You Can't Fail If You Don't Try...But You Can't Win Either

Fast Company magazine recently published an article detailing the jump of Adam Werbach, former eco-whiz kid and youngest former-president of the Sierra Club, onto the payroll of Wal-mart. Werbach says he's partnered with the multi-billion dollar company in order to take advantage of innovation and to have a bigger, faster positive impact on sustainability. Some environmentalists are saying he's a sell-out.

During the last several years a greater trend has emerged in the cooperation of activist organizations and change-makers with those whom they once called enemy or opponent. The Humane Society of the United States under the leadership of Wayne Pacelle has been chatting up animal agriculture and fast food folks in order to encourage more humane treament of farmed animals. Whole Foods Market has established its Animal Compassion Foundation to ensure their meat is "humane." Organizations have stopped boycotts against companies profiting from sweatshops because of agreements to make conditions for workers marginally better.

There are those who believe that such alliances are akin to deals with modern-day devils. That compromise and moderation and small steps are equivalent to selling out. Others believe that the only way we'll truly have change is through those very small steps and cooperative relationships with companies that wield enormous power.

Can a truly humane world exist with Wal-mart -- even if it becomes an uber-green company? Is there such a thing -- ever -- as "humane" meat? Do we sacrifice those who are currently suffering in order to achieve a truly humane future, or do we try to decrease the amount of suffering now, even if it might mean the oppression and exploitation last longer?

How about a both/and? How about a win-win? How about we try whatever we can think of (within humane, compassionate, just limits) and see what works and what doesn't? And keep trying, or try something else?

Is Adam Werbach a sell-out for working with Wal-mart? I don't know. That depends on whether or not he's aligned with his deepest values. I do know that he's trying something to make the world better. And whether or not he's successful, he tried. And that's all any of us can do.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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And a Child Shall Lead Them....

I’m used to looking to change-making powerhouses like Jane Goodall and Vandana Shiva for inspiration, but I recently picked up a copy of Black Ants and Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades by teacher Mary Cowhey and found myself inspired by a bunch of 1st and 2nd graders.

Cowhey has spent several years integrating social justice, activism, community participation and critical thinking into her classes in order to nurture “more informed, articulate, active and participatory citizens who know the power of their own voices.” A conversation about stepping on ants – or not – leads to an exploration of different world religions and a philosophical debate about compassion and kindness. Students frequently meet with community leaders -- like the mayor -- and help enact change in their school and community. They register voters, feed the homeless, quote Gandhi and debate whether or not Columbus should have ever set foot in the “new world.” Of course, they also fight over play equipment and spill their juice, but they’re just six or seven, after all.

In a world where "What can I do? I'm only one person?" is a common lament sprouting from the mouths of adults – and thus self-conferred absolution to do little or nothing – Cowhey has demonstrated in her book strategies and stories for empowering and inspiring our young learners. And these young learners are making a major difference in their community. They are making connections and drawing conclusions that many “grownups” still struggle with.

This book is most relevant for those who work with younger children, but almost anyone who cares about the world will find a lot of inspiration here…and hope for the future.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager

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When In Doubt...Watch a Video!

If we focus on the realities of the world -- the poverty, injustice, destruction, suffering, cruelty -- it's easy to want to dive into bed, throw the covers over our heads and hide, or to give a big sigh, give up on trying to make a difference and shrink our circle of concern to our most immediate needs and relationships. Because mainstream media often doesn't cover the positive changes occurring, it's easy to forget that there ARE positive changes occurring -- a lot of them. It's also easy to forget how much power we as individuals have in the choices that we make every day.

But people have begun to notice something: a shift is happening. More people and organizations are doing more...all over the world. Recently our students and staff have been talking about a few short videos that have reminded us of this...and have inspired us to hold onto our hope and continue our walk down a more compassionate, sustainable path.

The next time you're ready to hide or give up, take a few minutes to let videos like these reinspire you:

The Shift -- "We are in the middle of the biggest social transformation in human history."
(About 6 minutes long)

One of our favorite quotes from the short film:

"Making the world a better place is not only your responsiblity, it is your joy, it is your blessing, it's your gift. It is your opportunity to make your life mean something. So take it."

Blessed Unrest -- "How the largest movement in the world came into being and why no one saw it coming."
(About 6 minutes long)

A clip from Paul Hawken's speech at the 2006 Bioneers, based on his book, Blessed Unrest.

The Power of One -- "The power of one is the power to do something. Anything."
(About 1 minute long)

A brief, powerful clip from the Earth Communications Office.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Want To Get Teens' Attention? Use Manga

Walk into a bookstore or the Teen section of a library and, chances are, you'll find quite a few teens gathered around the manga section. Manga are Japanese graphic novels (sort of like book-length comic art), and they are at a peak of popularity in the U.S., especially with teens. So, what an excellent way to reach teens with information about important global issues. The World Bank and Viz Media (creator of many popular manga series) teamed up to create 1 World Manga, a series of short manga focused on important global issues.

The main character in this series, Rei, is an orphan whose ultimate goal is to be the best martial arts fighter in the world...until a spirit guide, who takes the form of a variety of talking animals, sends Rei on various quests to help others, and thus help himself.

Each manga (only about 32 pages long and written by Annette Roman) focuses on a different issue -- from poverty and AIDS to the environment and child soldiers. At the end of each title are some facts and statistics about the issue, as well as suggested resources and ways to take action.

These titles (6 in the series as of this posting) are certainly not quality literature, and, the problems are too easily resolved. Additionally, if you're not used to manga style, there'll be a bit of an adjustment. Also, some of the content is mature (such as Rei discovering condoms and what they're for), so these aren't for use with just any teen in any situation.

But, if you're looking for a way to help teens learn more about the important issues of our time and inspire them to take positive action, these manga titles might prove useful. They're also a great example of repackaging the message to serve the audience, something humane educators can be inspired by.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Yesterday, I loaned a woman in South America $25 to help her buy parts for her bicycle repair business. I was one of several people who helped her meet her loan goal of $295, and I can expect to be repaid the loan in full within the next 6 months. So little effort on my part, but a huge opportunity for her.

I loaned this money through, a non-profit that brings together people who want to help others with those who need help, in the form of non-interest paying small loans.

Charitable giving is important, and all of us who have the means to give, in my mind, should. But there is something breathtakingly simple and powerful when the tool of the Internet allows each of us to make small loans, not gifts, that carry such great benefits. Doing so doesn't offset the call to give rather than loan, as necessary and as we are able, but we can easily and effortlessly help in this other way that empowers and creates prosperity for others.

I hope you'll visit

~ Zoe, IHE President
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A few years ago, I read a book called Naikan by Gregg Krech, founder of the ToDo Institute, which had an enormous impact on me. Naikan is a Japanese form of self reflection in which we ask ourselves three questions:

1) What have I received from _________
2) I have I given _________
3) What harm have I caused ________

Simple enough, but when I tried plugging words into those blanks, I discovered something I hadn't quite realized before. I recognized just how much I've received, and just how little I've actually given, and I began to notice the tentacles of harm that I hadn't 'fessed up to before. For example, when I go to bed and I ask, "What have I received today?" the list is long – sustenance, love, access to everything I need and much I want, a home, kindnesses from my family and friends, and a comfortable bed in which to contemplate all this. I may have given some, too, but in comparison to what I've often received, it's relatively little. And when I look carefully at the harm I've caused, through misspoken words or excess and unnecessary use of fossil fuels, I realize that, although I try to do the MOGO (most good), I cause harm every day.

This may not sound like a fun form of self reflection, but the overall feelings that I’m left with after considering the Naikan questions are gratitude, humility, and an eagerness to do better. Any sense of being a victim, of blaming others, of feeling angry at what others do to me or the environment or animals or disenfranchised people, becomes tempered by what I can do to make MOGO choices.

This is a pretty good place to be: eager to do better but without blame.

With thanks for all
YOU do,

~ Zoe, IHE President

Photo by Nancy McClure

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