What a Humane World Looks Like: Reinventing the "Easy Way Out"

A couple weeks before her annual two-week visit to see us, my mom started having severe nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms. She didn’t go to the doctor until a couple days before the trip, so her doctor didn’t have time for a proper diagnosis. The suspect was her gall bladder, and he gave her some anti-nausea pills to take, as needed (the same kinds of pills given to chemotherapy and radiation patients). Once she arrived, we encouraged her to eat a low-fat, low-sugar vegan diet (we do all the cooking while she’s here), and she didn’t have another flare up. She enjoyed everything she ate and felt much better than she had.

So I encouraged her to continue her low-fat, low-sugar, mainly plant-based diet back home in rural Kansas and offered to help her find easy recipes, locate mail-order sources for foods, and anything else I could do from a distance to help her. She decided that it would be too much work to maintain such a diet, so she chose the operation instead, so that she could go back to eating whatever she wanted. In other words, she took the easy way out.

Our society has been engineered – and we have been programmed – to take the easy way out. Drive wherever we need to go. Use our credit cards and pay later. Instant gratification for whatever we’re hungry for. Take people to court to settle disputes. Out-vote our “opponents.” Take pills and have surgeries so that we can maintain the unhealthy lifestyles we’ve grown accustomed to. Focus on the short-term gain and the simpler black/white solutions.

As humane educators, activists, and concerned citizens, we know that taking the easy way out usually isn’t a compassionate, just, sustainable option. That doesn’t mean we have to adopt the role of Sisyphus and continue to roll that rock up the hill in a never-ending cycle. It just means we need to focus on our critical thinking and creativity, and on working for solutions outside the narrow parameters of the mainstream mindset. In fact, as leaders, it’s important that we not choose to take the easy way out, so that we can model our message to others.

But, it’s also important to recognize that most people are going to take the easy way out, so we need to dedicate time and energy to creating systems and products and strategies that help the easy way out become the avenue that does the most good and least harm. My mom said that if only she lived in Portland, Oregon, with us, or if she could take my husband home with her to be her personal chef, she’d be happy to eat better. But those aren’t options, so she let a doctor cut her open and remove a piece of her body instead. But, what if she had access to healthier foods in her community? What if there were cooking classes and community supported agriculture, and maybe even a personal chef service?

Researchers repeatedly report that having information often isn’t enough incentive to spark people to make choices that are better for all involved. There are all sorts of barriers (perceived and real) and mindsets, and there is also the challenge of how our culture frames things. I want to bike more, in large part because I know it’s a positive choice for me, other people, animals & the planet, but our part of the city isn’t very bike-friendly -- a real barrier -- so I still hesitate to make that commitment. If there were more bike- and pedestrian-friendly areas, though, I’d be hopping on my two-wheeler (or my two feet) every chance I got. If there were sweatshop-free items in every store, people would be more likely to buy them. If recycling stations were everywhere, more people would use them. If there were easy access to healthy, sustainable, humane foods, more people would eat them.

We can educate and encourage people to make choices that do the most good and least harm all we want, but we're not going to realize a tipping point of masses of people making compassionate, just, healthy choices until those kinds of choices are more easily accessible -- until they become the "easy way out."

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of R/DV/RS via Creative Commons.

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