Compassion and Kleenex®: Marketing to Our Higher Selves

Waiting for my plane to board a couple weeks ago, I was watching CNN at the gate and was amazed to see that advertisers are now linking compassion with products. As a humane educator, I’m used to analyzing ads with students, asking the question, “What deep need or desire is the ad trying to fulfill?” Usually, students point out power, wealth, love, sex, beauty, esteem, etc. But on CNN, a Kleenex® ad that kept replaying was linking compassion towards others with facial tissue, and then mocking such behavior:

(Can't play the video above? Watch it here.)

To meditative music we witness a western monk right an overturned baby turtle, place a beached goldfish back in a stream, and rescue a spider. Then he blows his nose into a Kleenex® tissue while the announcer says that Kleenex® kills 99% of bacteria. “That’s right. Kills.” The compassionate monk is startled. The commercial ends.

What are we to make of this? After just finishing Buy•ology by Martin Lindstrom, I’m newly aware that sex in advertising doesn’t really sell products the way we thought it did. Maybe compassion does; even when you then joke about it. I actually think this is a good sign. There are new books and new studies linking our happiness with kindness toward others (I write about this in my new book, Most Good, Least Harm), and while this Kleenex® ad may be snarky, it’s presumably based on the assumption that we humans want to be good; we want to be kind; we aspire to do more compassionate acts.

Whether this ad will make you buy Kleenex® brand facial tissues is another story, but I’m glad to see our highest selves targeted by ads instead of just our fear and greed.

Your thoughts?

~ Zoe
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Buy.ology: A Review

I just finished reading Buy.ology: Truth and Lies about What we Buy by Martin Lindstrom. As a humane educator, one of the most important skills I hope to impart among my students is the ability to think critically and gain freedom from manipulation and brainwashing. Thus, books such as this are very useful to me and to the students in our M.Ed. and certificate programs in Humane Education and in our training workshops. Mr. Lindstrom discusses the new use of fMRI technology (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to understand our responses to advertising and branding -- which is fascinating -- and I found his chapter demonstrating the similarities in brain response to beloved brands and beloved religious icons especially so.

I had hoped for more on the ethics of branding and advertising, however, especially after reading the Foreward by Paco Underhill that describes Martin Lindstrom as exuding virtue. But there's nothing virtuous about Lindstrom's work or his book. He consults for multinational corporations, many of which engage in egregious human rights violations, environmental destruction, animal cruelty, and pervasive manipulation solely for profit. In one story in the book, Lindstrom describes an assignment he was hired for to "brand eggs." I had hoped, finally, to hear Mr. Lindstrom speak truthfully about some negative aspects of an industry when he writes "I found myself standing inside one of the largest egg farms in the world." Modern egg "farms" or more honestly, factories, cram hens into cages so small they are unable to even stretch their wings, let alone walk. The conditions in modern egg factories are so cruel and unnatural that it's no surprise that he would be hired to improve sales of these unhealthy eggs by helping "this company create the perfect yellow" egg yolk. Lindstrom writes, "For ethical reasons, I couldn't support the idea of adding artificial coloring to the grain, so instead, I identified a vitamin mixture that could be added to the hens' feed that would produce yolks from light yellow to middling-yellow to the passionate yellow...." It amazed me that for ethical reasons, Mr. Lindstrom couldn't support artificial coloring, but seemed to have no ethical concerns about the conditions for the chickens. Does Mr. Lindstrom know that the male hatchlings from the supply house were likely discarded (killed) by being dumped into the trash or ground alive, or that the hens would ultimately live for a year under brutal conditions before being killed without regard to even the most basic level of humane treatment?

Mr. Lindstrom says at the end of his book that he hopes he has helped the reader to escape "all the tricks and traps that companies use to seduce us to their products and get us to buy and take back our rational minds," but this rings false. Martin Lindstrom has built his entire career on consulting with and serving these companies so that they will be ever more effective at persuading us to buy their products.

Nonetheless, I recommend this book because in it you'll find valuable information for resisting branding and gaining a modicum of freedom from relentless advertising.

~ Zoe
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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Plans to ban/charge for plastic bags waningNew York Times (2/24/09)
”Regarded by some as a symbol of consumer culture wastefulness, plastic bags have been blamed for street litter, ocean pollution and carbon emissions produced by manufacturing and shipping them….. Yet as support increased in places, the national economy began to decline. No state has imposed a fee or a ban.”

Human slavery still thriving worldwideAlterNet (2/23/09)
”The report is based on data gathered from 155 countries. Of these, 125 have signed the U.N. Protocol against Trafficking in Persons. However, not all of those who ratified it are enforcing the provisions of the treaty -- 40 percent of the countries in the sample did not convict anyone for trafficking in the past year.”

“80% of wars occur in world’s most biologically rich areas” (2/20/09)
“’This astounding conclusion – that the richest storehouses of life on Earth are also the regions of the most human conflict — tells us that these areas are essential for both biodiversity conservation and human well-being,’ said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International (CI) and an author of the study. ‘Millions of the world’s poorest people live in hotspots and depend on healthy ecosystems for their survival, so there is a moral obligation – as well as political and social responsibility - to protect these places and all the resources and services they provide.’”

Study show fruits, veggies losing taste, nutritionTime (2/18/09)
"Davis claims the average vegetable found in today's supermarket is anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in minerals (including magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc) than those harvested just 50 years ago."

Illegal toxic waste from Europe, Asia, going to AfricaThe Independent (UK) (2/18/09)
”Hundreds of thousands of discarded items, which under British law must be dismantled or recycled by specialist contractors, are being packaged into cargo containers and shipped to countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, where they are stripped of their raw metals by young men and children working on poisoned waste dumps.”
Thanks, Global Sociology Blog, for the heads up.

World wastes half of food produced - Environmental News Service (2/17/09)
”Over half of the food produced globally is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain, finds a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme released today. This staggering amount of waste plus environmental degradation is putting an end to a 100-year trend of falling food prices, the study warns. Food prices may increase by 30 to 50 percent within decades, forcing those living in extreme poverty to spend up to 90 percent of their income on food, findings that are supported by a recent report from the World Bank.”

North Sea islands to become test for waste-free lifestylesCBS News (2/12/09)
“The islands from six countries will follow a "cradle-to-cradle" philosophy, which calls for using renewable energy and products made from materials that can be endlessly reused or organically decomposed. Innovations will include electric vehicles, a desalination system for drinking water that removes salt in a usable form, and purification of household water-- including human waste.”
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Changing Systems 4: Male/Female Ratios at Colleges a Call for Educational Quality and Respect for All

On average, there are more women than men in college now. One statistic puts the ratio at 57/43 female to male with a trend that’s leading toward a 60/40 ratio. At my son’s high school, the highest grade point averages have belonged to girls for several years now. My son doesn’t find this surprising at all. It’s what he expects. He’s not sure why, but he thinks that in general girls work harder. He doesn’t think they’re inherently smarter.

Here’s what I think. I think that school systems (sitting at desks listening to teachers; having separate unconnected-to-each-other classes requiring multitasking and much to organize) generally (not always) work better for girls than boys, and that girls do better in the typical school structure. For years this system that may work better for girls than boys didn’t offset entrenched sexism, which favored boys. Many studies have shown that boys are called on more frequently than girls and receive more attention, for example. But as institutionalized sexism has diminished, and as girls have gained the opportunities previously available only to boys, girls have been able to surpass boys academically and pursue higher education in greater numbers.

Should we be concerned that there are so many more girls than boys in college? After all, even though it’s great that girls are achieving so much, we still have a ways to go to reach full equality. Women still get paid less than men for the same work, and the ratio of women to men in leadership positions is far from equal. So maybe it’s a good thing that the ratio at colleges is 57/43 women to men. As a feminist this may be good news, but as the mother of a teenage son it’s really not.

I want our schools to equally serve our sons and daughters. I want a society where equal opportunity includes meeting the varying needs and learning styles of all our students, so that each can reach their potential and thrive. I want systems to favor both equality and respect for difference. As an educator, I know this can be done, but it requires a willingness to creatively confront and change outdated systems.

I believe that we should consider the skewed ratio of women to men in college a wake up call to assess and change our educational system so that it serves all our children better. And of course, we still need to confront the tightly coiled tentacles of sexism and unravel them so that our now majority women college graduates truly have the same opportunities as their male classmates.

~ Zoe
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Changing Systems 3: Giving is Easy When...

After speaking at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, last week, I left with a few friends to head back to the co-housing community where I was staying. Moments after leaving the bookstore we passed a woman who was homeless and begging for change. I pulled out my wallet and gave her several dollars. My companions, all from Portland, stood nearby. I was aware that when one gives money and others don’t, people can feel awkward, and I let my friends know that if I lived in Portland, instead of rural Maine (where we rarely see people begging on the street), I would have walked right by this woman.

In fact, growing up in New York City, I routinely walked by people who were homeless, never making eye contact or trying to help. We moved to Maine from Philadelphia (another city in which I ignored those who are homeless) when my son was two, and he grew up without seeing people begging on the street. When I took him to Boston during his spring vacation when he was nine, and we passed a man in front of the subway begging for food, he turned to me in horror. “I can’t believe you didn’t help him,” he said. I promised that this wouldn’t happen again. And it hasn’t. But that’s because it’s easy to give when you’re not confronted daily and visibly with the plight of so many in need.

Of course, people are in need all the time, and just because I don’t see people begging in Maine doesn’t mean that people aren’t in need both in my own state and across the globe. But staying aware and generous and working toward systems that prevent and solve poverty takes conscious commitment. It may have seemed to my companions in Portland that I was momentarily more generous than they, but in truth, our generosity needs to be directed toward long-lasting change, and none of us can maintain daily giving to those in need when we are confronted by so many so often.

Once again, we must work on solving underlying problems and changing systems so that no one is left in the situation of living on the streets, and no one is confronted by the daily call to give change, rather than build healthy, safe, and sustainable communities for all.

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of daquellamanera via Creative Commons.
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Institute for Humane Education's Resource Center Wins Teaching Award Honorable Mention

The Social Psychology Network has chosen IHE's Humane Education Resource Center to receive an Honorable Mention for its 2009 Action Teaching Award.

The award "recognizes 'action teaching' that leads not only to a better understanding of human behavior but to a more just, compassionate, and peaceful world."

Judges' comments included:

"An excellent resource -- many good activities that can be well adapted to a lot of settings and topics."

" extensive set of resources with activities appropriate for teaching on a wide variety of social issues to various age groups."

"I liked the activities and appreciated their broad applicability to primary, secondary, and post-secondary education."

Our Resource Center includes a plethora of free, downloadable humane education activities and lesson plans, as well as resources such as:

  • Suggested books, magazines, videos, online games and websites
  • Archives for our Humane Edge E-News
  • Sample student work and profiles and interviews with our students and graduates
  • Listings of humane education-related jobs and internships
  • Tips for starting a MOGO Club

See SPN's description of our Resource Center.

See the 2009 winner and other honorable mentions.
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Do You Know Your Human Rights?

Many people have heard about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the UN General Assembly adopted more than 60 years ago, but how many of us really know all 30 articles and what they mean?

In an effort to educate youth and others about the UDHR, and to inspire youth to stand up for and to uphold those rights for themselves and others, the organization United for Human Rights has created a series of very brief videos (each 30 seconds to a minute), one for each article: from being born free and equal, to the right not to be tortured, to the rights to education and adequate food and shelter, to the rights of freedom of expression and thought.

While not every video is successful at conveying its intention, they are all a great tool for introducing the UDHR and its articles to others, especially young people.

If you want to help older students explore the concept of freedoms and of the UDHR in more detail, download our humane education activity, Human Rights for All? (pdf).

~ Marsha
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Changing Systems 2: Choosing My Father's Ties

When I was a child, my father would come into my room most mornings and ask me to choose which tie he should wear with the suit he had on that day. He usually brought two ties into my room from which I could choose. As I got older, sometimes I felt that neither choice was ideal, and I’d head over to his tie rack to suggest a better option. I adored my dad, and I took my job helping him with his ties quite seriously.

As a humane educator, my job now includes offering other people choices, although the choices revolve around more pressing issues than tie fashions. Offering positive choices is the 4th element of quality humane education, and it’s a critical component to creating a humane, sustainable and peaceful world. Humane education explores the greatest challenges of our time (e.g., global warming, resource depletion, human rights, institutionalized animal cruelty, habitat destruction, overpopulation, economic stability, etc.), and it offers positive choice-making as an integral component of changemaking. Like my father, I try to offer people a couple of choices that are reasonable and good, but sometimes no such choices are available, and my students must head to the “tie rack” of choices to find something better.

When there’s nothing quite good enough on the tie rack – no pattern or fabric that fits – system-changing and creativity are paramount. I never faced an insoluble tie choice with my father, but there were days I lingered for a long time, uncertain about the best choice. The best choice might have entailed designing a new tie.

We need to design new systems to solve many of our entrenched problems. The key is to recognize when a choice is good enough and when to engage fully in the process of designing a MOGO choice because none are suitable. In my new book, Most Good, Least Harm, I offer 7 keys to operationalizing the MOGO principle. Key 5 is “Model your Message and Work for Change.” In other words, wear the best tie you can while designing the best tie possible. We must all engage in system-changing -- whether through our work, our volunteerism, or our charitable donations -- in order to create the systems that make all our choices MOGO ones. And, at the same time, to the greatest extent possible we must model our message relying on what “ties” currently exist.

~ Zoe
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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Studies show baboons, pigeons have higher cognitive levels than previously thought - Science Daily (2/16/09)
"’What we're really trying to understand is the extent to which cognition is general throughout the animal kingdom. The evidence that we collect constantly surprises us, suggesting that we're not alone in many of these cognitive abilities,’ Wasserman said. ‘Why we would believe that humans alone have such capabilities is a peculiar and unfortunate arrogance. That's one reason why I enjoy studying animals; the smarter we discover them to be, the more humble we should be.’"

Study shows traffic pollution causes genetic changes which increase asthma risk - BBC (2/15/09)
"’Our data support the concept that environmental exposures can interact with genes during key developmental periods to trigger disease onset later in life, and that tissues are being reprogrammed to become abnormal later,’ said Dr Shuk-mei Ho, study leader and director of the Center for Environmental Genetics at the University of Cincinnati.”
Thanks,, for the heads up.

Animal advocates call on eBay to stop auctioning “trophy hunts”Oregonian (2/14/09)
”Wildlife activists are pressuring the online auction site eBay to stop allowing auctions of big game ‘trophy hunts’ of grizzly bears, wolves, cougars and other predators.”

“Food Colonialism”: wealthy countries’ demand for food harming developing countriesWorldpress (2/13/09)
"These governments are coming under an immense amount of pressure to continue, more or less, giving up their own fish stock and starving their own people, so that in Europe we don't have to confront our fishing lobbies which are very powerful political lobbies, or run out of fish because we've so exploited our own stocks that they're collapsing left, right and center. … We're snatching food out of the mouth of the poor in order not to deal with our own consumption."
Thanks, Global Sociology Blog, for the heads up.

“Just doing my job”: Milgram experiment reduxAlterNet (2/12/09)
”Indeed, what these factors demonstrate is not how easily people will harm another person, but how quickly people will cede their own authority to another person when they feel isolated, pressured and powerless. The more controlled an environment, the more vulnerable a person is.”

Group works for positive global change by educating Afghani girlsNews Blaze (2/10/09)
”By building one school at a time, the Circle of Women aims to make education available to every girl who wants one, with the belief that this is the best way to support positive, global change. ‘Circle of Women feels that it has the opportunity and privilege of position to empower women in countries where gender equality is not an established right,’ says Megan Dempsey, founding member.”

Eat fewer animal products, help reduce impact of climate crisis - New Scientist (2/10/09)
”Cutting back on beefburgers and bacon could wipe $20 trillion off the cost of fighting climate change. That's the dramatic conclusion of a study that totted up the economic costs of modern meat-heavy diets. The researchers involved say that reducing our intake of beef and pork would lead to the creation of a huge new carbon sink, as vegetation would thrive on unused farmland.”

Global warming sending birds farther northCommon Dreams (2/10/09)
”Bird ranges can expand and shift for many reasons, among them urban sprawl, deforestation and the supplemental diet provided by backyard feeders. But researchers say the only explanation for why so many birds over such a broad area are wintering in more northern locales is global warming.”

Prisoners learning compassion, responsibility from animalsBBC (2/9/09)
”Warden Cline says being tough with these animals simply does not work. ‘Some guys have a lifetime history of abusing people but if you play that game in the animal kingdom, you are going to pay the price pretty quick. We want our men to learn to do things with a patient, controlled, self-disciplined approach that doesn't allow for violence or outbursts of their own emotions. Hopefully when they leave prison, these are tools they'll use with other people.’"

Starbucks wastes 6 million gallons of water dailyABC News (2/6/09)
”As part of a company policy aimed at preventing germ buildup in its taps, Starbucks stores are directed to keep water running constantly into a sink, called a dipper well, to clean utensils and wash away food residue, The Sun reported. As a result of running water all day, every day at each of the company's 10,000 worldwide coffee emporiums, Starbucks wastes water in an amount The Sun estimated to be ‘enough daily water for the entire 2 million strong population of drought-hit Namibia in Africa or fill an Olympic pool every 83 minutes.’”
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Humane Education Success Stories for the Soul: Learning About Human Rights

One of the most inspiring parts of working for the Institute for Humane Education is reading the stories that students and graduates send us about their work and experiences. We think it’s important to share these stories with you, too. Recently Kate, an IHE M.Ed. student who teaches developmental writing courses for a community college in Texas, shared this tidbit with us:

“I gave my students their first writing assignment today (they were to write a letter to a public figure about a human rights issue and its relation to the article it violates from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

We got into a discussion after they each presented some articles they had found about human rights abuses from across the globe. One student questioned whether evil would ever cease to exist. I said I didn't know, but it would certainly be something to work for. We talked about this for a while and concluded that unless we learn about what is going on, we'll never see a change in the situation.

At the end of the class, a student raised her hand and said that ever since the class began, she can't stop thinking about the issues we have studied and can't stop telling everyone she knows about them. I felt really happy at that moment. I want to do that for everybody.”

Read more stories, interviews and profiles from our students and grads.
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The Stimulus Plan and Education: The Root of Positive Change

Nicholas Kristof had an opinion piece in The New York Times yesterday that will likely make educators breathe a sigh of relief. When a columnist recognizes that education is the most important step in rebuilding our economy and creating a better future, we know that things are shifting. Education has always been too low on our list of national priorities, and the stimulus package, Kristof argues, thankfully, has put it in the forefront of change. This shift is huge. For decades I’ve been promoting humane education as the preventive work for a better future for all, and for decades we’ve continued to focus on putting out fires rather than on fixing problems at their root. Education is the root. With 100 billion dollars in the stimulus plan dedicated to schools, we now must ensure that the money is spent properly. As Kristof says, we need great teachers, paid what they’re worth, educating the next generation to be the enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and wise changemakers in every field and profession. When we see that columnists recognize this fundamental truth, we know we’ve made great strides toward achieving educational goals. Now’s the time to make sure that humane education infuses this vision, so that we are graduating not just literate people, but aware and committed people.

~ Zoe
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The New Heroes: Changemakers Helping Create a Humane World

Many people hear about child slavery or child prostitution or poverty or other social ills and shake their heads and feel bad…and then go on about their lives, not sure what they can do to make a difference. The PBS series The New Heroes features changemakers who have stepped up and taken positive action to help those in need. Hosted by Robert Redford, the 4-hour series profiles 12 social entrepreneurs from around the world who are making a positive difference for others. Those featured include:

Albina Ruiz was devastated by the health and environmental problems caused by garbage in Peru. She decided to take action and is now working to revolutionize waste management, helping create jobs, promote sustainability and protect people and the planet.

Muhammad Yunus was teaching economics in Bangladesh when he became aware of the crushing poverty all around him. He started asking poor people what they needed, and ended up creating the Grameen Bank, which lends microcredit to the poor, asking for no collateral and inspiring and empowering thousands.

Kailash Satyarthi has dedicated his life to helping free the millions of people — many of them children — who have been forced into slavery. Satyarthi conducts raids to free slaves, has established an Ashram so that freed slaves have a place of safety to begin again, has worked to develop child-friendly villages that support, educate and nurture their children, and established the Rugmark system, so that people can be assured of buying slave-free rugs.

Through the Delancey Street Foundation, Mimi Silbert has created a means for substance abusers, former felons, and other troubled people to turn their lives around through their own efforts. The foundation is funded in large part through the many businesses operated by residents in the program, who do good for the community while learning marketable and important living skills.

The companion website includes profiles of the featured changemakers, as well as lesson plans for teachers to use in their classrooms and tips for parents to help them raise caring, compassionate, committed citizens.

It’s easy to become depressed and pessimistic about the state of the world, but seeing these new heroes in action can uplift your spirits and infuse you with new hope, passion and commitment. Be sure to check it out!

~ Marsha
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Changing Systems 1: Losing My Cool at the Airport

I just returned from a 10-day book tour on the West Coast. The trip entailed 3 cities, 6 flights, one car rental, one train ride, and many speaking engagements in a variety of settings. I’m not the best traveler, easily stressing at flight delays and lost baggage, and because I need a bunch of props for my workshops, I try to make sure that I never check my luggage. It was challenging to fit 10 days worth of clothes and workshop materials into my carry-on bags, but I did it.

On my 3rd flight of the trip, very early in the morning, I walked up to security and there was a woman checking carry on bags to make sure they weren’t too big before letting passengers head into the security line. I’d never encountered such a person at the airport, and when she told me my bag was too big and had to be checked, I argued with her. I told her that I travel a lot and had never had a problem with this bag. When she insisted it was too big, I told her I was going through anyway. Whoops. Now I’d escalated the argument, and she insisted I fit my bag into the sizing unit. It was overstuffed, and I couldn’t get it to fit in without emptying clothes from it into my smaller carry on. She kept harping on me that it wouldn’t fit, was too big, and would have to be checked, and I was getting hotter and hotter under the collar. I eventually got it to fit, and turned to her, sarcastically saying, “Happy now?”

As I walked away in a major huff, sweating and heart-racing, I was astounded at myself. How unMOGO was that!? If my workshop participants could see me now, I thought. I sure hadn’t modeled the message I hope to convey through my life, my words, and my actions. Most of the time, I try really hard to make the working lives of people involved in air travel positive. I know from my own experience just how stressful air travel can be. Passengers are herded through security and told to be speedy, but we practically have to strip while remembering that our laptops, toiletries, shoes, jackets and sweaters, and empty water bottles, all have to be placed just so on the conveyor belt. We have to deal with lost bags, canceled flights, being kicked off flights due to overbooking or too much weight (even if we’ve paid full fare for our ticket). And all the personnel dealing with us stressed-out travelers have to endure our anger, anxiety, and frustration. I really, really try to be extra kind to them. Until someone pushes my buttons, and I overreact. Like I did in the San Francisco airport last week.

Why did I lose my cool so easily and so visibly? Although I tend to be someone who reacts quickly to things (negatively and positively), there was something else going on. It was this: the situation and the system. As I’ve written about in previous blog posts, we humans do not act solely according to our values; we are influenced by the situations we’re in and the systems we’re part of. This is revealed most profoundly by the Stanford Prison Experiment, and I had clear evidence for the power of situation and system that morning at the airport. I was in a situation in which I had little power and was at the mercy of a rule-enforcer who was uninterested in anything but exerting that power. I was in a system in which a small, but too high, percentage of bags are lost, and in which people are made to jump over unpleasant hurdles to reach a destination. (Less than a year ago, I endured a full body, no-parts-untouched, “pat down” in the Amsterdam airport.) A value I hold dear – treating people with kindness and respect – disappeared in this situation and system.

What is the moral of this story? Until and unless we change systems, we are unlikely to model the message we want to convey as well as we want to convey it. I’m not trying to excuse my poor behavior, but to remind us that we must work diligently at creatively changing systems so that they work in favor of good modeling and MOGO choicemaking. But next time, I will endeavor with much greater effort to not let the situation and system negatively influence my own behavior.

~ Zoe
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Humane Education in Action: Engaging Students and Teachers

After years of being an activist, IHE M.Ed. graduate Kristina Hulvershorn turned to humane education in the classroom as a way to engage and empower young people to think critically and to become vital, powerful members of the local and global communities. Kristina continues to reach out to students as a special education teacher, and she's working to partner with teachers through her new non-profit organization, The Ethic Project. Read our interview with Kristina.

Quick Facts About Kristina:

Current hometown: Chicago, Illinois (USA)
IHE fan since: 2004 (Liberation Now Conference in Berkley)
Current job: Lead Special Education Consultant for the Chicago Public Schools Turnaround Team and Executive Director of The Ethic Project
Your hero: Alice Walker
Book/movie that changed your life: This one is a stretch, but when I first contemplated veganism, and the Internet was brand new, I read an animal rights Frequently Asked Questions online, and it blew my mind. The answers articulately laid to rest all of the excuses I had accepted for our species’ treatment of non-human animals. It really woke me up and paved the way for me to be psychologically open to reading other works like Animal Liberation and Diet for A New America.
Guilty pleasure: Cooking television shows!
Inspired by: The stories of everyday people making changes and taking a stand for the good of others.
Love about yourself: My sense of humor.
One of your strengths: Finding the good in others.
Desired epitaph or tagline: She showed us all that living a compassionate life is possible.

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

KH: After years of being an activist and still hungering for a richer way to create change, humane education fell into my lap at a conference. Dani Dennenberg presented a workshop outlining humane education and it just clicked both in my heart and my mind. I was already an elementary school special education teacher and immediately saw the significance of humane education for my classroom and beyond. I knew that it was work that not only fit my skill set and personality but it was work that was capable of making widespread and profound change that the world needs. For about a year I waited to apply to IHE's M.Ed. program, then I did and the rest is history!

IHE: One of the ways that you’ve manifested humane education is through your classroom teaching. Tell us about that experience. What have you done, what has been the impact, what have you learned?

KH: I have worked to incorporate humane education into my current teaching practice to mesh with existing standards and expectations. I had the most luck when I was teaching math at the high school level. We learned about percentages, ratios, and proportions through a study of prison populations. The students were immediately fascinated, then repulsed, then hungry for ways to address this problem in their own lives. As some of my students were pulled towards gangs and drugs, we then had a way to focus our conversations around their self-imposed responsibilities to not become one of the statistics we had learned about. What I noticed most was the increased sense of responsibility they had for themselves. Once offered humane education-centered lessons, students could see themselves as part of the local and global community rather than the self-obsessed teenagers our culture often perceives them to be.

We did specific studies of the corporations they favored and learned how to create algebraic expressions for the income of the factory workers as compared to that of the CEOs. Throughout a physics curriculum we wove in discussions of ethics and responsibility, especially when it came to nuclear physics. The infusion of humane education not only made the material more interesting and relevant but it allowed the students to comprehend difficult subjects that they likely would not have otherwise understood.

In all of my attempts at integrating humane education into the curriculum, I have learned that almost all of my fears were unfounded. I never had a student in tears, an angry parent on the phone, or administrators breathing down my neck. Instead I found students interested in coming to class, engaged in ways I had never seen, and truly passionate about the issues before them. It was less difficult that I imagined to keep my own views at bay. Students were interested in knowing my opinions but were given the space to consider these ideas and draw their own conclusions. In all, humane education has been the most invigorating supplement to my teaching I have encountered.

IHE: Currently you’re teaching special education students. How are you finding ways to integrate humane education?

KH: First, let me explain that most of the students I work with have learning disabilities. These students, cognitively, are at the same level as students without disabilities but may have some difficulties receiving or expressing ideas and directives. They don’t appear any different than any other student and are often full of clever insights. That being said, most people with disabilities have at least some experience with feeling marginalized. I would posit that this experience enables them to have a greater degree of sympathy for other marginalized entities, whether animals, the environment, or other humans. All of the activities I previously mentioned are ones I've used with students with and without disabilities. I would say that appealing to emotion and creativity acts as an equalizer for students. I say this because students who may struggle with logical/mathematical reasoning may excel in skills requiring empathy. Further, kids who learn differently often think differently. They are familiar with being the one person in the room who perceives things differently from anyone else. As we know, being comfortable being the black sheep is one of the initial challenges when thinking like a compassionate person in a sometimes harsh world. These students have perceptive ideas that are often discounted by their families and communities but that make sense when considered from a humane framework.

I have also worked with students with autism and emotional and behavioral disabilities. I loved focusing our learning around things familiar to them, most often food. We would often cook in our classroom and learn about the sources, preparation, and nutrition related to the food we cooked. The mere exposure to healthy, more compassionate food choices affected these students in profound ways. With these younger students (K-6) it was easiest to start small and really allow students to understand the elements immediately connected to their lives. When efforts to convey theoretical or “big picture” ideas are not working, it is always helpful to try to link the ideas to more concrete and real-world ideas to ease the students into understanding the overarching idea. For example, talking about world hunger would not have been successful until we tied it to a sample meal quantity in the third world for these students. This is also a good way to engage students who are hesitant to connect with the curriculum.

IHE: You’re also creating a non-profit called The Ethic Project. Tell us about that. What are your goals? What services and programs will you offer?

KH: The Ethic Project’s activities, to some degree, will depend on the clientele we serve. We hope to forge relationships with schools, other non-profits, and individuals who are initially drawn to our mission. We will offer a portfolio of workshops and activities, as well as the option to work with teachers on infusing existing curriculum with humane education. Because of this approach, much of what we do will depend on the needs and wishes of our partners. Generally, however, we would like to offer workshops illuminating animal, environmental, social, and local issues, specializing in ways to address these issues through our own choices and actions.

Because of my familiarity with schools I would love to also focus on curricular supplements centered around perpetuating kindness and compassion. Teachers are ready for ways to engage students and to make their curriculum more relevant, so finding opportunities to work with teachers is welcomed.

We would also love to create not only lesson plans and classroom activities but also stories, games, and literature for kids. We are also envisioning materials for adults that help organize and facilitate positive choices, such as checklists, resources, and statistics that can be geared toward the needs of various people and groups. I also love the idea of creating calendars and planners with meaningful information that can be delivered over time. These ideas are still in their infancy but we enjoy the challenge of delivering relevant ideas in new and meaningful ways so look forward to this challenge!

IHE: How will your organization be funded?

KH: We will be seeking grants, holding fundraisers, facilitating private donations, and possibly selling handmade goods to fund the organization. It is very important to us to be able to provide humane education to interested parties regardless of their ability to compensate us. For that reason, we may offer presentations on a sliding scale or offer discounts to schools and other organizations without the ability to pay. To make up for this, we will need to find other means of financing these endeavors. Likely we will incorporate a “sponsor a classroom” or “sponsor a school” approach to ensure the availability of our programs to deserving groups.

IHE: What are some of your biggest challenges in your humane ed work?

KH: Finding ways to teach it! It is simple to find a captive audience for one or two presentations, but to forge meaningful, long term relationships with students takes some careful planning. It is also difficult to explain to people what it is that we do and get them to think beyond the, “So you bring your dogs to the class and teach kids how to be kind to animals?” idea.

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

KH: This is a success story that I thankfully keep watching unfold before me. In my everyday encounters with friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances I, truthfully, hardly notice the small conversations we have around issues of compassion. Nonetheless, I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me weeks, months, or sometimes even years later, explaining how meaningful a simple interaction was to them. People often recount conversations or actions that subtly encouraged them to change something in their own lives. People often tell me that it is more about the confidence I have in my own choices, my lack of judgment, or my willingness to explain things to them that enables them to think about making these changes for themselves. Hearing this is beyond encouraging. It inspires me and thrills me to witness the ripple effect of kindness.

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

KH: Humane education engages people at a far deeper level than other activism or outreach can. It also becomes more about their own thinking and less about propaganda and prescribed solutions to problems. I think that a population that is allowed to interact with ideas and is inspired to do the good that they can do is a population that is prepared to deal with range of complex problems that await us. It is the most dependable vehicle for change I have found and am so grateful to be a part of it.

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

KH: Absolutely! The Ethic Project is just the beginning of a pursuit of finding meaningful ways to connect with others surrounding issues related to empathy and compassion. I am also particularly drawn to children’s books and Internet resources to inspire and engage others. Networking with existing organizations to magnify the impact of our collective work is tremendously exciting to me as well. The reality that each of our possibilities are limited only by our creativity is thrilling to me. Change and “doing good” should be joyful, invigorating, and affirming. Knowing this inspires me to embrace the creativity that I need to feed the work that I will continue to do.

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

Many people know that pigs root around in the ground, that cows have four stomachs, and that chickens have wings, but some of these beings also make friends, remember faces, can play video games, and exhibit other characteristics that people often attribute only to humans. This activity for grades 2-5, created by one of our M.Ed. students, serves as a great introduction to thinking about the commonalities that humans, cows, pigs and chickens share and why we treat "farmed" animals the way we do. Download Who Am I?
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Review of Most Good, Least Harm in Healthy Child Healthy World Blog

Blogger Janelle S. of Healthy Child, Healthy World, a website devoted to helping create a healthy world for children, recently wrote a very positive review of IHE President Zoe Weil's new book Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life. Here's an excerpt from the review:

"Weil is inspiring. Her book is never for a single second judgmental or demeaning. There were isolated moments of feeling overwhelmed, but Weil’s humane intuition clearly guided her as she wrote - the moment you find yourself overwhelmed, Weil’s words are there to calm you. Most Good, Least Harm is like sitting with a really wise, close friend. She’ll tell you her opinion. She’ll tell you what’s right. But, she’ll never make you feel bad for being you. She’ll bite her tongue just enough to let you find your own course. And then she’ll be right there to congratulate you in the end. It’s MOGO, through and through. And you can be MOGO, too."
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IHE President Zoe Weil at Powell's in Portland, OR

Last week IHE President Zoe Weil took a short tour of the West coast to give a couple of MOGO Workshops and to talk about her new book Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life. On February 4, Zoe talked to an enthusiastic, standing-room only crowd at Powell's in Portland, Oregon about the MOGO principle.

Zoe gave an interactive presentation focused on the 7 keys to MOGO living, which are:
  1. Live Your Epitaph
  2. Pursue Joy Through Service
  3. Make Connections and Self-Reflect
  4. Model Your Message and Work for Change
  5. Find and Create Community
  6. Take Responsibility
  7. Strive for Balance
For the key of "Make Connections and Self-Reflect" Zoe engaged the audience in analyzing the impact of products (such as a t-shirt) on ourselves, other people, animals and the planet. And at the end, Zoe invited the audience to reflect upon the skills and passions they have to help create a just, compassionate, sustainable world.

~ Marsha
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Humane 2.0: Using Social Media for Humane Education

The last election saw unprecedented online engagement, especially for Obama’s campaign, and such online activism is expected to continue. A recent article reporting that about 1 in 200 kids in the U.S. are now vegetarian mentioned that some young people attributed their change of heart to online videos they’d seen about animal cruelty. Non-profit groups are maintaining a presence and launching campaigns via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social networking sites. People are using these same types of sites to connect and share with friends, family, and people who have a shared interest in causes. With a new era of positive change on the lips of many people worldwide, much of that change is being facilitated via social media. And humane educators and citizen activists are starting to make use of the social media scene to get word out about their work and to connect and share with others.

Several IHE students and graduates are taking advantage of social media communities and tools to connect and share. Here are a few examples:

One of the common ways for people to connect online is through blogs. Kelly Coyle DiNorcia has focused her work on humane parenting and has used her blog and website to reach out to other parents. She says,
“As a busy mother of two young children, I find that blogging has taken the place of some of the more involved writing and reading that I used to do. I enjoy tying the everyday moments of motherhood in with the bigger picture issues that are so important to me, and I've connected with some interesting people through the different blogs that I write and contribute to. I also find that reading other bloggers' work helps me to stay educated; I have a few favorites that I check every day, and I always appreciate that they do the research for me and point me in the right direction to stay on top of current thought in fields related to humane education.”

Christopher Greenslate has also used blogging to connect people with his One Dollar Diet Project, which has gained a great deal of national attention and has inspired others to think about their food choices. Additionally, in 2008 Christopher’s high school social justice students created a video (about dumping plastic water bottles for reusable ones) that they entered into a social media contest focused on positive global solutions. Their video won second place and gained them -- and their cause -- positive attention.

Roberto Giannicola launched his own business, Provokare, to inspire businesses and their employees to become more socially responsible. Roberto has already taken advantage of a couple of tools. He says,

“I've been using social media for the short clip on my website using Animoto. Animoto allows you to put together a quick and lively animation that will follow the beat of the music you chose to go along. It's a quick and easy way to create video clips and tweak them according to the audience that you want to reach. I also used to post a short PowerPoint presentation to broadcast a message about humane living. If done well, these presentations can reach thousands of people across the world. The "You Can" slideshare I created last year received over 25,000 hits from over 60 countries in half a year, and was embedded in various blogs and websites.”

Creating and sharing video has also become a popular social media tool. Sophia Erlsten and her colleagues created a video to promote humane education and the work that they did for the Central Florida VegFest and posted it on YouTube. Susan Hargreaves did a promotional video about humane education and her work promoting compassion and care for animals and the environment.

Michel Estopinan isn't an IHE student or grad, but he's a colleague of ours and deeply passionate about humane education. As a teacher, Michel has seen first-hand the power of social media to reach young people, and he has made use of their e-obsession to help educate and connect them with humane issues. He says,

"Social networking has become a cyber-social-phenomenon. Most of the teenagers today in America use one or more online social networks to keep up with friends and connect with hundreds of people throughout the networks. By analyzing some of my students’ profiles, I realized that they are wasting a great opportunity to spread a positive message among their friends; I recommended them to join me in a form of ‘social network revolution’ to raise awareness about the most pressing issues of our time. Many students responded favorably and they started to include videos, pictures, news -- some even created new social networks exclusively to cover an issue, joined causes, and wrote blogs, etc., about the causes they identified with.

As founder and sponsor of The Humane School Initiative, we created a social network at where the Humane Alternative Club members could express themselves through forums, and blogs, and share news, videos, pictures, and websites that relate with their causes. In the social network they have committee groups where they plan upcoming activities and events to implement in their schools. The social network has turned into a community organizing tool; parents and community members have also joined our group through our social network and have participated in different community presentations.

President Obama is known for mobilizing millions of people through the use of the different tools of the Web 2.0, including social networking. I firmly believe that social networks are a powerful tool to spread 'the power and promise of humane education.'"

Here are some of Michel's social network projects:

Of course, IHE as an organization is making its way into the social media scene to connect with others and share information and resources about humane education and humane living. In addition to our website and blog, we have pages on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and WiserEarth, and we also use tools such as Digg. As we build relationships and content, we’ll continue to expand into other social media in order to increase the reach of humane education. And, we’re already launching our new online courses, through which participants will be able to connect and share via online forums and blogs.

Whatever your focus for educating others about humane issues, social media is a great tool for increasing your reach, connecting with others and spreading the world about creating a humane world.

~ Marsha
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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Meat-processing plant accused of mistreating disabled workersDesMoines Register (2/8/09)
”Since the late 1970s, Henry's Turkey Service has been shipping mentally retarded men from Texas to Iowa to work in the West Liberty plant. Henry's has acted as the workers' employer, landlord and caregiver — paying the men a reduced wage for their work at the plant and then deducting from their pay the cost of room, board and care. Payroll records indicate the men are left with as little as $65 per month in salary.”

Teacher makes pen pals, social change coolBurlington Post (2/6/09)
”In addition to introducing themselves to fellow high school students, letter writers had to highlight an issue that concerned them and then problem solve it. Making the world a better place is at the heart of the effort.”

Course teaches students about genocide - Canadian Press (2/5/09)
”In addition to discussing the often gruesome history of genocide, the course - being taught at nine Toronto high schools - revolves around discussing ways the students can act to ‘achieve effective change.’ It's called ‘up-standing,’ a term coined by author Samantha Powell meant to describe the opposite of a bystander.”

Countries not complying with “code of conduct” for world’s (2/5/09)
”A recent study found ‘dismayingly poor compliance’ among countries around the world with the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1995.”

Using Web 2.0 to help battle climate changeInformation Week (2/2/09)
”Mark Klein, CCI principal research associate, is leading a Climate Collaboratorium project, which is designed to develop an online collaboration tool for harnessing data and discussing solutions related to pollution, transportation, economics, and other issues surrounding the problem.”
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"Let's Visit a Research Lab" - Another Example of Propaganda from the U.S Dept. of Health & Human Services

In my last post on The Lucky Puppy coloring workbook produced by a U.S. government affiliate to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I described the recent propaganda piece promoting animal experimentation directed at young children. I’ve been thinking about this disturbing behavior in the scientific establishment all day, and felt compelled to share another government, taxpayer-produced piece of pro-vivisection propaganda created for young children.

This time it’s a poster, titled “Let’s Visit a Research Laboratory.” Made for elementary school classrooms, and provided free of charge, the poster displays a lab like a doll house, with all the rooms open to the viewer, labeled, and with details about each room on the bottom. There are only two species of animals at this lab – monkeys and mice. The mice live in “rodent housing,” and each smiling mouse has a name on his or her cage (Lola, Eddie, Lana, Elf, Fuzzy, and Sam among others). The monkeys live together in spacious indoor/outdoor cages, play on tire swings and with brightly colored beach balls. In the “testing lab” one finds a smiling monkey happily playing on a computer. There’s one sad monkey, representing the only unhappy animal in the poster. This monkey is in the “treatment room,” and if you read the description you learn, “Most laboratories have a room just like a doctor’s office to care for animals if they become ill or get injured. Just like kids, monkeys can play rough and sometimes bite one another. They need treatment for cuts and scrapes.”

So what do little children learn from this free educational poster provided to their schools with our tax dollars? They learn:

  • That laboratories name their animal friends who enjoy their happy lab life, when in fact animals are numbered, called “subjects,” and are killed at the end of the experiments.
  • That “testing” is game playing, rather than being force fed drugs, cosmetics, household products and other chemicals.
  • That monkeys are spaciously housed together and provided with lots of toys and enrichment, when most are in small, isolated indoor cages, with little or nothing to play with.
  • That the only reason to “treat” an animal is because she or he has been hurt by other animals, rather than burned, shocked, cut open, or drugged by those who conduct research on them.

This particular poster is long out of print, but I still use it to train humane educators and as a critical thinking tool in schools. I had hoped that our tax dollars were no longer being spent on this absurd level of propaganda, but The Lucky Puppy, just published this past fall, proved me wrong. So, lest you think that The Lucky Puppy is an aberration, now you know that it follows a long trend of child-directed propaganda.

It's crucial that humane education spread; that teachers bring critical thinking to students in age-appropriate ways; that we engage in citizenship to reject the cynical and manipulative use of our tax dollars; and that we commit to educating for a humane and sustainable world.

I consider these pro-vivisection propaganda publications as opportunities to engage in vigorous debate and even more rigorous humane education. I hope you do too.

~ Zoe

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Zoe Weil Interview on AM Northwest

Zoe was interviewed today on AM Northwest in Portland, Oregon, as part of her West coast book mini-tour. She talked about the MOGO principle and her new book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life.

Check out the interview.

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The Lucky Puppy Coloring Workbook: Propaganda Instead of Humane Education

A graduate from our Humane Education Certificate Program just emailed me the link to a new coloring book produced by the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research. It’s called The Lucky Puppy, and it’s not simply a coloring book: it’s simple propaganda. Coming from a supposed scientific organization, it is also egregious.

In the story, two children are sad because their puppy, Lucky, is sick. Mom and children take the puppy to a veterinarian who gives him the appropriate medicine. The curious children wonder how the vet knew what medicine to give Lucky, and the vet explains:

“A long time ago, a research scientist found the medicine I gave Lucky. I’ll tell you how. She did research in a lab. A lab is a place where scientists work, and it is short for laboratory. She had mice in her lab. They lived in nice, clean cages. They were fed good food. But they were sick with the same disease Lucky had. She gave the mice many different medicines. At first, none of the medicine she tried made the mice better. But she kept trying. Then one day she tried a new medicine that helped the mice. So, she did more research using that medicine. She tried a little of it on one group of mice. But that was too little. They stayed sick. She tried a lot of it on the second group, but that was too much! They got even sicker. At last, she tried just the right amount of medicine on a third group. They all got better! It turned out the the medicine not only was good for sick mice. It also was good for sick puppies, like Lucky....”

By the end of the story, the little boy wants to be a veterinarian to help animals, but, clearly even better, the little girl wants to be a research scientist because, as she says, “Then I can help animals and people!”

What is so terribly galling about this propaganda is that it is promoting science through lies, distortion, and manipulation – the opposite of what science is. Science is meant to be rigorous, factual, and truthful. Scientists are supposed to be honest and committed to accuracy.

The Lucky Puppy would have children believe that mice happen to get sick with diseases, and that helpful scientists work diligently to cure them, helping those suffering animals, as well as people, at the same time. The Lucky Puppy omits the part about actually giving mice –- or the many other animals used in labs, including apes and monkeys, dogs, pigs, ferrets, cats, etc. -- diseases, as well as starving them; burning them; practicing surgery on them; addicting them to drugs and alcohol; testing cosmetics, cleaning products, and industrial chemicals on their abraded skin, and force-feeding them huge quantities of the same in order to determine the fatal dose; using them in military research to test chemical weapons and explosives; and ultimately killing each and every one of them (with the exception of some chimpanzees, a few of whom have been allowed to live out the remainder of their lives in sanctuaries).

You may believe that it is ethical to experiment on animals no matter how much suffering it may cause them. Or you may believe that some animal experimentation is justified while others is not. Or you may be opposed to animal experimentation entirely. This issue is contentious and controversial and deserves to be debated honestly by adolescents (not young children) and adults. There are important ethical and scientific issues involved in vivisection that should be considered carefully, honestly, and deeply. So when a pro-animal research lobby turns what should be an issue in education into pure indoctrination, we should all be outraged.

This is why we need humane education, taught age-appropriately with a commitment to the 3 Cs: fostering curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. That a pro-science organization would choose blatant manipulation of little children over critical thinking is appalling. But I will use The Lucky Puppy in humane education programs, nonetheless; I’ll use it to turn help youth and adults become better critical thinkers and engaged citizens.

~ Zoe

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Two Wolves, Two Pictures: Which Do you Feed?

There’s an old story usually attributed as a Cherokee legend. I haven’t been able to determine its origin, and it has been shared and changed countless times, but I still think it has great value. This particular version comes from Zoe Weil’s book, Most Good, Least Harm:

“There is an old Cherokee story about a grandfather who is teaching his grandson about life. He says to his grandson, ‘A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil; he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and superiority. The other is good; he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, and compassion. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.’

The grandson thinks about this for a minute and then asks his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’

The old Cherokee simply replies, ‘The one we feed.’”

Likewise, there’s an activity that a graduate of IHE, Kimberly Korona, created, and which I use when I give presentations on compassionate activism. The gist of the activity, called Human Picture, is to have two sets of words describing emotions written on pieces of paper. The first set have words like hatred, anger, despair, hopelessness, fear, and self-righteousness. The second set have words like loving, compassionate, joyful, hopeful, empowered, and understanding.

For the activity, I have volunteers take one of the first sets of words, go up to the front and strike a pose, becoming a frozen statue that reflects the emotion of that word. When everyone in the first set is posed, they form a human picture of anger, despair, hatred, etc. I then have a second set of volunteers do the same thing — this time with the other set of words, so that they end up forming a human picture of hope, joy, compassion, etc.

I ask the audience to give their reaction to each picture and to talk about how they felt about each one. Obviously, everyone prefers the second human picture. I tell everyone that the point of the activity is to help us remember that what we feel on the inside reflects on the outside. So, if we’re full of hatred and anger and despair and fear and hopelessness, that will reflect in our lives and our choices….just as in the Cherokee story, the wolf that we feed will be the wolf that wins.

In a world so full of violence, destruction, suffering, and cruelty, it’s so easy to wrap ourselves in a bubble of those same kinds of emotions. It’s hard to be patient with those making choices that harm others. It’s challenging to feel compassion instead of to judge. It’s excruciating sometimes, to feel love instead of anger and hatred. But, if we truly want a compassionate, joyful, just, sustainable world, then we must live that human picture and feed that wolf.

~ Marsha

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Human Overpopulation: The Taboo Subject

In my previous blog post, Desire ≠ Wisdom, Part 2, I mentioned the issue of people having more than two biological children. Before posting, I reconsidered. I worried that readers with more than two children might feel judged by me. Many of my friends have more than 2 biological children, so let me be clear: If you have more than 2 biological children, I don’t judge you! And I hope you won’t judge me for flying overseas for vacation, which I also mentioned in my post. I raised the issue to point out that there’s a slippery slope when we judge others and their choices; none of us is perfect, and the key is to try to make MOGO choices consciously and with integrity to the best of our ability.

But today I realized that if I refuse to speak about pressing issues like human overpopulation, and instead just use them as examples of personal choices, I run the risk of moral relativism at best, and participating, through silence, in potential environmental catastrophe at worst. So it's time for me to speak about this topic directly. But let me be clear again: I am speaking to my educated, largely privileged, computer-using audience. I am not speaking to parents who are unlikely to watch most of their babies grow into adults, or who need extra hands to plow barely fertile soil, or who have no access to contraception, or who are raped. Around the globe, 1 billion people have no access to clean water, let alone contraception. Many African women spend 5 hours each day obtaining water. Hundreds of millions of people are malnourished. There is overpopulation in these countries and not enough basic resources for the citizenry. Yet one can hardly blame a family for having 10 children when the likelihood of even a few reaching adulthood is in question.

On average, a child in the U.S. will consume as much as dozens of children in poor countries, proportionally causing far greater environmental harm and using a vastly greater share of the earth's limited resources. So, even though there is enough food and water in wealthy countries for the most part, overpopulation is an issue in rich nations, just as it is in many poor nations. This is no either/or. Some western European countries are urging their citizens to have more children because their populations are in decline, but surely these same countries could welcome more immigrants, and their citizens could adopt orphaned children -- maintaining their workforce but not bringing more people onto a finite and overcrowded planet.

But human overpopulation has become a taboo subject. When Sarah Palin was named John McCain’s Vice Presidential candidate, her many children were considered a plus. She was seen as a good, loving mom of five beautiful and patriotic children. When the news recently reported that a California woman gave birth to octuplets, no one dared to raise the question of whether it's ethical, seemingly through artificial insemination and technologies, to bring that many children into an overpopulated world, use that many disposable diapers, cause that much pollution, and use up that many resources.

I believe that a sustainable human population on planet earth requires far fewer than our current 6.5 billion people and growing. Yet, we don't talk about this critical subject. We thank God for the blessing of each baby, and despite millions of orphans, dare not suggest that perhaps families who want many kids stop at two biological children and adopt others who desperately need good and loving homes.

This taboo must end. We mustn't judge people for having more than two biological children, but we must have a spirited discussion and debate about this most pressing challenge and issue and provide the education and opportunities so that people can make wise, healthy family planning choices for themselves and the world.

I invite your comments.

~ 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.

Study finds more exposure to media means less good mental health for kids - (2/2/09)
”That study found: ‘Other things being equal, the more a child is exposed to the media (television and internet), the more materialistic she becomes, the worse she relates to her parents and the worse her mental health.’"

Eating meat contributes to global warmingScientific American (2/09)
”To some degree, after all, our diets are a choice. By choosing more wisely, we can make a difference. Eating locally produced food, for instance, can reduce the need for transport though food inefficiently shipped in small batches on trucks from nearby farms can turn out to save surprisingly little in greenhouse emissions. And in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, people could eat less meat, particularly beef.”

Do you get a smiley or frowny face for your energy use?New York Times (1/30/09)
”The district had been trying for years to prod customers into using less energy with tactics like rebates for energy-saving appliances. But the traditional approaches were not meeting the energy reduction goals set by the nonprofit utility’s board. So, in a move that has proved surprisingly effective, the district decided to tap into a time-honored American passion: keeping up with the neighbors.”

Jane Goodall educating & empowering refugee childrenAlertNet (1/30/09)
”…for the past decade, she has also been active, through the Jane Goodall Institute, in empowering refugee children in Tanzania. The Institute, working with the UN refugee agency, has been helping young Congolese in the Lugufu Refugee Camp improve their lives at the same time as building their confidence and teaching them how to respect others.”

Thousands of starlings, other birds killed to help farmerNew York Times (1/30/09)
”…thousands of dead starlings rained down on the Griggstown section of Franklin Township a week ago, startling residents and drawing attention to federal agriculture officials who poisoned the birds after a farmer complained that his fields were under siege by the speckled feathered creatures.”
Thanks, Animal Rights blog, for the heads up.

“Sweatshop Labor is Wrong Unless the Jeans Are Cute”: new study on “motivated moral disengagement”Harvard University (1/27/09)
”The authors suggest that since we are confronted with conflicts between our desires and our moral standards on nearly a daily basis, this research calls into question the foundation from which our moral judgments rest on. If our moral judgments are likely to vary based on our affective desires, any moral standards we may hold ourselves to are dubious at best.”
Thanks, Responsible Marketing Blog, for the heads up.

New study reports global warming is “irreversible” - NPR (1/26/09)
"’People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years or 200 years. What we're showing here is that's not right. It's essentially an irreversible change that will last for more than a thousand years,’ Solomon says."

Want some mercury with your HFCS?MSNBC (1/26/09)
”Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.”
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Desire ≠ Wisdom, Part 2

For those of you who read this blog, I imagine that you are drawn to do good. While you may struggle, as I do, to make MOGO choices, you find joy in striving to live your life in alignment with your values. While you recognize that your desires sometimes compete with what you believe is wise, you seek out suggestions and support for choosing a meaningful life that contributes to a better world. And when you choose to fulfill your desires over what you think is actually best, you may suffer some guilt or remorse. Or you may be gentle with yourself, accepting your struggle and honoring all that you do choose to do wisely. Or you may remain in denial about those choices that cause undue harm and focus solely on the ones that do much good. However you deal with your “lapses” or “failures to live your values” you have embraced the journey of trying to live with integrity.

But what about those people who don’t seem to try at all? The pathological liar at work? The pedophile in your community who has damaged dozens of children? The batterer? The animal abuser? Bernie Madoff? We can dismiss such people as sociopaths, but what about all those many, many people who know what you know about the environmental challenges we face, but who choose to buy a Hummer anyway? Or who know about the terrible cruelty perpetrated on animals in factory farms, but eat meat, dairy and eggs from such farms every day? Or who realize that our world is dangerously overpopulated, but who choose to have more than two biological children? Uh oh. You see where this is heading. It’s heading right back to you and to me and to the many ways we, too, fail to make kind, restorative choices.

“But at least we try!” we might exclaim. “They’re not even trying!”

That may be true. Some truly don’t seem to try. They may not care enough. They may live in total denial. Or they may think your concerns are overblown, exaggerated. They may be kind proximally – to family, friends, associates, neighbors, pets – but simply never consider those far away whose lives are hellish because of their choices.

My job as a humane educator is, among other things, to instill reverence, respect, and a sense of responsibility among my audiences. It is to awaken care and concern, and help people to embrace the 3 Is of inquiry, introspection, and integrity so that they, like you, will learn, consider and choose what is kinder, more compassionate, and healthier for all.

I have to believe that most everyone is capable of this; that those who don’t seem to care are able to care if given the opportunity. I have to believe that if we start with children, we will prevent another generation comprised of too many apathetic, dishonest and dishonorable citizens whose desires leave no room for wisdom.

~ Zoe

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