Passion and Persuasion: a pas des deux
We’ve been writing a lot about veganism over the last few years. One of our concerns is whether our audience might make assumptions about our work before reading it. Will they immediately assume we’ll lecture them? Will they be wary of engaging with our work fearing judgment? The good news is, on both counts, we’ve proved them wrong (mostly! You can’t please everyone). Anyone who writes about veganism will be passionate, just like anyone who writes about ethics, politics, social justice and other emotionally charged and often personal topics. Balancing passion and persuasion is a dance requiring thoughtfulness and empathy towards the reader.
Persuasion requires more than having a convincing premise, strong supporting reasoning and copious amounts of evidence. To persuade, we must invite the reader to engage with the premise we espouse, the reasoning and any evidence bolstering our position. Essentially, the writer is asking a reader to enter a new space and hold new concepts which might be unfamiliar, prickly or emotionally charged. To do that successfully and begin to shift the reader’s worldview, the writer must do two things. First, make the reader comfortable. Second, make the premise the protagonist of the work.
Let’s analogise to how you might make someone feel comfortable coming into your home. They’ve never been before, so you show them where they can leave their shoes and coat, where they can sit, the loo with the tricky light switch and where are the refreshments. What the host isn’t going to do is point out to their guest’s sock, show off that Bafta on the shelf or tell them their style of dress is awful.
The process is similar when writing to persuade. Set out your premise and introduce each part of your argument. Focus on explaining in an earnest and straightforward manner. This will require an intimate understanding of the subject, enabling you to explain it in your own words like you would to your best friend. Avoid relying on quotes by experts in the field to always carry your message. Instead, if there is a quote you need to share, show your reader how it applies to your premise. This keeps the discussion personal between you and the reader. Most importantly, share with them why the issue is important to you (that’s where your passion will come out), and tell them about the historical and contemporary context of your premise and any other relevant evidence. Now, you’ve shown your guest around your home and you can get started on the second part of ensuring the premise remains the protagonist.
Remember, you’ve invited your guest into your home, just as you’ve invited the reader to your work. As you write, assume your reader isn’t as familiar with your premise because even if they are, your personal approach will impart new perspectives on the subject. Also assume they’re reading your work in good faith, with a willingness to learn something new and maybe change their mind. In other words, despite knowing your reader likely disagrees with you, they’re not an enemy.
If persuasion becomes about showing how your reader is wrong about their understanding or how clever you are in your beliefs, then it’s like being a bad host. It’s as if you’ve just showed off your Bafta to the guest, pointed to the hole in their sock and told them to update their wardrobe. Your guest will want to leave. Similarly, your reader will stop reading. You will have failed in persuading them and perhaps even harmed your cause. When you’re pointing out how wrong others are, you’re giving pride of place to your passion, to yourself, instead of keeping the focus firmly on the subject of your advocacy.
Passion is wonderful and necessary. It fuels our writing. Letting it take over persuasive writing may feel good and provide a release for all those thoughts and emotions. But it will obscure the true focus of the work. When we write about veganism, we know we live in a non-vegan world and we were once non-vegan ourselves. We focus on the ethics of using animals and showing why they deserve to be included in our understanding of basic fairness. And in all our discussions we keep returning to that point.
When the goal is to persuade, your anchor is your premise and who or what is at the core of that premise. Show it in the best possible light while advocating your position. Show the reader what’s valuable about your premise and discuss this with them as you might like. Your reader is your partner in that moment. The empathy you show them and the thoughtfulness of your advocacy will create the space for them to consider your argument and perhaps you might even change their mind.
(c) Emilia A. Leese and Eva J. Charal
About Think Like a Vegan: What everyone can learn from vegan ethics
What is animal agriculture, and its effect on the environment?
Why should we adopt animals?
What’s the problem with organic meat?
What are the economics of plant-based foods?
What about honey?
How might veganism protect us from the spread of novel viruses in the future?
What is the relationship between veganism and feminism?
What is vegansexualism?
From basic fairness to politics, economics, love and other aspects of being human, Think Like a Vegan invites the reader to set aside their preconceived notions about veganism, and to enter into an invigorating conversation about your daily ethical decisions.
This book is not just for vegans. Society’s systemic injustices are intimately interconnected, including the fight for racial justice, feminism, and ethical production, as are the threats we face together, from environmental collapse to global pandemics. Seeking a fair world for animals means we must also seek to reject and redress the injustices perpetrated against each other. These are not mutually exclusive goals, or mutually exclusive ideas.
Seeking to challenge, educate and illuminate, Think Like a Vegan draws threads between essential points of philosophical thought to help answer the fundamental ethical question: How should we act, and why?
Order your copy online here.
About the authors
Emilia A. Leese writes essays on life, travel and veganism for a variety of online publications, and is closely involved in a rewilding project in the Scottish Highlands. She regularly hosts benefit supper clubs, is a speaker on vegan ethics at a variety of events and has developed life-skills and ethics workshops for underserved youth. She has been a corporate finance lawyer for over twenty years. She and her husband Roger, who is also vegan, live in London and the Highlands. Follow her work on Emisgoodeating.com and BirchfieldHighlands.org.
Eva J. Charalambides discovered her voice while studying radio and television, writing for on-air and screen, and food blogging. Through her transition to veganism, thought-pieces on animal advocacy were added to her curriculum vitae and the opportunity to help produce multi-city vegan events followed. She has lent her voice to non-profits, T-shirts and everything in-between, seldom passing opportunities to promote veganism. When she’s not writing, she says thousands of words through her photography business. Today, Eva can be found in rural Ontario building her first home with her husband, Matt, and their rescue rabbit, Libby.