Susie Boss: How to Turn Your Classroom into an Idea Factory

Image courtesy of Brightworks School
via Creative Commons.
At IHE we frequently talk about the importance of helping students become solutionaries -- providing them with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to solve problems and become humane, engaged citizens working to benefit all people, animals, and the earth. An important piece of helping students become solutionaries is nurturing their skills in creativity, problem solving, and innovation.

As Susie Boss at Mind/Shift mentioned in her recent blog post, "How to Turn Your Classroom into an Idea Factory," corporate CEOs and governments alike are anxious for students to gain skills in creativity and innovation. Say says:
"If we’re serious about preparing students to become innovators, educators have some hard work ahead. Getting students ready to tackle tomorrow’s challenges means helping them develop a new set of skills and fresh ways of thinking that they won’t acquire through textbook-driven instruction. Students need opportunities to practice these skills on right-sized projects, with supports in place to scaffold learning. They need to persist and learn from setbacks. That’s how they’ll develop the confidence to tackle difficult problems."
She continues:
"Across disparate fields, from engineering and technology to the social and environmental sectors, innovators use a common problem-solving process. They frame problems carefully, looking at issues from all sides to find opportunity gaps. They may generate many possible solutions before focusing their efforts. They refine solutions through iterative cycles, learning from failure along with success. When they hit on worthy ideas, innovators network with others and share results widely."
Susie offers 8 tips that teachers are using to nurture innovation in their students and create "idea factories":

1. Welcome authentic questions.

2. Encourage effective teamwork.

3. Be ready to think big.

4. Build empathy.

5. Uncover passion.

6. Amplify worthy ideas.

7. Know When to Say No.

8. Encourage breakthroughs.

Read the complete post.

We appreciate that Susie emphasizes the importance of focusing projects on real-world issues that students are concerned about. Our world desperately needs an entire generation of young people who are passionate and skilled in working to create just, humane, sustainable systems and to make choices that do the most good and least harm for all. The news should be full of stories about these young solutionaries, and cultivating innovation in the classroom is one important way to make that happen.

~ Marsha

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Giftivism: A Path Toward Generosity and Generativity

For my blog post today, I simply want to share this wonderful TEDx talk, Designing for Generosity. If, after you've watched it, you find yourself giving in a new or different way, please let me know what happens.





~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

Get tickets to the October 13 NYC performance of my 1-woman show: "My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl." 

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Why We Need Humane Education: Research Shows Promoting Self-Interest as a Pro-Environment Tool Can Backfire

Image courtesy sgtgary via Creative Commons.
As humane educators and activists, we encounter conflicting information about how best to inspire and encourage others to take compassionate action. We hear that people will only respond to something if it's in their best interests. Of course, a healthy, sustainable, humane planet is in everyone's interests, but what they really mean is that the action helps them save money or benefits them in some other self-serving way. But as humane educators, we've also seen that when people come to care for people, animals, and the planet, they're more interested in choosing actions that help others. And while we know that everyone responds to different motivators, as a general rule, what are we to believe?

Well those of us who have long supported promoting altruistic and humane behavior for its own sake have a new piece of evidence to affirm our vision. A recent report in Nature Climate Change (h/t to Wired) outlines several experiments focused on the connections between pro-environmental behavior and self-interested motivations versus self-transcendent motivations.

Researchers discovered that:
"When attempting to persuade people to adopt pro-environmental behaviour, it seems intuitive to persuade them that it is in their own interest. Indeed, many campaigns emphasize financial reasons to change environmental behaviour. ... However, campaigners have recently raised the possibility that this tactic may reduce the scope for positive spillover in pro-environmental behaviours. Spillover refers to the likelihood that the encouragement of one environmental behaviour (for example, through a campaign), or its performance, will lead to the performance of other pro-environmental behaviours in the future. ... financial incentives might actually decrease the likelihood of positive spillover; that is, such incentives may make people less likely to carry out environmental actions in general."

In one experiment, participants who were told about the money-saving benefits of carpooling seemed less likely to choose to recycle.

Researchers also highlighted that "over an extended period of time, carrying out a pro-environmental behaviour because of financial incentives may have lasting effects on people’s self-perception." They may come to see themselves as operating out of self-interest, and thus "come to value self-transcendence less."

Read the complete article.

Because our culture perpetuates self-interest as admirable and necessary, it makes sense to many that it's the must-use strategy for inspiring people to take humane action. But as this study implies, we're better than that -- and we want to be better than that.

And while an essential piece of helping people make different choices is to ensure that it's convenient and at least somewhat mainstream to make those choices, humane education is a vital tool for nurturing our reverence and connection with others, which makes us more likely to be open to those self-transcendent choices.

~ Marsha

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Humane Issues in the News

Each week we round-up the news you need to know about humane issues, from human rights and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


Report says food, water shortages mean significantly reducing meat intake (via Daily Mail) (8/27/12)

"U.S. arms sales make up most of global market" (via NY Times) (8/26/12)

Zoos, aquariums considering delicate balance of educating about climate change (via NY Times) (8/26/12)

Quebec couple's fight to save front yard garden leads to rewrite in city code (via GOOD) (8/25/12)

Students run successful campaign to get Styrofoam trays banned in L.A. schools (via GOOD) (8/24/12)

Do police in schools making things better or worse? (via AlterNet) (8/23/12)

Are "grocery auctions" a good way to save money, cut food waste? (via NPR) (8/23/12)

Is our hunger for cotton clothes starving the world? (via Mother Jones) (July/August 2012)

Report: Americans waste up to 40% of food (via Seattle Times) (8/21/12) 


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Enter the YES! National Student Writing Competition

Image courtesy YES! Magazine screenshot.
This fall our friends at YES! are sponsoring a writing competition for students in middle school through university.

Students are to read the YES! article, “Living Large in a Tiny House,” by Dee Williams and respond to it. According to the website: "Dee’s story is about why she chose to move from her 3-bedroom bungalow to an 84-square-foot house—a place where she keeps no more than 300 items and has never been happier."

Prompt: Your students should write an essay of up to 700 words answering the question, “If you had the choice, what size house would you live in? What are important features your house would have, and what would you intentionally avoid?”

The registration deadline is October 19, 2012, and essays must be submitted by November 21, 2012.

This competition offers students a great opportunity to reflect on the impacts of our housing choices on people, animals, and the earth, and to consider creative ways to design a sustainable, humane house that meets their needs.


Find out more and check the website for entry requirements.


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5 Humane Tips for Starting the School Year

Backpacks, bells, and bus schedules are taking center stage as millions of kids, parents, and teachers jump into a new school year. If you’re a parent, it’s a great time to start integrating humane choices into your child’s school experience (and inspiring others in the process).

Here are 5 tips for a humane start to school.

  1. Supply sustainably & humanely. Millions of kids times the number of years they go to school equals a lot of school-related supplies. While it feels nice to get something shiny and new at the start of each year, the true toll can be quite high. Start by reusing and revamping whatever you can from previous years. Get creative in giving things like the old backpack and lunchbag a new look (dye, paint, decorate, etc.).  Look for fun DIY options, such as a duct tape pencil case.

    If something must be new, invest in eco-friendly, healthy, humane products. There are numerous online stores for purchasing recycled or eco-friendly paper, pens and pencils, backpacks, crayons, lunch bags, etc. If you don’t know where to start looking, there are a slew of blogs and news outlets that cover green products and supplies each fall. Try a web search for “eco-friendly school supplies” or “green back to school,” being sure to also think about the impact of those school supply choices on people and animals. (Many “big box” stores are also starting to carry more eco-friendly supplies.)

    And when it comes to clothes, back-to-school doesn't have to mean supporting sweatshops. Thrift stores, clothing swaps, and sweatshop-free products all offer alternative choices.
  2. Build a positive relationship with teachers from the start. Get to know your child’s teachers and other members of the school so that you can learn to know them as people and develop a positive relationship. Find out what their needs and goals are and how you can support them in meaningful ways. If there's something teachers need to know about your child (such as that she's vegan), don't wait weeks into the year until a conflict arises; tell them at the start and let them know how you'll help address the situation (such as keeping the teacher stocked with plenty of vegan snacks for your child).
  3. Get creative with transportation. Shuttling all those children to school usually means lots of cars on the road, contributing to air pollution, greenhouse gases, and more. Consider what you're options are. Can you set up a carpool with trusted neighbors? Is school close enough for your child to bike (with you along if you're concerned about safety -- plus you both get exercise!)? Is it possible to start a Walking School Bus program? What about public transit and/or the school bus? Look for solutions that best fit your needs.
  4. Plug in using your passion. A school needs its community, and parent participation is essential. It's important to find a way to contribute, but you want to serve in a way that helps the school AND fulfills you. As IHE president, Zoe Weil, relates in her book, Most Good, Least Harm, when her child's school asked her to bake cookies, it always felt like an obligation; but when the school asked her to teach a humane education lesson, she felt invigorated and joyful doing so. Find out what the school needs, and then find the best way for you to plug in.
  5. Establish a reputation as a reliable, humane resource. Once teachers and administrators discover that you're responsible, reliable, compassionate, and credible, they'll be more open to your positive ideas to help and enhance the class: from integrating humane lessons, to starting recycling programs, to reducing waste, to promoting healthier and more sustainable snacks, to reducing various “prints” --carbon footprints, foodprints, waterprints -- to starting a gardening program or fair trade fair, and so on. They may even come to you for suggestions.
There are nearly unlimited ways to help your family and your community's schools make choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals, and the planet. Start with small steps, and soon you'll be working up to powerful changes.

~ Marsha

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Considering the Ethics of Fishing

Image courtesy of derekGavey via Creative Commons.
For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent essay I wrote for Care2.com, an online community for people passionate about creating a better world. Here’s an excerpt from "Considering the Ethics of Fishing":
"Reading the August issue of The Sun magazine, I was struck by a section of the essay 'Pioneers' by John Frank about fishing. Frank writes:

'I caught an ugly junk fish of some kind. It had giant, gold-rimmed eyes and a sharp dorsal fin that nicked the soft flesh of my hand. I tossed it back.'

And two paragraphs later: 'Once, in junior high, I’d caught an odd-looking fish with large scales and taken it home to show my father in hopes he could identify it. I wanted greatly for him to be the kind of father who’d flip open a book and point to a picture of the fish and give it a name. But I found him asleep on the couch, the sun hitting the coffee table by his feet. So I went outside and threw the fish as far as I could into the woods.'

Frank may be writing about his past, but in the present, he isn’t compelled to consider the morality of his behavior. And my experience with people who fish recreationally is that, like Frank, the ethics of fishing rarely arise in their minds."

Read the complete essay.


~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"


Get tickets now for the October 13 NYC debut of my 1-woman show -- My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl -- at United Solo, the world's largest solo theatre festival.

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The Importance of Persistence

Last weekend I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of persistence. While gearing up for a whitewater rafting trip, my family and I discovered that one of the other participants had his dogs with him. Because the dogs couldn't go on the rafting trip (he assumed they could), he was just going to leave them in his van. For 3 hours. On a day that was supposed to get near 100 degrees.

The rafting staff had tried to talk him out of leaving his dogs, but he said they'd be fine. The staff shrugged their shoulders and figured they'd done their due diligence. It was clear they were concerned, but they didn't know what to do. Everyone was getting into the vans to drive to the put-in spot. I asked about the dogs. "This isn't okay. We can't just leave them there. It's going to get too hot. They could die!" My husband also expressed concern and said that, if nothing else, the staff could call the sheriff. One of the guides said they'd done their best and there was nothing more they could do.

When we got to the put-in spot, I approached the guides, who were busy unloading the rafts, and said that we had to do something. I emphasized that I wasn't blaming them, but that we had to step up and take responsibility for helping those dogs. I felt like a pest, but I persisted despite their resistance. Finally, they insisted there wasn't really anything they could do. My brother-in-law went to talk to the young guardian of the dogs, who assured my brother-in-law that the situation wasn't ideal, but that the dogs would be fine, and that he'd left them some water.

We were standing around fretting, deciding what to do, when a couple of the guides came up. One of them -- who would be driving one of the vans and taking photos of us along the way -- had volunteered to get the guardian's keys and check on the dogs a couple times during the trip -- making sure they had water and could get out of the van if it was too hot. It still wasn't ideal, but at least someone would be checking on the dogs. The guide said he shared my concern and was really upset at the guardian. I think he was relieved that I had continued speaking up.

If I hadn't persisted, if my husband and brother-in-law hadn't joined me in expressing concern, there was a good chance those dogs could have died in that van.

There are plenty of times that I have given in when I've met resistance. (And there are times when persistence isn't appropriate.) But last weekend's experience has reminded me how much the world needs us to persist in speaking out and taking action to help people, animals, and the earth. Even when we're afraid, even when we're met with hostility, maintaining compassionate yet firm persistence is vital.

~ Marsha

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Replacing Fear of the Unknown with Curiosity

I grew up in New York City. I didn’t have much access to the natural world, but when I did find myself in a park or the landscaped environs of the suburbs, I loved it. But I was also scared of the insects and animals I would find. Visiting a cousin who had a huge garden, I was almost immobilized with fear because of the hundreds of bees buzzing all around me. Once, in Central Park, I saw some boys digging up earthworms and those scared me too. On a suburban lawn, a teenager I admired caught a big black shiny cricket and that cricket terrified me. But it was when I went to sleepaway camp in Maine at age nine and discovered that there were bats who flew around inside our bunk at night that I thought I could not possibly bear it.

But each time, my fears were allayed by knowledge. I learned that the bees would not sting me, and I just needed to take care where I walked; that the earthworms were actually amazingly cool, transforming waste into fertile soil; that the crickets were completely harmless and were relatives of the grasshoppers I’d read about in storybooks and loved; and that bats could hear where I was with their sonar and would never choose to fly into me. I also learned that they’d be eating the mosquitoes that would otherwise be likely to suck my blood and leave me itchy at night. And so my fears abated, as they almost always do when we understand.

It’s not surprising we would be afraid of the unknown. Millions of years of evolution have prepared us to fear lots of things that might threaten us, and our fear is a good protector much of the time. But our unexamined fears cause a host of problems. They lead to bigotry and prejudice; insular behaviors and group-think; judgment and assumptions; stagnation and lack of creativity.

Our best corrective to unwarranted fear is curiosity. The more we can approach what is new and potentially frightening with an open and curious mind, the better our chances of learning and understanding rather than judging and assuming. And the greater the possibilities for living harmoniously and sustainably.

Today, try just being curious. Suspend your judgments and assumptions to the greatest degree possible and embrace your capacity to ask questions and learn. See what happens.


~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

Get tickets to the October 13 NYC performance of my 1-woman show: "My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl." 

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It's Time to Stop Giving Evil a Pass

Image courtesy of David Paul Ohmer
via Creative Commons.
Recently I came across a powerful essay by Lauren Ornelas, founder of the wonderful Food Empowerment Project, who asks "When did slavery get a pass?" She says:
"All of us are raised in a society that indoctrinates us to believe that animal consumption and, in fact, many forms of animal exploitation (animal testing for cosmetics or keeping animals in captivity for human amusement, for example) are acceptable. So, I tend to give people some latitude if they haven’t thought about these issues and don’t really know the details about them.

However, none of us have been raised to believe that slavery is acceptable. In fact, most of us look back at slavery in the US and abroad as a scar on humanity – as something that we later learned was reprehensible and inexcusable.

And yet, it seems that slavery today gets some sort of pass. Now, is that because much of the slavery taking place (and here I am specifically speaking about commercial slavery) is done at the hands of corporations? Is it because some feel it is too inconvenient to make changes in their lives so they don’t contribute to it? Is it because people just don’t know about the issue? Or is it because much of the slavery is happening abroad?" 

She goes on to focus on the issue of slavery in the chocolate industry as an example. She notes that Hershey's and other companies say that they're working on the issue. She says:
"How can a company say they are working on it? Why don’t they say they are outraged and will ensure these farmers are paid a living wage so that they are not forced to enslave children to do the job?  Is it the extra house? The yacht? What is it?

Is chocolate addiction so serious that they know people just can’t give it up even to make this world a more just place? Do they know that people simply accept that the corporations are 'doing their best' and leave it at that?"

Lauren's anger and frustration is understandable, and it spurred me to think about how often we give evil of all sorts a pass. We know why we continue to make choices that cause a lot of harm: to do otherwise can be expensive, inconvenient or take more time than we want/have; sometimes there isn't a better option available; and sometimes we make that choice because our desires overcome our will.

We can't make humane choices 100% of the time, but we can commit to doing our best to do the most good, and to actively work to change systems that are causing harm. In the example of chocolate, we can commit to buying only vegan, slave-free chocolate. We can educate and inspire friends, family, and co-workers. We can contact companies that still use slave chocolate and persist in lobbying them to change their policies and practices. And we can support organizations that work to change these systems.

Every day we're faced with countless opportunities to say NO to giving evil a pass. We can choose not to be silent. We can choose not to be a bystander. We can choose to say YES to creating a just, compassionate, healthy world for all.

~ Marsha

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Humane Education Training Opportunities for Citizens, Lawyers

Our friends at HEART are co-hosting a two day-long humane education workshops to train volunteer attorneys, law students, and citizens to teach their 4-lesson program on animal welfare and environmental protection issues to local 4th and 5th grade students.

The September 22nd workshop is in Miami, Florida.

The October 6 workshop is in Portland, Oregon.

The free training is part of a joint service project between the Animal Law Committee of the American Bar Association's Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Session (ABA-TIPS) and HEART.

The training will emphasize issues connected to companion, farmed, and wild animals, such as puppy mills, dog fighting, overpopulation, factory farms, global warming, habitat destruction, and pollution.

Find out more about the Miami workshop.

Find out more about the Portland workshop.

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Humane Issues in the News

Each week we round-up the news you need to know about humane issues, from human rights and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


California slaughterhouse closed after shocking abuse video released (via USA Today) (8/21/12)

High school football captain starts kindness campaign (via GOOD) (8/18/12)

CO2 emissions in U.S. drop to 20-year low (via AP) (8/17/12)

One man's fight with big oil (via NPR) (8/17/12)

National Science Foundation promotes climate change education through $19 million in grants (via Education Week) (8/17/12)

"For undocumented youth, new policy carries risks" (via NPR) (8/15/12) 

Controversial Brazilian dam construction halted (via Common Dreams) (8/15/12)

Study: major U.S. media not talking about climate change (via MyDesert.com) (8/15/12)

"80% of public schools have contracts with Coke or Pepsi" (via Mother Jones) (8/15/12)

"Extinction rates soar in Brazil's fragmented forests" (via Treehugger) (8/14/12)

Study shows connection between self-interest and environmental behavior (via Wired) (8/13/12)

"You probably have too much stuff" (via NYTimes) (8/13/12)

"What's so bad about a boy who wants to wear a dress?" (via NYTimes) (8/8/12)



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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Spoken Word Poem on "Hipster Racism"

Despite what many white people would like to believe -- and what the mainstream media says is so -- racism and white privilege are still alive and well. And it's an important issue that we should be discussing and grappling with regularly in our classrooms, boardrooms, and, well, everywhere.

It's always inspiring to use the voices of young people to inspire and educate other young people, so a video of two young African American poets telling it like it is serves as a great tool to spark discussion with students. As they say: "You don't get cool points...when your privilege is still the most prominent thing about you." (Note: The performance includes profanity.)

Watch this terrific video about "hipster racism" from the 2012 Brave New Voices competition (3 1/2 min):



Want to know more about white privilege? Check out resources like these.


~ Marsha

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Humane Education: Tasting a Life of Purpose, Empathy, and Peace

It's nearly fall, and a new batch of students is beginning one of our five graduate programs in humane education. Toward the end of the program we ask students to reflect on what they've learned and how they've changed. We wanted to share IHE M.A. student Stacey Newland's recent essay about her experiences:

When I began [IHE's] graduate program one year ago, I was oblivious to the dramatic impact that humane education would have on my life. At first, I thought humane education was just about helping animals, or helping people, or reducing pollution and protecting the natural environment. It wasn’t until I was finishing up with [the course] Culture and Change that I began to understand that humane education is so much more than the sum of its parts! For me, it is a state of consciousness; a way of being that colors every aspect of one’s life. 

There are so many things that stand out for me when it comes to what I have learned during this program. Probably the most important is that there is a price to be paid by someone or something every time I make a choice. Whether it is what I will eat for dinner, what company I work for, or what products I choose to purchase, as the choice-maker, I must be held responsible for any pain, suffering, pollution, injustice, inequality, etc., that I am supporting every time I lay down my money and vote “yes.” This was one of the most empowering eureka moments that I had during this program, and subsequently, it has influenced all of the choices I make on a daily basis. For example, now when I am in the supermarket and am offered a plastic bag, I stop and think about what exactly I am saying yes to: the estimated 12 million gallons of oil used annually to make the plastic bags that Americans consume; the effect the bags have on the environment as they begin to break down into toxic bits; the plastic “stews” that have developed in the oceans made up of plastic bags, jugs, bottles, nets, and other plastic junk -- one of which scientists have named the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” To say yes to a plastic bag may seem like a simple, straightforward decision to some; but for me, the answer challenges my value system to its very core.
 
I've also learned how to look at problems and pinpoint the connections between them. [IHE president] Zoe [Weil] provides a wonderful example in her book, Most Good Least Harm, when she cites David Orr’s question that he poses to his environmental studies students: "What is the connection between the Gulf of Mexico dead zone and the fact that 22% of American teenagers are reportedly overweight?" As she later mentions, these are the kind of connections that are ignored in our society. Many of us have been taught to look at single issues and have simple cause and effect discussions about them. I will admit that I certainly had a tendency to view most problems in this way. However, humane education has taught me how to draw a web. Now, when I think about factory farming, I think of human slavery; when I see KFC packaging and to-go containers, I think about the loss of habitat for Sumatran tigers; when I see a cheap cotton shirt at a department store, I think of sick children in Asia; when I see people littering and trashing the earth, I think about female exploitation and abuse. To me, this is the brilliant insight of humane education.  

My own growth has certainly affected how I perceive my own ability to nurture the growth of others in the future. It has given me a whole new sense of patience, tolerance, and understanding for others, despite where they may be in their own lives. As noted earlier, I myself was completely clueless at the start! If I didn’t have people like the IHE faculty and my co-students, who treated me with such support, positivity, and tolerance despite my obvious ignorance regarding so many of these humane education issues, I would not have made such enormous strides. This experience has made it clear to me how critical it is to demonstrate a level of understanding and acceptance for everyone, because deep down, we are all just trying to find our way to fulfillment and belonging. I love the level of insight that Zoe demonstrates in her Most Good Least Harm book when she says: “Share what you know with others…by using positive communication that does not judge or blame. Listen as often as you speak. Model your message, and speak your truth in kind and inspiring ways wherever you are and with whomever you’re in contact” (p. 147). In the future, I will strive to take on this level of graciousness with my own students. 
   
Finally, as this graduate program nears its end, I realize how humane education has become a mental meditation for me. Prior to this program, I made decisions rather impulsively, driven mainly by my particular want or desire in the moment, resembling that of a drive thru Starbucks double latte on the go. But humane education is like the Buddhist monk who sat me down and taught me the calming, soothing, meditative art of brewing, pouring, sipping, and enjoying a cup of tea. How could I ever go back to that hurried, unconcerned life when I have tasted a life of purpose, empathy, and peace? 

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The Purpose of Life

Image courtesy of godserv via Creative Commons.
I spent two days at a wonderful conference in honor of the ToDo Institute’s 20th anniversary. Titled Thirty Thousand Days, the conference explored how we can best spend our time on earth (on average 30,000 days). It was a powerful weekend with excellent speakers and fascinating participants, and I was delighted to have been asked to provide a keynote address on making choices in our lives to do the most good and the least harm.

Gregg Krech, the executive director of the ToDo Institute gave several powerful presentations. in one, he shared this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." How different this quote is from what we are often urged to consider as our purpose: our own personal happiness.

As readers of this blog know, I am often bemoaning today’s prevailing purpose of schooling, which is usually something along the lines of preparing students to find jobs and compete in the global economy. Like the concept of personal happiness, this educational goal stresses and focuses on individual personal success. And like the concept of personal happiness, I don’t believe it is enough, which is why I believe that the purpose of schooling ought to be to provide our students with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries for a peaceful, healthy, and humane world for all people, animals, and the environment.

Of course we want to be happy, and we want our children to be able to support themselves. But Emerson’s quote offers a deeper, more meaningful, more worthy, and ultimately, a more joy-inducing purpose.

Humane education – which seeks to fulfill the higher purpose of schooling described above – may well put Emerson’s quote into practice by educating a generation who will be useful, honorable, and compassionate, and who will make a positive difference in the world.

~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Matt Ball: Belief on the Right Side of History

It doesn't matter where we live or the history of our upbringing, most of us believe that we are good people. Most of us don't really want to cause harm; but little about our society makes it easy to do otherwise, including our often deep attachment to the traditions and habits and beliefs that we've developed over decades. And it's so much easier just to go with the flow -- to embrace the status quo surrounding us. After all (almost) everyone else is doing it.

In his beautiful and powerful essay, "Belief on the Right Side of History," Matt Ball shares the story of the three events that led to his awakening from the fog of culture surrounding his choices about eating animals. Here's an excerpt:
"The second event was reading the book Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen. This book disproved the common myth that the Nazi’s extermination of Jews, gypsies, atheists, and others was done without the support of the German people. In reality, the Germans knew what was going on, and, except for a relatively small proportion of the population, supported it.

Now I had always been horrified by slavery in our country. The idea of people treating other people as mere property, and that so many people would fight and die for the “right” to do so was both shocking and appalling. Simply and utterly bewildering.

But Goldhagen’s book about Germany showed something more – a society that turned on its fellow citizens and methodically exterminated them.

Obviously, the normal reaction is to assume that I would have been a part of the Underground Railroad, protected the Anne Franks of the world, etc. But…really? Did I really, honestly think that I would have gone against the overwhelming majority of my society? If I had been raised in a slave-holding household in a slave-holding society, would I really have stood up? Did I honestly think I would have been different from nearly everyone else?

And if all these millions could fully believe things that, today, are so obviously absurd and repulsive, well, how could I assume everything I currently believed was absolutely right? If so many would willingly support gruesome atrocities, how can I possibly think everything today is morally pure? Even if I’m not chaining up a slave, or leading my fellow citizens to the gas chambers, isn’t it possible – even probable – that I am at least tacitly supporting another horror – one that future generations will also look upon with bewilderment?"
Matt ends his essay with a realization about the importance of examining our values and questioning both our own choices and those of our society. He says:
"We each have to ask the question: what kind of person are we? Will we accept what our society dictates today, or will we write our own story? Will we rationalize the status quo or thoughtfully make our own decisions? Will we oppose cruelty or support slaughter?

Slowly – very slowly – I came to realize there are more important things in life than accepting the status quo and taking the easiest path. Choosing the road less traveled does not necessitate denial and deprivation. Making our lives a part of something real, something larger than ourselves…this expands our life’s narrative, enriches our existence, and allows for real meaning and lasting happiness.

History shows that questioning society is necessary in all times, and today, choosing not to eat animals makes a public, powerful, ethical statement – not just about the lives of animals, but about the nature of our character. It shows that we are honestly striving to be truly good, thoughtful people."

Read the complete essay.


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Curiosity's Landing Shows the Power of What's Possible

Image courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory
via Creative Commons.
Curiosity has landed. The Mars rover that left Earth last year arrived at its destination on August 6. But Curiosity’s landing was anything but assured. Take a look at this simulation that describes the perfect confluence of error-free events that had to take place in just 7 minutes for Curiosity to reach its destination safely. And now watch the response of the NASA scientists during and after those tense 7 minutes.

The joy of a hugely involved and challenging job achieved. The joy of discovery and exploration. The joy of curiosity met.

Now imagine this:

Imagine more bright and curious minds and compassionate hearts working together to solve other hugely challenging and involved problems, like global climate change, poverty, violent conflict, cruelty. Imagine people working together over years, tackling the complexity of human-created challenges, and experiencing such a positive outcome.

For me, Curiosity’s landing is an inspiration. There is so much we can do.

~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Guest Post: Add the "E": Becoming a Humane Being

Image courtesy of takomabibelot
via Creative Commons.
This guest post is by Lauren Allison, an IHE M.Ed. student and a 5th grade teacher at the Discovery School in Indiana.
 

We are born human. By luck of the draw our DNA spiraled together a set of chromosomes, copied from our parents, which put us in a position of assumed superiority on this planet. A planet that in no way belongs to us, it has, and hopefully will, continue long after we are gone.

If we are born human, then how do we become humane? What does that “e” cost us? Surely it must be incredibly expensive, given the number of individuals who choose to live inhumanely. Or perhaps the price of the “e” is rather inexpensive, even free, but human beings are simply unaware of its existence. Maybe they didn’t watch Wheel of Fortune as a child, and are not familiar with the concept of buying a vowel. Or maybe, like so many things in our lives, the “e” is simply overlooked because we are inundated with too much information, too many images, and not enough time or means to process what is before us. It could be that cost is inconsequential, for there are plenty of things human beings are willing to spend their money on that serve no benefit, right no wrong, and help no one. So the question is, what will it take to become humane? A word that by definition is something human beings are capable of.

Society at its core is not a fixed constant. While the current status quo may have persisted for many years, society is not impervious to change. It was not long ago that there was no Internet, no iPads, no flat screen TVs, and it did not take long for them to weave their way into our daily lives. Arguably it’s much easier to convince people that they need an iPad, than it is to convince them that they need to be humane. But it doesn’t need to be this way. If we can get members of society to accept that being humane is an asset to their daily lives -- not a hindrance -- then it will spread quickly. It can begin as simply as making others aware of the positive things that they are doing in their lives or that are happening in society, exposing them to the fact that reality does not have to mean inhumanity. A step toward a humane society begins with the awareness that we are capable of change.

We live in a corporate world. We are products of consumption, desire, and instant gratification. We have come to expect certain things out of this world we have created, and it will never be possible to convince the masses to break down everything that they have worked to build-up. We must not focus on tearing down, but instead focus on reframing. We need not create further destruction to create change. We must force businesses to reframe their practices by making the public aware that there are better alternatives to the pathway we have paved with destruction. We must expose the innate desire of people, the desire to help others, to avoid suffering, to be innovative and creative. We must help businesses see the power in models such as Muhammad Yunus’s social business model. We must start small and work outward. We cannot tear down a corporation, but we can educate and change the views of the masses, leaving corporations no option but to change their practices. When whole cities see the power of living more humanely, when they catch on to the ease with which life can be more fulfilling, it won’t take convincing for them to spread the word.

We must also acknowledge the power of what is “cool”; we must accept that while we feel strongly that something should be done because it is meaningful, making something “cool” goes a long way to making something stick in today’s society. We must embrace advertising and popular culture for their power to raise the level of consciousness of others. We must appeal to the children of our society, because they are the future business owners or corporate tycoons. If we can help them to see the “coolness” of being humane, then perhaps they grow up to be social entrepreneurs who care for their communities as opposed to tycoons who care for their stock portfolios. By helping to make cultural change appealing, by giving others the opportunity to feel the rush of a new way of thinking, we will be one step closer to lasting results.

There are myriad ways in which the planet has reached this level of inhumanity, which means that there will be no one way in which it can be fixed. It will take millions of little changes, millions of small successes and millions of children born in a world that is more accepting than that of their grandparents was. The process will not happen over night, and we must be prepared to help those who struggle.

A change in society is not something we really notice until we look back. Like watching a child grow, we don’t really notice it on a daily basis. We see the slow growth daily and may only notice it in passing, but when someone sees that child for the first time in a year, their reaction is one of shock and awe at how much that child has grown. We live within this society everyday, making it hard to see the growth slowly taking shape. However, when we look back, or see the change with fresh eyes, we realize that great strides have been made. With continued effort, education, and awareness, there will be no option but for change to continue to grow, until one day we look around and realize that we are no longer simply human, but we are humane.


Gain skills and support for becoming more humane. Sign up for the October session of our online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life.

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Humane Issues in the News

Each week we round-up the news you need to know about humane issues, from human rights and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


Experiment in "catch share" system for Pacific NW fisheries (via Oregonian) (8/11/12)

Nature preschools growing in popularity (via NewHampshire.com) (8/11/12)

What's the best way to dispose of unused drugs? (via Mother Jones) (July/August 2012)

"Study finds greening vacant lots reduces overall crime" (via Treehugger) (8/11/12)

"Scientists finally conclude nonhuman animals are conscious beings" (commentary) (via Psychology Today) (8/10/12)

Study says worldwide demand for water outstrips supply (via Common Dreams) (8/9/12)

"Boy rallies restaurants to recycle used crayons for schools in need" (via Good News Network) (8/7/12)

Report shows how Americans would "slim down" public education (via Thomas Fordham Institute) (8/2/12)

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It's Time to Jumpstart Your Passion Into Action: Sign Up for IHE's Online Courses

You want your life, work, and citizenship to reflect what truly matters to you, but in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day and the pressures of culture to conform to a work-buy lifestyle, it's challenging to step out of that rut and forge your own, authentic life. We can help you harness your deepest values and turn them into positive action. Sign up now for one of our fall online courses & get the support and motivation you need to take the next steps:

A Better World, A Meaningful Life
October 1-26, 2012


A Better World, A Meaningful Life will help you find the freedom, support, tools, and motivation you need to pair your passion and skills to bring more joy and balance to your life and make a bigger difference in the world. Find out more & sign up now.

Here's what Julie A. said about the course:

“It has been one of the best learning experiences in my entire life! I am 500% satisfied that it was exactly what I was hoping and looking for at this time in my life.”

Teaching for a Positive Future
October 8 -November 16, 2012


Teaching for a Positive Future will help you use the lens and tools of humane education to engage your students in grappling with our most challenging global issues and learning to become leaders and active citizens for a better world for all. Find out more & sign up now.

Here's what Haley A. said about the course:

"I am absolutely loving the course! :) I really appreciate that all educators, formal and informal in every sense, are included. Humane education truly does encompass all. I will be using these tools and ideas for years to come! Thank you!"


Raising a Humane Child
October 8-November 16, 2012


Raising a Humane Child will help you in your quest to raise your children to be joyful, engaged citizens in creating a just, compassionate, healthy world for all. Find out more & sign up now.

Here's what Lisa P. said about the course:

“More than changing me, this course has helped me to define and verbalize my goals as a person and a parent. I hope my children remember me as a person who always tried to make a positive difference in the world, who valued others and acted on that, who was always kind, and who worked hard to live up to her own ideals. I’ve realized that I do these things more passively than actively—or more inwardly than outwardly—now. I wonder how many of the people I ‘know’ have any idea what my ideals are? The work of this course has helped me to define some concrete steps to take to be more outward as a person and a parent trying to live in harmony with values that I believe are critical, yet that are not widely expressed in our dominant culture.” 

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Featured IHE Graduate: Dani Dennenberg

Growing up, I quickly discovered how unique I was for most young people my age, and I discerned what it meant to become complicit to the world’s social ills. I “rebelliously” challenged complicity by acknowledging that the world did not have to be the way it was and that every choice I made could be an affirmation of my vision of a humane world.

It confused me that anyone could just accept things as they were and never question what was in front of them. In my younger years, I asked “Why?” frequently (I still do), and this curiosity helped forge my path.

Challenging complicity presented itself to me in many forms. In my elementary school years, it came in the form of sticking up for people who were picked on. In high school, it came in the form of a sheep heart dissection that I adamantly refused to be part of. In college, it came in the form of choosing a career path that was heart- and spiritually-rich rather than monetarily-rich.

In 1997 I was drawn to an article in an ASPCA Animal Watch magazine regarding the interconnectedness of animal cruelty and other forms of violence in society. My curiosity was piqued as I read about the integral role that a field called Humane Education played in addressing this phenomenon. Only then did it become evident to me that all social issues were connected and that paradigm shifts could be created, not by telling others what to believe or do, but by informing, encouraging critical thinking, challenging prevailing beliefs, and providing practical tools.

In 1998 I was one of a handful of students in the Institute for Humane Education's Humane Education Certificate Program. I became the first student in the U.S. to graduate with an M.Ed. in Humane Education. I was eager to put academia into practice in my community, and before I knew it, I was working through my seemingly insurmountable fear of public speaking. I founded and directed Seeds for Change Humane Education and offered programs to schools, universities and community organizations for nearly eight years and reached over 15,000 individuals. I was humbled to become part of IHE's staff in 2003, acting as director of the certificate program and serving as faculty for their M.Ed. program through Cambridge College.

In 2008 I moved to the Pacific Northwest after a long search for a city that would foster my sense of place, and I found that in Portland, Oregon. To quote Portland parody, “The dream of the 90's” really is alive in Portland!" I served as the Director of Organizational and Higher Education Partnerships at the Northwest Earth Institute, but quickly discovered that a 9 to 5 desk job stifled my creativity and made me feel disconnected from the planet.

Due to the recession and Portland's tight job market, I was forced to get resourceful. I spent last year with AmeriCorps (they called us 30 somethings “the recession cohort”) refining my skills in community leadership development by grant writing and fundraising for the Q Center (LGBTQ), mentoring capstone students from Portland State University in their partnership Friends of Tryon Creek, and expanding service opportunities for students at Portland Community College's Service-Learning Department.

I was then contracted with Portland Community College's Environmental Center as a Program Development Coordinator to create programming that includes academic, service learning, student leadership and career development components, aligns with PCC's sustainability mission, and reaches low-income and minority students. Quite the opportunity!

As of Fall 2012 I'm the Program Director for HEART's Portland operation.

I am also currently serving on Portland Community College's Service-Learning Council, leading projects for local volunteer agency Hands On Greater Portland, and showcasing art for Create Plenty's International Plastic Quilt Project. My latest piece is called “Swimming in Trouble.”

In my spare hours, I am curling up with incredible books, playing soccer for a couple of teams, learning canning and preserving techniques, teaming up with my twin sister to author a book about LGBTQ identical twins, and enjoying my garden with my girlfriend.

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High Heels, Media Literacy, and Reclaiming Our Freedom to Choose

Image courtesy of heatheronhertravels via Creative Commons.
For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent essay I wrote for Care2.com, an online community for people passionate about creating a better world. Here’s an excerpt from "High Heels, Media Literacy, and Reclaiming Our Freedom to Choose":

"When I was in my twenties, I thought that some day, in the not-too-distant future, there would be no more high heels, except perhaps for costumes in shows about the past. I figured that emancipated women who had finally gained rights and freedoms (at great effort over many centuries) would be unwilling to wear shoes that compromised their safety, health and mobility. So the revival of high heels – including the extreme high heels of the past decade – has come as a bit of a shock; though it probably shouldn’t.

Having just watched the documentary, Miss Representation, about women’s depictions in the media, I know how manipulative and destructive the messages can be for both girls and women, as well as for men and boys. While women’s depictions in media have always included sexist images and messages, the sexualization of women and their bodies seems to have hit a high (or rather low) point. And we see the effects in our sexualized children, the provocative clothes worn by little girls, and, yes, the persistence of high heels, which cause harm to our bodies.

It is so challenging to resist the manipulations from advertising which insidiously compel us to fulfill our deepest desires – for love, happiness, security, power, etc. — with products. If high heels promise to ensure that we are desired and powerful agents in the world, and if everyone around us wears them, many of us find ourselves compelled to wear them, too."

Read the complete essay.


~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Featured Resource: Vegan is Love

Most of us want to live in a way that does lots of good and causes little harm, but having the knowledge, motivation, and resources to do so can be challenging. In her newest book for children, Vegan is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action (North Atlantic Books, 2012), author and illustrator, Ruby Roth, educates readers about the impact of our choices on nonhuman animals and highlights how "our choices are powerful" and that we each have "the power to create a better world."

Roth begins with the premise that "to be vegan means to care deeply about how our choices help or harm animals, how we create peace or suffering in the world."

The book is divided into sections focused on "Living with Love" and "Eating with Love." The first section discusses our choices related to clothing, animal testing, zoos, sea parks & aquariums, the circus, animal racing, hunting, and bullfights & rodeos. "Eating with Love" touches upon health, pollution, organic food, hunger, and forests and oceans.

Roth notes: "It takes courage to ask, 'What kind of person do I want to be?' and decide the answer yourself. The choice to be vegan is especially brave. It means you are standing up for yourself and all other living beings -- and that is love."

The book showcases powerful illustrations, which portray truth without being too graphic. And although the text oversimplifies the issues at times, the message of compassion for nonhuman animals and of the broad-ranging impact of our daily choices is one that is desperately needed. 

One addition that would have made the book even stronger is a listing of source citations on the book's website, so that adults (and even older kids) could do additional research about these issues themselves and verify the accuracy of the claims.

Even though Vegan is Love deals with difficult issues, the overall tone is one of hope, because we each have the power to choose more compassionately. Vegan is Love nurtures children's natural empathy for other beings and will help them feel more informed and empowered.

~ Marsha

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Breaking Out of Our Comfort Zones

Image courtesy of p_x_g via Creative Commons.
Like many couples, my husband and I have certain roles and responsibilities in our household. I cook the meals; Edwin does the dishes. I do the gardening; Edwin fixes everything. This works out very well for us. Edwin doesn’t enjoy cooking or gardening, and I don’t enjoy doing dishes and haven’t a clue how to fix anything.

But over time, it’s easy to get stuck in one’s roles and fail to branch out and grow in ways that might be positive and healthy. And so, every so often I push myself out of my comfort zone to do something I wouldn’t normally do.

In addition to being the family dishwasher and fixer, Edwin also does the heavy lifting. If we go canoeing or kayaking, he’s the one to lift the boats on the car and tie them on securely (while I’m usually busy making sandwiches). Edwin got me a paddleboard for Christmas last year after I raved about an experience using a friend’s paddleboard last summer. I love paddleboarding on our beautiful bay, but it’s not easy for me to carry the board very far to go elsewhere. It’s awkward and heavy after about 100 yards or so. But I wanted to venture beyond the bay, specifically to a wilderness area, where we’ve canoed many times, that’s full of wildlife and so serene and lovely. But that meant figuring out how to carry the board a third of a mile, get it on my car, maneuver it over some rapids to get to the flat part of the stream, and portage it over beaver dams and through woods and brambles.

As I headed to where I would put in, I felt my heart beating a little faster than normal. I knew I was about to embark on something challenging for me. Every time Edwin and I had canoed at this spot, he’d always been the one to deal with the canoe, the rapids, the portages, etc., while I simply carried our lunch.

But despite my worries, I did it all with no mishaps. I waded and pushed and lifted the board over the rapids and through the woods. And alone on that beautiful stream, I noticed even more than usual: the green stream grass that looks like gorgeous hair, undulating in the current, turning frizzy when the wind dances on the surface of the water; the hundreds of small and medium-sized fish everywhere in the water; the ubiquitous and postcard-perfect frogs sitting on blooming lily pads; the bald eagle who was so close because she or he didn’t notice me (quiet as I was on that paddleboard); the fluttering black-winged, iridescent green and turquoise damselflies; the dozen beaver lodges and the dearth of dams (most broken, some seemingly being built).

Although the word empowered is so overused, I felt empowered. It was good for me to practice a certain kind of strength and independence. Interdependence is wonderful, and I’m blessed by my 27-year partnership with Edwin, during which we’ve found our best roles; but pushing myself out of my comfort zone has its benefits.

Yet while I’ve shared this personal story about pushing myself out of my comfort zone regarding paddleboarding, the truth is that the even more important ways to push ourselves our of our comfort zones are in relation to how our choices affect others. As readers of our blog know, I try to live by the MOGO principle: to do the most good and least harm to people (including myself), animals, and the environment, and as a humane educator I try to inspire others to do this as well.

We all have not only roles but also habits. And the truth is that many of our habits are destructive to others. The foods we eat may cause suffering and harm to people, animals, and ecosystems; the clothes we wear may have been produced inhumanely and unsustainably; the energy we consume always has its negative effects; the time we spend outside of our work and family responsibilities may not include the kinds of volunteerism and changemaking that our world most needs from us.

Breaking habits and breaking out of limiting roles may be just what we and the world most need. And chances are, if we’re willing to take the plunge and leave our comfort zones and make some choices that at first appear challenging, we just might find greater purpose, joy, meaning, and a sense of empowerment in our lives.

~ Zoe

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 TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Making the Invisible Visible

In the YES! Magazine essay, "What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other?," Akaya Windwood asks "... What could happen if every day we were to greet each human as though they were worthy of notice and respect? .... If we can find ways to see each other, to honor the existence of every being who co-inhabits this wonderful earth with us ... then we will have done a fine thing."

How often do we allow those around us to remain (or become) invisible? Not only the people we encounter each day, but those whose actions provide us with food, security, shelter, and more? The natural world on which we depend for our very lives and health? The other beings with whom we share this planet? How often do we turn away from those human and nonhuman beings who are suffering? How often do our choices contribute to that suffering?

In Windwood's essay, she challenges us to "intentionally notice those we would normally not see" and to "interrupt old patterns of not looking into the eyes of 'those people' (whoever they are to you)."

This week one of our online course students, Valerie G., created a brief activity that expands to nonhuman animals and the earth that call to make the invisible visible. Valerie's activity, which could be used with older youth and adults, or even as an individual exercise in self-reflection, encourages us to look at our daily actions and to dig a little deeper into who (people, animals) or what (the earth) is "invisible" in those daily choices, and what we can do to make sure we "see" them clearly. Here's Valerie's activity:

Part 1: Ask participants to keep a journal of a day in their lives, answering questions such as:

  • What did I eat?
  • What did I drink?
  • What did I wear?
  • What did I throw away?
  • What products did I use?
  • How did I get around (transportation)?
  • Whom did I encounter and/or interact with (people? nonhuman animals? environment?)

Part 2: Invite participants to analyze how their choices made people, nonhuman animals, and the environment invisible. Encourage them to ask questions, such as:

  • Whom or what did I eat? What was the impact of my food choices on people, animals, and the earth?
  • Where did my clothes come from? Who made them & how were those people treated? What other impact did my clothes have on people, animals, and the earth?
  • Where did everything I threw "away" or recycled go? Who picked it up? What did they do with it? How did it impact people, animals, and the earth?
  • Where did my drinking water come from?
  • Where does my wastewater go?
  • What is the impact on people, animals, and the earth of my product choices? How far-reaching is that impact?
  • Whom do I normally encounter (people, animals) that I don't even notice?
  • Where do I encounter the natural world throughout my day?

Part 3: Invite participants to reflect on what they can do to notice and acknowledge people, animals, and the earth, so that their choices make each of those visible.

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You have read this article attention / compassion / humane education / mindfulness / Most Good Least Harm / true cost / true price with the title August 2012. You can bookmark this page URL http://actuosa-participatio.blogspot.com/2012/08/making-invisible-visible.html. Thanks!

One Tube of Toothpaste

Note: Things are crazy here at IHE HQ this week, so please enjoy this repost from waaay back when we first started IHE's blog, 5/16/07.


Last week my husband and I had an argument …about toothpaste. To get a better picture, it might help to know that John and I have (as of this post) been married for almost 22 years, and that we’re one of those couples who almost never argues, whom people point to and say “soulmates” or “Gosh, you’d think they’re newlyweds.” We have always traveled the humane path together. Our values are near mirror-perfect. People call us JohnandMarsha because we are, often, as one. (In a touching, inspiring way, not a sad, co-dependent way.)

So one day last week John came home from the dentist with his baggie of floss…and a little tube of toothpaste. From a multinational corporation. Who still uses animal ingredients. Who still uses toxic ingredients. Who’s responsible for creating a Superfund site. Being the loving, compassionate communicator that I am, I calmly asked why he hadn’t left the toothpaste at the dentists’ office (like I always do). He replied that he hadn’t thought much about it, and besides, it would be handy for travel, anyway.

I’d like to say that I handled the rest of that conversation with love and compassion. After all, this is my soulmate. My beloved. The guy who walks the same walk with me. I didn’t. Although I was trying to be calm and non-judgmental, I questioned him in a way that made him feel defensive. And I felt betrayed. How could someone who has made a long-lived habit of making humane choices make such an unconscious choice? Suddenly, this little tube of toothpaste had blown up into a GIANT BIG DEAL. He was upset. I was upset. It took us a good hour of talking it out (or not) to discover that our shared humane perspective wasn’t quite as in sync as we had thought.

My take: Our (his and my) humane choices are a journey. In different areas (food, clothes, transportation, recreation, etc.) we’re at different levels. Once we achieve a certain level of humaneness in a certain area – once a new choice has become an old habit -- that’s the default choice (until we’re ready to continue up the humane path).

His take: Our (his and my) humane choices are a journey. In different areas (food, clothes, transportation, recreation, etc.) we’re at different levels. Although we continue to strive to make more humane choices, we’re nowhere close to perfect in all areas, so what’s the big deal about an occasional backslide, if it’s not actively causing harm?

I’m not sure I agree with his take, but I certainly understand the reasoning behind some of his choices much better. And we both agree that:

  1. It’s waaay too easy to demonize people for their choices – even (especially?) those we dearly love.
  2. While we might be on the same (or a similar) level with someone, we might each interpret the choices for individual circumstances differently.
  3. Forward progress is ideal. A little backsliding may not be ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. And, a little wiggle room is necessary.
  4. Clear, calm, compassionate communication GOOD. Talking things out until everyone feels understood GOOD.
  5. In the grand scheme…it was one tube of toothpaste.

~ Marsha

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Humane Issues in the News

Each week we round-up the news you need to know about humane issues, from human rights and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


"Rare earth mining in China comes at heavy cost for local villages" (via The Guardian) (8/7/12)

Study: countries with more freedom of the press have better environmental quality (via Treehugger) (8/6/12)

Two young women help animals for their bat mitzvah (via Boston.com) (8/6/12)

"Biotech giants are bankrolling GMO free-for-all" (via Mother Jones) (8/6/12)

New study links current events to climate change (via AP) (8/4/12)

Studies show sources used for climate change info depend on beliefs (via NY Times) (8/3/12)

What to do when there are "too many" animals in zoos: contraception, or kill them? (via NY Times) (8/2/12)

"16-year-old creates wildlife tracker website for African game reserve" (via Treehugger) (8/1/12)

"Is the livestock industry destroying the planet?" (via Smithsonian) (8/1/12)

"Bhutan bets organic agriculture is the road to happiness" (via NPR) (7/31/12)


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You have read this article agriculture / animal cruelty / animal protection / changemakers / climate change / factory farming / genetically modified / humane education / news media / pollution / rare earths minerals / Social Justice / wildlife / zoos with the title August 2012. You can bookmark this page URL http://actuosa-participatio.blogspot.com/2012/08/humane-issues-in-news_7.html. Thanks!