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Are inspiration-based narratives effective in animal advocacy for transforming hearts and minds, and encouraging action towards better animal protection, consideration and care? This essay investigates various arguments in favor of, and against, inspiration within the EAA movement. We are hopeful that inspiration is effective, even if non-quantifiable; but many obstacles are still to be overcome, and further research must be conducted. For now, we should consider inspiration as an exploratory tool with potential. Our main premise is that inspiration can foster lasting change through the pursuit of inspired goals and incremental transformations. Ultimately, we believe that we should aim for a combination of approaches to engage in grassroots capacity-building to create a movement large enough to transform the system and individual attitudes within it (“the 3.5% threshold”) (Chenoweth, Stephan & Stephan, 2011).

1) Introduction

Do you consider yourself an animal advocate? If so, what was it that made you one? Or, more precisely, what inspired you to become an animal advocate? If I am asking this question, it is because I wish to address the role of inspiration – and inspiration-based narratives – in the shaping of our thinking, of our values and of our actions. As suggested by Kaufman, “inspiration is best thought of as a surprising interaction between your current knowledge and the information you receive from the world” (Kaufman, 2011). We have all heard stories and narratives – from leaders, advocates, organizations – that inspired us to rethink our attitudes and values, to reshape our behaviors and, sometimes, to become involved in a movement. Inspiration is “a breathing in or infusion of some idea, purpose, etc. into the mind; the suggestion, awakening, or creation of some feeling or impulse, especially of an exalted kind” (Thrash & Elliot, 2003). It is all around us and it can take on many forms: we can be inspired by a person, a work of art, an idea and more,... Scholars working on the concept of inspiration even go so far as to claim that inspiration can enable individual as well as societal change (Oleynick, Thrash, LeFew, Moldovan & Kieffaber, 2014).

Yet, inspiration within animal advocacy tends to be overlooked because it appears to be a non-quantifiable concept, the effects of which have no way of being determined. However, inspiration-based narratives and inspirational leaders are present within the movement of animal advocacy, and their discourse may have the power to impact many individuals, corporate groups, or governments to bring about change in the way they act towards animals. But what does it mean for inspiration to be effective in the context of animal advocacy, and how do we determine inspiration’s effectiveness? Why do approaches to inspiration matter? And, if inspiration proves to be effective in this regard, and if it facilitates a paradigm shift towards better consideration of, and care for, animals, might it be more effective than other forms of advocacy, such as lobbying, campaigns, research, public education, or even litigation?

In this essay, we will explain how inspiration can be conceptualized, before looking at why this approach is called into doubt by some scholars. We will then argue that inspiration, despite its abstract quality, should be scrutinized in more depth, and that – if appropriate – it should be embedded in animal advocacy interventions. Our main argument is that inspiration is effective because it can foster lasting change through the pursuit of inspired goals and incremental transformations.

Before pursuing this postulate and attempting to build a case for the use of inspiration by animal advocates across all animal-related causes, we must specify that, for animal advocacy to be effective, (1) a holistic approach must be examined; furthermore, (2) a case-by-case approach is indispensable for understanding the underlying mechanisms of EAA. In fact, (1) inspiration is not the secret ingredient of a recipe for EAA, and many other elements must be scrutinized; moreover, (2) what might work for one leader, organization, or specific animal- related cause might not work for another leader, organization, or animal-related cause.

We shall first proceed to an examination of the concept of inspiration as an approach to EAA.

2) Clarification, conceptualization and summary

2.1) Setting the scene

Before we dive into this argument, we must clarify three things: where can inspiration be found; by whom it can be transmitted; and for whom? Figure 1 presents a non-exhaustive list of mediums through which inspirational messages can be transmitted, and Figure 2 shows who can transmit inspirational messages, and to whom. For the sake of clarity, we will consider inspirational messages with the broad purpose of generating better animal protection, consideration and care, and we will not scrutinize animal causes/issues themselves in depth.

2.2) How is inspiration conceptualized?

Thrash and Elliot have conceptualized inspiration as a psychological construct (Thrash & Elliot, 2003). Two of their findings are important for the purpose of this paper.

(1) Inspiration is made of three components (Thrash & Elliot, 2003) (see Figure 3):

(2) There are two stages to inspiration: a passive stage (being inspired ‘by’) and an active stage (being inspired ‘to’) (see Figure 4) (Oleynick, Thrash, LeFew, Moldovan & Kieffaber, 2014):

These findings teach us two things: (1) inspiration is a process; and (2) it can lead to a transformation in attitudes and behaviors – it can galvanize people to act. Inspiration in the context of EAA is of interest because it offers a non-coercive way of transforming attitudes and motivating action towards better animal protection, consideration and care. One of the many goals of animal advocates is to get people on board with our ideas (Leenaert, 2017), which could lead to action in favor of better animal protection, consideration and care. How can inspiration-based narratives help animal advocates in this respect?

2.3) How does inspiration foster lasting change in animal advocacy?

We postulate that inspiration can foster lasting change through the pursuit of inspired goals and incremental transformations in animal advocacy. Scholars have shown that inspiration facilitates the pursuit of goals (Milyavskaya, Ianakieva, Foxen-Craft, Colantuoni & Koestner, 2012) (all else being equal). Highly inspired individuals display increased progress towards goals, and scholars explain this phenomenon by the fact that these individuals set inspired goals (Ibid). This suggests the creation of a virtuous cycle: the establishment of greater inspired goals allows greater goal pursuit. The achievement of these goals leads to new, greater goals and new, greater goal pursuit, and so on (see Figure 5). This finding is significant because many animal advocates call for lasting shifts and envisage long- term perspectives. Inspiration may present a reformist and moderate path (Francione & Garner, 2010). , yet it can involve abolitionist and radical goals. To apply our argument in real conditions, we could envisage the achievement of one “small” goal, such as the abolition of battery cages, to motivate an incremental increase in the scope of inspired goals, heading towards the abolition of factory farming. However, we err on the side of caution when applying this “virtuous cycle” to animal advocacy, it being purely hypothetical. We acknowledge that, in practice, matters are more complex, and that animal advocates encounter many other obstacles.

Figure 5 shows the mechanism (blue box) binding together the passage from being inspired ‘by’ to being inspired ‘to’.

We have explained how people are inspired to act towards better animal protection, consideration and care in response to an inspirational message. It is through the setting of inspired goals that individuals will enter a virtuous cycle, which fosters incremental and lasting transformation.

3) Analysis

In this section, we shall review some of the principal arguments that have been formulated against the use of inspiration in EAA, before looking at arguments that support the use of inspiration.

3.1) Why are some sceptical about the use of inspiration in the context of EAA?

3.1.1) “Inspiration and its effectiveness cannot be measured – if inspiration has long-term, diffused and indirect effects: why should we invest in an intractable concept?”

When there is no, or sparse, evidence of the effectiveness of inspiration, some may not wish to invest in it – as Lewis Bollard explained when referring to certain advocacy tools (Bollard, 2017). What evidence is there that inspirational narratives are worth investing in? How can such narratives do the most good in the world? Inspiration is a broad and vague concept, and it can come about in various settings. Thus, how can we capture its effectiveness if it occurs outside of an advocacy intervention? Furthermore, a measurement of inspiration must be conducted through self-reports, because it is an inherently subjective experience. However, there is a limit to self-reported surveys (Peacock, 2018) and, in the case of inspiration, other alternatives to using self- reported surveys are yet to be determined. Besides the fundamental measurability issue, it would be difficult to measure inspiration systematically because individuals may not indicate the same period of time between the moment they are inspired ‘by’ and the moment they are inspired ‘to’. Accordingly, if inspiration is difficult to measure as a concept, how can we measure its effectiveness? This question remains unanswered. Yet, some measurement of effectiveness would be necessary for determining whether investing in this tool is valuable for EAA. Moreover, if we consider that we can measure inspiration and its effectiveness, it would be time- and labour-intensive to measure them within an advocacy intervention, even more so across several advocacy interventions.

3.1.2) “What do inspiration-based narratives have to offer in comparison with other approaches?”

We know that some approaches to advocacy are effective: lobbying; regulatory efforts; research and public education; non-violent campaigns (Chenoweth, Stephan & Stephan, 2011); strategies using “shock” and sexism (Gaarder, 2011); litigation and even shaming to a certain extent (Jacquet, 2016). Inspiration-based narratives operate within the field of awareness-raising and, thus, they are overrated (Leenaert, 2017). Providing people with “inspiring” information will not encourage them to act, and the attitude-behavior (Ibid) gap will remain. Hence, what is the extra that inspiration brings to the EAA movement? Why should we be interested in expanding our advocacy tool-kit to yet another approach? And in particular with inspiration if we do not have accessible ways of determining whether it is effective or not. Given our generally limited resources and time, some argue that we should focus on EAA approaches that we know to work (Sebo, 2019).

3.1.3) “Isn’t inspiration manipulation?”

There is a fine line between inspiration and manipulation. Both strategies are close, and manipulation is also used through aspirational messages and promises to influence behavior (Sinek, 2009). As explained by Leenaert, the vegan movement is mainly based on moral arguments (Leenaert, 2017), and these arguments often appeal to our emotions. Hence, it can be easy furtively to coerce people into believing one argument or the other. How do we know that an inspirational leader is not manipulating us? How can trust be developed between inspirational leaders and their audience if these leaders present the same arguments as those presented by manipulators?

3.1.4) “We should focus on systemic change rather than individual change”

If we wish to change the lives of individuals, we should address systemic structures because it is through them that lasting change will operate (Gabriel, 2017). However, inspirational narratives, despite the fact, in some cases, of targeting large audiences, are oriented towards individuals. An inspirational leader may not have the same influence on one individual or the other. Ultimately, if an inspirational leader has some impact on a person, but that person does not have the power to operate within a system, the inspiration is ‘lost’. For example, let us imagine that an inspirational leader makes a speech in a conference room before government representatives about incorporating vegan options into school cafeterias nationwide. This leader inspires a ‘minor’ government official; however, major government representatives are not impressed. If we consider that major government representatives and large multinationals are the ones able to impact the system; and that inspirational interventions are ineffective in their respect; the intervention will have no impact on the system or induce change.

Now that we have explored various arguments against the use of inspiration in EAA, we will dive into arguments that support the use of inspiration.

3.2) Why does inspiration matter?

3.2.1) “Inspiration can be measured”

Thrash and Elliot developed an “Inspiration Scale” (IS) (Thrash & Elliot, 2003) and it measures inspiration in various situations. Measuring inspiration is complex; it comes with many biases that must be examined extensively if we wish to find ways of overcoming them. Despite those barriers, and as suggested by Muller, some elements of reality can be ignored if we are absorbed by the metrics (Muller, 2019). The fact that inspiration is a non-quantifiable and unfathomable concept does not make it an uninteresting or unimportant aspect of EAA. For the time being, we can explore the IS in greater depth, and expect to develop a more systematic, and less time- and labour- consuming way of measuring effectiveness within, and outside of, advocacy interventions.

3.2.2) “Inspiration is effective when combined with other EAA approaches”

Inspiration is necessary but not sufficient (Dess & Picken, 2000).We do not claim that inspiration is more effective than other approaches. Instead, we claim that inspiration may enhance the overall impact of advocacy interventions thanks to its spontaneous nature, as well as the change, the engagement and motivation that it can induce. However, we must note that this is an empirical question to which we do not have the answer. Inspiration can be found in many advocacy interventions. Public education may feature narratives that inspire an audience to rethink their attitudes and transform their behaviors. With respect to litigation, an attorney may deliver an inspiring speech that shifts the way a jury sees a case. In the context of EAA, facts rarely change hearts and minds (Leenaert, 2017), and we need something else to achieve this. Inspiration can turn the tide of an overall intervention because it proposes moral shifts without using guilt-driven discourse. Even if shaming is effective under certain conditions (Jacquet, 2016), it employs a degree of coercion – which is something inspiration strives to break free from. We are not arguing that shaming is not an effective approach, or that inspiration is more effective. They are two different approaches, and to choose one or the other is something that must be determined case-by-case.

If the goal is effectiveness, if it applies to a specific case, one can choose to apply inspiration through paths that have been proven to be effective in EAA. In this way, one can see the short- term effectiveness of an initial intervention (i.e. public education in schools,...), and imagine that it can be sustained through inspiration in the longer term – considering that inspired people display a sustained pursuit of goals (Milyavskaya, Ianakieva, Foxen-Craft, Colantuoni & Koestner, 2012). Moreover, inspiration enhances an individual’s well-being (Thrash, Elliot, Maruskin & Cassidy, 2010), hence EAA that inspires more people is a way of augmenting happiness and reducing suffering for humans, but also for animals!

3.2.3) “Inspiration matters because it is not forced on you”

As mentioned in the summary, two core characteristics of inspiration are “evocation” and “transcendence”. Inspiration is not forced upon individuals. Individuals happen to be inspired by external stimuli; and are later inspired “to” act in response. However, it should be noted that inspiration-based narratives may not galvanize every individual to change. Subjective sensitivity about a topic depends on many factors. Hence, some individuals might be more inclined to change their behaviors and attitudes if they are inspired to do so; when others are more likely to alter their behaviors and attitudes when they are forced to do so. For instance, some will stop eating meat if they read a book, or if they listen to a podcast about meat eating; whilst others will stop if we make meat less accessible through an increase in prices (Leenaert, 2017). Altogether, we should aim for a variety of approaches to EAA, if we wish to see change at numerous levels.

3.2.4) “Inspiration matters because it may induce lasting and sustainable systemic change”

Individuals form collectives. There is power in what an individual can do to change policies or consumers’ choices; and the sum of individual actions can make a difference (MacAskill, 2016). Inspiration- based narratives offer pointers towards better animal protection, consideration and care. Such inspiration can have its effects on an individual or systemic basis, depending on the targeted audience. If an inspirational leader inspires members of a company, the company might push towards better consideration of animals in their plan of action. If an individual is inspired by a narrative, s/he might want to take part in the movement. Either way, transformation occurs. Two examples in which individuals inspired transformation come to mind: one of my professors, Colin Jerolmack, explained that he knows he has had an impact when undergraduate students, who are not familiar with the field of Animal Studies, come to him at the end of a session to let him know that they have become vegetarian or vegan because of a course of studies and the knowledge they have drawn from it. Another individual – demonstrating systemic change – is Rachel Atcheson: she implemented many initiatives within New York City and, together with Eric Adams, they are working to reshape structures and enable systemic advancement with regard to animals. These examples show how individuals can have a broad impact and generate systemic transformation. I am hopeful that Colin Jerolmack and Rachel Atcheson will inspire others to transform their view on, and their behaviors towards, animals.

We have now outlined arguments in favor of, and against, inspiration. In this concluding section, we shall explore various ways in which inspiration may generate added value to other EAA approaches.

4) Conclusion

In conclusion, inspiration harbors a certain power, and it can enable change. But, is inspiration effective in EAA? This remains to be determined; further empirical research should be conducted. We are hopeful that inspiration is effective, even if non-quantifiable; but many obstacles must be overcome. We consider this essay as an investigative effort and our claims are hypothetical. We wish to err on the side of caution, given the generality and the empirical validity of our claims.

As we have seen in this essay, inspiration-based narratives in EAA come with costs and benefits, and they should be used when assessed as necessary for the purpose of a specific intervention. For the time being, we should consider inspiration as an exploratory tool that has potential. Inspiration can be part of an effective tool-kit in EAA because of its spontaneous nature, as well as the change, the engagement and motivation that it can induce, which go beyond individuals and may transform an entire system. This change may be incremental, long-term, diffused and indirect – but it still offers a shift towards better animal protection, consideration and care. Reality is complex: it is a combination of inspiration and other approaches to EAA, and it is a combination of individual transformation and systemic change. In practice, we should aim for a mix of approaches to engage in grassroots capacity-building, to create a movement large enough that can transform the system and the individuals within it (“the 3.5% threshold”) (Chenoweth, Stephan & Stephan, 2011).


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