your way of life is the only way to save the planet, chances are you will get angry at those who see things differently. But if we could all just accept that there are many different opinions out there, and modify them to work together, or at the very least have an open discussion, we would get a lot further in this world.

  44. Beautifully said Jonathan! And so true.

    The lack of tolerance and respect for other views is a tragic problem that shows up in every area these days.

    Conviction can be admirable, but when it’s expressed in a way that degrades other views, the issues disappear and it becomes no more than bullying. At that point, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying, the message is lost.

    I hope people can learn to express themselves in meaningful ways without devaluing other views. Whatever happened to seeing both sides of an issue? Insight and compassion can be gained by taking a minute to look at the other side…

    We don’t all need to agree. What’s right for me may or not be what’s right for you. It doesn’t matter. What matters is respecting that everyone has the right to make the decision that works for them.

    Thanks for opening up dialogue on such an important topic!

  45. Annep says:

    Melissa wrote: >>> I simply feel that her statements should not go by without some counterpoint…>>>>

    But WHY do you feel that way? Why do you feel another human being’s perfectly valid dietary choices need to be vetted by some other, non-involved person’s opinion?

    This is what this post is about, you know: the idea that a complete stranger’s choice bizarrely infringes on a random person’s sense of control, and you have to interject in order to keep that control and jerk the wheel back to your way of thinking.

    Her statements CAN pass without counterpoint, because they are HER choices. Plain and simple. She has the right to make them. Grant her that first (and fully) and you may have a leg to stand on in your arguments.

    • Melissa says:

      “But WHY do you feel that way? Why do you feel another human being’s perfectly valid dietary choices need to be vetted by some other, non-involved person’s opinion?

      This is what this post is about, you know: the idea that a complete stranger’s choice bizarrely infringes on a random person’s sense of control, and you have to interject in order to keep that control and jerk the wheel back to your way of thinking.

      Her statements CAN pass without counterpoint, because they are HER choices. Plain and simple. She has the right to make them. Grant her that first (and fully) and you may have a leg to stand on in your arguments.”

      They are not just her choices. She’s a public person who claims to be a heath guru of some sort, yet she publicly proclaims that her cravings are more important than health, and more important that the LIVES OF ANIMALS.

      Eating meat is not a “personal” choice. You are eating someone else. It is a choice that affects whoever you eat.

      If she were not a public person who is putting her dietary choices out to the world as something for others to follow, I would not know about this story and it could and would not provide counterpoint.

  46. Judy Howard says:

    I do not agree that we need to have compassion for other’s lifestyle choices. Would you have compassion for the rapist’s lifestyle? We can’t and shouldn’t try to understand someone making a choice when it’s just plain wrong, and causing unimaginable amounts of pain and suffering of another being. Many people probably aren’t aware of the horror of animal products (don’t talk to me about raising animals humanely. Your dog or cat was raised humanely I’m sure but would you want to have him or her butchered for meat?) But how could anyone who is aware be a part of that?

    • Kim says:

      No, we do not have compassion for the act of rape. We have compassion for the human being and whatever led him (or her) to do such a thing. We get curious and figure out ways that we can prevent rape by investing in people.

    • Heather says:

      Your piece brings to mind the phrase love the sinner, hate the sin. But that’s a very hard thing to do when the action is something you consider egregious. To separate the action from the person, realize there is still a being their deserving of our compassion despite the acts they may commit is hard.

      I will not justify how people have treated Alex; many were unkind. My belief in ahimsa extends to other humans as well as animals, so I try to offer that to all. But I felt compelled to comment because I feel there’s a misunderstanding of the vegan viewpoint and that it gets turned around in a way that is also unkind.

      Some people, myself included, believe that animals have a right to their own lives and see the use of animal products and meat eating as akin to rape, murder and slavery. But that is not the majority viewpoint so it is seen as extreme.

      I agree that black and white thinking is rampant in our culture. And polarization is a big problem. But on some issues isn’t having a right and a wrong OK? Is there no belief you hold which you feel is an absolute truth, a value to which you would stick no matter what? That is the place that some vegans are coming from when they respond. It upsets me a bit that this viewpoint is then dismissed as dogmatic and close minded.

      You say, “Believe what you will. But lean into your beliefs through the lens of compassion. You don’t have to agree with non-believers, but when you dismiss their humanity, you destroy your own.”

      This applies to people hating on the vegans as well. Disparagement towards those holding a strong belief in something they see as a moral imperative is also not helpful or kind.

  47. I loved “Super Size Me”, great doc. and it was great how Alex and Morgan worked together. It is a shame how we let our worldview blind us to the human being(s)standing before us.

    To quote, Alex “dared greatly” and evolved her lifestyle to what was best for her, not the vegan population. Kudos to her!! I’m neither here nor there on being vegan, but I see this all the time when it comes to religion (I’ll use Christianity as I’m more intimately familiar with it than other religions).

    It took me facing a life-threatening illness before I had an original thought of my own. The adolescent indoctrination of “shun the non-believer” or “convert at all costs” was difficult to wade through, but I believe I’m on a much happier shore. It takes compassion to respect someone else’s belief, it takes compassion and intentional vulnerability to respect someone who has “left the Tribe”.

    Getting upset that someone’s behavior or lifestyle doesn’t match your own worldview is an extrodinary waste of time and energy. Our faith, our ambition ought to be of love, not shaming or writing an angry blog comment to convince someone to say, “You know, you’re right, what was I thinking. Of course I’ll behave to make you feel better.”

    Not sure that has happnened in the history of ever.

  48. Naz Laila says:

    Dear Jonathon, I am so glad that I have come here today and found this post. Your post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I felt the same way about deeply held ideology and believes but it was reaffirmed in last few days as I see what has been happening in my country (Bangladesh) and how all the people I thought I knew changed suddenly. I was stunned to see that it is not only the politicians who holds the view of ” you are either with us or against us”, it is all the people that I thought are educated, open minded and progressive also strongly posses the idea of ” Black or white, In or Out”. These have caused me enormous pain. I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful post and wisdom.

  49. […] 17. Belief Without Compassion, a post from Jonathan Fields. […]

  50. Peter Wright says:

    Good post, as a relative newcomer to North America, I am appalled at the apparent polarisation of opinions in the USA on everything from politics, abortion, gun ownership and illegal immigration.

    Similarly, I am equally appalled at the lack of tolerance here in Canada for any views other than the left-of-centre anti-USA socialism originating in the Trudeau era.

    I am Conservative / Libertarian in most things. More so after having lost my business, home, lifestyle and a family member as a result of failed liberal policies in Africa. However I do not condemn those who hold liberal opinions. In a perfect world I might agree more than disagree with them.

    For a quick and savage example of intolerance, submit a polite, but conservative comment to an article on Huffington Post, as I do, and watch the reaction.

    It seems that in this era of out of control political correctness, we have lost the ability to discern between an adversary and an enemy.

  51. […] post was inspired by Jonathan Field’s post last week on Belief without Compassion. I encourage you to read it first, and especially the comments that […]

  52. Tammy R says:

    Wow, Jonathan. This is so beautifully written, and I agree wholeheartedly.

    It is quite a coincidence that my husband and I were talking about this very topic on a long walk today. I can’t wait to share this with him!

  53. cj says:

    Houston is a cesspool of divisiveness, though I know its not alone, especially in the US south. It’s citizens would do well to read this marvelous post.

  54. […] The past few days, I’ve followed the storm swirling around an article journalist David Wood wrote for The Huffington Post. As I read the responses in the comments section of the post, as well as full blog posts replying to David’s article—and then the many more comments to those posts—I was reminded of Steven Pressfield’s recent articles  “The Principals and the Profiles” and “Principals and Profiles, Part II” and Jonathan Field’s article “Belief Without Compassion.” […]

  55. […] The past few days, I’ve followed the storm swirling around an article journalist David Wood wrote for The Huffington Post. As I read the responses in the comments section of the post, as well as full blog posts replying to David’s article—and then the many more comments to those posts—I was reminded of Steven Pressfield’s recent articles  “The Principals and the Profiles” and “Principals and Profiles, Part II” and Jonathan Field’s article “Belief Without Compassion.” […]

  56. Britt Bravo says:

    Thank you for articulated what myself, and others have been feeling for so long. Beautiful and brilliant post.