What a Humane World Looks Like: Communicating Compassionately

Marsha is on vacation this week, so here is one of her posts from 12/30/10 we hope you'll enjoy again.

At a Fur-free Friday march I attended several years ago, I witnessed some very angry young anti-fur protesters yelling at a couple of men who had been catcalling. Their argument became quite heated, with the men shouting profanities and phrases like “Animals are food! Animals are food! Animals are here for us to use!” and the protesters shouting very uplifting statements like “Why don’t you lose some weight, fat boy?” and “Why don’t you make me shut up, a**hole?!” Aaahh. We can see what a positive life changing experience occurred here.

One of the most difficult challenges for people feeling intense, negative emotions is not to spew those emotions—like a fire hose on full-blast—straight at whomever has sparked those emotions in us. My first split-second instinct on those rare occasions when my husband says something mean is to want to say something mean back; when I see/hear about anyone causing suffering or destruction, my initial reaction is still intense rage and despair. As much as it might make us feel temporarily better to vent our negative emotions at the “perpetrators,” if we really want to make positive changes for people, animals and the earth, we must learn not only to communicate with compassion, but to find our empathy and compassion for those causing the suffering and destruction.

One of the most important skills humane educators and activists can cultivate is compassionate, effective communication. We can speak kindly and politely, ask lots of questions, and use humor as compassionate, effective techniques. For those of us who have trouble with "instant responses," by practicing what to say in all sorts of situations, we can be prepared to respond calmly and compassionately, despite the gut reaction of anger, disgust and despair we may be feeling. In addition, knowing about the people we want to reach is also very important. If we know their needs, desires, and the way they think, we can use that knowledge to build bridges and find ways to connect with and inspire them. All forms of communication: letters to publications, to companies, to legislators, interactions with the media, public speeches, and casual conversations all need compassionate language and intent. It’s much more persuasive and helps build the kind of peaceful, loving world we say we want.

It's also important that we to live compassionate lives—for others and for ourselves. We need to remind ourselves that change takes time, that much depends on experience and context, that all of us have weaknesses that we need to address, and that almost no one wants to support evil or suffering or destruction. We have to seek out the good in everyone and focus on nurturing a connection with those parts of them. We can work to understand their motivations and underlying needs and build bridges toward helping them meet their needs in compassionate ways, but only if we're compassionate and non-judgmental ourselves.

One of the ways we can develop more compassion in our own lives is to surround ourselves with positive, uplifting things, and reduce or eliminate the things (profanity, movies, people, certain habits) that bring negative energy to us, especially if we find ourselves becoming more influenced by them. For example, I used to be a huge horror novel fan; as I became more aware of the negative energy I was absorbing from reading these novels—full of graphic violence, fear & profanity—I stopped reading them. As Eknath Easwaran says in Your Life is Your Message, “All of us can give a great gift to the world by looking at our life and gradually removing from it the things that are not simple and beautiful.”

Communication is a powerful way of modeling and offering compassion. As business woman and activist Davy Davidson says, “If we are to play a leadership role…we need to speak with our hearts.”

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of ganesha.isis via Creative Commons.


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Teaching: The Most Noble Profession

For my final blog post of 2011, I thought I'd repost my most widely-read essay of the year: "Teaching: The Most Noble Profession," that was published on Common Dreams.org, a progressive news site. Here's a short excerpt:
"Teachers are the agents of the future. Will our world be populated by people ready and able to meet that future as creative and critical thinkers; as wise, compassionate and knowledgeable citizens; as skilled and motivated solutionaries within their professions? The answer to this question lies with teachers. More than any other profession, teaching has the power to create a healthy, just, and peaceful world (or not). It has the ability to seed our society with informed, caring and engaged citizens (or not). It has the capacity to inspire lifelong learning and a passion for knowledge, understanding, and innovation (or not). Is there anything more important than this?"

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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6 Tools to Help You Succeed in Creating a Better Life & a Better World

Marsha is on vacation this week, so here is one of her posts from 12/28/10 we hope you'll enjoy again.

One of the most frequently spoken words around the New Year (besides “party” and “drinking”, perhaps) is “resolution.” Many of us look to the flip of the calendar as a way to start fresh and actually accomplish those same goals and intentions that we’ve been transferring from planner to planner year after year. But, as countless news stories confirm for us, many of those good intentions that stoke our commitment to positive change fizzle out after a few weeks. We want a better life for ourselves and a better world for all, but actually following through can be a true challenge. We have all those ingrained habits and mindsets to deal with. How to start? Use these 6 tools to help you.

  1. Find the bright spots.
    One of the techniques I love from the book Switch by brothers Chip & Dan Heath is the concept of the “bright spot.” It stems from solutions-focused therapy, and the gist is this: in relation to your goal, problem, challenge, etc., ask yourself, “What’s working right now, and how can we do more of it?” So, if your goal is to practice compassionate communication with people with whom you disagree, but you find yourself reacting negatively more than you’d like, you can start by looking at what happens when you are successfully able to communicate compassionately: What do you notice? What are the conditions in those situations? What’s happening in the moment when you’re successful? and find ways to replicate that.

  2. Make it as easy as possible.
    Don’t let anyone kid you that change isn’t challenging. We plow comfortable, familiar furrows of habits that become deep and secure, and it can be difficult and uncomfortable to climb out of them to create new habits; so it’s important to make it as easy as possible to establish the habit or create the change you want. For example, I know how important exercise is to my overall health, but there always seems to be something else clamoring for my attention. So, instead of continuing to fail at carving out a larger chunk of my day to exercise, I’m starting with small moments of exercise and working up. And, to make that as easy as possible, I’ve given myself some help. Every morning I have a 3 minute warm up I do while I’m waiting for my computer to boot up. I have a chin up bar on my bedroom doorframe, and every time I come out of the bathroom right across the hall (it’s a tiny house), I do a pull up or some stomach crunches. I’ve moved the exercise ball out of my closet (where I never used it) into the living room where I work, and when I get up to stretch, get a drink, etc., I hop over to the ball for 2 minutes to work on my stomach or back, etc. And so on. I’ve found that providing myself with these cues and in-my-face tools has helped me to establish more regular habits that will only continue to grow and improve.
  3. Make your intentions visible.
    If only you know inside your head what your goals are, it’s easy to let the day-to-day get in the way. Find ways to make your goals visible, whether it’s a giant collage on your bedroom wall, a mind map, checklists, or whatever tools work for you. My husband and I have put our goals on note cards and taped them to our closet doors, so we see them every day. I’ve found that if I have a visual reminder of my exercise goal near me while I’m working (even if it’s just the cover of an exercise DVD), I’m much more likely to exercise more that day. Put your bike helmet right by the door. Keep a reusable mug with your work stuff. Use those visual cues to help you remember (and honor) your intentions.
  4. Do your homework.
    Our best plans for success can crash right away when we don’t have the information we need to succeed; so it’s important that we do our homework. Let’s say we want to start using less single-use plastic. We need to know what our alternatives are and how to find and use them. If we want to stop relying on our car to get us to work, we can research which alternative methods will work best. Is public transit an option? Where are the nearest stops? How long does it take? Does it fit with my work schedule? Can I do part of the commute with my bike or by walking? What about those car-rental options or carpooling? Set yourself up for success by finding out what you need to be able to make the changes you want.
  5. Be flexible & creative.
    One pitfall that can block our way to success is “failure.” We try something; it doesn’t work; we give up. But failure is actually a great learning tool and just another way to say “Let’s try something else; let’s think outside the box.” Remember my challenge with exercise? I’ve failed countless times. But I know how important to me a healthy body is, so I keep experimenting -- I strive to remain flexible and creative, and now I’ve found some techniques that are working. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to eat more whole, plant-based foods, but your efforts to cook them on your own have repeatedly “failed.” How about taking a veg cooking class, or bartering skills you have for some cooking lessons from someone who’s a plant-based pro, or starting a support group of friends and learning together?
  6. Capitalize on support and peer pressure.
    Much of our culture in the U.S. is infused with the whole larger-than-life personification of rugged individualism and bootstraps, but the truth is that we don’t succeed in a vacuum; we rely on others for help. To succeed with your intentions, surround yourself with a web of supporters, so that they can offer advice, encouragement, feedback, and incentive. Contact a small group of your friends, colleagues, or acquaintances who share your interests, tell them what you want, and ask for their help. Be specific about your needs and goals and what you’d like their role to be, so that everyone is clear. Be sure also to use the tool of positive peer pressure to help you. Make your intentions public to your friends and family, so that others can help hold you accountable. And, use the peer pressure of a buddy. If you want to volunteer more, for example, find a friend who shares that passion and set a regular date to do so. You’re less likely to back out if someone else is relying on you.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of thiagofest via Creative Commons.
 

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Embracing the Adage "To Whom Much is Given, Much is Expected"

Take a look at this 4-minute video, It Only Takes a Girl:



This video is a reminder to me that I have the luxury to critique the educational system in my country and to advocate for changes in our approach to schooling largely because, despite the flaws in my own education, I was, in fact, among the most privileged to receive it.

This video is a reminder that when I complain about the food at a restaurant, I am so very fortunate to never lack food.

This video is a reminder that when I drink the tap water in a city and it tastes less good than my filtered well water, I am among the profoundly lucky who can simply turn on a faucet and have as much uncontaminated water as I could ever want.

This video is a reminder that it is not cultural imperialism to advocate for the education of girls and fight for an end to their exploitation no matter where they live in the world and no matter what the cultural norms or religious tenets that perpetuate their oppression.

This video is a reminder that I must constantly embrace the adage “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

This video is a reminder that it’s not enough to just spread this video; I must do something to make a difference.

For a just and humane world for all,


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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One Small Step for a Better World: Just Start

Image courtesy of stevendepolo via Creative Commons.
I love working for IHE. But I feel drawn to do even more to help create a just, compassionate, healthy world for all. I've manifested humane education and activism in different ways throughout my life, and the more I learn, the more I want to make sure that I'm spending my time and energy in the most effective way possible. So I've been spending quite a bit of time -- months, actually -- thinking about and exploring what that "most effective way" might be. While being aware that I didn't want to fall into the trap of waiting for perfection, what I didn't realize was that, while I was waiting for that "most effective way" to reveal itself to me, I've had all this time that I could have been doing something -- helping people, animals and the planet in some way -- and wasn't.

So I decided to just start. I thought about a couple of small actions I could take that fulfill my desire to use my time wisely and effectively, while meeting my need to help create a better world for all. I've had past experience with the effectiveness of writing, so I've started writing regular letters to my congressional representatives, to companies, and to others who have the power to influence positive change. I've also had good feedback about the few humane education presentations I currently do in my community, so I'm working to slowly expand those.

In my work with IHE, I regularly interact with students and activists who passionately want to work for positive change, but get hung up on what that looks like. I encourage them to find something small that pairs their passion and their skills and to just start. Yes, we need to ensure that we're working toward the root of the problem, rather than just slapping on band-aids; but doing something that meets that criteria -- no matter how small -- is better than doing nothing. As the late President Vaclav Havel said,

“I feel a responsibility to work toward the things I consider good and right. I don’t know whether I'll be able to change certain things for the better, or not at all. Both outcomes are possible. There is only one thing I will not concede: that it might be meaningless to strive in a good cause.”


So if you're struggling with getting started, just start. Write a letter to the editor; leaflet for Vegan Outreach; invite friends over for a discussion about global warming;  give a presentation at your place of worship; contact a company and thank them for their humane practices. There are so many opportunities for positive change in your home, your community, and beyond. So just start!

~ Marsha


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New Report Names Best, Worst U.S. States for Animal Protection Laws

It only takes a glance at the news to know we have a long way to go as a society in transforming our relationship with nonhuman animals. One area that deserves attention is legislation that protects animals. Earlier this month the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) released their 2011 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings, which analyzes the animal protection laws of each state across 14 broad categories and ranks each state according to its score.

According to the report, Illinois holds the top spot for the fourth year in a row, while Mississippi showed the most improvement, moving from 50th to 30th. The worst offender? Kentucky. Here are the top 5 and bottom five for 2011:

Top 5:

1. Illinois
2. Maine
3. Michigan
4. Oregon
5. California

Bottom 5:


46. South Dakota
47. Iowa
48. Idaho
49. North Dakota
50. Kentucky

According to ALDF more than half of all states and territories have "experienced a significant improvement in their animal protection laws." In reviewing the results from ALDF’s rankings reports over the past five years, more than half of all states and territories experienced a significant improvement in their animal protection laws, including these that have improved by greater than 50%:

  • Alaska:  53%
  • Utah:  56%
  • Guam:  63%
  • Mississippi:  66%
  • Puerto Rico:  91%
  • Arkansas:  95%

Some of the improvements states have made have included:

  • Expanding the range of protections for animals
  • Providing stiffer penalties for offenders
  • Better standards of care for animals
  • Reporting of animal cruelty cases by veterinarians and other professionals
  • Mitigation and recovery of the costs associated with the care and rehabilitation of mistreated animals 
  • Mental health evaluations and counseling for offenders
  • Bans on ownership of animals following convictions
  • Allowing animals to be included in domestic violence protective orders

You can find out more here and read the full report here.

While it's wonderful that so much progress has been made, it's important to remember that most of these laws protect only companion animals. And, in a society condones and supports institutionalized animal exploitation and cruelty, proving, or even defining "abuse," "neglect," or "cruelty" can be extremely challenging.

ALDF encourages those who want more and stronger animal protection laws to contact their elected officials and advocate for them.

~ Marsha

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Freedom & Love: The Beagle Freedom Project

For my blog post today, I wanted to share this beautiful video of freedom and love. Enjoy.






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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7 Strategies to Better Model Your Message

To create a peaceful world, we must each make our lives mirrors of the world we want. As nineteenth-century social reformer and minister William Ellery Channing stated, "May your life preach more loudly than your lips." Gandhi also responded to a reporter asking him what his message was by jotting down on a piece of paper, "My life is my message." There is much to do on the path to MOGO (most good) living, but the foundation is laid when you make your life the message you want it to be. Here are 7 strategies to help:

  1. Make the phrase "My life is my message" a mantra. Repeat it often so that you have more awareness of your actions and choices, and are more likely to model the message you want.
  2. Count to 10 before you react to anything that makes you angry or hurt. Take a deep breath. Repeat the mantra. Choose to act peacefully and wisely.
  3. Whenever you are exposed to either/or thinking, whether in the media, with family or friends, or in yourself, commit to discovering other perspectives. Pause to explore solutions.
  4. Always search for alternatives to violence, whether violent words, violent acts or violent attitudes. Uncover a third way. If necessary, uncover a fourth or fifth.
  5. Practice blending. When facing a conflict or challenge, whether with others or within yourself, listen carefully and pay attention to the other point(s) of view before reacting or responding.
  6. Reflect upon and celebrate the times you have successfully modeled your message so that you may call upon your own wisdom, integrity, and creativity the next time you are faced with a challenge or conflict.
  7. Complete the MOGO Questionnaire to help you more closely align your values and actions and to help you follow through with your commitments and goals.

Excerpted from Zoe Weil's book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World & Meaningful Life

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Are the Holidays Wearing You Down or Filling You Up? It's Your Choice

This post is by contributing blogger Lynne Westmoreland, long-time music instructor and a humane educator. Lynne is a graduate of our M.Ed. program, and is the instructor for our online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life, which is designed for people who want to put their vision for a better world & a more joyful, examined life into practice (next session starts March 5).


This is the time of year set aside to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, the winter solstice and Kwanzaa. The themes of the season are the return of hope, abundance and protection, the return of the light, and a reminder to return to our spirituality and personal transformation as well. But in the last few decades this season has become about consumption. Our natural tendency, if we were aware of it, is to turn inward as the days grow shorter; to become introspective, to hibernate and let ourselves rest; to be quiet, and enjoy the great gifts of darkness, the thinner quality of light, and to be inside with our families and loved ones. But rather than turning inward and toward quiet satisfaction, hope, and gratitude, we have been trained to look outside of ourselves for fulfillment, love, and meaning. The shopping frenzy that has come to symbolize this season is contrary to our more natural connection to the seasons of the year and the seasons of our inner lives.

This holiday season I have become even more aware of the toll our consumption takes on us. For many years I have opted out of most of what is now considered normal behavior for this time of year. When people ask me if I’m ready for Christmas (they don’t often ask if I’m ready for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or the solstice) I smile and tell them I AM ready because I don’t participate. After the very real look of astonishment and perplexity, I explain that I only take part in those things that fill me up spiritually, such as music or having a few friends over, or attending a solstice celebration, which celebrates the earth’s rhythms and gifts. I don’t shop for gifts, don’t have to go near a mall, have lost that frantic and breathless anxiety that I used to feel around this time of year. I can almost hear some people thinking how awful this is and wondering “don’t you love your family?”

Those who would have us buy more and more things have convinced us that love is best expressed by how much we buy for each other. If we don’t buy gifts, that translates into meaning we don’t love as much as someone who buys lots of presents. But in looking back over my life I can remember only one specific present in all of those years. It was the gift of the book Charlotte’s Web when I was a child. I had wanted that book so badly, and I was so happy when I unwrapped it. I read and re-read it, and it remains one of my favorite stories even now. But in the 20th century, our holiday season morphed into one of conspicuous consumption and has become a contest of who loves whom better. The anxiety produced by not buying “as good” a present for our sibling as they got for us or of being given a “better” gift by our spouse than we got for them has caused us to completely lose sight of the meaning of the celebration. Instead of being uplifted and spiritually fed by the holidays, many of us come out of the season feeling depleted, depressed, and wrung out. We are surrounded by things but feel somehow lost and abandoned internally.

But the issue of what we are teaching our children about celebration and memory is what concerns me the most. We are modeling over consumption as the norm. We are teaching our children that excess is the way to frame our care for each other. We are leading them to believe that their value to us can only be expressed by what we give them in material possessions rather than what we give them of ourselves. We are telling them by our continued participation in a system based on resource depletion, over consumption, and waste production that we have nothing better to offer them. And perhaps most disturbing, we are teaching them to over-consume their most precious resources of all: their time, their energy, their spirits, and their attention. The more time we spend shopping the less we have to spend at home with our families. The more energy we expend running from here to there “collecting” our gifts, the less we have for lovingly preparing something truly special for each person. The more depleted our spirits become, the less fertile ground we have internally to receive the most important seeds of the season: hope, light, spiritual generosity and our presence with those we love.

If we look ahead to the new year can we imagine how we will feel? Will there be relief that we “survived” another holiday and we don’t have to do that again for another year, or will we feel filled up and restored because we have celebrated the more meaningful parts of what this season has to offer? It is our choice.

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My Solstice Wish for Humanity

Tonight is the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere and the longest day in the southern hemisphere. Usually on the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice I write about my experience in Maine, where the darkest night also represents the turning of the year toward light.

This year, perhaps because I’ve been conversing regularly with a couple of people in Australia and New Zealand who read my blog, I’m struck by how limited my solstice message is each year. I’ve really just been writing for those in the North above a certain latitude. Not only are my musings not applicable to the temperate South, they also don’t mean much nearer the equator where most people in the world live. Their days are relatively stable, hovering around half night and half day. The metaphors of entering the darkness and bringing light don’t carry much power.

I’ve always been struck by the fact that the light immediately returns after the winter solstice and immediately ebbs after the summer solstice. Just as summer begins, with its promise of luxuriously long days and nights that go on and on, it is in fact growing darker; and just as winter begins, with its promise of cold and dark, it is in fact growing lighter.

And what this reminds me of, that I hope is applicable to everyone, everywhere on this solstice, is that things are far more intricate than they seem. Longest day/longest night – these are the extremes that mark the vastly larger, more complex, more nuanced life that lies between the poles. Yet it seems that we humans so often cling to those poles, defining ourselves, casting our vote, throwing our lot in with those who profess often simplistic either/ors. We are surrounded by these simplicities, whether they come in the form of partisan politics, diet fads and health regimens, religious dogmas, or economic absolutes. Too often they lead us away from wise solutions to our challenges.

And so my solstice wish for humanity is this: Let us remember that the extremes of longest day/longest night happen only twice every year and that the solutions to our myriad problems will be found in our muddy, complicated, daily world by those who are willing to listen, learn, explore and think deeply and creatively, rather than attach themselves to the loud and obvious absolutes that we humans are so prone to notice and cling to, to our great peril.


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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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.


Congress bans green building at Department of Defense (via Treehugger) (12/20/11)

Will Russian ban on seal skin products affect Canadian seal hunts? (via Treehugger) (12/19/11)

"Environmentalists get down to earth" (via NY Times) (12/17/11)

Study says marriage equality may boost public health benefits (via USA Today) (12/17/11)

Study notes that more roads = more traffic (via Sightline Daily) (12/16/11)

"EPA finalizes tough new rules on emissions" for coal plants (via Washington Post) (12/16/11)

Wood smoke now a major NW air polluter (via OPB) (12/16/11)

NIH puts moratorium on new studies using chimpanzees (via Washington Post) (12/15/11)

Tar sands oil everywhere in U.S.: map of refineries (via Mother Jones) (12/15/11)

2011 marks biggest elephant ivory seizure in more than a decade (via IFAW) (12/14/11)

"Food giants fight proposed nutrition guidelines" (via SF Gate) (12/12/11)

"Scientists investigate water memory" (via Ode) (12/8/11)

LA city council votes against corporate personhood (via Examiner) (12/7/11)

Study shows protected status makes endangered species more valuable to trophy hunters (via Conservation Magazine) (12/5/11)


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Why We Need Humane Education: Study Shows People Are Motivated to Avoid Becoming Informed Citizens

Image courtesy of Identity Photogr@phy
via Creative Commons.
Many people, especially those new to changemaking, think that "If only people knew what was happening, they'd [start doing x or stop doing y]." The supposition is that if people were only informed about the impact of their choices, they'd choose differently.

But a study published last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology offers important insights for humane educators and activists: When people feel uniformed "or unable to understand important social issues," -- especially those they perceive as complex -- rather than their lack of knowledge motivating a proactive search for more information, their ignorance, as the study authors say, tends to "breed more ignorance." The authors used five different studies to illustrate their premise, which is that lack of knowledge about a particular issue can:

a) foster feelings of dependence on the government [or others perceived as qualified], which will
b) increase system justification and government [or "expert"] trust, which will
c) increase desires to avoid learning about the relevant issue.


In their words: "...when an important issue is cast as increasingly complex, people will respond by psychologically 'outsourcing' the issue to the government (Kay et al., 2008), causing them to, in turn, feel more dependent on the government, place more trust in the government, and, ultimately, avoid behaviors (such as learning about the issue) that could shatter this faith in the government."

The goal of the study isn't to paint people (Americans in this case) as ignorant or stupid or unwilling to be informed; rather it highlights the many psychological mechanisms we may use to protect ourselves and to cope with distressing realities, and what characteristics make some people more likely to see out information and others to avoid it. The study also points out that in today's society, there is so much information to understand and address that we have had to "forfeit a certain amount of autonomy to have these burdens placed into systems of power composed of knowledgeable others."

Read the complete study. (I recommend reading at least the outline of the theory and the implications and future directions at the end.)

Although more research in this area is needed, the conclusions of this study are important reminders to humane educators and activists that just providing information isn't enough to motivate positive change; and that what works for some people won't work for others. It also highlights the importance of encouraging people to critically analyze information and potential bias from "expert" sources, such as government or industry entities.

~ Marsha

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Let Us Learn From the Life of Vaclav Havel

Image copyright European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari
via Creative Commons.
This morning the news reports are focused on the death of Kim Jong-Il. I wish I were hearing more about Vaclav Havel, who also died this past weekend. Both led countries, but while one was an oppressive dictator, the other was a truly great statesman, humanitarian, writer, and truly courageous leader. One practiced totalitarianism; the other spoke out against it and served five prison sentences in defiance of Soviet oppression before becoming Czechoslovakia’s president. That the life and death of a dictator is eclipsing the life and death of one of the 20th century's greatest people in terms of air time is unfortunate. So today, I’d like to honor and express my gratitude to Vaclav Havel.

When I feel despairing about the state of the world and fear that nothing I do will amount to much in the face of the grave problems we face, the cruelties we perpetuate, I think of Havel, who said this:

“I feel a responsibility to work toward the things I consider good and right. I don’t know whether I'll be able to change certain things for the better, or not at all. Both outcomes are possible. There is only one thing I will not concede: that it might be meaningless to strive in a good cause.”

If ever I doubt the value of working toward a more humane, peaceful, and healthy world, I remember Havel. I cannot control the outcomes of my efforts, but it will always be meaningful that I do my best and embrace my responsibility to work towards what I believe is good and right.

My his words be of value and inspiration to you, too.

In gratitude to Vaclav Havel.

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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On Our Must Read List: Brandwashed

I'm about halfway through Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy by Martin Lindstrom (Crown Business 2011), and despite all that I've already read about marketing, advertising, and social psychology, I'm learning a lot. A marketer and brander himself, Lindstrom highlights a cornucopia of examples of the ways in which corporations entice, manipulate and influence our consumer choices. Some of the sticky points for me so far:
  • the impact on fetuses of external surroundings and what the mother experiences, and how that can influence a baby's future preferences;
  • the major part "tiny" elements play in attracting customers, from use of color to particular sounds to how many bubbles are on soft drink packaging;
  • the addictiveness of everything from lip balm to computer games;
  • the amount and kind of market research and strategy that go into something like body spray for young men;
  • the rise and influence of neuromarketing.
Lindstrom's book addresses the influences of peer pressure, addiction, our senses, sex, nostalgia, fame & celebrity, and happiness & health, as well as some of the consequences of all this marketing, such as loss of privacy.

What Lindstrom's book lacks is any cogent practical help for educating and empowering ourselves to recognize and counteract all these influences. However, he does offer 10 ethical guidelines on his website that he recommends companies follow.

You can find recent interviews with Lindstrom here and here, and read recent articles by Lindstrom here.

While not everything in the book is new, there are plenty of relevant and intriguing tidbits that would be great for classroom discussion.

~ Marsha

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This Everyday Hero Made My Day; Hope He Makes Your Day, Too

Image copyright Storycorps.
Check out this 2008 NPR story about Julio Diaz, a 31-year-old social worker who
responded to a mugger by, just possibly, changing his life for the better.









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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Why We Need Humane Education: Study Shows Link Between Domestic Violence and Harming Animals

A link between violence against animals and violence against humans has long been suspected, and evidence of the strength of such a link continues to grow. A recent study in the Bahamas identified a link between animal cruelty and domestic violence. Dr. William J. Fielding's study, "A First Look at Harm Toward Animals by Bahamians in Childhood," used an internet survey to gather data investigating childhood harm toward animals in the context of other violent behaviors in the home.
Researchers discovered and/or confirmed several relevant pieces of data, including:
  • The homes of children who did not harm animals were less violent than the homes of children who harmed animals.
  • Males were more likely to harm animals than females.
  • Males were more likely than females to harm sentient animals.
  • Stray dogs and cats were the warm-blooded animals reported most mistreated.
  • Domestic violence and the presence of a gun in the home were associated with a higher score on the Children and Animals Inventory (CAI).

In a news story about the study, Fielding said, "We found a number of interesting links, such as, violence in the household and the presence of a gun in the household all seemed to be linked with children having a higher risk of harming animals."

Read the complete study.

This report highlights the importance of childhood experiences in shaping our relationship with and treatment of non-human animals, and thus how essential humane education is at even an early age. Although an increasing number of studies show that we're innately wired to be empathetic, if that empathy isn't nurtured through childhood and into adulthood, environments of violence and a society that condones cruelty can overwhelm our empathetic tendencies and affect our behavior and worldview.

If you're a humane educator, or a teacher wanting to integrate humane education into your school, this study is an important piece of evidence you can share exemplifying the necessity of bringing humane education to students.

~ Marsha

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Don't Even Think About It: Report Highlights Harms of School Commercialism

Image courtesy Marshall-Wythe School of Law/flickr.
Commercialism in schools is a hotly-contested topic. While many parents, educators & concerned citizens believe that the creeping influence of marketers and corporations is harmful to students, who are a captive audience for several hours a day, school districts increasingly desperate for money find themselves engaging in "partnerships" with corporations to bring in some extra cash, insisting such efforts are necessary because they have no better alternatives. Corporations also gain access not just to what students see on school buses, lunchroom walls, stadium signs & book covers, but on what students are actually taught, providing free lesson plans to classrooms and "partnering" with school districts to develop curriculum and special programs.

Every year the National Education Policy Center, an organization that conducts "high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions," releases a report focusing on some aspect of the impact of commercialism in schools on students and the community. Last month they published their newest report, "The Educational Cost of Schoolhouse Commercialism," which focuses on how "corporate commercializing activities harm children educationally."

This year's report considers three types of educational harm associated with corporate influence in schools:
  1. The contradiction of what students learn in school (such as the disconnect between teaching about healthy eating while offering junk food in vending machines or unhealthy food in the cafeteria);
  2. The displacement of educational activities by commercializing activities;
  3. The abandonment of critical thinking skills surrounding corporate messages, bias, and products in schools.
This last point is especially important, say the report's authors. The teaching of critical thinking skills is already hampered by the education system's focus on memorization and standardized testing. As they say,
"Commercializing activities in school foster a common-sense culture that favors both the specific brands that get their advertising into the school and a noncritical mindset that facilitates the effectiveness of such advertising. At their most simplistic, corporate commercializing activities discourage thinking of any kind ('Hungry? Grab a Snickers!'). When more complex, they discourage aspects of critical thinking that might lead to disagreement with or discrediting of the sponsor‘s message—especially critical thinking skills having to do with identifying and evaluating sponsors‘ points of view and biases, considering alternative points of view, and generating and evaluating alternative solutions. They insinuate sponsors‘ points of view or products into the daily life of the school in a way that students accept them without thinking about them. They also (either actively or passively) inhibit critical thought about those points of view or products.

"Even if teachers explicitly teach critical thinking in their classes, they would be unlikely to demonstrate its applicability with respect to corporate messages when those corporate messages are endorsed by the school or district."

The report also highlights the importance of looking at the collective influence of corporate influence on students:
"It is important to note that whereas any single piece of advertising may seem trivial, all advertising contributes to a global message reflecting the values, stories, and morality that promote a consumer culture. As a result, advertising affects how children think about their families, relationships, environment, society, friendships, and selves. While no one particular advertisement or advertising campaign has this effect on its own, the underlying message of consumerism as the highest good is 'sold' by every advertising campaign, regardless of its relative success promoting an explicit product."

In addition to outlining the role and necessity of critical thinking strategies and how commercialization can hamper that, the report also offers several examples of "commercializing activities" in schools for the 2010-2011 school year, from partnerships with Nike to curriculum from fossil fuel companies, to Google virtual science fairs, and corporate-sponsored contests to win money for schools.

Although the document is more than 40 pages long, the report itself is only a dozen or so pages and is well-worth the read.

Read the complete report.

~ Marsha

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Living According to Our Values Means Questioning Our Choices

On the way to the airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador, I met an observant Jewish man who looked out of place with his yarmulke and long coat in this Latin American, equatorial country. I asked why he had come to Guayaquil and he told me that he is hired to certify kosher food in countries around the world. Waiting in line to check in, I asked him whether in addition to certifying slaughter as kosher he also observed the conditions under which animals were raised, he said he did not. He had, in fact, never visited a modern confinement agriculture system. I talked about how inhumane they were, and he was skeptical.

He asked how I knew they were inhumane. And so I described to him what I have seen myself: hundreds of thousands of chickens crammed into cages in typical egg factories and calves chained at the neck in tiny crates in modern veal factories. I talked about my studies with an observant rabbi who is a vegetarian because he insists not only in following the letter of the law (kosher slaughter was, at its inception, far more humane than typical slaughter of the time), but also the spirit of the law (which clearly rejected cruelty to animals). Only slowly did I seem to pique his interest. I gave him my card and encouraged him to learn more for himself.

Later, I reflected upon this man’s work. He is trying to do what he considers God’s work. He is attempting to deeply live according to his values. Yet, it is harder and harder to do this without an equally strong commitment to learning more, to bringing our inquiry to our choices and actions, to insisting upon greater understanding than what we are likely to obtain from our culture, whether observant Jewish culture or popular culture.

I hope that our brief interaction will spur him to learn more and consider how he can more genuinely live according to his religious beliefs. He mentioned that at his age, he might not pursue more knowledge in this area, but he hesitated as he said this. I like to think he will reconsider and open himself to new knowledge so that he might more fully live his values.

 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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5 Questions for National Kind Teacher Award Winner Marcy Wells

In 2003 Marcy Wells founded Funny Farm Early Learning Center in Portland, Oregon, a preschool dedicated to learning that's fun and meaningful and that focuses on the importance of qualities like compassion and empathy -- both for people and animals. This year Marcy's humane education efforts were recognized when she won the 2011 National Kind Teacher Award, which is bestowed by the Humane Society of the United States. Marsha met this lively and enthusiastic woman at Portland's VegFest in September, and Marcy kindly agreed to talk with us.



IHE: How and why were you drawn to humane education?

MW:
I’ve always believed in the humane treatment of animals, but my passion for animal welfare issues was sparked about 8 years ago when I adopted my first pet, a highly opinionated cat I named Sass. I believe one of the most important things young children should learn is RESPECT – for their school, each other, their parents, other adults, and that includes animals. Not just the animals that may be living in the home, but all animals…even bugs. Learning compassion and empathy at this age, while they are just learning to gain their independence and starting to feel like they are “getting bigger,” is important to their emotional growth. Utilizing principles of humane learning helps them understand that they can become the caregivers, as well as learn that there is a world outside of their own.

In many preschool settings, teachers are told what curriculum to run in their classrooms. With the founding of my own school, and with my knack for cleverly writing my own curriculum units that reach preschoolers in a fun and engaging way, I have the freedom to teach the things I feel are necessary for a strong early educational experience.


IHE:  Tell us about some of the humane-themed lessons you've used.

MW: “Funny Farm Gone Wild” is a summer curriculum program we created in 2007. Unlike the regular school year where lessons are built around numerous themes lasting 1-2 weeks, our summer program focuses on a single theme for the entire three months. 

The goals of the curriculum program are to learn 1) what “endangered” means, 2) the plight of certain endangered species (loss of habitat, poaching, pet trade, etc.), and 3) what our preschoolers can do to help.

The Funny Farm Kids (ages 3-5) become Eco Rangers in a summer adventure to save the planet and rescue endangered species. During the summer, we transform our school into our Eco Ranger Station base camp complete with medical center, survival gear, walkie-talkies, and other necessary tools of the trade. At the start of each week, our Eco Rangers receive a call from Eco Headquarters on their walkie-talkies about an animal that needs their help and then it’s “Eco Rangers to the Rescue” as they gear up to follow clues to the animal’s location and the danger the animal is in. 

The idea for this program came from pairing a natural love for animals with this age group. Kids are eager to help if you just ask them. This seemed like a perfect solution to tapping into these young “superhero wanna-bes,” while teaching them about the world (and species) around them.

During the regular school year we incorporate humane learning in other curriculum units, where appropriate. For example, in November our turkey unit takes inspiration from the children’s book ’Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey and Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-A-Turkey program. Children in the classroom learn to care for a small flock of adopted turkeys (stuffed animals) shifting the emphasis from what we eat at Thanksgiving. In February, our Dramatic Play area in the classroom is transformed into an animal shelter with pretend cats, dogs, lizards, frogs, even rabbits, as well as all the necessary care items needed to find proper homes for each of them.

IHE: What evidence do you have that students are internalizing humane principles?

MW:
Where do I start? If a teacher knows how to present the material, then kids will respond. The kids all become VERY attached to the stuffed animals we bring in to teach humane principles. As with our summer curriculum, the stuffed animals that have been rescued take on a very real role in the classroom. Giving each its own name and personal story, they are handled respectfully and cared for with a sweet tenderness.

Recently, one of our dads shared that during a weekend of weeding in the yard, his daughter insisted on inspecting each dandelion before it was plucked so as not to “destroy habitat” of any creatures that might be living on it. Examples like this one are proof that the learning is sinking in.


IHE: Congratulations on being this year's winner of the National Kind Teacher Award! How did that come about?

MW:
I was nominated for the award by a board member – who is a staunch supporter of animal welfare issues – who thought I should be recognized for my efforts regarding humane education with preschoolers. I was very honored to receive the award and very appreciative of the recognition. It was a great confirmation to have our efforts recognized. 


IHE:  What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start his/her own humane education preschool?

MW: Keep in mind that humane education is important and can be incorporated into any school. It takes someone with passion for animal welfare and a knack for reaching little ones in a creative way.

~ 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.


Canada pulls out of Kyoto protocol (via Common Dreams) (12/13/11)

China's cities experience record-breaking air pollution (via Treehugger) (12/12/11)

Study reports on similarities in language used in men's magazines and by rapists (via Jezebel) (12/9/11)

"Abundance swap" brings compassion, meaning, sharing back to gift giving (via Ashland Daily Tidings) (12/9/11)

Study shows that those reminded of their perceived lower status are willing to spend more (via GOOD) (12/9/11)

"A new model of empathy: the rat" (via Washington Post) (12/8/11)

U.S. pig producer agrees to phase out gestation crates by 2017 (via Washington Post) (12/8/11)

Study shows that microplastics from fleece & other fabrics are damaging ocean life (via Grist) (12/7/11)

"Japan whaling fleet accused of using tsunami disaster funds" (via The Guardian) (12/7/11)

"Coal company gets record $200 million penalty for disaster that left 29 dead" (via Treehugger) (12/6/11)

New Delhi businessman is on a mission to help needy children (via Christian Science Monitor) (12/5/11)

"When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids" (via Washington Post) (12/5/11)

"Knitting Behind Bars" program helps Maryland prisoners help themselves & others (via GOOD) (12/2/11)

 Keep up with more humane issues in the news via our Facebook or Twitter pages. 
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Guest Post: Let the Youngest Teach You Mindfulness

This post is by guest blogger Laura Grace Weldon. Laura is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. She is a writer, editor, and non-violence educator who lives on Bit of Earth Farm with her family and blogs optimistically.




Image courtesy ivanmarn.
Ask any child. When adults meet them for the first time, standard questions include, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” right after classics like, “What grade are you in?” and “What’s your favorite subject?”

Such questions, unintentionally, gauge a child’s progress toward adulthood. That’s because adults tend to be future oriented. We’re distracted from the present moment by the need to plan and work toward any number of goals—what to do about dinner, how to juggle next week’s schedule, when bills can be paid. These distractions take our attention away from what is in the here and now. When we think ahead so often we have less time to notice, let alone appreciate, what makes up our lives minute by minute.

What is impatience except denying the value of the present moment? The watercolor effect of rain on the window, the meandering quality of a child’s conversation, the long wait for a pot to boil—these can be occasions to experience impatience or opportunities to breathe deeply and be present, gratefully.

Leaning so often toward the future unconsciously demonstrates to our children that later is more important than now. Yet as we know, later never comes. As long as we’re alive there’s always “later” to strive toward. Worse, we are surrounded by advertiser-driven messages telling us that we aren’t there yet, that we need to do more or become something more in order to have friends, be successful, find love.

The nature of early childhood is the perfect antidote to this hurry-up attitude. That is, if adults truly pay attention to the lessons the youngest model for us. Young children who are not yet pulled by the adult world’s messages are oriented to the present moment. When forced to disregard what is vital to their bodies and spirits—pretending, daydreaming, playing, snuggling—they rebel. They are who they are, where they are. They’re not caught up in the future tense which diminishes the here and now.

Pay close attention to the youngest children in your life. Let them help you learn solutions to our cultural overdrive.

As we slow down we have time to truly know each other and to truly know ourselves. We’re more aware of the messages our bodies send us and can act on those signals before they become symptoms. We have time to reflect. Time to remember our dreams when we awaken. After all, time is the only true wealth we have to spend.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by guest posters are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Humane Education or its staff.

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Help Us Make Humane Education Even Easier: Take Our Brief Survey for Classroom Teachers

We're exploring creating an ebook to help make it easier for teachers to integrate humane education in their classrooms, and we'd love to have your feedback. If you're a classroom or university teacher, please take a few minutes to complete our survey.


Complete our survey by December 31 and we'll enter your name in a random drawing to win one of the following:

Thank you for taking a few minutes to help us!

~ Marsha
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12 Must-See Movies of 2011

Video can be one of the most powerful and moving means for enlightening us and motivating us to take action. Each year there are dozens of films worth seeing for those of us passionate about working toward a just, compassionate, healthy world for all. We've narrowed the list down to 12 suggested must-see movies of 2011.

  1. Born to Be Wild (40 min)
    An IMAX 3D film that documents orphaned orangutans and elephants and the extraordinary people working to save them.
  2. The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men (58 min)
    Dissects a range of media that glamorize and promote sexism, violence against women, and certain very specific definitions of "American manhood" and looks at how these cultural forces help shape young men to dehumanize and disrespect women.
  3. Buck (88 min)
    A powerful film about a man who recovered from years of abuse to become an acclaimed horse whisperer.
  4. Forks Over Knives (90 min)
    Puts to the test the idea of food as medicine & explores the power of a healthy, plant-based diet.
  5. Farm to Fridge (12 min)
    A brief but powerful look behind the closed doors of industrial animal agriculture facilities.
  6. Hot Coffee (88 min)
    An eye-opening look at how big business influences the civil justice system.
  7. I Am (76 min)
    A bad bike accident leads a filmmaker around the world to explore 2 questions: "What's wrong with our world?" and "What can we do to make it better?"
  8. The Interrupters (125 min)
    Powerful and moving stories of three "violence interrupters" who work to protect and transform their Chicago communities.
  9. The Last Mountain (95 min)
    Highlights the devastating damage of mountaintop removal mining and the conflict between the coal industry and the people fighting for healthy, sustainable communities.
  10. Miss Representation (85 min)
    Exposes and challenges mainstream media's portrayal of women and girls.
  11. Project Nim (93 min)
    Details a heart-breaking experiment from the 1970s in which a chimpanzee was taken from his mother and raised as a "human" to see if chimps could learn language.
  12. Vegucated (76 min)
    Follows three meat-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for 6-weeks and take on a quest to explore the impact of animal agriculture.
~ Marsha

Image courtesy of michael.newman via Creative Commons.


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Ecuador, Galapagos, and the Rights of Nature

Image copyright Edwin Barkdoll.
My husband and I recently visited the Galapagos Islands in celebration of our 20th anniversary. It was a tough call choosing to go to the Galapagos. On the one hand, visiting this natural wonder has been a long-standing dream; on the other, such travel is anything but eco-friendly, given the fossil fuels necessary to transport us there. Plus, most trips to the Galapagos are cruise-based, which I didn’t want to support because of the high eco-footprint of cruise ships. It was important to me that if we were going to make this trip, we do so as responsibly as possible. We found an ecologically sensitive tour company which offered a trip that included the very rare opportunity of camping for a couple of nights, along with kayaking, staying in local hotels, hiking up to the rim of a volcano overlooking the second largest caldera in the world, and supporting local fishermen’s transitions into eco-friendly tourism (emphasizing wildlife viewing rather than taking).

The trip was amazing. Never have I experienced wildlife so unafraid of humans. Even the giant tortoises, who live to be close to 200 years old, would walk up to us, even though slaughter and exploitation are within their living memories. Sea lions chose to swim with us, playing, circling, and cavorting within inches of our faces, and ten dolphins came over to play in the bow waves of a boat we were on, seeming to perform for our entertainment as we cheered at each new feat. Even yellow warblers, who rarely come close at home, flitted around our feet. There were Marine Iguanas everywhere and gorgeous Sally Lightfoot crabs (the only animals afraid of us) and sea turtles and sharks who swam beside us, and frigates and boobies and congregations of golden eagle rays. For someone like me who loves animals, this was truly heaven.

What was gratifying was seeing the effort the Ecuadorian government goes to to ensure that the Galapagos Islands, once exploited, are now protected. Permission to camp was hard to come by and took years for approval, and our tour company ensured that we left the campground cleaner than we found it. Trips into the national park (which comprises 97% of the islands) had to be accompanied by a national park guide, and nothing could be removed (not a shell, a feather or a rock). The two-meter rule (you are not permitted to get any closer to the animals than two meters) was constantly reiterated. After decades of exploitation on the Galapagos Islands, the Ecuadorian government is making every effort to restore ecosystems and ensure the health of the native species. This is challenging in light of introduced species which threaten indigenous ones, but there are tireless efforts to right the wrongs of the past. The government has limited the number of people who can live on the Galapagos, and now, if you were not born there and aren’t married to a native of the Galapagos islands, your visit must end after three months.

Such attention to protection and restoration makes sense in a country that was the first to ratify a new constitution that affirms the rights of nature, stating that nature “has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” It’s worth reading the articles to understand just how meaningful this really is. There is much that still needs to be done to truly protect the Galapagos, but it is gratifying to see what humans can choose to do as we evolve in our thinking about our place on this beautiful planet.

 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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Localization v. Globalization: A False Dichotomy

For my blog post today, I'm sharing a recent post I wrote for Common Dreams, a progressive news site. Here's an excerpt from "Localization v. Globalization: A False Dichotomy":
"The economic localization movement is growing. Locavores have become widespread, with the “100 mile diet” representing the new eco-conscious food trend. Author Helena Norberg-Hodge begins her TEDx talk, The Economics of Happiness, with this impassioned plea: 'For all of us around the world the highest priority, the most urgent issue, is fundamental change to the economy,' and goes on to say, 'The change that we need to make is shifting away from globalizing to localizing economic activity.' This, she suggests, is the economics of happiness. Even in my own town, a yoga studio has a sign on the wall urging yoga practitioners to shop locally.

As a humane educator who teaches about the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental preservation and animal protection, I am uncomfortable with the fervor surrounding localization. While the farmer’s market and local food movements have certainly been beneficial – helping farmers, communities, and individuals alike – it’s not realistic, desirable, or responsible to reject global trade out of hand or to advocate localization as the urgent answer for our times."

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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14 Must-Read Books for Activists

We become activists when we learn about an issue or challenge and are inspired to take positive action. Teenager Natalie Warne learned about child soldiers when she watched a documentary in class. She was inspired to become an intern for Invisible Children and help get an important law passed. Economist Muhammad Yunus was inspired to develop a microlending program when he saw how little money it took to raise many of the people in his village out of poverty. One of the students from our Teaching for a Positive Future online course was inspired to start a Meatless Mondays program for the staff at her child's school.

Taking positive action seems pretty simple (and it can be), but when we embrace activism as an integral part of our lives, we begin to encounter issues such as managing our time well; maintaining a healthy, joyful and balanced life; choosing the most effective projects; learning to communicate compassionately; and struggling with political, systemic, and social obstacles to change.

Fortunately, there are numerous resources we can turn to for inspiration and help. Here are just a few: 14 super-relevant books for activists that are beyond the traditional list of "strategies."

  1. The Animal Activist's Handbook: Maximizing Our Positive Impact in Today's World by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich (2009)
    While targeted to animal protection issues, the core premise that we must use our time and resources for maximum meaning and effectiveness is relevant to every global issue.
  2. How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs & the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein (2007)
    Profiles people around the world who have used the social entrepreneurship model to find innovative solutions to a variety of global challenges.
  3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (2009)
    First published in 1937, this is the "bible" for people-skills. Still very relevant today.
  4. States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering by Stanley Cohen (2001)
    While full of academic-speak, this in-depth examination of the personal & political ways that we can deny both uncomfortable realities and horrible atrocities offers important insights for activists.
  5. Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change by Nick Cooney (2010)
    It's essential for advocates to understand why people make the choices they do, what influences them, and what kinds of strategies can inspire positive change.  This book distills decades of research to help changemakers become more effective.
  6. Animal Impact: Proven Secrets to Achieve Results & Move the World by Caryn Ginsberg (2011)
    Although the focus is on animal protection issues, the book offers a framework that's relevant for any social change movement. Full of insights, case studies, and strategies for maximizing your effectiveness. (Disclaimer: I was one of the manuscript readers for this book.)
  7. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath (2010)
    Designed primarily for business people, this book on the psychology of change is full of important insights for solutionaries.
  8. Privilege, Power, and Difference by Allan G. Johnson (2001)
    An essential book for understanding systems of privilege and power and our role in them.
  9. Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate by George Lakoff (2004)
    While the focus of the book is on progressive/conservative politics, the important message here for activists is all about framing and use of language. Great insights and examples that can be applied to social change situations.
  10. You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear by Frances Moore Lappé & Jeffrey Perkins (2004)
    Offers tools and inspirational stories for understanding our fear and turning it into a positive power to change our lives and the world.
  11. Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times by Paul Rogat Loeb (2010)
    Offers a new and empowering vision for engaging in social issues. Includes numerous insightful examples and important reminders.
  12. Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher (2007)
    If one of your tools for social change is writing (even if it's just the occasional letter to the editor), Pipher's book has some invaluable tidbits, and one of the best activist letters I have ever read.
  13. The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way by Hillary Rettig (2006)
    Many books for activists talk strategy, but how many focus on how to integrate activism into your life in a mindful, healthy way. The book explores issues such as finding your mission, coping with burnout, and dealing with your time and finances constructively.
  14. Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life by Zoe Weil (2009)
    Ensuring that our choices reflect our values and that we're striving to do the most good & least harm for all are important elements of being a healthy, joyful, effective activist. A must-read from IHE's own president.

~ Marsha

 Image courtesy of 05com via Creative Commons.

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