earth-2 I’ll admit, the inspiration for this post title came from watching a rerun of the Big Bang Theory pilot, in which Leonard tells Sheldon that they need to invite Penny over for dinner to “widen our circle.” While I don’t normally look to sitcoms to guide my writing and thought, it seemed particularly apt in light of a couple of experiences of the past week that have inspired me to try and widen my own circle a bit.

The first experience came via a blog which used to be one of my favorite daily reads. I say used to be, because the author of the blog decided to stop writing for now because of reasons having partly to do with a disrespectful, scolding, and very public series of tweets by another blogger. It’s always sad when a strong and respected voice in the AR movement becomes silent. It’s even sadder when that silence is precipitated by the blistering attacks of another AR advocate, which, again, took place not in private, but in the public sphere. I am not going to mention either of their names here partly due to wanting to maintain their privacy as best I can. I also don’t want to have to link to the very ugly exchanges that have transpired, not to mention attacks against the first blog’s readers, some of whom chose to disagree with the sentiments expressed by the second blogger. Some very cogent and insightful comments were proposed by the readers of the first blog, only to be summarily dismissed and mocked by the second blogger. While there were intense expressions of emotion coming from both sides, the whole thing might have been avoided if the second blogger had made a different decision as to how to approach the subject of disagreement. I’m not suggesting silence but rather a discussion with a more measured tone. The whole episode is a very sad example of what can happen even in a movement that is so dedicated to respecting the integrity and value of all beings.

The second experience came recently, after I had posted a series of admittedly snarky tweets about McDonald’s and their refusal to adopt the same standards of treatment (of chickens) in the US that they currently have in place in European countries. The treatment of chickens at McDonald’s’ US suppliers is hideous and deplorable, and I do not regret anything that I said or linked to. But what became even more interesting is a conversation I had with a cattle farmer in the UK who found and responded to one of my tweets about McDonald’s. What could have turned into a hate-filled, angry exchange of venom actually was a very peaceful conversation about healthy eating, locally grown food, our common concern about zoos, and, ironically enough, the vitriol that is already plentifully available on social media. We wished each other well and are now following each other on twitter.

I find the juxtaposition of these two events in the past week simultaneously inspiring, disappointing, and infuriating. On one hand, two people who disagree on a fundamental issue (eating other animals) were able to find some common ground, speak respectfully, and exchange ideas. On the other, two people who are strenuous advocates for veganism and the rights of all non-human animals have both been affected by an ugly disagreement – one having shut down a much-loved and influential blog, and one whose name-calling against another blogger has set up a chain reaction of upheaval in the AR community which has taken the focus off the main issue – the status and suffering of animals.

We all come to these issues from different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences. But sadly enough, because two people are dedicated to animal rights does not mean that they will get along or even be able to work together towards their common goal. And people who may not even be on the same page about one aspect of animals rights (food, for example), may be able to agree and perhaps even co-advocate on another issue (conditions at zoos or supporting local farmers). Erik Marcus recently wrote about how dialogue and meeting people where they are is so important to increasing awareness about food issues.

So what does this all mean? For me, it means widening my circle and trying to learn from all of the people I encounter, whether or not we are in agreement on all the issues. It means I will also try and learn from the disappointing exchange that occurred elsewhere in the blogosphere this week, while encouraging those who disagree to try and find a mutually respectful way to work it out. It especially means that I will refocus my attention on the plight of suffering animals everywhere, which is, after all, why so many of us do this.

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