Must It Take Media Stunts to Address Global Problems and Create Real Solutions?

Take a look at the heartwarming and powerful video of 7-year-old Olivia Binfield auditioning on the show Britain’s Got Talent.

When I watched this video I got teary. Britain, and now the world, listened to this little girl speak the truth so eloquently and beautifully. Who could not be moved to reconsider buying an alligator handbag or snakeskin belt?

And yet, I found myself feeling strangely irritated, too. Not by this wonderful little girl, but by the ways in which we fail to respond to pressing issues – like the rapid extinction of countless species – unless they are packaged in a cute, shocking, media attention-grabbing way. While Olivia is a gem, and while I by no means want to diminish what a fantastic job she did, every single day we are losing countless species forever (literally countless, because we don’t even know all the species whose lives are being snuffed out). And the sad reality is that choosing not to buy rhino horn aphrodisiacs or tiger penis Chinese remedies or reptile-skin handbags will hardly scratch the surface of the plight other species face, as their habitats are destroyed through a combination of deforestation, climate change, pollution, and expansion of human settlements. The direct killing of animals to satisfy our desires, while a terrible thing, causes only a tiny fraction of extinctions.

But were Olivia to ask people to buy less stuff in general, to forgo meat (a huge contributor to deforestation, pollution, and climate change – the primary causes of extinctions), to live in smaller, solar-powered homes, to devote their energies to changing entrenched systems that cause environmental harm, and thereby actually prevent so many species from becoming endangered, to elect legislators who will not be beholden to corporate donations and who will work for serious, far-reaching, and systemic change for a restorative world, her performance might not have received the three “yes” votes to bump her into the next level of competition. In fact, she might not have been on Britain’s Got Talent at all.

So I reluctantly find myself trying to think up media stunts to gain attention for the field of humane education, because far too few people have even heard of it, even though it is an educational approach that holds the key to solving all of our interconnected challenges, including the rapid extinction of species. Humane education isn’t sexy; it’s not attention-grabbing, and hence it’s largely unknown. But the truth is that if every child were to learn about the interconnected issues of human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation in school; if every child were provided with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries for a better world; if every student understood that they had the capacity and the skill to ensure that the systems in their chosen professions were just, humane, and restorative, we would solve the world’s problems. We would raise a generation of Olivias.

Any ideas out there? Any stunts we at the Institute for Humane Education could perform? Any outrageous acts that would garner media attention for this powerful field that could truly change the world by striking at the root problems and engendering wise solutions? Any brilliant 2-minute viral videos that would send people in droves to become trained humane educators to bring this work to every child and teen across the globe?

I look forward to your ideas.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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