Eight Benefits of “Preaching to the Choir”

The views presented in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of CRF.
Author: George Jacobs

The Centre for a Responsible Future (CRF) organises and co-organises many events. We do these events to promote behaviours that are healthy (such as plant based eating and regular exercise), green (such as avoiding single-use packaging and choosing plant based foods), and kind to nonhuman animals (such as avoiding animal based foods). Three main possibilities exist as to who attends these events. Possibility A: everyone who attends the events engages in behaviours different from those that CRF promotes. Possibility B: everyone who attends engages in the behaviours that CRF promotes. Possibility C: the worst case scenario is that no one attends the event, except for the one or two people who organised it. Of course, often times, a combination of people from Possibilities A and B attend.

The best case scenario from the CRF point of view is that most of the attendees are new to our ideas and not engaging in the behaviours we promote, but this blog post focuses on Possibility B, when most or all of the audience members’ views and behaviours already fit with CRF recommendations. Some people would negatively label such Possibility B events as “preaching to the choir”, in other words talking to people who already agree with CRF. However, in this post, I will argue that while CRF wants to reach out to the general public whose views and behaviours differ from ours, events nonetheless are valuable when the majority of attendees are “choir members”.

For instance, recently, CRF sponsored a talk by Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, Director of Singapore’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The talk, accompanied by a vegan meal, focused on the lives of cows raised to produce milk for humans, and was based on Dr Jaipal’s experience on dairy farms in Australia during his training to be a veterinarian. Most of the audience of about 20 were already vegetarians of various kinds, including vegans.

The fact that the large majority of the audience already knew about the plight of cows led some people to wonder if Dr Jaipal’s talk was merely a case of ‘preaching to the choir”. Were we at CRF wasting our time telling people what they already knew and convincing them to do what they already were doing? Yes, it will also be great if, in the future, Dr Jaipal presents his informative and heartfelt talk to an audience largely of meat eaters and dairy milk drinkers, but this blog post presents eight benefits of presentations such as his, even for audiences composed of 100% vegans, in other words, a choir that is already singing the same vegan song.

  1. Future Events

People whose views and behaviours are already in line with CRF’s might have ideas for other audiences for similar sessions about the harms done by dairy farming. For example, after Dr Jaipal’s session, one audience member asked if Dr Jaipal would be open to giving a similar presentation to students and staff at the audience member’s son’s school, and Dr Jaipal enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. Similarly, some presenters are willing to let other people use/adopt their presentation materials to do sessions on the same topic.

  1. Feedback

 ‘Choir’ members can provide useful feedback that leads to enhanced future sessions. This feedback can include pointing out typos in ppts, suggesting more effective visuals, giving ideas for topics to include, remove, or clarify, and offering alternative ways to include the audience in the presentation, such as online participation, for example, quizzes using Kahoot!, with opportunities for peer interaction among the audience, or questions and comments using Slido.

  1. Confidence

Similarly, choir members can help presenters gain confidence, if this is a new presentation/workshop or if the presenters are not accustomed to presenting. It’s good to start with a supportive, forgiving audience.

  1. Bonding

Often, even though people are members of the same organisation and have similar beliefs, they might not know each other or feel comfortable with each other. Events, especially when they are organised in a manner that allows people to interact, help members get to know each other, thus promoting bonding and making the organisation more of a family or an expanding network of friends. Indeed, research suggests that a feeling of belonging boosts people’s well being. This bonding also encourages people to be more participatory, because they know there will be welcomed by smiles and nods the next time they attend an event or do outreach.

Sometimes, making an effort to bond with and support others means going to and taking part in activities that are not high on our list of interests. For example, when I was in secondary school, due to a rare bout of filial piety, I decided to visit my father’s uncle who lived a couple hours away in Brooklyn. Uncle Lou was a retired tailor who lived by himself in rather modest circumstances. One of the few things I knew about Uncle Lou was that he liked to attend horse races; so, I offered to go with him, even though I had no interest in horse racing, not because of the cruelty involved (I was completely naïve about that), but because I liked to watch the sports I played, such as basketball and tennis. I asked him to take me along to the track just so we could have something to do together. Similarly, people attend little kids’ dancing, singing, etc. performances just to show support, not because they anticipate enjoying the performance. (Btw, Uncle Lou didn’t take me to the track, as he was afraid of corrupting my morals.)

  1. Supporting the Event Organiser and the Event Venue

Organising events can be fraught with uncertainty, including not knowing how many people will show up for the events. Some people sign up but then do not show up; others do not sign up, but show up hoping to be allowed to participate. This uncertainty makes life difficult for those organising the events, as well as for the management and staff of the event venue. Furthermore, organizers feel good when lots of people show up for their events, and restaurants and other venues need the customers and the word-of-mouth publicity. For instance, restaurants hope that people will post favourably about them on social media or review them on the abillionVeg or Happy Cow apps.

One time when I signed up to support the organisers was for the launch of a new initiative by some of our members. As soon as the event was announced, I went online to purchase two tickets, one for me and one for a nephew of mine who had shown some interest. Unfortunately, my nephew had to go out of town; so, I was faced with the prospect of finding someone else to use his ticket. Fortunately, the event sold out a week in advance; so, the organisers were happy to let someone else use our two tickets, and I went to another event instead.

  1. Strength in Numbers

Just like for political rallies where people and the media attempt to measure the strength of a political party or candidate by the number of people in attendance, so too for events organised by animal activists. Thus, having more people, including ‘choir’ members, in attendance at events boosts the animal support organisation’s image and the members’ morale. Just as people like to patronise hawker stalls with long queues, people also like to attend events and visit venues that attract big crowds.

  1. Skills

Members of a real choir assemble to work on their singing skills. So too, at our events, members can work on their activist skills. For instance, at one Animal Allies meeting earlier this year, we had a session on how to be better listeners when interacting with the public. Such skills sessions can be especially useful when the skills being taught are tried out right there at the session.

  1. Learning

Yes, all animal activists know the basics about the horrendous effects of modern systems that use our fellow animals for meat, eggs, and dairy, as everyone has seen Earthlings or similar documentaries. But, there is so much more to learn. For example, here are several points about the lives of dairy cows that I learned from Dr Jaipal’s session. With this information, I can be a more credible advocate for cows. (Please note that the points below from Dr Jaipal’s talk are based on his experience on farms in Australia, and, as he pointed out, dairy practices differ from country to country and even from farm to farm.

  1. Calves are removed from their mothers on the day of birth in order to prevent bonding between mother and child, because once bonding has taken place, separating them becomes stressful.
  2. Cows, both female and male, naturally grow horns, but cows seen on dairy farms do not have horns, because when the cows are very young, they are subjected to a process known as disbudding, via which the buds of what would become horns are burned off using thermal cauterisation. Note: Agribusiness is attempting to use selective breeding to develop cows that will not grow horns.
  3. Cows only spend about 20 minutes twice a day attached to milking machines. The machines have sensors which halt the milking process when the cows have no more milk. Nonetheless, the milking process leads to painful and debilitating mastitis.
  4. Cows are artificially inseminated so that they become pregnant again soon after giving birth. For the sake of efficiency, the goal is that all the cows on a particular farm will become pregnant at the same time. This goal is seldom 100% achieved, even though bulls are used in an attempt to inseminate those cows for whom artificial insemination was not effective. Cows who repeatedly do not become pregnant are removed from the herd.
  5. Milking of cows stops two months before the cows are due to give birth, in order to allow the cows to rebuild their strength for the birthing process. Pregnancy lasts about nine months.
  6. When cows have gone through several pregnancies, their productivity in terms of conceiving and giving milk declines, and they are killed for their meat. This meat is not used for steaks or other expensive pieces of cows’ flesh, as their flesh is considered ‘inferior’ to that of the cows who are specifically bred for meat, not milk.

To conclude, yes, we should strive to have those new to our views and behaviours attend our events. However, it is far from a waste of time when our own members and supporters attend our events. Rather than being worthless sessions, ‘preaching to the choir’ helps us sing our song more harmoniously, more clearly, and more strongly.