1. Use reliable sources and double check them. Don’t just take one organization’s/resource's word for it; check several sources. If you’re seeing facts and statistics on a website, do they cite those sources? Are those sources credible, or are they links to more sites and information of the same type (e.g., advocacy sites linking to more advocacy sites)? What’s the original source of that information? One of the assignments when I was a student in IHE's program was to choose a fact or statistic from one of our required reading books, and to do my own research to verify the accuracy of the claim. I discovered that my chosen statistic, although honestly intended to be accurate, was actually misleading.
2. Whenever possible use primary sources. Can you visit a factory farm yourself? Review that latest study on global warming yourself and not just skim the press release sent out by an advocacy group? Talk to a person who’s an expert on the issue in question? Find the original source for the statistic being used? Go to the source when you can.
3. Use industry and government sources when possible and appropriate. No, they’re not necessarily more likely to be accurate or credible, but, like it or not, the public often gives more credence to industry and government sources as being “objective” and tends to think that advocacy groups are more “biased.” One of the things I love about Vegan Outreach’s literature is that they often use farmed animal industry statistics and quotes to show just how cruel and destructive industrial agriculture is.
4. Never exaggerate or mislead. It may sometimes be tempting to generalize or exaggerate just a tiny bit, since it’s for a good cause, but honesty and accuracy must prevail. Often people are already skeptical of the kinds of information that humane educators share, so if you get caught telling a little white lie, your credibility is gone, and a potential future advocate is lost.
5. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” There are so many challenges in the world, that even if you focus on one issue, there’s too much to know. Certainly it’s important to be as knowledgeable as you can, so be sure to continue to educate yourself; but, it’s okay to tell someone that you don’t know the answer to their question or assertion. People will often appreciate your honesty, and if you can point them to some credible resources that CAN answer their question, even better.
6. Tell them “Don’t take my word for it.” Invite your audience to explore the issue(s) themselves and do their own investigating. They’re more likely to believe what they read, see or hear with their own senses, rather than getting it second (or third) hand. We WANT to encourage critical thinking and questioning, including of what we ourselves are saying.
7. Admit when you’re wrong. Information is dynamic, and, with new knowledge, facts and statistics can change. New studies may reveal new data. Or, you may have found the same statistic from three reliable sources and then subsequently discovered that all of them were mistaken. Don’t hesitate to admit if you’ve been inadvertently sharing an inaccurate piece of information or if someone you’re talking to turns out to know more about the issue than you do. Mistakes happen. Honesty and sincerity are more important than clinging to erroneous data, even if it seems to “weaken” your stance.
And, of course, it’s important to remember that not everyone responds to logic and data. Many changes of heart (and habits) aren’t made from the information on charts and graphs, but come from an awareness of the impact of our choices on others and a realization that we don’t want to cause others harm.