The Power of Individual Change

Acclaimed Russian novelist, ethical vegetarian, and fierce advocate for the humane treatment of animals, Leo Tolstoy once remarked,

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

This notion struck a powerful chord within me upon first encounter, and continues to resonate deeply. I fully believe that those who rest complacent in the routine of their everyday lives, who cling to habit and tradition, and who resist self-evolution and personal growth by avoiding any new information pose the greatest threat to their own wellbeing and that of society at large. My five-year-long devoted yoga practice has facilitated enormously my ardent enthusiasm for employing self-reflection to enact positive mental, physical, and spiritual change within oneself–it first taught me how to analyze the aspects of my life that did and did not contribute to my overall happiness, largely aiding my recovery from disordered eating along with the adoption of a compassionate, nourishing diet in keeping with my true beliefs and values.

Image credit to MindBodyGreen

That said, I’ve experienced firsthand the danger of an unwillingness to change–an unwillingness to take a probing look inside oneself and ask, “Is this really who I want to be?” If I hadn’t done so, I very well could have ended up in a hospital bed with a feeding tube shoved up my nose and a room in a rehab center booked in my name. If the 2.5% of America’s population that calls itself vegan hadn’t done so, an exponentially greater number of sentient creatures would face torture and premature death by slaughter than do today. Change begins at an individual level and expands into larger social movements from there–you don’t see homophobes leading gay pride parades, after all. We must each realize the habits, routines, beliefs, and prejudices that prevent us from acheiving our highest potential and becoming the most marvelous form of ourselves. Only after we have valiantly pursued this task can we hope to enact a large-scale shift in consciousness.

While home during my college’s winter break, I’ve received the immense honor of witnessing the act of self-reflection, moment of profound realization, and newfound willingness to change in two of my loved ones: my mother and a close friend of mine. Both of them vowed to enact wonderfully commendable shifts in their lifestyles within a day of each other, and both discovered this determination while watching compelling documentaries that have received numerous accolades within and beyond the vegan community. After “Forks Over Knives” exposed my mother to the undeniable health risks posed by consuming animal flesh and secretions, as well as recounted the profound stories of those who vastly improved their health by transitioning to a plant-based diet, she declared, “I have got to change my diet.” Similarly, after “Vegucated” exhibited the abhorrent acts of violence and mutilation–deemed as common practices–enacted upon the non-human victims of animal agribusiness, my dear friend exclaimed that he could no longer look upon meat or dairy as innocuous or even as edible. Both my mother and friend took the vegan plunge essentially overnight (though my mother still prefers to call herself “plant-based” rather than vegan, which I completely understand as veganism can certainly seem daunting at the outset), and I hope with every ounce of my being that they continue on their compassionate, nourishing journeys for a long, long while. Perhaps they should derive a few pointers from a previous post of mine, no?


Working to enact mainstream change in a movement faced with such adversity can seem like an extremely daunting task, one that disheartens oodles of activists, and for good reason. However, if we take time to appreciate individual shifts and to celebrate them as small victories for the animals, for our planet, and for our nation’s health—even if that means lauding your hairdresser for participating in Meatless Monday—we can more easily maintain positive, optimistic attitudes and remain driven to continue on in the fight for animal liberation. Indeed, we must constantly remind ourselves that no movement can grow without such individual shifts. I expect to witness many more over the course of this year.

Until next time, Ali.


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