Humane Education in Action: Creating a Network of Caring

IHE HECP student Susan Hargreaves has been following the humane education path for more than two decades. Her work as Humane Educator at the Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary and as founder and webmaster for HumaneEducators.com allow her to help adults and children make connections about the importance of extending compassion and respect to animals.

Susan's organization recently honored a group of children for helping save an injured puppy. Here's an interview with Susan about her humane education work.

IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?

SH: I have been a humane educator for 27 years; how did I begin this satisfying, challenging, and sometimes bittersweet journey?

When I think back in an attempt to gauge the exact moment I discovered great injustice existed in the world, it all started with my Aunt Olwyn saying I should come to work with her since I loved animals so much. I was nine years old and visiting West Yorkshire; off we went on a bright July day in James Herriott country. We drove up past the moors to a chicken hatchery. Aunt Olwyn was the receptionist there. As she went to her desk, she directed me to an open doorway where I could see a conveyor belt where all the baby chicks were hatching.

Imagine my shock at seeing the industrial bins full of dead and dying baby chicks who had just been tossed off the conveyor belt after peeking their heads out of their shells. Hoses filled with gas were connected to the large drums. The chicks were piled one on top of each other, some struggling to climb to the top of the bin in a desperate attempt for air.

I thought to myself, "This has to be wrong! This killing has to be against the law! How can everyone be letting this terrible cruelty happen?" This was the moment I recognized a need to stop widespread, industrial, routine animal cruelty. At nine years of age I lost my belief that “someone” was watching out for those who could not defend themselves, and that farms were happy places, but what could I do to help? Well, you know, humane education was and is the answer.


IHE: You run a website, Humane Educators Reaching Out.com Tell us about that.

SH: HumaneEducatorsReachingOut.com (or HumaneEducators.com) stemmed from a meeting I called for South Florida humane educators. My goal was to get all the humane educators together to act as a resource/support network for each other, and to refer each others' programs, especially in locations where a child may have been charged with animal cruelty. The website serves as a local “one stop shop” for teachers to book multiple humane education programs for little or no cost from a wide variety of South Floridian humane educators. The Kids News section of the site is also an arena to showcase the many local children who help animals.


IHE: How did you get involved with Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary?

SH: Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary, a project of the Pegasus Foundation, is a 23 acre property that cares for abused, neglected and/or abandoned horses and cats. The sanctuary’s co-coordinators realized the need to address the causes of animal neglect, cruelty, & homelessness via humane education. I was asked if I would help co-ordinate the opening of an Education Center on the property and its programs. After getting bamboo flooring down in the main room and beautiful artwork donated, we were ready to host groups, adult workshops and children’s’ school field trips.

It was fortunate that the Caring Fields and the Pegasus Foundation management agreed the education center should be consistently compassionate and all meals would be vegan. Each group who visits the center learns about how they can help other animals, as well as enjoys vegan goodies.


IHE: What kinds of outreach do you do and to what ages or groups?

SH: All group and ages are reached with on-site workshops or presentations at the sanctuary. "You Can Be an Animal Hero" is a popular presentation, where the younger elementary-age children meet Horace B Horse, Kitty T Cat, & Rocky Raccoon, plush characters who tell how children can be heroes to animals and who distribute Animal Hero Cards. We also do interactive plays, where children dress in native wildlife, marine mammal or jungle animal costumes in front of natural habitat backdrops and dramatize the challenges other animals face.

The adult workshops run the gamut from disaster response training, to Compassionate Cooking for the Holidays. To date the most well-attended workshops have been the Stop the Violence workshop and the recent Humane Educators workshop.


IHE: What’s a typical week like for you?

SH: I am fortunate that my activities vary from week to week. For instance, in the last week of school, I visited two schools to receive the culmination of service learning projects from children who had visited Caring Fields and had met the rescued horses and cats; one school made banners saying “Say Neigh to Animal Cruelty.” Another school made catnip sock toys and kitty beds. In that same week I visited a domestic violence shelter in Palm Beach County to give a compassion presentation, which consists of heartwarming stories of rescue, from human to non-human animals and vice versa. I spent the next day calling bus companies in an attempt to get transportation donated so the families from the shelter can visit Caring Fields.

I then visited the Broward County Jail to give my second presentation there to 65 woman inmates, the State of the Animal Nation, as a representative of Humane Educators Reaching Out.


IHE: What are your goals?

SH: I am forever re-evaluating the effectiveness of my humane education work; if I could be reaching more people, how I can be more effective?

My goal is to one day have an education center that is also a refuge for rescued farmed animals: cows, pigs, chickens and rabbits, too. It would be the kind of place where children and youth can participate in growing organic veggies, preparing vegan food and helping other animals, as well as their own communities.

My work with Caring Fields is the closest I have ever come to that life-long goal. The Education Center is beautiful, and my work there has the power to counteract the root causes of animal neglect and cruelty.

I would also like to find a way to fund the myriad commercials I have imagined over the years that showcase the impact consumer choices have on other animals.


IHE: How is your work being funded?

SH: Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary’s Education Center is funded by donors and is a project of the Pegasus Foundation.

Humane Educators Reaching Out.com is basically, funded by the “skin of my teeth.” Sometimes I am fortunate to get work donated; for example, the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale donated the great web design, and rattlethecage.org is helping with a short online video.


IHE: You recently sponsored a workshop for other Humane Educators in the area. What did you notice? What did you learn?

SH: This was the most well-attended Education Center adult workshop yet. A wide variety of educators attended and showcased their own work. Musicians, performers, anti-violence workers, Americorps volunteers, teachers, humane society representatives, and activists all attended; each had their own important contribution. Overwhelmingly, there was a sense of common purpose and respect and a great willingness to learn.


IHE: Recently you gave a presentation to 65 women inmates. Tell us about that experience.

SH: Initially, I was a little intimidated, and puzzled about the best way to encourage interaction throughout the presentation, as well as the best way to foster empathy. My trepidation continued right up until I stood in front of the crowd in the gray cement hall, after going through a long security laden process to get there. I had customized my trusty slide projector with heartwarming before and after pictures: photos of children who had helped animals, photos of a pig and dogs who have helped humans, even a photo of a cow who had jumped a seven foot gate to escape the slaughterhouse. Through the stories and images I interwove facts establishing the link between animal and human abuse, as well as information about current animal protection laws.

I was surprised at the extent of the stories of animals the women had witnessed being harmed when they where children, or as adults, and the ways they had helped or identified with other animals. The myriad questions that showed a lively interest all combined to create an enriching experience for me, re-affirming why I became a humane educator. It is energizing to feel the positive accomplishment of reaching others, who in turn reach back. This was the most mutually fulfilling presentation experience I have experienced in some time.

IHE: What are some of your biggest challenges?

SH: My biggest challenge is to find the answer to the puzzle of how to achieve financial autonomy to continue the humane education work at the level I aspire to.


IHE: Share a success story. What has helped encourage you?

SH: My experience with the women at the jail, and so many other stories of brave children helping animals in spite of their friends urging them to ignore the animal’s plight have inspired me. I have given Extraordinary Animal Hero Awards to children at school assemblies who have saved other animals by using the contact numbers on their Animal Hero Cards and utilizing their own courage. (A few of these stories are highlighted on HumaneEducators.com on the Kids' News page.)


IHE: What are your thoughts about the power of humane education to positively transform the world?


SH: Humane Education is the answer in all of its many forms. Whether it is in the classroom or in the street, in the theatre or in song, or in a single, intelligent, and genuine interaction with one other person, humane education is the answer.


IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?


SH: My book, The Hare-raising Adventures of Rabbitta the Third will soon be reprinted and available on the HumaneEducators.com site. I still would like to have an education center with resident, rescued farmed animals, a smaller pilot sanctuary that is easily accessible to schools, treatment centers, etc.…

I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work at Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary’s Education Center; to be able to work alongside others who know the far reaching value of humane education has the potential to create achievements to counter the plight of other animals.
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Mark Your Calendar: National Teach-In for Global Warming

Those who don’t know about global warming are either on the world’s longest and most comprehensive media fast, or live on an entirely different planet. But knowing something and doing something about it aren’t always the close-knit twins we’d like them to be. A lot of people, companies, organizations and educators are taking action to decrease the negative impact of global warming and to encourage positive solutions. On February 5, 2009, educational institutions, faith groups, community organizations and businesses around the U.S. will be hosting educational events as part of the National Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions.

The lengths and types of events will vary, but the goal is to educate, engage, and collaborate in order to promote policy recommendations such as to:
  1. Cut carbon 40% below today's levels by 2020.
  2. Create millions of green jobs: Weatherize, solarize and rewire the nation.
  3. Revitalize America's economy: Lead the world in renewable technology.
  4. Promote carbon neutral power.
and to cultivate dialogue with Congressional and state representatives, city councilors, mayors, governors and other political leaders.

There’s also a webcast that can be shown -- “The First 100 Days” -- which features global warming advocates discussing solutions for the Obama Administration’s first 100 days in office. The website also offers resources such as suggested outlines/timelines for events, “teach-in models” for different age and interest groups, suggested books, and information about other events around the country.

Schools, companies and organizations all over the U.S. are signing up and getting involved. Consider adding yours to this effort.

~ Marsha
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No More Bad Guys Winning: We Want (and Need) More From Our Movies

I've watched two movies recently, Match Point and The Player, in which the proverbial "bad guys" win. There is no happy ending. The murderers not only go unpunished but also prevail. Ironically, in The Player, there is a film within the film in which the screenwriter insists that his movie not have a happy ending, that it be based in reality. But the unhappy ending flops in screen tests and is replaced by a predictable, happy one. But The Player itself has no such ending. These kinds of dark, anti-hero movies are commonplace these days, and they win awards. No Country for Old Men -- a gruesome film with a gruesome end – won this year’s Oscar for best picture.

What effects do such films have on us? Do they make us less likely to be just, compassionate, kind, courageous, and honest ourselves? I’d love to see a social psychology study analyzing the effects of cynical films versus uplifting ones on our attitudes and behaviors. (Dissertation topic anyone?) Although I’m only guessing, I think bad-guys-prevailing films may erode our care for others, contribute to our apathy, and justify our self-centeredness. I’m concerned that we’re raising in-it-for-me cynics instead of ordinary heroes through our trends in entertainment.

Yet, I also think this trend in unlikable characters successfully beating the system will soon fade. Even if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences elevates these "bad guy" films with its awards, box office sales still prove that we like heroism, and that we want the good guys to prevail. I also think that we crave more nuance and truthfulness in these complex times, and that simple happy endings will be disappointing and unsatisfying. I don’t believe that most of us want apathy reinforced, but we do want our minds sated; we want brilliance, not sappy, feel-good-but-ultimately-unrealistic finales. We want human complexity acknowledged, in which good and bad are not depicted in either/or characters, but in more subtle and complicated ways that require more clever and intriguing solutions for today’s -- and tomorrow’s -- world.

I welcome your comments.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of dubswede via Creative Commons.
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What Message Are You Modeling?

In Zoe’s new book, Most Good, Least Harm, she talks about the importance of modeling your message as one of the keys to living a MOGO life. Our Executive Director, Khalif, recently shared a link to the video below, created by Child Friendly Australia. The video does a terrific job of reflecting back to us just how powerfully we model messages to our kids.




(Note: If the above doesn't play, go here to see the video.)

The same is true for everyone. As Gandhi said, “My life is my message,” and we send all manner of messages in the every day choices and actions we take. Are we kind and patient with the check out clerk, even though he’s taking forever to ring up our purchases? How do we react to the woman who cuts in front of us in line? How do we behave when our friend falsely accuses us? What message are we sending when we choose to stop at a fast food restaurant? How do we respond to the person, planet or animal in need? What do our choices say about our message, our values?

What messages are you modeling?

~ Marsha
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Happy, Humane Holidays!

Happy Holidays from the faculty and staff of the Institute for Humane Education!

We wish you a wonderful holiday full of love, joy, connection, compassion and humane choices.


Peace for all beings,

The IHE Staff
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Seven Keys to MOGO: Key 7: Strive for Balance

Usually, the holidays are anything but balanced. We often don’t eat balanced meals; we may tip the balance toward excess activity and away from relaxation, and we usually unbalance our checkbooks.

This holiday season, strive for balance. One of the challenges of MOGO living comes when we want to change our lives to reflect our values more deeply, but our culture makes it difficult to do this. We don’t like being different. We don’t like the inconvenience. We may not appreciate the call toward awareness, analysis, and responsibility. Our desires and values may come into conflict.

You may have felt some conflict reading these blog posts: the conflict between wanting to put lots of gifts under the tree for your expectant children, and wanting a simpler, more values-based holiday; between wanting more like-minded community-building, but also to be with your family of origin, even if they don’t share your goals; between wanting more stuff yourself and knowing that your desires may have unintended consequences on the environment.

Striving for a MOGO balance during the holiday season can come when we elevate some important values that often get overlooked when we write our list of best qualities. While some of our top ten values may include generosity, integrity, compassion, honesty, kindness, and courage, there are other wonderful values that may be just what we need to cultivate and embrace during the holiday challenges. These include:
  • flexibility
  • humor
  • creativity
  • humility
  • patience
  • acceptance
  • openness
With these values in mind, we can be kind to ourselves, accept our limitations, aim to use the 6 keys described in the previous posts while acknowledging that this 7th is a critical component of a joyful MOGO life, too.

Happy holidays everyone,

~ Zoe
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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.


Chinese activists work to take cat off the menu - LA Times (12/22/08)
”Although Cantonese cooking is known abroad for dim sum and won-ton soup, it is also recognized as the most exotic of the Chinese cuisines, serving up a veritable Noah's ark of species on the dinner plate. As a popular saying goes, the Cantonese will eat anything that walks, crawls, hops or flies. But now fellow Chinese are drawing the line. Eating cat, they say -- that is just too disgusting. ’Cats are your friends, not food,’ read the banners carried at a demonstration last week at the Guangzhou train station, where protesters were trying to intercept a shipment of cats.”

NAACP report reveals continued decline in diversity on TVCommon Dreams (12/21/08)
”Nearly a decade after the NAACP condemned a 'virtual whiteout' in broadcast TV, the civil rights group said major networks have stalled in their efforts to further ethnic diversity on-screen and off. ‘This is America: So goes TV, so goes reality. We don't think it's any accident that before we had a black president in reality, we had a black president on TV,’ [Benjamin Todd Jealous] said, referring to the chief executive portrayed by Dennis Haysbert on Fox's ’24.’"

Milgram redux shows people still willing to harm othersBBC (12/19/08)
"’What we found is validation of the same argument - if you put people in certain situations, they will act in surprising and maybe often even disturbing ways.’ [Dr Jerry Burger] said that it was not that there was ‘something wrong’ with the volunteers, but that when placed under pressure, people will often do ‘unsettling’ things. Even though it was difficult to translate laboratory work to the real world, he said, it might partly explain why, in times of conflict, people could take part in genocide.”
Thanks, Global Sociology Blog, for the heads up.

Teens’ attempts at random acts of kindness generate hugs, suspicions - Seattle Times (12/18/08)
"’People can't accept the fact that there are other people who just want to be nice,’ says Sheldon High School senior Kelsey Hertel, who founded the school's new Random Acts of Kindness Club. ‘People don't trust each other. They think everyone's out to get them.’ Ironically, that's exactly why Hertel founded the club in the first place….’We thought by doing random acts of kindness, we could totally change someone's day or life. And they could pay it forward to someone else. And one person at a time, we could make the world better.’"

Some penguins to get endangered species protectionsDaily Green (12/18/08)
"’Threats to these penguin species include commercial fishing, competition for prey, habitat loss, disease, and predation,’ according to the USFWS."

Declaration for gay rights brought to UN - New York Times (12/18/08)
”The declaration, sponsored by France with broad support in Europe and Latin America, condemned human rights violations based on homophobia, saying such measures run counter to the universal declaration of human rights. ‘How can we tolerate the fact that people are stoned, hanged, decapitated and tortured only because of their sexual orientation?’ said Rama Yade, the French state secretary for human rights, noting that homosexuality is banned in nearly 80 countries and subject to the death penalty in at least six.“

Human rights groups demand changes from computer manufacturersSpiegel Online International (12/16/08)
”Thousands of PCs and laptops are sold every Christmas, but most consumers don't know that many computer parts are produced under inhumane working conditions in the Far East. A new study has exposed shocking neglect at suppliers for some of the biggest computer manufacturers.”

ALDF releases state animal protection laws rankingsALDF Press Release (12/16/08)
”This report – the only one of its kind in the nation – is based on a detailed comparative analysis of each jurisdiction, researching fourteen distinct categories of animal protection laws throughout more than 3,400 pages of statutes. The ranking groups each jurisdiction into a top, middle or bottom tier, and includes a listing of the best five and worst five states.”

Hunger for palm oil profits threatens orangutans - The Star.com (12/15/08)
”But, it's humans who are clear-cutting Kesi's rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia. Orangutans are being forced from their homes. Adults are shot on sight while babies are sold into the black market as pets. And, it's all happening in the name of palm oil. Palm oil is one of the most widely used vegetable oils in the world. It is found in products ranging from ice cream and cookies to soap and detergents. More recently, it has been used in biofuels.”
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

Industrial plants near schools cause health risks for studentsUSA Today (12/10/08)
”Scientists have long known that kids are particularly susceptible to the dangers. They breathe more air in proportion to their weight than adults do, and their bodies are still developing. Based on the time they spend at school, their exposures could last for years but the impact might not become clear for decades.”

Rape: The hidden war against womenGuardian (UK) (12/5/08)
"’This situation is not going to go away,’ Chishugi said. ‘I want the international community to take action. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide nobody spoke up for us and now I want to speak up for people who are suffering. [These women] are still terrified when you talk to them; you really find the deeper pain in their heart. So they need more than just food. These people need help.’"
Thanks, Global Sociology Blog, for the heads up.
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Seven Keys to MOGO: Key 6: Take Responsibility

It’s so easy to be influenced by the prevailing values of our culture. We are bombarded with messages to buy more and more. Several people were killed or injured in the U.S. on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, which is reputed to be the biggest shopping day of the year) because they were trampled by frenzied shoppers. This is insane; yet, how many of us find ourselves influenced by those messages to buy more? It’s difficult to swim against the consumerist current and to take back the holidays. Advertisers are brilliant at manipulating us.

Yet we are responsible for our choices, our actions, and our decisions. It may be challenging to embrace this responsibility, because so many forces around us make us unaware and unconscious about our decision-making, especially around the holidays. For example, many of us don’t think twice about buying wrapping paper that may have come from virgin forests just to be discarded moments after it’s been ripped off a package. Yet, we are responsible for those trees being cut down and for the waste generated and the pollution caused, from the production to the disposal of, not only the wrapping paper, but of everything we buy.

If you are making an effort to make connections and self reflect (Key 3), to model your message and work for change (Key 4), and to live your epitaph (Key 1), you have probably become more aware of the effects of your choices and the ways in which they do and don’t truly reflect your values. Now take responsibility for those choices.

If responsibility feels tiring and unpleasant, try reframing it. When you take responsibility you become the agent of your life. You gain freedom and strength, and a sense of yourself as powerful. When we refuse our responsibility we become victims of advertising and peer pressures and keeping up with the Joneses. Who wants that? Responsibility is liberating!

~ Zoe


Image courtesy of davetoaster under Creative Commons.
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Seven Keys to MOGO: Key 5: Find and Create Community

It’s particularly challenging during the holiday season to buck the buy-as-much-as possible system without support. Your family may not be happy without dozens of gifts under the Christmas tree or expensive presents each day of Hanukkah. It’s important to find or create a community of people who also want a holiday season that revolves around joyful giving, sharing, and connection, not just the buying of more stuff.

Start with your family. Have a discussion about what would bring the most joy this holiday season. Share ideas about gifts of service and donations, about starting new traditions that include volunteering or treasure hunts or game-playing. Delve deep to discover what would bring the greatest gifts to your family members. Expand your concept of family to include new friends who share your values. Find a way to celebrate with these friends through a potluck gathering, music-making, conversation, charades. Bring interpersonal interactions back into your life (as opposed to virtual interactions on your computer!) to build a stronger, more connected community.

~ Zoe

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Seven Keys to MOGO: Key 4: Model Your Message and Work for Change

Mahatma Gandhi was once asked by a reporter, “What is your message?” He replied, “My life is my message.”

Each of our lives is our message. What message do you want to convey this holiday season? Holidays are often stressful. This year in particular, with so many people struggling financially, the stress may be even greater. But you can convey whatever message you want this holiday. You can reject the pressure to buy more and more stuff, and make beautiful and delightful holiday gifts instead. Here are a few suggestions for homemade gifts:

  • baked goods and preserves
  • potted cuttings from favorite plants
  • a poem or a painting
  • a treasure hunt for children with a family heirloom as the prize
  • coupon gifts such as a back rub a week or doing the dishes for the designated dishwasher for a month or the cooking for the designated cook

Shifting our way of thinking around the holidays toward modeling our message allows us to embody what we want to create in the world, but we also must work for systemic change. As long as the purchase of more and more overpackaged, toxic, sweatshop-produced, disposable, resource-depleting stuff is the norm, our individual choices will be drops in the proverbial bucket.

But when we work to change the systems so that the holidays are less about things and more about love, kindness, and joy, we help create a world in which we aren’t faced with unhealthy pressures each December. One organization, Redefining Christmas, is working to create change in how we perceive the holiday season. This site urges people to give donations to a loved one’s favorite charity as a gift.

What can you do to help change the system? Might you write a letter to the editor? Write a comment on a blog? Speak out at your religious institution?

You’ll find lots of suggestions for changemaking in Most Good, Least Harm, but for now, consider a small step toward redefining the holidays toward meaningful acts of generosity and goodness.

~ Zoe

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WebSpotlight: Healthier and Safer Kids' Products

When toys and clothes for kids were made by hand from local, natural materials, few parents worried about the impact of those items on the health of their children. But today, with products being made around the world from a variety of materials, more parents are concerned about just what's in that teething ring, onesie jumper or favorite stuffed friend, especially with issues like the recent concerns about Bisphenol-A in plastics and lead in kids' toys.

Two websites that can help parents learn more about potentially harmful chemicals and other elements in children's toys and other products are Healthy Toys and The ZRecs Guide to Safer Children's Products.

Healthy Toys is the "consumer guide to toxic chemicals in toys." Its database includes information about more than 1,500 kids' toys and products. You can search products by brand, type, product code, or manufacturer. The site also offers a list of primary chemicals of concern, with information about the chemical, its health effects, and current regulations.

The ZRecs Guide to Safer Children's Products offers information about more than 1,000 products and 149 brands. You can browse by product type or brand. The listings for a product include a rating, confidence level, and any ingredients of concern.

Considering that the stick was recently inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame, parents might want to rethink the kinds of toys they're considering must-haves for their kids and explore how to spark creativity, imagination and enjoyment outside the current mainstream definition of "toy" and "fun."

~ Marsha
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Seven Keys to MOGO: Key 3: Make Connections and Self-Reflect

As you buy gifts, food, wrapping paper, ornaments, etc., this holiday season ask yourself some questions. What are the effects of these purchase on other people, animals, and the environment? All your purchases will contribute to the economy, which is a positive effect in these hard times, but your money is your vote for the world you want. Some purchases have very negative consequences. For example, a toy made from plastic in an overseas sweatshop may contribute to pollution, human exploitation, and resource depletion, whereas a wooden toy made locally from an artisan may be more aligned with your values. Facial lotion from a company which tests its products on animals may be less aligned with your values than a lotion made by a cottage industry with natural ingredients that are known to be safe.

As you ask questions about the products you’re considering buying, you will need to make some effort to find the answers. Very little is supplied by the labels and ingredients. You’ll have to dig to find out if your purchases are truly aligned with your values. You can visit Responsible Shopper to learn about some of the larger multinational companies and their products. I also provide a wealth of resources for such research in Most Good, Least Harm and through the weblinks at the Institute for Humane Education.

After doing some research to make connections between the things you buy and their effects, self-reflect. What choices matter to you? Having learned new information, what new choices can you make that are in accordance with your values?

~ Zoe

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Opportunities for Youth: Youth Leadership Council and Dream It. Do It. Challenge

Roots & Shoots Youth Leadership Council

Roots & Shoots, a program of the Jane Goodall Institute, is seeking applicants for its Youth Leadership Council. Youth in the U.S., ages 14-24, are invited to apply for a 2 year stint on the council. Youth leaders help engage other youth, support and establish Roots and Shoots groups in their region, participate in events and outreach, and represent the organization.

Find out more.


Dream It. Do It. Challenge

MTV Switch and Ashoka GenV are co-sponsoring the Dream It. Do It. Challenge for youth (ages 12-20 in North American and Europe; ages 12-24 everywhere else). The Challenge invites youth passionate about the planet to submit their ideas for making the world cooler or greener. The best ideas will win a $1,000 grant to help put those ideas into action.

The deadline to submit ideas is December 31, 2008.

Find out more.
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Seven Keys to MOGO: Key 2: Pursue Joy Through Service

Many are suffering this holiday season. Millions have lost their jobs and are struggling with the basics. They cannot even buy their children a winter coat or mittens, let alone a new toy. During this holiday season, consider how you might be of service to those in your community who are facing serious hardship, and make a commitment to give. You might give in the form of volunteering for a local non-profit, helping out at the local homeless shelter, bringing baked treats to people in a nursing home or hospital, shoveling an elderly neighbor’s drive when it snows. You might also want to connect with churches and synagogues that organize gift-giving to people who cannot afford presents for their kids.

When you take such action, you will likely discover an incredible side effect: joy. Perhaps more than anything else, giving to others brings us deep joy. At least that is what dozens of people I interviewed for Most Good, Least Harm told me. How nice that what is best for others is often best for us, too.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of IndyDina and Mr. Wonderful.

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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Will livestock emissions be exempted? - Treehugger.com (12/14/08)
”New studies show that operations from chicken farms generate more ammonia emissions annually than oil refineries and steel mills combined in poultry heavy states. About 8 times more. And now the EPA is pushing for an exemption for the poultry industry so they wouldn't have to report those or other harmful emissions, on grounds that they're protected under federal 'right to know' laws.”

CA educators turning to experiential learning to promote environmental action - Ventura County Star (12/14/08)
”Increasingly, educators are promoting ‘experiential learning’ for environmental education. Local students have conducted a variety of research, maintained gardens, staged productions and taken on other hands-on environmental projects.”

Studies indicate women still not getting equal chance in workplaceAlterNet (12/13/08)
“A growing number of studies show that women are more likely than men to be devoted to their employers and to see hard work as the best way to get ahead. But women, conditioned from an early age to be communal and "nice," are generally hesitant to boast about their efforts and are less likely than men to push for raises and promotions. In a workplace that rewards aggressiveness and self-promotion, women often go unrecognized for their contributions.”

“Green power broker”: Profile of environmental justice activist & consultant Majora CarterNew York Times (12/14/08)
”Now, after seven years at Sustainable South Bronx, Ms. Carter is starting something new. Over the summer, she formed a for-profit consulting company, the Majora Carter Group….Ms. Carter hopes that community groups, institutions and corporations will hire her to help them solve environmental problems and create green jobs.”

New study shows zoos no place for elephantsTime (12/11/08)
"In a survey of 4,500 captive elephants worldwide, a team of researchers from the U.K., Canada and Kenya found that once you lock up the giant, space-loving beasts, their health suffers, their median life span plummets, and they quit breeding — the last things you would want for a creature you're ostensibly trying to help survive."

CA students on board with learning about oceans - Mercury News (12/11/08
”On board, the students rotated between stations: marine biology, navigation and ecology, including a lesson in marine pollution….The O'Neill Sea Odyssey program is free, but students must earn their way by designing and carrying out a community service project.”

Design contest for “sustainable city block” in Dallas, TX - Worldchanging.com (12/10/08)
”The winning city block design will actually be built, on what is currently an unused parking lot spanning two blocks across the street from Dallas City Hall. According to Urban Re:Vision, one of the two blocks will be transformed into public green space; the other will be devoted to the new sustainable city block.”

Dogs exhibit sense of jealousy, fair play - BBC (12/8/08)
”Scientists in Austria say they have found a basic form of jealousy in dogs.The Vienna-based researchers showed that dogs will stop doing a simple task when not rewarded if another dog, which continues to be rewarded, is present….The scientists say this shows a sensitivity in dogs that was only previously found in primates.”
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Seven Keys to MOGO: Key 1: Live Your Epitaph

Most of us don’t write our own epitaphs. If they’re written at all, they come from those who knew us well, and hopefully they reflect what we ourselves would have wanted said about us. But what if you were to write your epitaph now, in the fullness of your life, to seriously consider how you would want to sum up your contribution, what would you say?

Try it.

Now consider your holiday shopping list and the gifts you’ve already gotten or plan to get; your plans for celebration; your holiday traditions. If you put your epitaph side by side with your choices this holiday season, how are you doing at actually living your epitaph? Are the gifts you’re giving aligned with the values your epitaph espouses? Are your planned celebrations? If not, reassess. Try putting your epitaph into practice right now.

As I write in Most Good, Least Harm, living aligned with our values is, I believe, the most powerful way to cultivate inner peace and serenity – a lovely gift to ourselves as well as to others.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of Allie_Caulfield.


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Seven Keys to MOGO

In the next two weeks, I'm going to post about each of the 7 Keys to MOGO, which are part of my just published book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life. These aren’t proscriptive, but rather (I hope) useful keys for putting the MOGO (Most Good) principle into practice in your life. Because we are in the midst of the holiday season, in an economically difficult time, I’ll be looking at holiday challenges and opportunities through the lens of the 7 Keys.

The 7 Keys are:

  1. Live your epitaph
  2. Pursue joy through service
  3. Make connections and self reflect
  4. Model your message and work for change
  5. Find and create community
  6. Take responsibility
  7. Strive for balance

Wishing you a balanced, joyful, and generous holiday season!

~ Zoe

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Cultivating Gratitude

I took an online self-reflection course through the ToDo Institute during the month of November. During the course we completed daily exercises, some days focusing on those whom we wished to thank; other days focusing on apologizing for harm we'd caused; one day examining the blessings we received even during a difficult or painful time. The overall feeling I experienced during the course was gratitude. There was so much I noticed about what I continued to receive, whether from other people, from the environment, or from systems that protect my freedom and safety. More than this, the gratitude I felt compelled me to give more generously, and from that generosity of spirit, relationships deepened. Gratitude itself is a gift, enriching our lives. I recommend the book Naikan highly, as well as the ToDo Institute's courses.

For today, try noticing the small things that others do for you and thank them. Whether its help from a bank teller, the flagger on a road where there is construction, someone in your family who cleans your dishes – observe what is given to you and express your appreciation.

~ Zoe
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Connections Are Everywhere

Try this sometime when you have an hour to spare: go to the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) Resource Center weblinks . Pick 10 websites to visit at random and spend 5 minutes or so at each, jotting down notes about what each site is attempting to achieve or solve. As you go through them, begin writing down the connections you discover. For example, you may find an environmental organization’s site that includes sections about reversing global warming trends though policy changes, an animal protection site that that includes information about animal agriculture as a huge source of greenhouse gases, a green store that sells products that enable people to move toward solar energy and greater energy efficiency, and a human rights site that attempts to help environmental refugees.

When you’ve gone through the 10 sites, write down your ideas for ways to solve the underlying problem(s) that you noticed connected them all. What systems need to change? What skills and interests do you have that might help change these systems? What new ideas do you have that you haven’t seen in the sites? If you’re an educator, how can you use this new knowledge and approach with your students? (Teachers: if you design a lesson, activity, or course around this concept, and you’re willing to share it, we can post it with our Humane Education Activities.)

~ Zoe

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Don't Sweat(shop) the Small Stuff

While our children are all nestled in their beds with visions of sugarplums dancing about, and they're looking forward to acquiring a whole slew of new stuff that they'll be talking about incessantly with their friends for weeks after winter break is over, it's an excellent time to encourage them to think critically about all that new stuff -- much of which quite possibly came from sweatshops.

Several websites address issues of sweatshops, child labor and fair trade. Here are a few that might be useful for helping youth explore these issues.

Co-op America’s Ending Sweatshops Program provides information about sweatshops, tips for avoiding sweatshop products, and a sweat-free products guide.

Global Exchange Sweatfree Communities offers information about sweatshop issues, resources and ideas. Their site also has a Sweatfree Toolkit for launching a sweatfree campaign in your community.

The focus of the National Labor Committee is “putting a human face on the global economy.” At their website you’ll find personal accounts, photos, news and information about worker conditions around the world.

The Smithsonian Institution currently has an online exhibit about the history of sweatshops in the U.S. Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A History of American Sweatshops, 1820 – present, provides a variety of information and perspectives.

If you’re interested in learning more about sweatshop issues and want to become active in promoting sweatshop-free products and communities, Sweatfree Communities has campaign materials and other information to help citizens create sweatfree communities, as well as a variety of educational resources. They also offer a “Shop with a Conscience Guide.”

Sweatfree also has announced its 2008 Sweatshop Hall of Shame, focusing on corporations that have “consistently flouted labor laws and basic worker protections.” This year’s “honorees” are American Eagle, Carrefour, Cintas, Dickies, Disney, Guess, Hanes, New Era, Speedo, Tommy Hilfiger, Toys "R" Us, and Wal-Mart.

And, for those interested in taking up legislative action against sweatshops, the NLC has been tracking anti-sweatshop legislation in the U.S. Congress. If the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act passes, it would “prohibit the import, export or sale of sweatshop goods in the U.S.” The bill was first introduced at the beginning of 2007. So far, about 26 senators and 175 representatives have signed as co-sponsors to the legislation. Students and others are invited to write their representatives to ask them to sign on as a co-sponsor (or to thank them for being one), as well as to encourage other organizations to endorse this legislation.

And, of course, IHE has a variety of humane education activities related to human rights issues, such as Where in the World, which helps students (grades 9 & up) make connections between what they wear and the conditions under which it's made.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of cambodia4kidsorg.
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Human Rights for All

Today, December 10, marks International Human Rights Day, which honors the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As much progress as humanity has made in establishing and maintaining rights for others, we have only brushed the surface of ensuring equal human rights for all.

Surprisingly, too many people still think of slavery as something abolished with the U.S. Civil War; too many still make daily choices that support sweatshops, child labor, racism, oppression and other acts of injustice.

One of the ways you can help promote human rights is to teach others about human rights issues. IHE has a number of activities and lesson plans regarding human rights issues. Samples include:

Circle of Compassion
What is compassion? Who and what are in our circles of compassion? This activity offers an exploration of compassion and uses "scenario" stations to inspire participants to think about who's in their circle of compassion and why, and what they can do to make a positive difference for those being oppressed.
Recommended for grades 4 and up.
Time: 60-90 minutes

Do You Want Slavery With That?
Modern slavery is still ubiquitous. Students hear about it from the slaves themselves (through their stories) and consider what they can do to help.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 60-90 minutes

Human Rights for All?
This activity familiarizes students with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and inspires them to think about the freedoms they enjoy that others cannot.
Recommended for grades 9 and up.
Time: 30-45 minutes

Me Against My Brother: An Exploration of Genocide
Students explore genocide, its broader impacts, and develop a means for taking action to prevent or address genocide.
Recommended for grades 8 & up.
Time: Several days to several weeks

Find more IHE activities/lesson plans on human rights issues.

You can also educate yourself (and others) by exploring resources such as books, videos, and websites on the topic of human rights.

And, of course, there are resources available all over the web. Here are a couple worth checking out:

Yes! Magazine has a whole featured section on human rights, from their Spring 2007 issue.

Amnesty International has a great music video in honor of international human rights.

Witness has a short video of their staff members sharing about "What image opened your eyes to human rights?"

Let's remember that, as Frances Moore Lappe says, "Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want." Let's work to make choices that support and nurture a world in which every person everywhere enjoys human rights.

~ Marsha
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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education & humane living, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.



Can green schools be created effectively and cost efficiently?The Guardian (UK) (12/08)
”Ultimately, says Keith Papa, architect director at BDP, it is how people use their new buildings that will make the difference. ‘The only way you'll get a zero-carbon school is by changing the habits of teachers and students, it's not just about reducing the carbon footprint of the buildings.’”

One community working toward sustainability & self-sufficiency - Orion (November/December 2008)
”The co-op’s explicit economic goal is to provide alternatives to the Central American Free Trade Agreement and demonstrate how communities can be less vulnerable to the negative effects of globalization.”

Toy industry ethics questioned in the news - Ethics Newsline (12/8/08)
”CNN reports that one in three toys tested by an independent lab shows traces of toxic substances such as lead, flame retardants, and arsenic. The researchers at the Michigan-based Ecology Center tested more than 1,500 popular toys and claim that a third show ‘medium’ or ‘high’ levels of adulterants.”

The high cost of eating animals – Guardian (UK) (12/7/08)
”The story of Ramírez's home village of Minga Porá is familiar in South America. It is a story that starts on the dinner tables of the UK and other rich nations, where a hunger for meat and dairy products fuels an ever-rising demand for the industrial farming of animals using high-protein feed.”
Thanks, Global Sociology Blog, for the heads up.

Teacher uses social justice to inspire, empower studentsExaminer.com (12/5/08)
”Several traits have been central to King-Davis’ teaching all along. Inquiry-based learning where students build their own understandings by getting deep into a subject, activist approaches that encourage students to engage their community or help improve it and, above all, student centered curriculum, which lets young people determine the direction a class goes in.”

Woman inspires others to engage in acts of kindnessMercury News (12/5/08)
”Her hope: As many people as possible will ‘extend their hand to someone who needs it’ by Dec. 14 — a day she picked specifically before Christmas so as not to confuse her idea with the holiday and include people of all faiths to help. So far, she said she knows of 200 people in six states that have gotten wind of the project and are participating.”

Environmentalists continue skipping the meat-global warming connection - American Prospect (12/3/08)
"’I think it's amazing that even the greenest of green liberal environment activists, the vast majority of them tend to consume meat at the same rate as people who think global warming is a hoax,’ says Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. ‘Meat consumption seems to be the last thing that progressive people address in their lifestyle. If I had a nickel for every global warming conference that had roast beef on the menu, I'd be rich.’

Toward local, sustainable food - Worldchanging (12/2/08)
”Local Food Plus has expanded on this model by adding energy and proximity to the list of sustainability requirements. LFP-branded products have a responsible backstory involving production, processing and transportation practices that respect biodiversity; fair and safe labour practices, humane animal husbandry, and conservation of water and soil. The producers are also working to eliminate or reduce synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering.”

Human-created noise in oceans harming wildlifeReuters (12/3/08)
”Man-made noise in the world's seas and oceans is becoming an increasing threat to whales, dolphins and turtles who use sound to communicate, forage for food and find mates, wildlife experts said on Wednesday. Rumbling ship engines, seismic surveys by oil and gas companies, and intrusive military sonars are triggering an ‘acoustic fog and cacophony of sounds’ underwater, scaring marine animals and affecting their behavior.

More media = greater negative effects on youth - Washington Post (12/2/08)
”In a detailed look at nearly 30 years of research on how television, music, movies and other media affect the lives of children and adolescents, a new study released today found an array of negative health effects linked to greater use. The report found strong connections between media exposure and problems of childhood obesity and tobacco use. Nearly as strong was the link to early sexual behavior.”

Don’t drill, babyDaily Green (12/2/08)
”In a move that has conservationists cheering, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has reduced the size of Utah wilderness available for upcoming oil and gas leases for the second time in a week.”

Are corporate declarations to become “water neutral” just the newest hype? - AlterNet (12/1/08)
”According to The Economist magazine, ‘Five big food and beverage giants-Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Danone-consume almost 575 billion litres of water a year, enough to satisfy the daily water needs of every person on the planet.’”
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A Gift Guide for Happier, Humane Holidays

News headlines read “Merry Wal-mart, America” and “It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like a Wal-mart Christmas.” A New York Times article outlines Wal-mart’s glee at expected increases in sales this holiday, while many other retailers plan for a financially dismal season. Wal-mart’s CEO says, “In my mind, there is no doubt that this is Wal-Mart time.” People are hurting for cash this season, and many are turning to the big box chains for lower prices on stuff. But what’s not coming out in the news is that giving your money to corporations such as Wal-mart means supporting low wages, undercutting local merchants, increasing urban sprawl, buying goods made with sweatshop and child labor, and so on.

And then every year we read stories giving us tips for reducing our holiday stress and surviving holiday shopping. And stories about people attacking (or occasionally killing) each other for the privilege of snagging the last must-have toy of the year (whose popularity quickly fades and is replaced by another toy). And stories about buying the perfect green gifts (that usually cost a lot more green than you could ever afford).

What’s with all the stress and violence and need to give and receive a big pile of stuff each holiday? The winter holidays used to be a time of spirituality, family and reflection, and they’ve become an homage to the gods of consumerism, stress and distraction.

This year when thinking about giving gifts to loved ones, consider these healthier, more humane alternatives:

Don’t give a material gift at all. I know; it seems almost sacrilege to say it. But, while gift giving for the holidays has been a long-standing tradition, it’s not a mandatory part of celebrating. As No Impact Man Colin Beavan mentions in his recent Yes! Magazine article, a recent study on the experiences of 117 people at Christmastime discovered that “people who emphasized time spent with families and meaningful religious or spiritual activities had merrier Christmases….In fact, subjects who gave or received presents that represented a substantial percentage of their income…actually experienced less Christmas joy.” Beavan and his family chose not to exchange gifts as part of their “no impact” experiment and found the experience surprising and enlightening. I know that giving gifts in my family became such a bastion of stress and resentment that we all finally decided to stop exchanging gifts -- and we’re much happier for it.


Consider focusing on other important aspects of the season, such as visiting friends or spending quality time with family. Nurturing relationships is an important gift in itself. Alternatively, in the season of goodwill toward others, instead of spending your time shopping, spend it helping those who need it; volunteer for local groups in your community. Make it a family (or friends) affair and share the gifts of your time and talents with others.

If giving a gift is a must, consider:

  • Make a donation in their name to a worthy cause, especially one that supports their interests. My husband's sister donates to their local humane society in our name each year, which makes us both happy, helps others and doesn't add to our stack of stuff. You can even band together with friends and give the gift of water to those who need it. How can most material gifts compete with that? Be sure to skip supporting the cause by buying the adorable commemorative ornament or calendar or mug, though; such items mean less money going to the actual cause and may support the very practices you’re trying to avoid.
  • Think creatively. This year's Yes! Magazine staff’s list of suggested gifts includes some really creative ideas, such as fixing a treasured item that’s broken, or taking a class together. Think unique, experiential, personal, and meaningful. Do they love farmers' markets? How about a split share in a CSA? Do they have a sweet tooth? How about baking them a different decadent delight each month? Have they been meaning to organize all those digital photos from that unforgettable trip? Make them a special annotated scrapbook on Flickr or another shared photo site.
  • Make sure the gift is something that they truly need, want, and will use. Granted, my husband and I live more simply than many people, but it always seemed such a sad waste that almost every gift we received for several years -- though well-meant -- was nothing we could use or wanted and usually ended up going straight to the thrift store.

    Food can be a good gift choice, if you know people's preferences. For many years we made pumpkin or banana bread-in-a-jar gifts for friends and co-workers. The gift was yummy and included a reusable jar and the recipe. My husband’s mother always sends us organic fruit from a company here in Oregon. One year we made all our family vegan recipe books of well-tested tasty dishes that they were likely to enjoy…and so they wouldn’t worry about what to feed us when we visited.
  • Make sure the gift fits the MOGO product criteria, i.e., the gift is:
  • Humane to other people – that is, produced according to fair labor practices that do not exploit, oppress, and cause suffering to others.
  • Humane to animals – that is, its production does not cause animals to suffer and/or die.
  • Sustainable and/or restorative – that is, its production and disposal can be sustained through available resources, without causing destruction to ecosystems, and may actually contribute to ecological repair.
  • Personally life enhancing – that is, it brings something positive to their lives and does not become one more burdensome thing to take care of.
  • Make the gift yourself. But again, give them something that they really need or want. DIY is becoming the rage, with the ailing economy and increased awareness of consumerism, but just because you can make something cool MacGyver-style out toilet paper tubes and used staples doesn’t mean it should be a gift. One of my co-workers used to knit cute holiday ornaments for everyone in the building each year, which was really kind and thoughtful. But, being someone who lives a simple life, such items weren't something I could use.
  • Rethink used. Used items carry such a stigma for some people. "What?! You don't care about me enough to get me something new?!" But often, reusing items can make the perfect gift. Your friend has always raved about that doodad you no longer want? Wrap it up and surprise him with it. Know the perfect book to give your mom? You can probably find it in excellent condition at a used book store. One year a group of us had a "white elephant" exchange with a twist. Instead of bringing yucky junk we didn't want anymore, we each found something truly useful from our homes that we were ready to pass on to someone else. Talk about fighting over good stuff!
  • Make sure the present and its gift wrap are recyclable, reusable and/or biodegradable.

Need additional ideas? Buy Nothing Christmas and New American Dream offer more gift suggestions.

~ Marsha
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What Do Poverty, Sustainability and Global Warming Have to Do With Peace?

In recent years, three Nobel Peace Prize recipients have been people whose work was not obviously or directly related to what we call peacemaking. They include Mohammad Yunus, for his work creating a microcredit movement through Grameen Bank; Wangari Maathai, for creating the sustainability green belt movement in Kenya; and Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for their work to halt global warming.

Most Nobel Prize winners in the past worked to end conflicts, to create what we think of as peace between groups or nations, to stop war. But so far, in the 21st century, the Nobel Peace Prize has been given to several people and groups whose connection to peace is less obvious. I’ve been teaching a 7/8th grade class for the past four days, offering humane education through the lens of changemakers who are working to stop slavery, pollution, animal exploitation, and poverty. Mohammad Yunus and the IPCC/Al Gore came up today, and I asked them why they thought these people had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, as opposed to the Nobel Prize for economics (in the case of economist Yunus).

It took a few minutes, but they got it and shared their thoughts.

Mohammad Yunus, through his work enabling the poor to start businesses, has also significantly diminished a primary reason for conflict and war: poverty. The IPCC and Al Gore, through their work to halt global warming, help prevent the creation of environmental refugees that arises from drought, desertification, flooding and more; avoiding these human disasters helps avert conflicts that will likely arise if we do not stabilize our climate. Wangari Maathai, through planting millions of trees and empowering women in Kenya, has created sustainable, democratic systems which enrich and empower people who otherwise were poor, disempowered, and resource-less.

I love that the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize has recognized what we humane educators have been teaching for years: All these issues are connected. We bring peace to this world by alleviating poverty and restoring and protecting our environment. These are the preventive measures that matter most for ultimately creating a peaceful world.

~ Zoe
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WebSpotlight: World Mapper.org

I highly recommend a visit to World Mapper, where you can view a remarkable collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest. Want to compare countries based on carbon footprint? Toy exports or imports? HIV/AIDS? Infant mortality? There are nearly 600 maps, and this fascinating, sobering, and revealing visual representation is not only personally useful for anyone involved in research, investigation, and changemaking, but for all educators (and parents) looking for new and interesting ways to share important information with students/youth.

~ Zoe


Map image © Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).

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We're Trashing the Planet, and We're Not Even Having Fun: Reclaiming Our Happiness (and the Health of the Planet)

During Annie Leonard's and Andy Revkin's talk, “How Many? How Much?”, at Bioneers in October, Annie made the comment, “We’re trashing the planet, and we’re trashing each other, and we’re not even having fun.” This may sound like a flip statement, but it's backed up with statistics from polls that reveal that happiness has been on the decline in the U.S. for decades. Our contentment as a nation was highest during the 1950s, and it has been decreasing ever since. The irony is that, on average, we have way bigger houses, way more stuff, way more entertainments, and way more consumer choices. But, as Annie says, we’re not having fun.

Given this reality, shouldn’t it be easy to create change, to stop trashing the planet and each other? Since the consequences of our current actions are frightening, depressing, and potentially irrevocable, and we’re not even having fun, doesn’t it seem logical that we’d abandon a materialist, resource-depleting, toxin-producing culture for a community-, relationship- and service-centered society? But it has not been easy to shift our trajectory toward simpler, healthier, more restorative living, and the reasons could be the subject of many a dissertation. Since this is a blog post, I’ll only throw out a few potential reasons:

  • We’ve come to believe (through advertising, media, and social engineering and influence) that a bigger house, more stuff, the newest electronics, etc., will be fun -- so fun that it will increase our happiness; thus, we act upon our (generally false) beliefs that stuff will make us happy, and we buy more stuff.
  • We’re collectors and hoarders by nature; just like a bower bird collects shiny objects, so do we -- not because of wise examination of the costs and benefits, but from innate desire, and perhaps, instinct.
  • We’re competitive; seeing others with more sparks our desire and willingness to strive for more ourselves.
  • Our capitalist system is designed both to grow production and generate desires through persuasion, and we, being impressionable and malleable, are easily swayed, despite our best interests.
  • Transforming our current system, which has brought us tremendous benefits, takes hard work and is threatening.
  • We have trouble seeing beyond the here and now, so we don’t associate our newest gadget with exploitation of other people, animals, or the planet; we are more ignorant than uncaring or unwise.
  • Bucking the mainstream is personally difficult and unsettling; it’s easier to maintain the status quo.
  • Growing dissatisfaction and unhappiness are incremental; we simply don’t notice that our passion for more stuff is related to suffering and destruction, let alone our personal discontent.

So how to we address these factors? Here are a few ideas:

  • Change corporate charters and revise capitalism so that we make it illegal for corporations to harm, oppress, and destroy others in the production and disposal of products.
  • Require that products print the true costs of production and disposal on labels, the same way we require that food labels include ingredients.
  • Stop subsidizing with tax dollars the pollution caused by production and disposal of our products and the destruction of natural resources involved in this system.
  • Outlaw the advertising of all products and foods which cause ill health. Cigarette and hard alcohol TV advertising were made illegal; the same needs to happen for fast food and junk food, "boutique" pharmaceuticals, etc.
  • Bring humane education to all levels of schooling and society so that, in age-appropriate and relevant ways, everyone learns about the true price of the products in our midst, is able to separate fact from opinion and to think critically and creatively, and can analyze the media messages that seek to influence them.
  • Begin a gross domestic happiness index in every country (currently, Bhutan has such an index), making it a national priority to increase this index.
  • Replace the GDP (gross domestic product) with the GPI (genuine progress indicator) so that the costs of production are subtracted, revealing a true indicator of “progress.”

The list above includes societal changes that will address materialism at its source, but there are also choices we can make in our individual lives to take more control of our personal happiness and model non-materialistic fun. Here are some ideas:

  • Turn off your TV, and gather with friends and family for conversation, to play games, make music, help with projects, build gardens, and share meals.
  • Volunteer and get active with organizations that help individuals and the environment, as well as create systemic change.
  • Choose to shop less; buy what you need and truly want, rather than fill time with shopping.
  • Spend time outdoors in natural settings and allow your reverence and appreciation for the earth to grow; this will undermine materialistic messages while bringing joy and restoring your commitment to make a difference.
  • Note the fun you’re having when you make these changes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on solutions, too. Please do post your comments.

~ Zoe

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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education & humane living, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.


Cities looking to wastewater purification to help with water shortages - Plenty (12/08)
”The UN estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could face water shortage….To meet the challenge, a growing number of cities are purifying wastewater to recharge groundwater or reservoirs, a process engineers call ‘indirect potable reuse’ and skeptics refer to as ‘toilet-to-tap.’”

Brazilian government announces plans to reduce Amazon deforestation - BBC (12/2/08)
”A crackdown on illegal settlements and increased policing in the Amazon region came earlier this year, following an estimated 3.8% increase in deforestation compared with the previous year.”

Hire a hitman to carry out an “honor killing” in Basra for only $100The Observer (UK) (11/30/08)
"We try to make a difference by teaching students at schools about gender equality, but it only will be possible when parents don't teach the opposite at home."
Thanks, Global Sociology Blog, for the heads up.

Broadway inching toward green - New York Times (11/26/08)
“’By this time next year the lights on Broadway will burn just a little bit brighter, but our energy bills will be a little bit lower, and our carbon footprint will be as well,’ Mr. Bloomberg said.”

Thanksgiving challenging time for some American IndiansWisconsin State Journal (11/26/08)
"’Some see it with hostility. Some celebrate it with guilt, while others see it as an opportunity to educate and get in touch with our Americana,’ said Patty Loew, a historian, journalist and member of the Bad River Ojibwe.”
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.
You have read this article animal protection / environmental preservation / human rights / humane education issues / news media with the title 2008. You can bookmark this page URL http://actuosa-participatio.blogspot.com/2008/12/humane-education-issues-in-news_2.html. Thanks!

$1 a Week to Help Others: One Child's Idea for Postive Change

This past week I taught a humane education mini-course to the 7/8th grade at the Bay School in Blue Hill, Maine. We discussed slavery, global warming and trash production, animal cruelty in various industries, and poverty. The theme of the week was changing systems, and we watched films about changemakers who are not only trying to alleviate suffering among specific people and animals, but who are actively trying to shift unsustainable, inhumane, and destructive systems towards ones which are healthy, positive, and just.

I encouraged the students to think of ways that they could participate in changing systems, in addition to making daily MOGO choices that were aligned with their values. After small group brainstorming, the class reported on their ideas. One that emerged was placing a jar in the classroom in which each student would put $1/week. Each month, they would have about $100 with which they could do some good.

This idea caught on quickly. The entire class was behind it, and in their MOGO plans, which they shared the last day, several talked about doing this project. The originator of the idea is committed to enlisting the teacher’s help to ensure that the class follows through.

I look forward to seeing how they choose to spend the $100 each month that they collect. Some of the money they are eager to invest with Kiva.org, a non-profit that offers microcredit, interest-free loans to people around the world to start or expand small businesses. Some they wish to give to the local food pantry to help their neighbors who cannot afford groceries.

I love how one student’s idea so immediately captured the imagination of the class and ignited their enthusiasm, and I love how quickly positive and generous intentions can blossom into practical fruits.

~ Zoe
You have read this article changemakers / education / humane education / Kiva.org / MOGO choices / problem solving / student activism / systemic change with the title 2008. You can bookmark this page URL http://actuosa-participatio.blogspot.com/2008/12/1-week-to-help-others-one-child-idea.html. Thanks!