Challenging Times Call for Kindness, Not Vitriol

I recently blogged about hateful commentary because, having been subjected to it, I felt compelled to write about it. But I’m revisiting the subject again as an important public issue, one which Maureen Dowd recently wrote about in her New York Times editorial “Stars and Sewers.” Here is an excerpt:
When CBS’s Lara Logan was dragged off, beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob of Egyptian men in Tahrir Square the giddy night that Hosni Mubarak stepped down, most of us were aghast. But some vile bodies online began beating up on the brave war correspondent.

Nir Rosen, a journalist published in
The Nation, The New Yorker and The Atlantic, who had a fellowship at New York University’s Center on Law and Security, likes to be a provocateur. He has urged America to “get over” 9/11, called Israel an “abomination” to be eliminated, and sympathized with Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban. Invited to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2008 about the Iraq surge, he told Joe Biden, the committee chairman then, that he was uncomfortable “advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power.”

Rosen must now wish Twitter had a 10-second delay. On Tuesday, he merrily tweeted about the sexual assault of Logan: “Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger.”


He suggested she was trying to “outdo Anderson” Cooper (roughed up in Cairo earlier), adding that “it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too.”

Sadly, Nir Rosen’s comments are actually tame in today’s climate in which anonymous commenters (as opposed to paid “provocateurs” and commentators) spew the most vile invective imaginable. It’s my deep hope that those who so readily spread their rage and hatred are the minority, but it’s sometimes hard to reconcile the nasty language of commenters that seems to outnumber the thoughtful and helpful ones.

Here are some words of advice from the late Eknath Easwaran, former Berkeley professor and meditation teacher:
“Please do not indulge in unkind words, in negative comments. Criticism, as you know, can only be useful when it is constructive. Comments can only be useful when they are friendly. So even from the point of view of effectiveness, I would suggest that unkind comments add to the problem. Unloving criticism makes the situation worse. It does not mean that we do not have to comment and suggest. Very often we have to. But it is the mental attitude with which you make the suggestion and the loving concern with which you put forward ideas, sometimes opposed to others, that make for effectiveness.”
Please share Easwaran’s words widely. We need to heed them not only for the sake of civil discourse, but for the sake of effective changemaking for a better world.

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

Image courtesy of SweetOnVeg via Creative Commons.

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Improv-ing to a Win-Win World

by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Education

We have started incorporating improvisational comedy into our trainings at the Institute for Humane Education. We usually do quick improv games as warm-ups at our Summer Institutes. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that we have one staff member who takes improv classes regularly and another who is a playwright/actress and they both love the form. Their appreciation has spread to the rest of us. The second reason is our realization that we, as educators, have a lot to learn from improv, and it seems worth practicing some techniques. Good improv requires full and spontaneous cooperation, deep communication, active listening, living in the present moment, a wide range of knowledge on many topics and a great sense of humor and fun from everyone involved. It welcomes lots of input from the audience. It reminds us that we are part of a group with a collective purpose, we must pay attention to those around us, and part of our job is to help make everyone else succeed. We don't compete with our fellow actors, we partner with them, wholeheartedly.

At our Summer Institute, one of the warm-ups we do is called "Yes, and..." It derives from the basic rule in improvisational comedy that no matter what happens on stage, no matter how ridiculous the skit becomes, you keep going with it: internally you say "Yes! And…" For example, if someone says, "Don't you remember me? I'm your brother from Pluto!" You mustn't say "What are you talking about? You're not my brother, and nobody lives on Pluto!" Rather, you must say: "Pluto has been good to you, Bob. You look much taller than the last time I saw you, and mother will be relieved to see you shaved your beard," or something like that. You accept what the person is saying (Yes!) (And) then you add to their story with your own creative idea.

This short improv game can help us think about issues and challenges in a both/and way. We're not looking for a debate, an either/or situation where one side wins and the other side loses. We're looking for teamwork, a cooperative process that results in a win-win.

One of the exercises in our online course, Teaching for a Positive Future, asks participants to approach a contentious issue as an opportunity to practice "Both/And" thinking -- a great opportunity to improvise, cooperate, and work toward a win-win for all.

A student in a previous session of Teaching for a Positive Future shared this quote, which I would like to repeat here: "What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." ~ Albert Pike

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Reflections on Competition in School

An educational reformer whom I admire very much was kind enough to watch my TEDx talk, "The World Becomes What You Teach," and provide feedback. While he enjoyed the talk, he had one quibble with it. I had suggested that instead of debate teams in schools (in which students are arbitrarily assigned one side or another of a fabricated either/or scenario and told to research, argue and win), we have solutionary teams, in which students still compete (because, as I said in the talk, we love to do that), to produce the most innovative, practical and cost effective ideas for solving entrenched challenges. This reformer felt strongly that competition, even for solving problems, would set kids against one another so that “one has to fail in order that another can succeed,” a major social problem as he sees it.

Prior to giving my TEDx talk, I thought a lot about whether to suggest solutionary teams or just focus on solutionary clubs, courses and approaches in school. A very competitive person myself, I rejected competition for a long time. I found it personally damaging as a child, getting physically ill before both tests and gymnastics meets. I very purposefully sent my son to an elementary school that did not have grades, in large part because I didn’t like the idea of learning being conflated with winning and losing (which grading essentially promotes).

Yet I remember when my son yearned for competitive sports and learned from both the losing and the winning. Both experiences were important for him. Winning gracefully and practicing good sportsmanship helped him become a better person, just as losing gracefully and striving against tough odds helped him persevere and try harder. I also remember when he asked his 8th grade teacher to give him grades on his work so that he could understand, beyond the narrative, where his work stood on some comparative scale.

We humans are competitive, that’s certain. We are also cooperative. Is there room for competition in education? My vision of solutionary teams is primarily cooperative. Students will work together to come up with solutions to problems. Yes, they will then compete with other teams, and yes, one team will win and the other lose (or they will sometimes tie), but will this be damaging? Or will it perhaps inspire greater cooperation, critical and creative thinking, and commitment the next time? Will it prepare these students for a world in which competition – like it or not – exists side by side with cooperation, the great ideas and innovations becoming the de facto “winners” in both the world of ideas and of the marketplace? It may. Would it be enough to promote solutionary clubs and courses in school, or would these not generate the kind of enthusiasm reserved for competitive sports, marginalizing what I think should be a centerpiece in school: creative work for a better world?

I’ve come to believe that losing need not be damaging, and competition, though adversarial, need not be hostile. But, I am cognizant of the dangers of introducing a new form of competition into a system already permeated with what I consider to be an overly and damagingly competitive structure. I welcome your thoughts on this. What can we gain through carefully constructed solutionary teams within our schools? What do we risk? What are the best solutions to responding to our competitive-loving natures? Should we advocate for solutionary clubs alone, or both solutionary clubs and solutionary teams, the choice being up to the students themselves?

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

Image courtesy of artfulblogger via Creative Commons.

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MOGO Hero: Ram Rati

What do you do if villages in your area (including yours) have broken water wells? Learn to fix them yourself! Ram Rati has blossomed from an oppressed child bride at 11 into a female mechanic who is lauded as a hero in her community. Not only does Rati fix broken wells in the area, but she has become a role model and advocate for women and young girls, encouraging education and empowerment. GOOD has a great profile of Rati and a nice photo essay about her and the other mechanics who help maintain clean water for villages all over their district.

Read the profile of Ram Rati.

~ Marsha

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Choosing MOGO Means You Don't Have to Choose Just One (Issue)

Short on blogging time again this week, so this is a post from 10/20/2008. Hope you like it.

Awhile ago I came across a blog post from a young woman who was struggling with a great deal of frustration, confusion, and feelings of being overwhelmed and saddened. She was passionate about social justice and was debating about the best way to spend her time: With all the problems in the world, where should she focus? Which issue or cause most deserved her attention? Where could she make the most significant difference?

There are so many crises and challenges in the world, and it can be incredibly depressing and overwhelming to contemplate where -- or even if -- to start. But, it IS possible to make a significant positive difference on a broader scale than just a single issue or campaign — first, with the choices that we make every day. How we spend our time, our money, our energy and our attention can help nurture and support justice, compassion, sustainability, harmony, kindness, and creativity, or it can support and condone violence, injustice, cruelty, hatred, helplessness, and inaction.

One of the great things about living a MOGO (Most Good) life, is that I don’t have to choose. I can support human rights AND animal protection AND environmental preservation AND a healthy, supportive, democratic culture. I can greedily dip my fingers into all those pies and savor the sweetness of knowing I’m doing my best to do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet. Not just one species. Not just one social justice issue. Not just one tree.

As a graduate (and now a proud employee) of the Institute for Humane Education, I’ve learned so much about the power of my choices to help create a compassionate, sustainable, just world. I buy my clothes and most items used and/or from thrift stores, so that I’m not supporting sweatshops. I buy local and from small businesses as much as possible, so that I’m not supporting the damaging practices of multinational corporations. I choose vegan, organic and local/regional as much as possible. I think before I buy. I think before I act, and I try to think before I speak. And so on and so on.

And, for those areas where I can’t have a direct impact through my daily choices (AIDS in Tanzania, poverty in India, etc.), I can use the power of my voice, my veto and my vote (a strategy IHE President, Zoe Weil, outlines in her book, Most Good, Least Harm). I can voice my views to companies, media, friends and family, etc., about the importance, joy and empowerment in making positive choices. I can use my veto to not support destructive companies and practices (and use my voice to encourage them to change to positive practices), and I can use my vote to support positive actions, policies, organizations, etc.

And, I can do other things, like financially support organizations that are having a major positive impact around the world; I can get involved in my community and volunteer for organizations that need my help; I can organize friends, family and co-workers to make choices that do the most good and least harm.

Certainly, we can’t do it all. We have to maintain balance and joy and meaning and sanity in our lives. But, we don’t have to choose just one issue — everything is interconnected. Our daily choices and our power to speak out and act compassionately, sustainably and justly can make an enormous difference. That's what's so powerful and transformative about humane education and humane living.

~ Marsha

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An Open Letter to Natalie Munroe From Chris Lehmann

Chris Lehmann, the principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia (who gave a fabulous TEDx talk, Education is Broken), has written an open letter to Natalie Munroe, the Pennsylvania high school English teacher whose blog, replete with invective, insult, and profanity directed toward her students, was found by one of those very students, shared with school administrators, and has prompted a public outcry. Strangely and sadly, there are many who are actually supporting Munroe, so I offer for my blog post today what I consider to be a beautifully crafted response. Here's just a brief excerpt:
"You must teach because you want to help students achieve their dreams. You must teach because you care almost as much as much about the children in your class as you do about your own children. And you must approach the job with the humility to know that what you are trying to do - to help children grow up wisely and well in an ever-more-complex world - will tax you to the limits of your being. It should - it will - demand the best of you. If you can engage in that reflection... you will understand why you must apologize deeply and profoundly to your students... because you would never want another person to hurt your students as I imagine you have hurt them."
Read the complete post.

Thanks, Chris Lehmann, for these eloquent and wise words.


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"

Image courtesy of Chris Lehmann via Creative Commons.


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Two New Tools to Help You Make Better Product Choices

As citizens committed to making choices that do the most good and least harm to ourselves, other people, animals and the planet, it's often challenging to determine which, if any, available products fulfill that criteria. Here are two new tools that can help you with making product choices.

Erik Assadourian over at WorldWatch provides a great overview of the forthcoming U.S. Federal Trade Commission's updates to the "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims," or "Green Guides." (Check out a 2-page summary of the proposed revisions here.) These guidelines, while not a super-effective tool (they have to be enforced to be truly effective), at least provide a basic standard for helping reduce the amount of greenwashing that companies engage in. In addition to clarifying terms like "compostable," "recyclable," and "free of," the guide also addresses claims relating to renewable materials and energy, as well as carbon offsets.

There's no guarantee that, once these new guidelines are in place, companies will follow them. But, it's a good reminder to us to use caution when purchasing products based on these labels and to think critically about what those labels mean and dig deeper to discover the details.


Another new tool is the "What's on my food?" searchable database (also available as a mobile app) from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN). The database offers data about types and levels of pesticides on different food products. Take blueberries, for example. If I look at the data there, I discover that the USDA Pesticide Data Program has detected 52 different pesticides residues on blueberries. The data results then tell me which pesticides, how often and to what degree each has been found (for both conventional and organic, domestic and imported), what type of toxicity is involved, and on what other foods each pesticide has been detected. I can also click through to find more details about the pesticide (though the data on this companion site isn't as well organized).

There are at least two drawbacks to this database. First, it could be easy for the general citizen to see all the pesticides listed and panic. Cranberries have been found with traces of hormone disruptors? Oh my gosh! Wait, what does that mean? Anyone using this database should do so with a thoughtful and critical eye: What exactly does this data mean? How does this translate to what I find at my grocery store? And so on. Second, the site doesn't offer many positive alternatives (other than to sign up to get more information from PAN). For those concerned about levels of pesticides on your food, check out the Environmental Working Group's "shopper's guide" to buying produce for suggestions.

Add both these tools to your most good, least harm kit to help ease the challenge of finding healthier, humane choices.

~ Marsha

"Ecotainer" cup image courtesy of Kingstonist.com via Creative Commons.

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Humane 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.

Canadian seal hunt begins (via All Headline News) (2/21/11)

Studies (again) show monkeys, sheep smarter than we give them credit for (via Treehugger) (2/21/11)

Extent of Gulf spill's effects 'may not be seen for a decade' (via BBC) (2/20/11)

Celebrities use their star-power to help bring about social change (via Newsweek) (2/20/11)

Upcoming legal battles could decide fate of several animal species (via The Independent) (2/20/11)

Researchers create obese monkeys to study human obesity (via NY Times) (2/19/11)

New report looks at worker inequalities in U.S. food production (via Treehugger) (2/18/11)

Are girl scout cookies killing Orangutans? (via Grist) (2/17/11)

Exxon struggles to find new oil (via Wall Street Journal) (2/16/11)

Iraq delaying purchase of U.S. fighter jets to feed their poor instead
(Bellingham Herald) (2/14/11)

“Villages without doctors” idea improves health care in India
(commentary) (via NY Times) (2/14/11)

Group making climate change real at area schools (via SF Gate) (2/14/11)

GMO companies block independent research on crop safety (op-ed) (via LA Times) (2/13/11)

Students debate right and wrong in “ethics bowl” (via NY Times) (12/13/11)

Keep up with more humane issues in the news via our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: The Price of Our Penchant for Clothes

It's a good bet that most of us have at least one pair of jeans lying around. It's also a good bet that those jeans, if bought new, probably were produced in ways that harm people, animals and the planet. Greenpeace recently released a report examining two textile industry towns in China, noting significant pollution of waterways, dumping of toxic chemicals, health problems for the workers involved in dyeing and washing, the smell from the discharge, the deaths of aquatic and other animals, and more.

The Guardian recently posted a slideshow using photos from the report. These slideshow images offer a visceral and telling portrait of the impact of our consumer culture on others and serve as a great tool for exploring with students the impacts of our clothing choices, or for sharing with friends and colleagues so that they can make more informed choices.

If you're a humane educator and want to explore the impact of our clothing choices more in depth with your students, check out our free downloadable humane education activities, such as Where in the World?, (pdf) which asks high school students to "shop" for T-shirts to learn more about the conditions under which they're made, or Clothing Line Up, (pdf) which helps middle and high school students explore more and less harmful clothing options from the perspectives of animals, other people, and the environment.

~ Marsha

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The World Becomes What We Teach

For my blog post today, I’m sharing an essay I wrote that was published on Common Dreams.org, a progressive news site. Here's a short excerpt:

"Rather than offer unconnected academic disciplines, imagine if each year of high school covered a single overarching issue, such as Sustenance, Energy, Production, or Protection. Teachers with expertise in different subjects could provide students with the skills to conduct research into current systems and articulate new viewpoints, understand and use scientific and mathematical equations and methods to solve systemic problems, and draw upon history, politics, economics, psychology, sociology, and geography to analyze, assess, propose and create new or improved systems. And the arts, relegated to the chopping block because of budget cuts, could find new life as vehicles for expression of visionary ideas."

Read the complete essay.

For a humane world,

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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Cultivating Compassion Through Creative Thinking

This post is by contributing blogger Kelly Coyle DiNorcia, a graduate of our M.Ed. program, and a humane educator specializing in helping parents raise joyful, compassionate children. Find out more about Kelly's work at her website Beautiful Friendships, and her blog for Wellspring Community School.

I recently found an article about research being performed at the University of Montreal on the effect of creative thinking on one’s frame of mind. Creativity, one of the elements of humane education and humane parenting, is of great interest to me. And finding ways to cultivate creative thinking in myself and my children is one of my main goals as a person and a parent, so naturally I read this article with great interest.

Basically, what the researchers found is that when someone is confronted with a negative scene, the greater the number of unique explanations for the scene she can think of, the fewer negative emotions she experiences in general. In other words, if you can think of ten reasons why someone might have cut you off in traffic or been rude to you in line at the bank, you are more likely to have a positive frame of mind than if you can only think of one -- namely, the person is a jerk.

The implications of this for parenting, and for activism, are huge and profound. I know that for myself, when my children are behaving in a way I do not like, I am much more patient with them if I can figure out what is going on: he hasn’t eaten, she’s tired, he isn’t feeling well, she had an argument with a friend at school, he is missing his dad who is away on a business trip; the list could go on forever. Of course, these explanations aren’t excuses for bad behavior, but they certainly do help me to meet my children where they are and deal with their behavior in a constructive way.

I also find that it helps them to be less upset about disagreements they may have with friends or with each other if they can brainstorm reasons for another person’s behavior. If I can help them to think through a situation and put themselves in someone else’s shoes, they are much more likely to have empathy and to come up with good solutions that will meet the needs of everyone involved.

From an activist’s point of view, these findings were especially intriguing. I have met so many people who become frustrated and burnt out when they spend their days working for social justice, environmental sustainability, animal protection, or cultural change. People become overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem, and begin to believe that other people are bad, or that they just don’t care.

For me, I rarely think that either one of these things is true. When someone is confronted with a difficult issue and does not want to listen, or is unwilling to change his behavior, there could be a million reasons why this might be so that do not assume bad character. Maybe he just lost his job and is feeling overwhelmed, or he does not think he can handle hearing any depressing news about sex slaves or slaughterhouses. Maybe you are talking to a single mom or a single person who does not have the social support she needs to get through the day, let alone make a major life shift. We never know, when we are talking to someone else about issues that are near and dear to us, what the other person is going through. If we are able, however, to hold that person in compassion and love for whatever her struggles, it will make our message more receivable as well as make us more humane.

Image courtesy of christine szeto via Creative Commons.

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Changing Behavior in 1.5 Minutes

Check out this commercial:




Yes, this is an advertisement. Readers of our blog know the power of advertising. At the Institute for Humane Education we offer free activities for educators to download, and some of these activities focus specifically on learning to analyze ads. Ads are powerful. Even the best critical thinkers often become strangely brainwashed by the messages they receive through commercials.

So what if ads – those extraordinary, brief agents of what some might call manipulation, others mind control, others just “influence” --
were deployed for the good? What change could come from them?

You may actually cry during this 1.5 minute ad. You might actually change a simple behavior, or someone you know might. Pass it on.

Zoe Weil, President Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

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Call for Applications for Award for Culturally Responsive Teaching

The social justice education organization, Teaching Tolerance (part of the Southern Poverty Law Center), is inviting P-12 teachers to apply for their new Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Culturally Responsive Teaching. The award "recognizes educators whose knowledge and skill makes them particularly successful at meeting the needs of students from racially, ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds."

Five outstanding teachers will be recognized at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., and each will receive an award of $1000.


The deadline to apply is June 1, 2011.


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Call Me Citizen

I'm short on blogging time this week, so this is a repost from 12/5/07 back when most of you wonderful folks hadn't yet discovered our blog. Hope you like it.


I’ve been called a lot of names throughout my life, but one that continues to make me cranky is “consumer.” According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to consume is to “do away with completely”; to “destroy”; to “spend wastefully” or “squander” or “use up”; to “waste or burn away.” Yes, I know it also means to “utilize as a customer,” but that’s the fifth and last definition given.

The whole of my life is not about buying and using stuff, so why should I be identified by only one small piece? I wonder about all of us being called consumers. Yes, we consume; but, if we identify with BEING a consumer – if everyone from the government to the media to retailers to even ourselves refers to us as consumers -- then are we going to be more likely to fall into the self-fulfilling prophecy of consuming more than we normally might? Will we choose the “save the planet by buying green stuff” route, which doesn’t begin to solve our global problems? Will we care a little bit less about those around us and the impact of our choices? Studies have shown that people rise (or fall), according to the expectations given to them. If we embrace a culture of consumerism, is that who we become? Is that all we become?

I prefer citizen. Citizens are members of “a state” or inhabitants "of cities and towns." Citizens do much more than consume (at least, that’s the implication). Citizens participate in their communities; citizens demonstrate leadership and take active part in building a healthy, sustainable, compassionate world for all. Consumers lay waste to their surroundings. A person can be a citizen who purchases products and services. But a citizen is so much more.

So, call me citizen. (Or at least, please stop calling me consumer.)

~ Marsha

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The World Needs More Heroes

I’ve blogged about Phil Zimbardo’s work a number of times. His newest TED talk shares his goals and approach for creating more heroes through the Heroic Imagination Project (on whose board of advisors I’m proud to sit). Take a look at Phil’s brief talk, and consider what you can do in your own life not only to be an ordinary hero yourself, but to promote ordinary heroism among others.

I found the stark contrast between the two juxtaposed slides of Hitler, arm raised, standing above his followers, and Gandhi, arm similarly raised, standing among his, both unsettling and profoundly provocative and thought-provoking. Since, as Zimbardo argues and has provided evidence for throughout his distinguished career in social psychology (see the Stanford Prison Experiment), circumstance is a primary factor in our behavior, we are compelled to create the circumstances that will promote ordinary heroism.

That is our great task. And our great opportunity.

For a world populated by ordinary heroes,

Zoe Weil, President Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and Claude and Medea, Moonbeam gold medal award winner for juvenile fiction about middle school ordinary heroes

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Humane 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.


Chevron fined for Amazon pollution by court in Ecuador (via BBC) (2/14/11)

Namibia designates its entire coastline as national park (via Treehugger) (2/13/11)

“U.S. teachers find teachable moments in Egyptian protests” (via Education Week) (2/11/11)

Talking with your kids about climate change (via Huffington Post) (2/10/11)

“China blighted by industrial pollution” – in pictures (via The Guardian) (2/9/11)

Zimbabwe cuts HIV rates in half in 10 years (via Reuters) (2/8/11)

Wikileaks docs say Saudi Arabia oil reserves have been overstated by nearly 40% (via The Guardian) (2/8/11)

Raising hope in southern Sudan by supporting peace, agriculture & women’s rights (via Christian Science Monitor) (2/7/11)

Sweatshops at sea (via Alternet) (2/7/11)

Keep up with more humane issues in the news via our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Humane Education Activity: Who Am I? Exploring Commonalities in Humans, Cows, Pigs and Chickens

One of my favorite activities created by one of our M.Ed. students -- which shows how simple and how powerful humane education can be -- is called Who Am I? I often use this activity when talking with animal protection activists about humane education.

Who Am I? serves as a great introduction to thinking about the commonalities that humans, cows, pigs, and chickens share, and can lead to important critical thinking and discussions about why we treat farmed animals the way we do.

In the first part of the activity, participants are given a slip of paper with a descriptive characteristic on it that is specific to either a human, cow, pig or chicken (e.g., I ride a bike. I have 4 stomachs. I oink, etc.). Based on their characteristic, participants are asked to walk to the habitat that is appropriate to who they are. (Before the activity begins, the habitats are created/posted, either by the participants or teacher.) It's pretty quick and simple.

Then, participants are given a second slip of paper and asked to do the same thing. This time, they have much more difficulty. Why? Because the characteristics are true for more than just one of them:
  • I have a good memory (that's true for humans, cows and chickens).
  • I have friends (that's true for all 4 species).
  • I talk to my baby before s/he's born (that's true for humans and chickens).
  • I can play computer games (humans, chickens and pigs can all do this).
  • I like to play (true for at least humans, pigs and cows).

And so on.

Once participants complete the activity, they can begin reflecting on their knowledge, assumptions and judgments about pigs, cows and chickens. They can learn more about these animals and their complexities. They can talk about how we treat farmed animals and whether that matches how they think they should be treated, etc. There are numerous possibilities for exploration and discussion.

And one of the great elements of this activity is that it can be done with kids (starting around grade 2) as well as adults (with a few modifications).

Download the complete activity. (pdf)

~ Marsha

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Visiting the Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise and How to Solve Our Energy Challenges

I was in New York City last weekend, and Sunday morning when I checked my email someone new was following me on Twitter. When I sent her a message, I noticed her most recent tweet about the Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace’s icebreaker, docked at Pier 59 and open for tours during its campaign against dirty coal and for clean energy. So my family headed over, and it was great to tour one of the three Greenpeace ships. I’d been a Greenpeace canvaser in 1984 for a couple of weeks, and had followed Greenpeace’s campaigns over these many years. This campaign included a trip up the east coast to various ports to educate the public.

The tour started off with a view of the ship – a former sealing-turned-anti-sealing vessel in a bit of sweet karma. The rough belly of the ship – with sprayed-on insulation covering all the walls and ceiling – was decorated with a disco ball and a peace dove. At the stern, a group of actors performed a sales pitch for real estate on the top of a mountain – a mountain with its top removed (as in mountaintop removal, a method to obtain coal that is decimating Appalachia). The snarky, though amusing, skit made its point, sort of. But I wondered if visitors with no awareness of mountaintop removal and strip mining really came away with any understanding of what this is doing to communities across Appalachia or how horrifically destructive this form of mining is. Those who already knew didn’t walk away with a plan of action. We just walked to the next phase of the tour.

That last part of the tour included a Greenpeace compilation video of campaigns (without much educational value but interesting to watch) and a brief talk about the campaign and about clean energy versus dirty coal. I asked what Greenpeace’s position was on Obama’s plan – mentioned in his recent State of the Union – about having the U.S. using 80% renewable energy (including “clean coal,” natural gas and nuclear) by 2035. Because he’d been on the ship during the State of the Union address, he said he didn’t know much about what Obama had said; this seemed odd to me, as Obama’s energy plan is certainly easy to find, and, one would think, relevant to Greenpeace and worth a response. My 17-year-old son asked what Greenpeace’s energy position was. How would they replace coal? The response was with solar and wind power, and more efficiency.

When we left, my son was frustrated. The answer seemed so unrealistic. That’s the problem. And I was disappointed that Greenpeace hadn’t done the hard work of coming up with an actual plan to present to us, a “roadmap” toward a clean energy future. We left the tour uncertain, really, of its purpose.

Coal must go, that’s certain. So let’s devote our personal energies to figuring out how to transform our global energy supply successfully and create a truly clean energy future. This will take a massive commitment, a huge investment of funds (probably public funds), a revamping of our energy grid and infrastructure, the full engagement and partnering of disparate utilities, our brightest scientists and engineers and inventors, and a willing and eager public supporting the costs involved.

Right now, we have an administration that understands a clean energy future to be an important goal, but we don’t have a large enough willing populace to forge ahead very easily. And so the real work of those of us who consider ourselves activists for a healthy and humane world, and those groups, like Greenpeace, which have been dedicated to these issues for decades, needs to be to enlist a skeptical public, use our talents and knowledge toward truly viable solutions, and build support for innovation, partnership, and investment in a clean energy future. No easy task.

My goal here isn’t so much to be a critic of Greenpeace, although I realize I have criticized them; it’s to implore all of us who consider ourselves on the forefront of the efforts to create a sustainable future to be strategic, smart, and savvy about what it will take to meet our energy needs. It’s to engage us all as successful solutionaries.

For a better world through humane education,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

Image courtesy of Osvaldo Gago via Creative Commons.

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Your Challenge for Valentine's Day (and Every Day): Find Something to Love in Everyone

It's Valentine's Day in many countries and millions of people, young and old, are focused on love. Mostly, romantic love. Love for our husbands, wives, and significant others. Love for our crushes. We exchange chocolates and flowers and jewelry and cards and valentines to show our love.

This Valentine's Day (and every day), I challenge us:

Let's find something to love in everyone.

I can’t remember the exact wording of the quote or its source, but a few years ago I read a quote in a book on Buddhist philosophy that basically said “To truly love, you must love everyone.” The thought that I should actually proactively work to love everyone – not just those in my family or circle of friends – but EVERYONE really struck me and has stayed with me to this day. I’ve always loved animals and the natural world, but because of some trauma in my childhood, I grew up not liking people for the most part. And, what I’ve learned — and continue to learn — about all the horrific things that people are doing to each other, animals and the planet can make it easy to despair for humanity as a whole.

But what I've learned in my humane education studies has led me to open my heart much wider. To focus on the good in humanity, to understand that people are much more than certain habits or choices. To acknowledge that most people are making the best choices they know how at the time.

To create a truly humane world, we need to look deeper than the surface foibles and flaws to connect with other people. As Anne Frank says, "Despite everything, I believe that people really are good at heart."

So let's find something to love in everyone. Maybe the person who cut in front of us in line has a beautiful voice. Maybe the oil industry executive supports human rights causes. Maybe the dictator is kind and gentle with children. Maybe our neighbor who never has anything nice to say and always complains about the noise your kids make grows gorgeous vegetables and flowers.

There IS something to love in everyone. So let's start looking today.

~ Marsha

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Not Setting Yourself Up for Failure

I've taken a course or two from the folks at Connection Revolution, and I recently came across a blog post written by Pace -- "Don't go to the cheese factory" -- that really resonated with me. Using the metaphor of a guy who's really addicted to cheese, and who wants to stop eating cheese for various reasons, but who repeatedly fails because he continues to tempt himself by going to the cheese factory, Pace highlights the importance of not setting ourselves up for failure. Her advice: "If you don't want to eat the cheese, don't go to the cheese factory."

A couple of her specific examples:


  • If you want to eat smaller portions, serve yourself smaller portions instead of relying on your willpower to stop eating when your plate is still half full.

  • If you don’t want to waste 20% of your life watching television, get rid of your TV set, or your cable.



Part of creating a humane world is being kind and just to ourselves, so we need to remember NOT to put ourselves in a position to set ourselves up for failure (unless failure is an important part of the learning process). When it's right in front of us, temptation is super-challenging to resist. As Pace says:


"Don’t rely on your willpower in the moment, when the temptation is right in front of you. Rely on your willpower once, ahead of time, when you’re feeling clear about what you most want."

How have you been setting yourself up for failure, and what have you been doing to set yourself up for success, instead?


~ Marsha


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Make Your Jewelry Standard Ethical & Sustainable

Valentine’s Day is near, and sales of chocolate, flowers and fluffy stuffed things with cute sayings stitched on them are abundant. More attention is being given to the destructive conditions under which chocolate (child slavery) and flowers (pesticides, unfair labor) are produced, and the positive alternatives, but what do we do about our love for bling?

People of all cultures have always adorned themselves in some way, including with jewelry, and clever marketing has caused many women to come to expect (or hope for) a love token in the form of diamonds, gold or other sparklies as part of this February holiday. Until recently, most people haven’t paid much attention to how our precious minerals become the twinkly baubles we like. The Hollywood movie Blood Diamond brought attention to the issue of conflict diamonds, but what about gold?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (2009), 17 countries produce gold using child and/or forced labor.

In 2008 the Associated Press released a story about their exploration of gold mines in selected countries in Africa. What they found in these mines were thousands of children living and working in atrocious conditions. The children are also regularly exposed to toxins, such as the mercury used to find the little bits of gold. As the story notes:



If you wear a gold ring on your finger, write with a gold-tipped fountain pen or have gold in your investment portfolio, chances are good your life is connected to these children."


In addition to the issue of child labor, the journey of gold — from mine to someone’s body, bank vault or investment portfolio — is filled with environmental devastation and significant impacts on communities and adult workers. No Dirty Gold provides a brief overview of the issues, as well as campaign materials.

If you're concerned about the source and impact of your rings, necklaces, bracelets, pins and earrings, and want to make choices that do more good and less harm, consider some of these alternatives:

  1. Don’t buy it.
    Consider how much joy and meaning that piece of jewelry would bring to your life. Do you really need it? Do you really want it that much?
  2. Make your own.
    There are an almost infinite number of possibilities for creating your own jewelry that will please you, look good, and harm no person, animal or part of the planet. And it’s fun! I have a friend who makes beautiful jewelry from paper beads constructed from waste paper.
  3. Borrow or swap.
    Like something your friend wears? Ask if you can borrow it! Offer something s/he likes in return. Have jewelry swap parties. There are endless options.
  4. Go used.
    You can find all sorts of lovely jewelry at thrift shops, garage sales, etc.
  5. If you’re into more expensive jewelry, consider why.
    "Precious" minerals, metals and jewelry have the value (both monetary and emotional) that they do, because we’ve given them that value. (Of course the jewelry company ads have certainly helped.) If our significant other spends large amounts of money on jewelry, does that really mean that s/he loves us? Are there better, healthier, more meaningful ways for that love to be manifested? And, if we're one of those lucky folks who has significant disposable income, then wouldn’t the money be better spent by using it to help create a peaceful, compassionate, sustainable world?
  6. Choose jewelry made from less traditional, more sustainable materials.
    Take rings, for example. They can be made of sustainable wood and cork, glass, and several other materials that are lovely, and much more ethical.
  7. Consider recycled jewelry.
    In addition to recycled gold, silver, etc., you can find all sorts of more unique creations made out of everything from forks to bike chains to computer chips to toothbrushes.
  8. Buy fair trade, conflict-free, eco-friendly, and all the other appropriate labels.
    Just make sure that the labels mean what you think they mean.
  9. Have a reputable craftsperson in your community (who can verify the origin and source of the materials) create custom jewelry for you.
    My friend and her husband had their wedding rings made out of recycled metals with their own custom design.

~ Marsha

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Kids for Peace

Since my TEDx talk was released, I have been receiving lots of emails from people wanting to learn how to implement the ideas I shared. I’ve also been hearing from humane educators and groups doing fantastic work across the globe. For my next several blog posts, I wanted to share some of their great work.

Kids for Peace is a global nonprofit that provides a platform for young people to actively engage in socially conscious leadership, community service, arts, environmental stewardship, and global friendship. Kids for Peace has more than 65 interconnected chapters around the world. Through Kids for Peace projects and programs, youth of all socioeconomic backgrounds are empowered to become part of positive solutions leading to a healthy and harmonious planet.

Visit their website for more information.


For a better world through humane education,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, The Power and Promise of Humane Education, Claude and Medea, and Above All, Be Kind

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Resources for Teaching About Current Events in Egypt

I'm ashamed to say that, when I was a first year teacher, very lacking in confidence and support, the Persian Gulf War had just begun, and although it was all over the news and in the conversations of our students, it didn't even occur to me that we could or should be discussing it in class. After all, it wasn't part of the lesson plan (back then, I hadn't learned to think for myself much yet).

Currently there's some pretty newsworthy stuff happening in Egypt, but how many classrooms are taking the time to explore such an important world event? Edutopia blogger, Elena Aguilar, recently wrote about her thoughts about exploring the events in Egypt with elementary-aged students, and there have been other resources trickling in about how educators can explore this topic with their students and integrate it into their curriculum. If you're wanting to launch into the situation in Egypt with your students, here are a few resources that might help:

What useful resources have you found? Have you created your own lesson plans? Please share!

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of monasosh via Creative Commons.

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Humane Education Activity: Power Chat

What are the problems of the world? What tools and skills do I have to make a positive impact?

People everywhere want to feel like they can make a positive difference, but with so many prevalent problems and challenges in the world, having an impact can sometimes seem like wishful thinking. Help people clarify and focus their thinking, and realize their own power with the Power Chat activity.

This activity, recommended for grades 8 and older, can serve as a good icebreaker to allow fellow activists and/or educators to know each other better and to focus on important issues, or it can serve as an introduction for exploring what each (and all) of us can do for positive social change.


~ Marsha

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Humane 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.

Indigenous communities, corporations & governments struggle for land (via Treehugger) (2/8/11)

Report shows consumers paying the price for smaller products (via GOOD) (2/8/11)

More communities putting citizens' rights above corporate control (via YES! Magazine) (2/4/11)

"Acid attacks: facing a heinous crime" (via The Independent) (2/4/11)

Professor's research shows link between advertising and harmful behavior (via GOOD) (2/4/11)

Fast food advertising on the rise, focusing on youth of color (via Treehugger) (2/4/11)

Study finds teaching social-skills helps improve academic performance (via Education Week) (2/4/11)

What to say to boys and young men about Big Ben (and sexual violence) (via Huffington Post) (2/2/11)

"Why we need humane education in our schools" (via Treehugger) (2/1/11)

Students, schools feeling effects on families of economic troubles (via NY Times) (1/30/11)

Keep up with more humane issues in the news via our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Parenting as a Radical Experiment in Empathy

This post is by contributing blogger Kelly Coyle DiNorcia, a graduate of our M.Ed. program, and a humane educator specializing in helping parents raise joyful, compassionate children. Find out more about Kelly's work at her website Beautiful Friendships, and her blog for Wellspring Community School.


I just finished watching Sam Richards’ talk from TEDxPSU, titled “A Radical Experiment in Empathy.” It was riveting. You should watch it. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Just promise you’ll come back here when you’re done.


So what did you think?

Watching his talk, I was reminded of a very profound experience I had when my daughter, now nearly six years old, was a newborn. I was reading The New York Times, back in the days when people read newspapers that were made of paper, and there was a photo on the front page, above the fold, of a young Iraqi mother and her day-old baby, lying in a bed in the hospital maternity ward. The caption under the photo read “An Iraqi woman who gave birth recently in Najaf, Iraq, cast her ballot yesterday in the referendum on the constitution. Prisoners also voted early.”

Setting aside the juxtaposition of new mothers and prisoners for the moment, I distinctly remember being overcome with sadness. Not that it took much in those hormonally-challenging post-partum months to bring me to tears, but I felt so ashamed of myself, and so intensely connected to this woman, that it was all but unbearable for me.

You see, I ordinarily would have considered myself a reasonably empathetic individual. I might have even described myself as above average in the compassion department. But right after my daughter was born, I was consumed by depression. My life had changed so much, and I felt like I had sacrificed my interests, my passions, my very identity to this little person who did nothing but scream and nurse and never slept and was never happy, and this was never going to end and I was never going to sleep again and forget about eating a seated meal! I am not particularly prone to self-pity, but this life shift was extraordinarily difficult for me. In those days, weeks, and months, I could not see beyond the walls of, as Richards says, my tiny little world. Mostly, I could barely even leave my bedroom.

Then, this picture snapped me out of it. Isn’t it funny how something so simple can have such a strong influence on us? I remember thinking, “What am I complaining about? This woman is risking her life to vote, and she has a little baby to worry about now. And maybe more kids at home, and a husband, and a family, brothers and sisters maybe, who rely on her. And I’m complaining because I can’t go out to dinner with my husband?”

I do not minimize my own experience of new motherhood, or that of other new mothers who have had similarly painful experiences, because the depression is real and sometimes debilitating. But suddenly I felt the walls of my tiny little world expand across space and time to include women around the globe and through time immemorial. I had always tried to “walk a mile in others’ shoes,” but now it took no effort at all to imagine myself as a mother who is watching her child die of starvation or dehydration because there isn’t clean water or money for food. I could hardly stop picturing myself as a mother who had lost a child in war, or who had lost a husband and was now left to support a family on her own.

As intensely as I love my children, I know these mothers love theirs just as intensely. As much as I would do anything for my children, I know these mothers work hard to provide the best lives they can for their children. This is not to say that only mothers are capable of empathy; just to say that for myself, motherhood has widened and deepened my ability to see the world through the eyes of another. It has also invigorated my commitment to work towards a peaceful, just, and sustainable world for my own children, but also for the children of these other mothers. It has brought a unique perspective and motivation to my work as a humane educator.

That picture still hangs in my office.

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When Compromise Means Defending the Indefensible, It's Time to Embrace Our Idealism

My friend and colleague, Mary Pat Champeau, brought over a Netflix video for a few of us to watch at the Institute for Humane Education. It was called The Girl in the Café, and I figured she’d just landed upon a really entertaining film and wanted to share it. “Just send it back when you’re done,” she said. I wasn’t supposed to be home that evening because of my Aikido class, but my back was hurting, and so I decided not to go to class and watch the film instead. I’m so glad I did.

The Girl in the Café is certainly an entertaining film, but its entertainment value is trumped by its great message. Revolving around the G8 summit and the Millennium Goals to (among other things) eradicate extreme poverty, the take home point is that we must stop dithering and compromising our values; we must stop defending the indefensible; we must stop conflating idealism with utopianism; and we must commit to meeting goals that are, beyond a doubt, achievable, if we harness our will to achieve them.

The next morning, I read an AP article about farm groups joining together to fight bad publicity and improve farmers’ images. In the article, Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, is quoted saying the following:
"So often people advocate for a utopian world and it's not doable.... Feeding the world requires us to kick up some dirt and create a few odors. That is just a reality of producing food and fiber that may not fit in with the utopian vision.... The vast majority of people are reasonable people, they just need to know that you can't have the perfect world."
What Cornely is implicitly defending are egregious farming practices in which sentient beings are crammed into cages and crates in which they can barely move, routinely mutilated without painkillers or anesthesia, forced to live (and die) under conditions so inhumane that were such atrocities perpetrated on dogs or cats the people responsible would be thrown in jail. He is also implicitly defending practices that are causing such horrific pollution that wildlife, too, routinely die by the thousands, as waste lagoons burst and their contents spill into waterways.

Having watched The Girl in the Café the night before, Cornely’s words were particularly cynical. By resorting to utopianism as the alternative to institutionalized cruelty and destruction in our modern farming practices, he tries to appeal to those “reasonable” people among us who might be swayed that striving for a more humane, sustainable, and healthy world is either impossible or downright silly.

Idealism is too often perceived as a weakness, a form of immaturity, a sign that a person is not yet wise. Yet Martin Luther King, Jr., was an idealist, and so was Mahatma Gandhi. Nobel Peace Prize winners, Wangari Maathai and Aung San Suu Kyi, are also idealists. Even the founding fathers of the United States were idealists, and without William Wilberforce’s persistent idealism, what might have happened in the British Parliament during the endless debates about the African slave trade? Today, it is the tireless efforts of millions of changemakers across the globe – fueled by a belief in a better world; fueled by idealism – that is creating systemic change leading us closer to peace and closer to restoration. Without idealists who envision a safer, saner, more equitable world and who are willing to work toward it, the fate of billions of people, animals, and the ecosystems upon which we all depend, would be far worse.

Cornely and the Farm Bureau fighting reforms follow a long line of people who dig in their heels to protect the status quo, no matter how destructive and unjust that status quo is. They prey on our fears and doubts, our inertia and apathy, our greed and our self-centeredness. They urge us to feel superior if we are “pragmatists,” even though there is nothing pragmatic about practices that cause harm and suffering and misery.

It’s time for all of us to embrace the idealist within and refuse to succumb to the messages that would keep us inert. This does not mean we should be utopians or refuse to compromise when compromise serves the ends we seek. It does not mean that we should perceive the world – or other people – in either/or terms, taking sides rather than seeking viable solutions. It means that we should envision the world that we have the power to create and take all the necessary steps to achieve it, practically, and with every ounce of our idealism intact.

And we must nurture our children’s idealism, ensuring that they never fall for the myth that wisdom lies in abandoning your ideals and that “reasonableness” is a sign of maturity. Instead, we must raise them to be solutionaries who use their great minds in service with their loving hearts to change unjust and inhumane systems, understanding that their idealism can and must be harnessed effectively and practically for the good.

For a better world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

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Humane Educator's Bookshelf: Great Peacemakers: True Stories From Around the World

Great Peacemakers: True Stories From Around the World
by Ken Beller and Heather Chase. LTS Press, 2008. (195 pages)

“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it.” ~ David Suzuki

“When you have a vision, when you know that what you are doing is good for the people, then you cannot be stopped.” ~ Wangari Maathai

“To stop any suffering, no matter how small, is a great action of peace.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Peace is not a goal to be reached but a way of life to be lived.” ~ Desmond Tutu


People of many cultures have been working for peace for thousands of years. Such people have wisdom, passion and insight that can inspire us all. The award-winning Great Peacemakers brings together the compelling stories of 20 people who have (or had) a strong commitment to living a peaceful, compassionate life and to bringing about a peaceful, just world.

The book is divided into five categories: Choosing Nonviolence, Living Peace, Honoring Diversity, Valuing All Life, and Caring for the Planet. Profiles of the peacemakers are each about five pages, and there is also a page of quotes from each person profiled.

Great Peacemakers includes several of the traditional, famous favorites, such as Gandhi, MLK, Jr., Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama, but it also features lesser-known peace powerhouses, such as Anderson Sa, a Brazilian musician who uses music to inspire at-risk youth to choose nonviolence; Colman McCarthy, a journalist who has taught peace courses to thousands of students; and Nader Khalili, an Iranian earth-friendly architect.

Unlike with many books focused on peacemakers, Beller and Chase extend the circle of peace to include advocates for not just people, but animals and the planet as well. The “Valuing All Life” section features Henry Salt, Albert Schweitzer, Astrid Lindgren and Jane Goodall as advocates for animal protection, and “Caring for the Planet” offers the wise words of Rachel Carson, Wangari Maathai, David Suzuki and Nader Khalili.

The stories are all inspiring and easy to read, offering just enough overview of each peacemaker’s life and work. While most of the profiles follow a chronological path, the focus of each mini-biography is on what shaped and motivated each individual to traverse a path of peace and how they’ve made a positive difference in the world. This book is appropriate for middle school students through adults, and can serve well as a book for inspiration, a springboard for discussing and exploring people who make a positive difference, or even a book club selection.

The companion website offers study guides and other resources.

~ Marsha

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Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp

Since my TEDx talk was released, I have been receiving lots of emails from people wanting to learn how to implement the ideas I shared. I’ve also been hearing from humane educators and groups doing fantastic work across the globe. For my next several blog posts, I wanted to share some of their great work.

Imagine a week-long summer camp for 12-17-year-olds who want to make a difference. Imagine a beautiful setting in either Portland, Oregon, or Santa Cruz, California. Imagine how these young people might become inspired and engaged in just one week to become lifelong solutionaries for a better world.

It’s happening. Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camps are offered three times this summer in July and August.

Find out more.

See our interview with YEA Camp founder, Nora Kramer.

For a better world through humane education,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, The Power and Promise of Humane Education, Claude and Medea, and Above All, Be Kind

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Humane Education Youth Fellowship Opportunity with Roots and Shoots

Do you know any high school seniors or college students who like gaining skills, working for a better world, mingling with changemakers and hanging out with Jane Goodall? Be sure to tell them that Roots and Shoots (a project of the Jane Goodall Institute) is seeking applicants for its 2011-2012 Youth Leadership Fellow. High school graduates and college students/recent graduates are eligible to apply for this nine month position, which is based in Danbury, Connecticut.

According to Roots and Shoots, “The Youth Leadership Fellowship offers the opportunity for a mixture of work in program development, implementation, writing and administration. This position offers a unique behind-the-scenes look at a fast-growing nonprofit organization, as well as the opportunity to effect lasting change on an evolving program. The Youth Leadership Fellow works closely with rest of the staff as part of a dynamic team of individuals who share a commitment to high-quality work."

The application deadline is March 1, 2011.


~ Marsha

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Asking Questions: Exploring the Impacts of Our Product Choices

Asking questions is an underutilized and essential art in creating a humane world. There's so much that we assume, take for granted, and don't know. Spurring ourselves to ask questions can help ensure that our choices are aligned with our deepest values for nurturing a just, compassionate, healthy world.

One set of questions we can ask involves exploring the impact of our product choices. Before we buy something we can ask: Is it a want or a need? How was it produced/how did it get to be here, and what will happen to it when I’m done with it? Who was helped or harmed in its creation? How can I get my need/desire met in a way that does the most good and least harm?

One of the activities we have all our students do is to take an inventory of items in their kitchens, bathrooms, and closets and ask themselves questions about the foods, cleaning products, personal care items, electronic gadgets, furnishings, clothes and other stuff they find. We ask them to consider what they know about how the items were produced and about the effects of their production, use, and disposal on people, animals, and the environment. We ask them to consider what they know about the resources used in their production, and about any potential health consequences (positive and negative) and/or suffering they caused to people and/or animals.

We also ask them to choose one item and to fully trace its impacts – from raw materials to use to disposal – examining its effects throughout its lifecycle on themselves, other people, animals, and the environment. To do all this requires asking a lot of questions.

Give inventorying your home a try, and start asking questions about your stuff and its impacts. The more you learn, the more you'll become aware of those impacts and how they align with your values.

For a little inspiration, check out WorldWatch's selection of life-cycle studies on a whole slew of products. Although their analyses mainly focus on environmental impacts, these brief overviews give you an idea of how our toothpaste, candy, palm oil, and even how we bury our dead impacts the planet.

You might also want to check out the compact but mighty book Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things by John Ryan and Alan Durning. It explores the impacts of some of our daily choices. For those of you who are teachers, there's also a downloadable curriculum (pdf) that explores the concepts introduced in Stuff.

~ Marsha
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