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Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Ethics Of Shaming: A pondering on flies and vegetarianism

This is in response to something, but is not directed at, or an attack on, any one person, or group of people. It is purely my own thinking, flawed as it is. As I am….

There is a fly in my flat. Not the first in the ten years I’ve lived here and not the last I imagine. It’s been pestering me for a while now, flying into me then flying off. Perhaps it just wants to play. As I write this it’s on the faded yellow wall in the kitchen, right by the window. It’s been there a while now. An easy target for my rolled up paper but, well, I don’t know. I just can’t bring myself to, you know, propel it into the fly afterlife. It just doesn’t seem to be harming anyone here.

Believe you me this flat is no fly sanctuary and I’m no fly saviour. I’ve sent plenty to meet their fly makers. But right in this moment I just can’t.

I haven’t quite become a Jain monk, wearing a mask and sweeping the ground ahead of me as I walk so as not to harm anything. Not yet anyway and I probably never will. I’m not sure I want to if I’m honest.

So. Where do I sit, what branch do I occupy on the great tree of ethics. Am I at the top looking down or at the bottom looking up (not looking up anyone’s bottom!).

How can I even tell? What are the criteria? What actually makes one person ethical and another not? Is it black and white, or all colours and shades between?

Is it where you shop? Who you pray or don’t pray to? What you eat or don’t eat? It seems that for every ethical step you attempt to take, for every opinion you express, there is a queue of people waiting to tell you that you’re wrong, how they do it so much better, willing you to fail, to ridicule you and shame you. Not that shame/blame is anything new,  but you can reach and preach and humiliate to a much bigger audience through social media. Everyone’s an expert, everyone is right and everyone else is wrong.

It is, as they say, whoever ‘they’ are, a veritable minefield. 

Dare I offer an opinion, so early on in our little journey down ethical lane, as to what I think ISN”T ethical. Taking the moral/ethical high ground and shaming others who are doing their best, either through social media or other media for starters.

I would say that if you engage in ethical behaviour as a tool to develop and grow yourself, with all the slips and slides it brings, all the doubts and challenges, then good for you. If you engage in ethical behaviour and use it as a stick to beat others, then bad for you and please go away.

Time was, round about the year of our lord 1990, when I first went vegetarian (after being brought up as a carnivore quite happily) it was just the other carnivores that liked to do the criticising; 

‘Ah but’ (the standard prefix) ‘You’re not doing it properly’ ‘You wear leather shoes’ ‘It won’t make any difference’ ‘Meat tastes so nice’ ‘Vegetables have feelings it’s been scientifically proven’ ‘*insert your own shaming phrase here….’

And I kind of got used to it. Expected it even.

Then the rise in veganism heralded the new millennial two pronged attack, vegetarian shaming from both sides;

‘You’re not doing it properly’ ‘You wear leather shoes’ ‘Dairy and eggs are cruel, you might just as well eat meat’. At least they don’t do the vegetables have feelings one or meat tastes nice, but you get my drift. And the new one ‘I’m vegan, I’ve got compassion’ and therefore, by implication, no one else has.

Oh dear. I am feeling sorry for myself aren’t I. 

Fly update. It’s still there. Watching.

I personally don’t feel that compassion is just about the food you put, or don’t put, in your mouth. I know some very compassionate carnivores and some very angry and judgemental vegans, and contrariwise I know some very compassionate vegans and some very angry and judgemental carnivores.

If you need to shame and judge and blame Im not kidding myself that this piece of writing will stop you. Just stop claiming it’s ethical because it isn’t. it’s actually very harmful. And do you know what? We’re all judgemental. We’re all prejudiced. All hypocrites. All sexist and racist and bigoted to a greater or lesser degree. We’re ALL imperfect and flawed in our perfectly imperfect human nature.

It was the Buddha who said ‘We are all born with an axe in our mouths which we use to chop away the roots of our tree of karma’.

If your karma has brought you to this point in this lifetime where you are able to be Vegan (Buddhist, Catholic, Atheist, Humanist etc)  then great. Go for it. It’s fine by me. It’s a great thing. Truly. 

Just be aware it’s not always like that for others. We have our own karma, our own stuff we’re all dealing with. Perhaps try and give a little credit to us for our efforts.

If you can’t be vegan then don’t. Be vegetarian, or pescatarian, fruitarian, egalitarian, anti-disestablishmentarian, barbarian, librarian. So many arians, how do you decide?

Gosh this is dragging on a bit isn’t it. Let me make a suggestion. How about, as a starting point, whatever lifestyle you chose for yourself, underpin it with kindness and compassion towards all beings. Just start with a development of basic common human decency.

Stop judging others (and yourselves) for the food they eat, the degree they took, the school they went to (or didn’t went to), occasional grammatical or spelling errors, the clothes they wear, or don’t wear, the colour of their skin, their weight, their height, the team they support etc etc etc etc.

For me I hope that the day will come when my chakras are so perfectly aligned with the universe I can obtain all my nutrients from sunlight and fresh air (if there is any fresh air by then) with perhaps the occasional kumquat and beetroot juice for a little taste sensation.

Until then I’ll continue being as vegetarian as I can, as best I can. Allowing myself the occasional poached egg on toast. Oh, and being the funniest man in my flat. Obvs. 

Thank you for reading, I’ll leave you with this, and with my very best wishes to you on your own individual ethical journey…

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.

 Jelaluddin Rumi - 13th century mystic poet

NB. No animals were harmed in the writing of this and the fly has buzzed off somewhere else. Probably to a nicer flat.


  1. Enjoyed the humour of this immensely!! Almost (but not quite) pissed myself laughing. And a simple but clear message, too. Nice work! x

    1. Thanks Danielle I'm pleased you enjoyed it. And top marks for bladder control :)

  2. Lovely Jonna. Simple, effective, original and above all, ethical and non judgmental.

    1. Thanks Barry, comments much appreciated.

  3. Love this dad!!!! It's so weird today I was writing (in my head) a similar thing after our conversation at breakfast!!!!!! Yours is def funny. Obvs.
    Oh and whilst reading this a tiny fly thing kept doing to my phone light then went up my nose, I'm afraid! It went to heaven!!!!

    1. Thanks Lucy. Are you saying that up your nose is heaven? Love you xxxx

  4. So wise! You're right. The world would be a much better place if we are kind and compassionate, and don't judge
    I will try harder

    1. I've only just noticed this comment Wendy. Thank you :)