Desire ≠ Wisdom, Part 1

Last week I was back visiting the 7/8th grade class I taught for a week last November. During our humane education block in November the students had completed their individual MOGO Action Plans and together had decided to create a donation jar into which they would each put $1/week to donate to different causes each month. They had begun their individual and group plans with such enthusiasm, but their efforts have waned in the ensuing months.

“Why?” I asked.

The different reasons boiled down to this:


Our desires often compete with what we know in our hearts to be good and right. At least for most of us. There are saints and great teachers in the world for whom this may not be true, but they are uncommon, which is why we tend to revere and try to learn from them. Did Mother Teresa have to struggle against a desire for material fortune, a big house and high-priced car, fancy clothes, or exotic perfumes? Probably not. Mother Teresa has implied that her greatest joy came from helping others. Her values, it seemed, were highly aligned with her desires.

For the rest of us, however – whether for foods that are unhealthy, unsustainable, or inhumane; or for more and more stuff that is produced in sweatshops, using toxic materials, and likely to quickly wind up in landfills; or for gossip that causes harm but entertains us – our desires often eclipse our values. Values which may well include care for the earth, other people, and animals. We are in conflict. Our desires are not fully aligned with what we know is wise.

For me, one desire that conflicts with my values is travel. I love visiting and exploring faraway places. I yearn to travel more – not for work but for pleasure. If I could justify it, I would spend a couple months each year visiting rainforests and coral reefs, glaciers and mountains, ancient villages and all the natural wonders on the earth. I don’t travel for pleasure as much as I would like, but I still do it, even though I know that each trip spews huge quantities of climate-altering gases into the atmosphere; even though that money could instead help others in desperate need.

Buddhism describes our desires as the cause of our unhappiness. This is often true. But if we can cultivate a desire to do good through right livelihood and right speech, we can meld our desires with our actions. When we want to do what is good and right, we find greater peace. To the extent that we make an effort to do the most good and the least harm, we find joy.

And when desires compete with our values, as they inevitably will, we can acknowledge them, yet choose not to act on those that would tear our souls too deeply. And in so doing, we can cultivate our will.

I’d love to hear about your own struggles with desires that compete with your values and how you have resolved them.

~ Zoe

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WebSpotlight: Oil Imports Map

Energy consumption and policy are on many minds, and while President Obama's recent decision to allow states to determine auto emissions and fuel efficiency standards may eventually help decrease U.S. dependence in "foreign oil," we still have an insatiable appetite for that fossil fuel.

Knowing about the history and patterns of our oil imports can help us shape our future choices. The Rocky Mountain Institute has created an Oil Imports Map, which shows "how much oil the U.S. has imported, from where, and how much we have spent every month since 1973."

The map allows us to see from whom we've gotten our oil and how much we've spent, and it connects our imports to major events such as Hurricane Katrina and the oil crises of the 1970s. It also makes it possible to pay attention to the history of our foreign relationships and how that has affected oil imports.

It's an interesting and useful tool that can help expand our knowledge and perspective of energy policy and of the impact of our own choices.

~ Marsha

h/t to Worldchanging.
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Photos, Food and Fabric: Use Your Unique Passions and Skills to Create a Better World

One of the great things about living a MOGO life is that it encourages you to create positive change in the world according to your strengths and passions. It doesn’t require you to mold yourself into some form that doesn’t fit you (though a little reinvention, rediscovery and challenging your boundaries are healthy things). If you’re one of those many folks who’d rather die than speak in public, MOGO doesn’t require you to step out onto that stage. If writing isn’t your thing, MOGO doesn’t ask you to pen a best-selling how-to. MOGO recognizes that you can best help the world (and yourself) by focusing on your talents and what makes your heart sing.

Our IHE students and grads have manifested their skills and passions in a variety of ways. Some are teachers, some have started their own businesses, some work for non-profits, others focus on filmmaking and artistry. One is a state representative. Another is a vet. Humane education and MOGO living fit into pretty much any field.

Recently I’ve come across some great examples of people working toward a better world by tapping into their own talents and strengths. Here are 3 that focus on the artistic side:

The founders of the Canary Project use and promote art in its various forms as a means to “build public understanding of human-induced climate change and energize commitment to solutions.” Some of the projects they’ve created and/or supported include photography exhibits, art in public places, ads on city buses, and the Green Patriot posters.

Craftivist is the blog of a young woman who is exploring how her life and craft habits “relate to the world of activism.” In the midst of photos of her latest projects and various kinds of lists and meanderings, she offers patterns, ideas and insights about using crafting skills to help others, from sweaters for little ones in need, to caps for premature babies to socks for soldiers, and so on.

Apron Activists is the work of a couple of activists in Portland, Oregon, who host vegan dinners in order to raise funds for various causes that help animals.

Whatever your skills, whatever your passion, there’s a way to turn your unique talents into action for a humane world!

~ Marsha
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Speak the Good in Others

My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Leddy, had us students do something that I have never forgotten. She called it a “car wash.” Every week one of us would be the “car,” and the other students would form two lines in front of the car. One by one, zigzagging from one side to the other, the car would go to each person in the “wash” line, and that person would whisper into the “car’s” ear something good about them — something that the speaker liked, respected, appreciated or admired about them. I don’t remember many of the things my fellow students said to me. I remember one guy said that I was his third girlfriend (whatever that meant). I remember that the boy I had a crush on told me that he liked playing sports with me (I was a major “tom-boy”…and still am.) Someone else liked my smile. Someone else said that she noticed that I tried to be nice to everyone. The details of those individual encounters is fuzzy, but the memory of how I felt after having been washed in all that good will and kindness is still precious to me.

I introduced this activity to my cohort of fellow humane educators when we had our Residency one year, and the faculty liked it so much that they used it as the closing activity for Residency. (They’ve modified it now so that students write down something about their fellow students during the week, so that everyone has something positive to take home from everyone else — a more meaningful way to do it.)

For my 25th birthday, my husband wrote down 25 things he loved about me and put them in a simple handmade book — one item per page, one page per hour of the day. It was one of the best gifts he's ever given me; I still have it these 17 years later.

One New Year’s Day, just after midnight, I sat around with a small group of friends in my co-housing community, and we each took turns sharing an intention that we had for each of the others. When we finished, everyone in that circle felt loved, appreciated, respected, more confident, more hopeful about the future — and more powerful about helping shape that future. I’ve never forgotten that night.

These are just a few examples of the times that sincere, authentic, kind words have helped shape my view of myself and have affected the next steps on my life’s journey. Yes, it’s important to look within ourselves for all those important qualities of joy, confidence, meaning, respect, love, and so on. We can’t rely on others for our self-perception, and it can be detrimental to pay too much attention to what others say about us. But I also think that it’s important that we help serve as a reflection for others so that they can more easily break through the static of culture and personal history that get in the way of their being able to see their own good and value.

Look for the good in the people around you and speak it. You will both be empowered by it.

~ Marsha

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Upcoming Book Tour and MOGO Workshops

I will be traveling to the west coast for a book tour for Most Good, Least Harm and to lead two MOGO workshops, Feb. 1-10, and will try to publish a few posts while I’m gone. Here’s my schedule for those of you who might be in these regions:

Feb. 3MOGO Workshop for Stanford Law School Public Interest Law Fellows (not open to the public)
Feb. 4 – Talk and book signing at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne, Portland, OR, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 7MOGO Workshop, Portland, OR, 9-5.
Feb. 9 – Talk and book signing at University Bookstore in Seattle, WA, 7 p.m.

For more details visit my Appearances page, or my page.

~ Zoe
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Humane Education 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.

Schools inspiring students to go greenUSA Today (1/26/09)
”Educators in pockets around the country have woven environmental lessons into school experiences. Elementary students in Virginia Beach have begun recycling paper in classrooms. Children in Loveland, Ohio, tend vegetable gardens. In these programs and others, students practice conservationist behaviors at school, though they're not necessarily expected to repeat them at home.”

Wal-mart gaining in greeningNew York Times (1/25/09)
”Today, the roughly 200 million customers who pass through Wal-Mart’s doors each year buy fluorescent light bulbs that use up to 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs, concentrated laundry detergent that uses 50 percent less water and prescription drugs that contain 50 percent less packaging.”

Girl scouts, 4-H in Oregon stressing sustainability, conservationThe Oregonian (1/23/09)
”Youth organizations like the Scouts were founded on instilling in children a respect for nature and care for their communities. Now, however, with worldwide attention on threatened species, threatened resources and the need for energy alternatives, those organizations are providing a wider array of experiences to young people, knowing they will be the ones affecting future change.”

Toxic ash spill threatens wildlife - National Geographic (1/23/09)
”In addition to the animals killed by the initial spill, wildlife may be threatened for years by the trace amounts of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, thallium, and other toxins in the coal ash. ‘We're concerned about tremendous human health threats but also serious biological threats to animal species,’ said Stephen Smith, veterinarian and director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. ‘Already mussels, snails, and aquatic species are in grave danger, but no one seems to be talking about it.’"

“Naturally-raised”meat now has a definition – sort ofTreehugger (1/22/09)
”Consumers Union said voluntarily halting the use of antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones and restricting use of animal-byproducts in feed are important practices that livestock producers should be able to point to when labeling their meats. The same producers would be allowed to obtain animals from cloned or genetically-engineered sources, raise the animals in confinement, or feedlot operations, give them low-quality, possibly pesticide-laced feed, and still slap on the ‘naturally-raised’ label.”

Can science help stop racism?Wired (1/20/09)
"Any time you can get people to treat people as individuals, you reduce the effect of stereotypes," said Brown University cognitive scientist Michael Tarr. "It won't solve racism, but it could have profound real-world effects."

Top non-human animal tool usersWired (1/16/09)
”Much more likely remains to be found: until Jane Goodall watched chimpanzees fishing for termites with sticks, scientists had been reluctant to credit animals with such sophisticated behavior — perhaps because, as Charles Darwin noted, ‘Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.’”

New report shows that racial segregation in U.S. schools continues to growCivil Rights Project press release (1/14/09)
”…the report concludes [that] the U.S. continues to move backward toward increasing minority segregation in highly unequal schools; the job situation remains especially bleak for American blacks, and Latinos have a college completion rate that is shockingly low. At the same time, very little is being done to address large scale challenges such as continuing discrimination in the housing and home finance markets, among other differences across racial lines.”

What’s in the Water - New Scientist (1/12/09)
”A comprehensive survey of the drinking water for more than 28 million Americans has detected the widespread but low-level presence of pharmaceuticals and hormonally active chemicals.”
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Social Entrepreneurs Are Changing the World

I’ve written about the PBS series, The New Heroes, and about social entrepreneurship in previous posts (such as here and here), and I want to share with you another website and book that profiles social entrepreneurs who are making a difference. Wilford Welch has written The Tactics of Hope: How Social Entrepreneurs are Changing the World, a book which describes a couple of dozen social entrepreneurs working around the globe, changing systems to improve the world in the areas of health, education, microcredit, fair trade, human rights and social justice, disaster relief, and the environment. The Tactics of Hope website not only includes short profiles, but also a tool to help you identify your own passions and skills to find your niche in social entrepreneurship.

~ Zoe
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Harvard Publication Seeks Student Essays About Obama's Impact on Education

What kind of impact will the new President of the U.S. have on the education of our nation’s youth? The Harvard Education Review is seeking essays from K-12 students on the theme of “What will Barack Obama’s presidency mean for my education?”

Students are invited to submit essays, as well as poetry, artwork and writing combined with illustrations (for younger students) for a special issue of the Harvard Educational Review “that will address the significance of this election.”

Some entries will be selected to be sent to President Obama. Others will be included in the HER. The deadline for entries is February 20, 2009.

Teachers and other educators are also invited to submit their own essays, addressing the question: “What will Barack Obama’s presidency mean for education?” Essays should be between 1,000 and 5,000 words. The deadline for entries is February 6, 2009.

Find out more about both opportunities.

Image courtesy of alisonkanegae via Creative Commons.
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WebSpotlight: KarmaTube

Check out, a site with videos about people and projects to improve the world. Here’s a bit about them from their site:

“KarmaTube is dedicated to... using the power of video and the internet to demonstrate and multiply acts of compassion, generosity and selflessness.... While the stories produced may be polished and professional or diamonds-in-the-rough, the crucial through-line is this: they celebrate the work of local change agents, demonstrating the ways "do something" moments can be "tipping point" experiences for individuals and communities. To complete the circle, KarmaTube offers three simple suggestions for ways to support the action and spirit shown in each video.”

For a more generous, compassionate world,

~ Zoe

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Be the Change: An Interview with Changemaker John Robbins

A world renowned expert on the environmental and health impacts of our dietary choices, John Robbins is the author of Healthy at 100, The Food Revolution and Diet for a New America.

Focused on creating an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just way of living, John is the Founder and Board Chair Emeritus of EarthSave International, an organization dedicated to healthy food choices, preservation of the environment, and a more compassionate world. John is also the Board Chair of YES!, which connects, inspires and empowers young changemakers to join forces for a thriving, just and sustainable way of life for all. He is the recipient of the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, and the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award.

IHE: What role does education play in creating a better world?

JR: An enormous role, for better or for worse. We are being “educated” all the time, by our culture, by the media, by our friends and associates, by the films we watch and the ads we see. If we are going to create a more compassionate world, we need to educate ourselves, each other, and our children in that direction. We need to notice when military figures are considered heroic, when in fact all they have done is be successful in perpetrating violence. We need to notice when gender roles are perpetuated that stifle the wholeness and uniqueness of us as individuals. We need to find and create ways to teach ourselves, each other and our children to live with respect for self and respect for others.

IHE: What personal and professional experiences have led you to focus on educating others as a method of changemaking?

JR: I’ve recognized how greatly our thoughts and feelings and beliefs are shaped by our experiences. If we have been taught that we are unworthy and flawed, if we have learned to be ashamed of ourselves and afraid of the forces at work in our natures, we will be alienated from what is creative, joyful and powerful in us and in one another. On the other hand, if we have been taught to rejoice in our powers, to celebrate differences, and to respect all forms of life, we will be able to respond to life’s challenges in ways that create a better world for all.

IHE: What do you see happening in the world that gives you hope for a more just, compassionate, sustainable future?

JR: I draw my hope not so much from what I see happening outside in the world, as I do from what I see happening inside us. I look out into the world and I see much that is sad and destructive. Sometimes I see a deep night of unthinkable blindness and cruelty. Even then, though, I am undaunted, for I look within the human heart and find something of love there, something that cares and shines out into the dark universe like a bright beacon. It is in the shining of the light within that I feel all of our hopes for a better future. It is in the human heartlight that I find strength.

IHE: What are the biggest challenges in creating a humane and peaceful world?

JR: Overcoming the fears that keep us locked in our separateness and divided from the caring we can give each other. We have to find another energy within us that is more powerful than our fears, and that is our love.

IHE: What advice do you have for aspiring humane educators?

JR: Rather than advice, I would offer my acknowledgement and my gratitude. To be a humane educator is to serve the awakening realization that we are all connected, that we are not nearly as divided from each other as our culture has led us to believe. It is to serve the capacity to live with reverence for life. It is to seek to find and to honor the good in us. It is to commit to seeing, in our lifetimes, a spiritually fulfilling, environmentally sustainable, and socially just human presence on this planet.

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Unmasking Hidden Homophobia in School

“That’s so gay” has become a common phrase bandied about middle and high school hallways. There are frequent reports in the news about students who are gay being harassed in school. And the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California is yet another indicator that the dominant American culture still sees same-sex relationships as not “normal” and, therefore, fair game for critique and persecution.

A recent issue of Teaching Tolerance has a great article, resources and lesson plans, called “Exposing Hidden Homophobia,” from teacher Sarah Arnold about the prevalence of gay bashing and prejudice in society.

Arnold decided to address the issue of homophobia in her classes when she noticed that, while her students were “officially” against homophobia, their daily casual behavior belied an “anti-gay undertone.” Arnold created a 37-day unit during which her students explored issues of homosexuality and homophobia through reflection, discussion, literature and electronic media.
According to the article:
“When parents or administrators questioned the plan, she was able to show how it supported higher-order thinking skills. She had each student assemble and present, in a professional manner, a portfolio on their research. Students had to define sociological and literary terms used in the unit, analyze examples of gay themes in the media, do qualitative research to examine the changing culture within their schools and in the world outside, and write a letter explaining what they learned from the unit. Ultimately, the unit met almost every one of Wisconsin's state standards for writing.”
Arnold also made the unit optional, but all of her students took it anyway.

Links connected to the article include:
  • a complete outline of the unit
  • an essay prompt on “How I’m Different” to spark students to think about biases
  • a homophobia quiz
  • a guide called "Ten Ways Homophobia Affects Straight People"
  • a non-fiction account of an anti-gay hate crime, called “A Rose for Charlie”
  • instructions and a grading rubric for the unit’s final project
In a culture where it’s common place for LGBT students to be verbally harassed, and frequently assaulted (a recent survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that 86% of middle and high school LGBT students have reported being verbally harassed, and 25% have been physically assaulted), it’s essential that issues of prejudice, bias, hate and violence against others be addressed, and that compassionate and respectful behaviors and attitudes be encouraged.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Arbron via Creative Commons.
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After the Inauguration: Let’s Embrace Responsibility

Thomas Friedman has an opinion piece in the New York Times today, which discusses the tremendous challenges to systemic change embedded in our constitution and politics. On the heels of my previous blog post about systemic change, it was both sobering and yet inviting. Take a look at Friedman's essay, and if you agree with his assessment, ask yourself what you can do to summon and support radical changemaking that does not squander this moment or this particular politician who has such a gift for bringing disparate people together.

President Obama called upon us to embrace responsibility. This is something that most of us – left, right, conservative, progressive, radical, centrist, green, independent, libertarian, religious, atheist – agree upon.

We will not agree upon the exact ways in which responsibility needs to manifest itself through government, and it will be a radical act to summon agreement, but let us agree to act responsibly ourselves, as individuals, to assess the consequences of our choices and actions carefully and deliberately, and to choose to play our part in doing the most good and the least harm to others.

~ Zoe
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The Invisible World Made Visible

I have spent quite a lot of time in Acadia National Park (a short drive from my home) over the past 13 years that I’ve lived here, and I can easily count the times that I’ve seen wildlife other than birds and squirrels. I see deer now and then; a few times I’ve seen baby porcupines; twice I’ve seen hares and a fox; and one time each I saw a coyote and a bat (inexplicably snoozing on a rock).

I was in Acadia right after a snowstorm recently. It was breathtaking. The snow sparkled in the sun. There were walls of icicles hanging over rocks and a frozen waterfall. There were also dozens of animal tracks. I followed a fox track for miles, spotted countless deer tracks, mouse tracks, and snowshoe hare tracks. And then there were the several porcupine tracks that look startlingly like tire tracks in the snow. There were also myriad coyote tracks that had led to large coyote gatherings. And this was just one day after the snowstorm.

I only saw a few actual animals, and they were the ubiquitous squirrels and birds, but I realized just how many live in Acadia and walk the same paths as I. I wondered what it would take for me to actually see these denizens of Acadia. I’m sure I’d have more luck arriving at dawn or waiting until dusk, rather than coming in the (relative) warmth of midday, but even then, I would have to slow down and stay very quiet. My husband once saw tracks in the snow of an otter who had roamed up steep rocks and then slid down them, over and over again, criss-crossing a headland in Acadia that juts out into the Atlantic. But, he never saw the otter, despite having arrived before dawn to take photographs of the rising sun and its lovely light on the snow and ice.

I know now that these animals are always there. To see so many tracks within 24 hours of a snowfall revealed just how invisible they choose to be. I like to think I’ll become more observant, that I’ll hunker down and patiently wait. I like to think that the animals will show themselves if I watch and listen in silence.

What does this have to do with MOGO living? From our reverence grows our respect and sense of responsibility. When we fall in love with the natural world, we are moved to protect and restore it. The soft snow made the invisible visible and told me the beginning of a story that I hope to hear now in full. I care more because I’ve experienced more, because my heart sang with joy that day.

It’s so important that all of us leave the built world for the natural world now and again, and even more important that we ensure that our children do this regularly. It is in the real world of nature that we often find ourselves moved to make the MOGO choices for a sustainable, peaceful, and humane future for all species.

~ Zoe

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Humane Education 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.

Using science to help human rights - Inside Higher Ed (1/19/09)
”In Sierra Leone, for example, where some residents in agricultural areas are ‘time illiterate’ (they don’t use calendars or think in calendar years), she has helped test a method by which researchers pegged local threats to nationally known events. A sample question she cited: ‘When the rebels visited your village, was that before or after the invasion of Freetown?’”

“Green collar economy taking root in Chicago”Chicago Tribune (1/19/09)
”Wright said he would be happy with one decent job. He's thinking about enrolling in computer classes at Malcolm X College. But if he can be part of the green-collar economy, all the better. ‘I can't see past today,’ Wright said. ‘But if I'm allowed to wake up tomorrow, I'm going to do everything I can to help out. If it means saving the Earth, why not? Because you only get one Earth, right? Like you only get one mama.’"
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

Students give voice to social justice issues through online journal - Niagara Falls Review (1/15/09)
”The online literary journal was launched last month and features stories, essays, music and photography all directed towards the goal of promoting social justice.”

Solar panels not quite so queen – LA Times (1/13/09)
"’The solar energy industry is running into some of the same problems . . . we've seen in the electronics industry,’ whose waste is polluting U.S. landfills and contaminating groundwater with harmful substances such as mercury and chromium.”
Thanks, Treehugger, for the heads up.

Plan to protect native birds by eradicating cats backfiresYahoo! News (1/13/09)
”It seemed like a good idea at the time: Remove all the feral cats from a famous Australian island to save the native seabirds. But the decision to eradicate the felines from Macquarie island allowed the rabbit population to explode and, in turn, destroy much of its fragile vegetation that birds depend on for cover.”

Is pink damaging, limiting for girls? - BBC (1/8/09)
"We have got to get something done about the effect marketeers are having. We are creating little fluffy pink princess, an image of girliness, that is very specific and which some girls don't want to go along with, but due to overwhelming peer pressure, are having to conform to."
Thanks, Feministing, for the heads up.
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Resources to Help You Help Stop Human Trafficking

Today is a day of new hope, of change, of the vision of a better world for all. Our new president, and all of us, have a long to-do list of personal and systemic changes to make in order to help create a humane world. One of those changes should be an end to human trafficking worldwide.

Last week (January 11) was Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the U.S. A day dedicated to bringing attention to the plight of the millions of men, women and children around the world who have been abducted, coerced or tricked into modern day slavery and labor. Most often the exploited are women and children, and many times they’re forced into sexual slavery. Amanda from End Human Trafficking did a nice post about 10 films about human trafficking to watch. I’ve posted most of them here, along with a few additions, and some useful websites. The first step in systemic change is learning more about the issue. Use these resources to help you.

Born Into Brothels (2004)
Academy Award-winning documentary about the children of prostitutes in India.

Call + Response (2008)
Call + Response goes deep undercover where slavery is thriving from the child brothels of Cambodia to the slave brick kilns of rural India to reveal that in 2007, Slave Traders made more money than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined.”

The Day My God Died (2003)
“Entering the brothels of Bombay with hidden cameras, The Day My God Died documents the tragedy of the child sex trade, exposing human rights violations and profiling the courageous abolitionists who are working towards change.”

Features “investigative footage of the dark and hidden world of sex traffickers, pimps and buyers. Demand exposes the men who buy commercial sex, the vulnerable women and children sold as commodities, and the facilitators of the sale within the marketplace of exploitation.” From Shared Hope International.

Fields of Mudan (2004)
“When Mudan, a frightened, young Asian girl, is forced into modern day slavery by the brutal child brothel owner, Madam Zhao, the only solace she finds is through the memory of her Mother and the promise that she would one day find Mudan and take her away to America: the place where dreams come true.”

Holly (2006)
A docu-drama about an American stolen artifacts dealer in Vietnam who tries to save a young girl from child traffickers.

Lilja-4 Ever (2002)
A Swedish film about a teenager who is abandoned by her mother in the former Soviet Union, turns to prostitution to survive, and ends up as a sex slave in Sweden.

Not for Sale: The Documentary (2007)
A documentary that “covers what modern-day abolitionists are doing to fight the rampant terrors of human trafficking in the US and abroad.” From the book of the same name.

The Price of Sugar (2007)
In the Dominican Republic, thousands of Haitians are under armed guard on plantations harvesting sugarcane, most of which ends up in the U.S.

Sex Slaves (2005)
“An undercover journey deep into the world of sex trafficking, following one man determined to rescue his wife -- kidnapped and sold into the global sex trade.”

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
A new feature film focused on the story of a boy with a chance to win big.

Trade (2007)
A feature film about a 13-year-old girl kidnapped by sex traffickers, and the brother and cop who struggle to find and free her.

Very Young Girls (2007)
A documentary “that chronicles the journey of young women through the underground world of sexual exploitation in New York City.”

(Note: Many of these films contain intense and graphic scenes, so be sure to preview them and ensure that they're age-appropriate for your audience.)

Human trafficking is happening around the world, including here in the U.S., and if we pay attention and take positive action, we have the power to stop it. In addition to watching and sharing films like those above, you can find out more from sites like these:

Anti-Slavery International
Provides information and action opportunities on modern slavery and forced labor issues. Digital Library
An online library of information, photos and film sources regarding issues of child labor, slavery, sex trade, child marriage and more.

Free the Slaves
A treasure trove of information and resources on modern slavery.

Get reports, news and information about human trafficking from all over the world.

As Gandhi said, “No one is free while others are oppressed.” On this day of hope, let's work together to create a world where all are free from oppression, exploitation, suffering and violence. YES WE CAN create a compassionate, sustainable, just world!

~ Marsha
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For a Truly New and Better World, We Must Change Destructive Systems

So much rides on tomorrow’s inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. There are so many hopes wrapped up in the promise of his administration, but as we have already seen during the past two months since the election, many systems in government and society are flawed, and those flaws exacerbate individual frailty, making them even harder to overcome (see my post on the Stanford Prison Experiments and the book, The Lucifer Effect, for more on this). Governor Bill Richardson withdrew as potential Secretary of Commerce because of investigations of corruption; Tim Geithner, the nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, made a “mistake” on his taxes, resulting in a failure to pay $34,000 to the IRS; Rod Blagojevich has been accused of trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat for money or favors or both. I believe these men have fallen victim not only to their own lack of integrity and care, but also to systems that dramatically enable their failures.

I believe that Barack Obama has the potential to be a truly great president, to lead in ways that will restore, repair, renew, and build a better future. But despite my optimism and near-desperate hope, I know that he cannot achieve great change unless together we work to change the systems that at best promote inadequate solutions and at worst encourage corruption. These current systems will continually derail President Obama and all those working to solve the various problems that confront the U.S. and the world unless we change them.

Arne Duncan, the nominee for Secretary of Education, cannot fix our public education crises without our effort, our input, and our hard work. The faulty systems at play in public education will prevent real change, unless together we voice our ideas and our offer new systems, models, and approaches that work. This is a call to humane educators everywhere to take part in educational transformation.

Tom Vilsack, the nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, is unlikely to provide healthy, sustainable, and humane food to people unless the current systems that perpetuate factory farming, monoculture agriculture, rampant pesticide, antibiotic, and hormone use, poor use of water and soil resources, etc., are changed. Given the vested interests in the current agricultural approaches, and the USDA’s marriage to these systems, this will be virtually impossible to do unless we change the systems.

We can change systems, and tomorrow should mark not just the historic election of Barack Obama, not just an unprecedented gathering of supporters vesting him with all their hopes and dreams, but a commitment from all of us to learn, think, and act -- to use what I have called the 3 Is: to Inquire, Introspect, and act with Integrity in order to engage ourselves fully in the true potential of President Obama’s administration. It will not be easy, because the faulty systems and our own frailties will work against even the greatest and most brilliant of changemakers. But we must commit ourselves to do our best.

Please don’t think of tomorrow as a day simply to celebrate a future that you hope will be better. Beyond a celebration, tomorrow is the day to dedicate your life, your work, and your passion for justice, peace, and restoration toward full engagement. Doing so can help ensure that we'll all be celebrating each January for the next four years, because together we will have succeeded in helping President Obama do the job this country elected him to do.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Dr. King had a dream. It’s been partially fulfilled. Now let’s make sure we work to fulfill the full promise of a healthy, peaceful future for all.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of transplanted mountaineer via Creative Commons.
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Humane Education in Action: Helping Others Go Green

IHE M.Ed. graduate Gina Diamond has created her own business, Green Diamond Consulting, to help educate, inspire and empower people, families, businesses and organizations to become positive choicemakers. Read about Gina's work, challenges and successes.

Quick Facts About Gina:

Current hometown: Seattle, Washington (USA)
IHE fan since:
Current job:
Eco Lifestyle Coach
Your hero:
Dalai Lama, among many others
Book/movie that changed your life:
Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
Guilty pleasure:
Fair trade chocolate
Inspired by:
My daughter
Love about yourself: My freckles
One of your strengths: Perseverance
Desired epitaph or tagline: “Gave of herself with joy”

IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?

GD: A desire to do heart "work" that combined my professional and personal experiences.

IHE: What has inspired you to manifest humane education by starting a consulting business?

GD: I wanted to fill a niche -- to do something that built on my years in education as a mentor and my love of all life. I want to inspire others to be the best they can be.

IHE: Tell us about your business, Green Diamond Consulting. How did you decide what services to offer and whom to target, and why did you decide to hone in on sustainability and eco-friendly living?

GD: I follow my joy, what inspires me, and the path is formed. I have a goal and a loose idea of how to reach my goal. I remain open and keep taking the next indicated step, and then I get clarity on what services to offer, whom to serve, and what style of mentoring to use.

My definition of eco-friendly is really broad. We all have unique strengths and access to unique opportunities to share our strengths to serve the global community. What this looks like continues to evolve. For example, I know that I am supposed to offer my workshops virtually and am waiting to attract the right people to make this happen.

IHE: How have things been going with your business? What has been the response? What has been your most popular service?

GD: The response has been great. I have a ton of support, and people are helping me make this happen in a number of ways. I now have two sponsors who have given donations, a regular segment on a new local radio program, and a huge green network of business owners who want me to succeed. A friend of mine recently gave me her gently used bike panniers, which is allowing me to transport more work stuff while biking to clients' homes and businesses. It isn’t just about the paid work –- yes, I would like more clients -– but all these other things need to be in place to have a thriving business.
I have received a lot of attention since I began offering Parties With a Purpose (PWAP). In January I will be launching my "New Year’s Evoluntion PWAP" and imagine that they will be very popular, especially since I am gaining sponsors who will help offset the costs to clients. I am filled with hope on many levels and know that my business will lead me to many unforeseen great adventures.

IHE: What kind of feedback have you gotten from clients about any changes they've made in their lives?

GD: I always get emails from folks after our work is completed. I ask for this when people buy a package deal, which includes goal-setting and check backs. However, I receive it from workshop participants and others, even when I don’t ask for it. I love to read emails that say things like “I am on a personal mission to get my name off every single junk mail list.” I love it even more when people say that they always think of me and something that I said when they are out Christmas shopping or planning a party for friends or getting in the car to drive their kid a few blocks. People are becoming more conscious, and that is what it’s all about.

IHE: What are some of your biggest challenges?

GD: Staying positive, faithful, and confident, especially when my path takes me in a direction that doesn’t make sense in the moment.

IHE: Share a success story. What has helped encourage you?

GD: I received a lovely book from a friend of mine who is a green interior decorator. She sent the Better World Shopping Guide to all of her friends who have helped her grow her business. On the card she sent with my gift, she wrote a personal note at the bottom, which said “Go, Gina – Go, Gina – Go, Gina – Go!” I was having one of those infrequent moments when I was wishing I had more clients instead of being grateful for the ones I currently have. Her note gave me the gusto to continue forward that day!

IHE: You're also involved in writing a book and serve as a community organizer for a local climate action group. Tell us about those projects.

Yes, I am writing a book, but haven’t given it much notice lately. It’s based on my work. Basically, it will be a collection of fun and inspiring eco-lifestyle coaching stories, with a bunch of DIY sheets at the back. It’s going to be great!

I also helped start a climate change action group that created a pledge to get our neighbors to make changes that are meaningful and measurable. My personal favorite contribution was “Eat less beef.” Most of my time is put towards my business, but the group is still going strong, and I remain close to the participants.

IHE: What are your thoughts about the power of humane education to positively transform the world?

GD: Humane education transformed me and gives the world hope and a reason to wake up in the morning. My daughter started kindergarten in our local public school this year, and, although it has its strengths, there is so much that isn’t there. I continue to be reminded that there are humane educators in school systems and who are graduating every year. Thank goodness! Our kids are helping, on a significant level, to create our future, and I am looking forward to seeing more compassionate teaching as we move into 2009 – the year of change!

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

GD: As I mentioned before, I am planning to offer e-workshops and downloadable e-documents to enlarge my circle of influence. I have written a kid’s book and look forward to seeing it get published. And, my biggest dream: to have one of the greenest homes in the country. I work from home and want my work to be powered by the sun, etc. Oh, and my ultimate dream is to have a conversation with Deepak Chopra over a delicious cup of fair trade hot chocolate.
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What's My Life For? Purpose, Meaning, and the MOGO Principle

I began Most Good, Least Harm with these sentences: “During my sophomore year in college I embarked upon a quest for inner peace. I yearned for relief from a persistent lack of purpose and meaning in my life.” In my blog posts, I’ve periodically asked, “What is _____ for?” I’ve filled in the blank most recently with “prison” and in a previous post with “education.” The first two sentences of my book carry with them an even bigger underlying question: “What is life for?”

Religion, philosophy, science and people from all corners of the world have sought to answer this question and have come up with a range of answers: enlightenment, to serve God, to love, to give, to successfully reproduce, etc. But I wonder why we even ask this question. Why do we – many of us anyway – feel such a need for purpose and meaning? Why can’t we, like my cat, be perfectly content sleeping 20 hours a day, and playing, eating, and soliciting attention for the remaining four?

I recently watched the Canadian film, Seducing Dr. Lewis, about a tiny, coastal village in Quebec, where most residents are relying on welfare checks for survival. In order to be eligible for a factory that would employ the villagers, they need to woo a doctor to come live there for five years. It’s a great film, and I highly recommend it, but in the context of this blog post, it’s also telling. The villagers were desperate for work, even for low paying jobs that might not exceed their welfare checks, because they were desperate for purpose and meaning, self worth and inner peace. Unlike my cat, we humans don’t seem content to be served, but must contribute and earn our way to be happy.

The MOGO principle – striving to do the most good and the least harm for ourselves, other people, animals and the environment – is a way to find purpose and meaning; it helps us to discover for ourselves what our particular lives are for.

Last night, I was listening to a recent segment of the radio show, This American Life, which profiled a woman who gave a kidney to a stranger to save his life and who has since dedicated her life to being a matchmaker for kidney donors and kidney recipients. This committed woman has found her purpose and meaning.

When we decide to do the most good and the least harm; when we seek knowledge to enable us to do this; when we introspect and find the confluence between our concerns and our talents; and when we then act on our values, we derive profound purpose and meaning. We, like the villagers in Seducing Dr. Lewis, build self-respect and discover that inner peace often follows.

Funny how finding our purpose and discovering meaning in our lives inevitably contributes to a better world for others, too. The MOGO principle is a good recipe for potential enlightenment, for serving your God, for love, for generosity, and for the survival of generations to follow – in other words, for answering the question, “What’s my life for?”

~ Zoe
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Register Now for Our New Online Courses

We have two new online courses that we're launching this spring. Registration is now open to take part in our 30-day courses. We hope you'll join us!

MOGO Online logo

MOGO Online

Assess your life, examine your deepest values, and explore new information so that you have the tools and commitment to make the best choices for yourself and the world.

March 1-30, 2009
September 1-30, 2009


Sowing Seeds Online logo

Sowing Seeds Online

Bring humane education to your classroom. Examine pressing humane issues, enliven your teaching, enrich your courses, and help your students become ever more engaged citizens.

May 1-30, 2009
November 1-30, 2009

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Most Good, Least Harm: An Interview with Zoe Weil

How can we live in a way that connects us to our deepest values and helps us create a humane world? IHE President Zoe Weil’s latest book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life, has just been published by Atria Books/Beyond Words Publishing. Most Good, Least Harm addresses the fact that people everywhere are deeply concerned about issues like global warming, loss of biodiversity, human rights abuses, and animal cruelty, and they are yearning for both meaning and vision, for a world that works and souls that are at peace, for proactive, visionary, positive ideas for creating change that work for all: themselves, the environment, other people, and animals. In this interview, Zoe talks about the MOGO principle and the power of our choices.

IHE: Why did you write Most Good, Least Harm?

ZW: Most Good, Least Harm is a book that’s been brewing in my mind for almost a decade. As a humane educator, I wanted to give the general public what I’ve been giving my students for years –- the inspiration and tools to live deeply humane and meaningful lives that contribute to a better world. Most Good, Least Harm is for anyone who’s eager to make a positive difference and who wants to live a more meaningful, fulfilling life.

IHE: What is the MOGO principle, and why is it important?

ZW: MOGO stands for “most good,” which is a short version of the principle of doing the most good and the least harm for ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment. When we do the most good and the least harm through our daily choices, our acts of citizenship, our communities, our work, our volunteerism, and our interactions, we create inner and outer peace. This is the MOGO (Most Good) principle. Living with MOGO as a guiding principle opens us to growth, joy, renewed and renewing energy, and many and varied opportunities in life, work and our relationships.

Ultimately, when we adopt the MOGO principle we:
  • Have a simple, helpful, and meaningful guide for every choice, conflict, issue, and life decision that we will ever face.
  • Cultivate our own wisdom and kindness.
  • Increase our freedom from others’ imperatives, whether these come from advertisers, social norms, the media, or individual people telling us what we should or shouldn’t do.
  • Improve our own lives without unknowingly or unjustifiably harming others or the environment to do so.
  • Remain honest, humble, open, and nonjudgmental.
  • Balance strong concerns with level-headed choice-making.
  • Develop our self-discipline and equanimity.
  • Free ourselves from the specter of guilt, indignity, or shame caused by unreflective, inhumane, or rash decision-making and are liberated from the oppressive pursuit of perfection.

IHE: What’s the central message of Most Good, Least Harm?

ZW: Your efforts to help improve the world will also improve your life (and the reverse). Choosing to do the most good and the least harm is personally enriching and helps to bring about a peaceful, sustainable, and humane world for all.

IHE: How is this book different from all the sustainability and “green living” books that have been published recently?

ZW: In two ways: it’s not simply about green living, but about making choices that do the most good and least harm for everyone. It’s also about improving and enriching your own life.

IHE: Many “green” books have focused on a list of small or simple actions to take. Why and how have you taken a different approach?

ZW: Often we see two different approaches to creating change. One is a laundry list of dos and don’ts. These are the books with 100 ways to do x, y or z. The other is policy focused, recognizing that individual personal choices won’t save the world. The truth is, we need both. When, through our individual choice-making, we demand and support more humane and sustainable products, foods, etc., these develop more quickly. Yet, we also need systemic political, economic, educational, technological, and agricultural and other changes in order to make significant, rapid, and practical change.

IHE: Isn’t the MOGO principle about sacrifice and doing without? Isn’t it unrealistic to expect most people to make such choices?

ZW: Virtually all of us are willing to sacrifice for a greater good. We do it all the time! We sacrifice for our children, our elderly parents, our friends and neighbors in need, our country, and more. Most of us find the greatest joy in our lives comes when we give to others, when we’re part of creating good in the world. In the industrialized world, despite our relative affluence, happiness is on the decline. My premise, based on both personal experience and research, is that when we do the most good and least harm in a broad way, sacrifice becomes a misnomer because we feel joy in being part of the creation of a better world and meaningful life.

IHE: Isn’t the MOGO principle primarily for people with wealth who can afford to make different choices?

ZW: People with wealth have an enormous opportunity to improve the world with their resources, and I believe they also have a responsibility to do so. But people with wealth are also more likely to buy lots of resource-depleting, pollution-causing stuff and to have a much larger carbon footprint. Those without wealth may already be making MOGO choices because they are more affordable (hanging laundry on a clothesline, using public transportation, shopping at thrift stores, etc.). There are so many ways to participate in the creation of a better world –- many of them don’t cost a lot of money -- and everyone can find their niche that inspires and enlivens them.

IHE: What do you think prevents people from making MOGO choices?

ZW: Fear, apathy, greed, laziness, inconvenience, destructive systems, and lack of knowledge and support all come into play. We humans are capable of extraordinary goodness, and terrible cruelty, of altruism and selfishness (and everything in between). But even if we were to harness all our best qualities, we’d still have trouble always making MOGO choices, because there are so many systems in place that are unhealthy, exploitative, and destructive. One of the most important MOGO choices a person can make is to participate in the process of changing destructive systems into healthy ones.

IHE: Most “green” books address conserving and protecting different species, but don’t include animals as individuals within their circle of concern. Most Good, Least Harm does. Why?

ZW: Here in the U.S. we love our dogs and cats. We recognize that they are sentient, like us. They feel; they suffer; they experience happiness. We have laws to protect them. It would be illegal to go home and press a hot iron into the flesh of your dog or cat to leave a permanent mark. It would be illegal to put your pet bird into a cage so small she couldn’t stretch a wing or to cut off half her beak with a hot blade. Yet these are normal practices in farming today, and we even have names for these things (branding and debeaking). But there’s no difference between a dog and a pig, or a cow and a cat, or a chicken and a parakeet in terms of their ability to feel pain or pleasure. That we call certain things cruelty when perpetrated on one species and normal agricultural practice when done to another is not MOGO.

Most Good, Least Harm asks us to connect the dots and see the interrelationships among all forms of oppression and destruction so that we can create the most viable, meaningful, and positive solutions for all, including animals as individual beings.

IHE: What did you learn from writing Most Good, Least Harm?

A: It was both humbling (my life is far from the MOGO ideal I seek) and liberating (MOGO is an ongoing process, not an outcome).

IHE: Why have you focused on humane education in your work?

ZW: The sooner we transform our educational systems so that young people are offered relevant education for creating a peaceful, sustainable, and humane world, the better. Humane education teaches about the most pressing challenges of our time to help the next generation become creative changemakers for a viable, healthy future. I believe this is the most important work we need to do today, and if we neglect it and hope to just solve our problems without educating young people about the issues and engaging their creativity and sense of responsibility, we will be hard-pressed to succeed. I’d like to see humane education and the MOGO principle become the guiding philosophy of all education.

IHE: Who inspires you? Who have been your teachers in making MOGO choices?

ZW: So many! There are obvious historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Harriet Tubman, but really I’m inspired every day by the students and graduates of our M.Ed. and certificate programs, as well as the staff at the Institute for Humane Education. They’re my biggest daily teachers.

IHE: What’s your next project?

ZW: My next project is very big, but I look forward to starting it: I want to write a book about what’s wrong with our educational system and how we can truly transform it so that we can educate a generation with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be part of creating a healthy, peaceful world.

IHE: What do you like to do when you’re not writing or teaching?

ZW: I spend as much time as I can outdoors: hiking, gardening, swimming, running, and kayaking. I love summer street pan music (where I embarrass my son by being one of the first to start dancing). I also enjoy improvisational comedy, which sometimes finds its way into my teaching. I read voraciously. But most of all I love spending time with my family and friends.

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When It Comes to MOGO Choices, There is No Happiness Paradox

Recently I watched Barry Schwartz's talk at, "The Paradox of Choice" , in which he elucidated the surprising truth that, beyond a certain point, freedom of choice doesn’t make us happier. In fact, it makes us less happy. This isn’t big news, and the plethora of cartoons that Schwartz displayed that supported his central point attests to the fact that we actually all know this truth, even if marketers don’t. Excess choice leads to high expectations (bound to be dashed) and an overactive sense of responsibility for those dashed expectations.

But in the context of MOGO, choices are very important. In fact, the concept of MOGO is based on choice. The MOGO (most good) principle asks us to make choices that do the most good and the least harm for ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment. It places responsibility on the individual to consider the effects of one’s choices and to, wherever possible, make those that are MOGO. Where MOGO choices aren’t obvious or available, the principle asks us to work for their development by engaging in democracy and helping to change systems.

Is this principle – demanding so much choice of us – a recipe for dashed expectations and disappointment? Is the MOGO principle likely to decrease our happiness by laying on a burdensome mantle of responsibility?


The MOGO principle is empowering. It demands personal responsibility, but by taking responsibility, by doing good, by thoughtfully assessing our choices with MOGO in mind, we begin to make choices that are personally life-enhancing, contribute to a better world, help others, and create community. We tend to become less engaged with marketers’ overabundance of unimportant choices and more engaged with our own values, increasing our integrity and inner peace.

Choosing MOGO is liberating, not a recipe for disappointment.

~ Zoe

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Humane Education 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.

Want to be really climate-friendly? Go veg - Audubon (1/09)
”So why do we so rarely talk about meat consumption when discussing global warming in America? Compact fluorescent bulbs? Biking to work? Buying wind power? We hear it nonstop. But even the super-liberal, Prius-driving, Green Party activist in America typically eats chicken wings and morning bacon like everyone else. While the climate impacts of meat consumption might be new to many people, the knowledge of meat’s general ecological harm is not at all novel. So what gives?”
Thanks,, for the heads up.

Survey shows 1 in 200 U.S. kids are vegHuffington Post (1/11/09)
”The new estimate of young vegetarians comes from a recent federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of alternative medicine based on a survey of thousands of Americans in 2007. Information on children's diet habits was gleaned from about 9,000 parents and other adults speaking on the behalf of those under 18.”

Middle school students become “slaves” for a (1/10/09)
”Sixth-graders at North Richland Middle School entered the factory late Friday morning. They each received an index card with their name and work orders. Some sorted coal and fabrics; others tended machines or sewed tiny beads into strips of cloth. All were cruelly berated by supervisors and managers. It was an educational exercise designed to teach the group of 30 gifted-and-talented Birdville students about the plight of children who are forced into labor around the world.”
Thanks, End Human Trafficking, for the heads up.

Elephants become dinner for soldiers in (1/10/09)
”Faced with skyrocketing inflation, a tanking economy, and incredible political instability, the government of Zimbabwe is turning to elephant meat in a desperate attempt to feed hungry soldiers.”

Study predicts food shortage for billions by end of centuryGuardian (UK) (1/9/09)
"'The stress on global food production from temperatures alone is going to be huge, and that doesn't take into account water supplies stressed by the higher temperatures,' said David Battisti, at the University of Washington, who led the study."
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

Study shows light pollution can kill (1/8/09)
”A groundbreaking study has proved that man-made light sources can change natural light cycles, triggering abnormal animal behavior that often leads to injury and even death.”

Fish more intelligent than scientists thought - Daily Mail (UK) (1/7/09)
”There is a lot of evidence now that fish are no dumber than birds or many mammals - and in many cases they are just as intelligent. Many fishes - such as minnows, sticklebacks, and guppies - are capable of the same intellectual feats as, for example, rats or mice. They can learn their way around mazes, they can learn to recognise other fish, and they can remember which individuals are better competitors.”

Is your house making you sick?CNN Money (1/6/09)
”Chemicals found in common home furnishings can cause asthma and flu-like symptoms, and your basement or bathroom may be harboring allergy-inducing mold. You could even be experiencing a reaction to a more dangerous substance that could cause kidney damage or cancer.”

U.S. plans major marine reserveBBC (1/6/09)
”The US is to establish what it calls ‘the largest area of protected sea in the world’ around its Pacific islands. Commercial fishing and mining will be banned in the protected zones which include the Marianas Trench, the deepest area of ocean on the planet. The area totals 500,000 sq km (190,000 sq miles) of sea and sea floor.”
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Submit an Activity for the Social Psychology Network Action Teaching Award

The Social Psychology Network is hosting its 4th annual Action Teaching Awards, given to honor educators who exhibit excellence in “action teaching” – teaching that “leads not only to a better understanding of human behavior but to a more just, compassionate, and peaceful world.”

Entries can include “classroom activities, field experiences, student assignments, or web-based tutorials and demonstrations.”

According to the SPN website:

“Entries may focus on the individual, group, or societal level, and may address psychological aspects of any major social issue, including prejudice, social injustice, conflict, crime, poverty, hunger, public health, the environment, animal cruelty, and domestic violence, among others.”

The winner receives a $1,000 prize and a free one-year membership in Social Psychology Network.

The contest is open to all teachers. The deadline is January 20, 2009.

Find out more.

Wouldn’t it be great to show them the power of humane education?

Image courtesy of Sleestak66 via Creative Commons.
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The Great Ape Project

I just finished the recently published Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human by Elizabeth Hess and then immediately picked up Roger Fouts', Next of Kin, which is about Washoe and the other chimps to whom he has taught sign language over his long career as a psychologist. I recommend both books (although my preference is Fouts’ Next of Kin). They describe the language studies conducted with chimpanzees during the 1970s and 80s, the astonishing reality of human-chimpanzee communication in our language, and the aftermath for the celebrity chimps.

These books reminded me of my brief volunteer work in David Premack’s primate facility at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Premack had written a book about his research chimp, Sarah, to whom he taught a symbolic language. After reading his book, The Mind of an Ape, in 1985, I called Dr. Premack to see if I could volunteer at his lab. He agreed. I was so eager to meet Sarah, but I felt heartbroken when I did. Although she had quite a spacious cage, she was alone, separated from both humans and other chimps. She was 12 when I met her, and I was told she was too big, strong, and dangerous to interact with people, except through the bars of her cage. Although chimpanzees are social animals, she had no chimp companions. The other chimpanzees at the facility were just a few years old, and while these young ones were caged together, I was told Sarah might harm them if allowed to be with them. And so, while Sarah could often see the other chimps when they were outdoors, she was isolated.

I was told to keep my distance from Sarah, warned that if I got too close to her cage she could grab my arm and pull it off, but one day, standing several feet away, I said to Sarah, “Turn around and I’ll scratch your back.” I twirled my index finger as I spoke, and sure enough, Sarah turned around, pressed her back against the bars of her cage, and sank down to sit on the floor. I walked up to her cage and scratched her back, not worried in the slightest that she would harm me.

I’ve recently learned that Sarah now lives in a primate sanctuary. This is a tremendous relief, because I feared for her future. I had volunteered with the best intentions, imagining that language studies with chimpanzees were not only benign, but wonderful. Reading Next of Kin and Nim Chimpsky reminded me that these studies were anything but. Although Sarah, despite her imprisonment, was treated with great kindness when I volunteered at Dr. Premack’s lab, the chimps in other facilities were often brutalized (as Dr. Fouts describes at length). But even if they were all treated well, chimpanzees live for half a century. Trendy language studies of the 1970s didn’t carry into future decades very far. In fact, Dr. Premack stopped his research only two years after I volunteered at his facility. The chimpanzees, dangerous and expensive to house and feed for the duration of their lives, were often sold to biomedical research labs, used for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and military research, and other forms of invasive experiments. Many have wound up in tiny isolated cages, going mad, suffering unrelieved depression and anxiety, in addition to the misery of their testing protocols. Raised as human children, and experiencing themselves as human children, such chimps are, ultimately, no more than property, and many have been sold into ghastly, nightmarish lives of abuse.

There’s a way to stop this abuse of our closest living relatives. The Great Ape Project (GAP) seeks to secure rights for great apes. Their declaration is as follows:

We demand the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. The community of equals is the moral community within which we accept certain basic moral principles or rights as governing our relations with each other and enforceable at law. Among these principles or rights are the following:
  1. The Right to Life - The lives of members of the community of equals are to be protected. Members of the community of equals may not be killed except in very strictly defined circumstances, for example, self-defense.
  2. The Protection of Individual Liberty - Members of the community of equals are not to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty; if they should be imprisoned without due legal process, they have the right to immediate release. The detention of those who have not been convicted of any crime, or of those who are not criminally liable, should be allowed only where it can be shown to be for their own good, or necessary to protect the public from a member of the community who would clearly be a danger to others if at liberty. In such cases, members of the community of equals must have the right to appeal, either directly or, if they lack the relevant capacity, through an advocate, to a judicial tribunal.
  3. The Prohibition of Torture - The deliberate infliction of severe pain on a member of the community of equals, either wantonly or for an alleged benefit to others, is regarded as torture, and is wrong.
You may have heard that in 2008 the parliament in Spain passed a resolution granting certain human rights to great apes. That resolution was based on the work of the Great Ape Project.

If you would like to sign the GAP declaration, learn more, or get involved, I recommend visiting the The Great Ape Project, and reading the books mentioned above.

~ Zoe
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What Is Prison For?

Why is the U.S. prison population not only the highest in the world, but with 5% of the world's population, why does the U.S. imprison 25% of the world's incarcerated people? I'm not an expert on incarceration policies, but it seems that the U.S. imprisons people who are not especially dangerous to society (drug users and prostitutes for example), filling up jails with people who are making unhealthy personal choices, but who don't affect other citizens significantly. As a volunteer at a women's prison during graduate school, most of the prisoners I worked with were serving time because of drugs and/or prostitution. It seemed crazy to me then, and it seems more so today as we spend billions of dollars to keep people who could be productive, contributing members of society behind bars. These days, many of our prisoners are political refugees who are in detention facilities for fleeing their countries and coming here illegally -- hardly a population of dangerous people.

What should prison be for? I believe that prison ought to serve a simple and important function: to protect people from those who are dangerous. Ideally, we would use some of our prison resources for rehabilitation and restorative justice in the hope that such people could one day return to society as contributors and make amends for the harm they cause.

But those who break laws that do not endanger individuals can be put to work in service rather than using up tax dollars in prisons. We could require that they volunteer where they can give back, learn and grow, and develop qualities that will deter future crimes, contributing to communities rather than living on the taxpayer's dime. It always seemed incredible to me that Martha Stewart spent time in prison at taxpayer expense, when she could have been required to volunteer full time at a soup kitchen or battered women's shelter for the duration of her sentence.

What's your opinion about incarceration? What should prison be for?

~ Zoe
You have read this article crime / Cultural Issues / human rights / incarceration / non-violent criminals / prisons / rehabilitation / restorative justice / volunteering with the title January 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Eco-Agent Commercials Seek to Inspire Kids to Speak Up for Their Own Futures

Grist recently Twittered about a new campaign in Norway by the organization MiljΓΈagentene, which works to educate kids about the environment and to encourage them to become advocates. They've created commercials (3 as of this posting) which designate kids as Eco-Agents who are "licensed to speak up, because they are responsible for their own future."

The commercials are funny and silly, posing the kids as stern eco-authority figures who aren't angry, "just very, very disappointed" when their parents don't take appropriate environmental actions. But, they also have a good point; kids have to protect and speak out for their own futures.

Check out the videos (these have English subtitles) and share them:

If they won't play properly above, go to here, here, and here to see them.

~ Marsha
You have read this article campaigns / commercials / environmental preservation / Norway / parents / videos / youth activism with the title January 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!