Must We Struggle, Part 3: Human Nature? Culture? Or a Bit of Both?

There are a number of organizations that assess national happiness. There’s even a book, The Geography of Bliss, which examines different cultures and the general contentment of their population. Often the U.S. doesn’t score very high on happiness indexes, despite the fact that we’re the richest country in the world and so many people want to emigrate here. And often poorer countries score surprisingly high. What’s up with this?

I wonder how much U.S. culture, with its restlessness, its relentless focus on achievement, competition, keeping up with the Joneses, and the pursuit of success, diminishes our ability to be content. Despite what I wrote in part 1 and part 2 of these “Must we struggle” posts, I wonder whether this quintessential American quality – to strive for success – leads us to be perennially discontented. I don’t assume this quality is unique to Americans, as competition and striving for achievement are human characteristics. But in the U.S. we’ve turned them into an art form, and they have been cultivated by waves of courageous and achievement-oriented immigrants who chose to brave uncertain futures and grave difficulties to come to these shores and make a go at a new life. These immigrants then raised children to embody these qualities, too. Is it any wonder we are a striving, competitive, independent-minded nation?

As one of those people who has to do something to be content and can’t bear to laze around doing “nothing” I marvel and wonder at the joy and generosity among many who have little. Often the richest, most indulged people give, proportionally, the least, while those with few material possessions and no cushion for the future give, proportionally, the most. The strivers can become hoarders, living in seemingly unwarranted fear.

While I believe that we humans evolved to struggle for life and happiness to some degree, something has become skewed and out of sorts, and this last post serves to question the previous ones. Sometimes there does seem to be a level of serenity among those who have enough without a pernicious obsession with gaining more and more to keep up with an ever-escalating standard of success. Rather than complacency, does this serenity come from living more often in the present moment, pursuing needs instead of endless wants, and having time to live, play, and interact within loving communities?

But I wonder, would I be content with such a life? Would those of you raised, as I was, with hyper-competitive, success-oriented ideals, be content with such a life?

Please share your thoughts.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Claude and Medea, and Above All, Be Kind

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Featured Changemaker: lauren Ornelas: Seeking Food Justice for All

Concerned about issues of justice from a young age, lauren Ornelas started her first group -- an animal rights organization -- in high school. lauren has since worked for justice-related organizations such as In Defense of Animals, Viva! USA, and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (where lauren currently works as the Campaign Director). While giving a speech about the various impacts of factory farming at a conference in Venezuela, lauren realized that she could pursue her passion for justice for all through the interconnected issues surrounding our food choices. She started the Food Empowerment Project in 2006. We talked with lauren about F.E.P. and the power of our food choices to create a better world.

IHE: You launched the Food Empowerment Project in 2006 in order to spotlight the power of our food choices to create a just, sustainable world for people, animals and the earth. Tell us about why you chose to focus on food and its interconnections as a vehicle for positive social change.

LO: Yes, our goal is to connect issues of oppression and empower people to be a force for positive change. In 2006 I was in Caracas, Venezuela, speaking at the World Social Forum on the issue of corporate exploitation of animals, workers, and the environment, when I realized that many of the issues I care about, and where I know individuals can easily make a difference, were related to food choices. After dedicating over 20 years to the animal rights movement and advocating on behalf of many social justice issues, I felt it was time to promote their interconnection.

IHE: What are some of F.E.P.’s featured projects and what kinds of successes and challenges are you having with them?

LO: Promoting a concept that connects a variety of issues presents challenges, as we are asking people to look beyond the issues that they are passionate about and possibly make changes in their lives. We are excited by the amount of enthusiasm we have received from young people—it’s inspirational, as they seem to understand the importance of connecting these issues, but like many organizations, our lack of financial resources has a great impact on our work.

Being an all-volunteer organization, we’ve been spending a lot of time working on a new website and putting together a series of newsletters that aim to help people go vegan or stay vegan. The newsletters will provide information about industrial animal factories and their impacts on the animals, people and the environment, the importance of recognizing the plight of farm workers, and also other injustices related to food.

We’re also working on addressing the issue of food deserts, starting with Santa Clara County, where volunteers spent hours surveying grocery, liquor and convenience stores to determine the degree of availability of healthy foods in both low and high-income areas. Our goal is to eventually work with the local communities and the city government in order to eliminate what we know to be inequities in lower-income neighborhoods.

IHE: In your work with F.E.P., you not only focus on the plight of farmed animals and the environment, but you focus a great deal on reaching out to low-income residents and on building bridges with organizations that help farm workers. Tell us about that work. Why do you think so few organizations highlight the interconnectedness of people-animals-earth in our food choices?

LO: We deliberately worked to include all of these issues as part of the mission of our organization, because food is our central focus. There are not enough people working on all of these issues and we feel that those organizations with the plight of animals as their focus should keep it their focus, as it is a huge and important issue, and the same goes for those working on the issues of farm workers, etc.

We wanted to specifically highlight these issues and want to be seen as credible because we are not trying to use one issue to benefit the other—our organization’s mission is to bring these issues together and fight for them at the same time.

Promoting a vegan diet means an increased consumption of fruits and vegetables — it is therefore imperative that the forms of oppression committed against farm workers is also addressed in our work since they are the ones who help make these veggies and fruits available for the consumers.

Then again, there’s the issue of which consumers actually have access to this food. It’s important to recognize and help others understand that there are many people who don’t have access to fresh vegetables and fruits in their communities — typically low-income communities and communities of color.

And overall, we aim to look at food justice issues in a more specific sense, such as encouraging people not to eat chocolate that comes from Côte d'Ivoire, where the slave trade is a part of this industry.

IHE: Part of your mission is to specifically empower those with the fewest resources. Why that focus, and how is that manifesting?

LO: There is a serious problem of a lack of healthy foods in low-income communities and communities of color. This is a form of injustice related to food that we felt we should tackle in an all-encompassing way. Eating healthy should be a right and not a privilege. Many people of color are lactose intolerant, and regardless of income level, more and more people — especially young people — are interested in eating in a more compassionate way: free of animal products. We knew it was vital to address the fact that for many healthy foods are not easily accessible.

We are in the first stage of working in this area right now. Our pro bono social marketing researcher is crunching the data from our surveying. As I mentioned earlier, volunteers from F.E.P. surveyed over 120 grocery, liquor, and convenient stores in Santa Clara County in both high and low-income communities on access to fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, as well as access to meat and cheese alternatives.

We already know that an inequity exists, but we wanted to get the data to make our case. We will release a report with the data and make recommendations to policy makers. From there, we hope to go back into the lower income communities (primarily communities of color) to find out how we can assist them in making healthier food options available in their neighborhoods.

IHE: What has led you to the path of educating and empowering others in creating a better world for people, animals and the planet?

LO: I think the desire to fight injustices has been with me since high school. The inequities in our world can be so overwhelming, and empowering others to help make a difference seems the only way that change will come about.

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

LO: Young activists give me hope — and I mean that in terms of their age, as well as those who might be older but are new to activism.

Also, looking back at some of my heroes and all that they accomplished — with so few resources and so little hope— while striving to create a better world for their people gives me hope that we can do the same.

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

LO: I think people are very sympathetic to issues impacting both human and non-human animals and our environment, but unfortunately, the biggest challenge comes about when these issues involve making personal changes. Most corporations in the U.S. and in the rest of the western world make a just society almost impossible. Their sole focus on the bottom line, or making a profit, typically comes at the expense of workers, animals, communities and the environment.

IHE: What advice do you have for aspiring changemakers?

LO: I think my advice would be what most people have already heard—simply, never give up and keep fighting. Of course I know that this is easier said than done, but when justice is on your side, giving up is not an option. Also, it’s important to not to let your ego or the egos of others get in the way of the bigger message — we must keep our eyes on the prize, and that is working towards a world where oppression and exploitation are things of the past.

Lastly, I would say it is vital to listen to yourself. I know that on more than one occasion (and Food Empowerment Project is a good example of this), I have strived to do something that seemed unpopular and was still not generally appreciated or accepted, but I knew in my heart that I was doing the “just” thing. As one of my heroes, Henry David Thoreau said, “When were the good and the brave ever in a majority?” (in his plea for John Brown).

Find out more about the Food Empowerment Project. See lauren's other website: Vegan Mexican Food.

~ Marsha

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Picking Up Others' Trash

Yes, ideally, there shouldn't be trash to pick up in a humane world -- in such a world, folks would pick up after themselves. But, to help nudge us along that path, I recommend picking up others' trash (using proper equipment, of course). I spent the better part of a morning doing just that on Saturday. Our co-housing community had it's monthly work party, and part of our property abuts a couple of fast food joints whose parking lots slide right up against a hill that's part of our wetlands. It never fails that someone thinks it's a good idea to dump their trash down our hill. We've seen everything from tires to toilets. On Saturday most of the trash I picked up was plastic bits and cups from the fast food restaurants.

I could have gotten angry about the unkind, thoughtless people who dump their junk in our beautiful wetlands. And, of course, I'd like people to stop doing that and start disposing of their waste responsibly. But, I actually felt good picking up the trash and being out in the natural world. I was erasing eyesores and hazards and helping the wetlands become more beautiful again. It was almost like helping out a friend.

Back when I was in college, before recycling was a household word, every few weeks my husband and I would grab some trash bags and walk three miles along a busy street in Wichita, Kansas, picking up trash and recyclables. Our treat at the end for our work was a sugary, fluorescent-colored ice-drink at a fast food restaurant -- and the knowledge that we were doing a good thing. Even though it was a busy street crowded with asphalt, sidewalks and buildings, it looked better without the paper wrappers, pop cans and miscellaneous cast-offs.

I have a friend who takes a trash bag with her whenever she goes hiking, so that she can pick up the trash strewn along the trails. I've seen people walking toward a department store see a piece of trash fluttering along the parking lot and stop to pick it up and put it in the trash can.

It may seem like it's not our responsibility to pick up others' trash, especially when it's something that sometimes can be "gross." But, someone has to do it. And, if the people who "should" aren't, then it's up to those of us who have an awareness and desire to create a just, compassionate, beautiful trash-free world to do so. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it's great role-modeling for those who are watching. They may be giving you the "Are you kidding?!" eye now, but you've planted a seed about a different way of living.

Give it a try :)

~ Marsha

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Must We Struggle, Part 2: My Cat, My Dogs and Me

In my last post, I wrote about William James, Star Trek, and the curious need to struggle toward achievement. I live with a cat named Sir Simon. He is content to sleep most of the day, move from one sunny spot to another as the day progresses, eat at designated times, and get petted as his mood dictates.

Periodically, I observe him and wish I could be content with such a life. I can’t even nap, let alone sleep 20 hours in the day, and I feel guilty lazing in bed on the weekend past a certain hour. It seems to me that my cat has never once experienced guilt and has barely a worry, yet I feel guilt daily and worry incessantly. I envy Sir Simon. I envy his ease of being, his lack of angst, his serenity.

In my last post, I left off wondering aloud what we would struggle to achieve were we to eradicate the great problems that afflict our world and were to live without greed, violence, oppression and cruelty toward others. I suspect many people reading this blog find this question perplexing. Plenty of people have no interest in “struggle” or “productivity,” per se, but rather pursue a livelihood in order to live comfortably and are content with the fruits of modern society. So perhaps it’s just me.

But I don’t think so. It seems that it’s at least partially in our nature – though not solely, as different cultural norms across the globe reveal – to seek and pursue goals and to find the sort of rest that makes my cat content dull, enervating, and ultimately depressing. Beyond our need to work to buy the products that keep us alive, I believe we need to work for our contentment and sense of accomplishment, just like my dog Elsie. Unlike Sir Simon, Elsie would go berserk without things to do, like train for treats, run after Ruby (another one of our dogs), and find smelly things to roll in and share. She delights in a job. Resting is fine, but only after a good workout.

An old friend once had a philosophy professor in college tell him not to “confuse complacency with serenity.” I wonder, is serenity more often a byproduct of work well done, goals achieved, and values embodied? Must we ultimately struggle to find serenity?

I welcome your thoughts.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Claude and Medea, and Above All, Be Kind

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Deconstruction Gallery Helps Hone Media Literacy Skills

All of us are bombarded daily with thousands of marketing messages, telling us how to look, talk, walk, smell, love, live, work and play, and assuring us that they're product or service is just the thing we need to make our lives better and happier. It's a challenge to resist the siren call of the fantasy life perpetuated in these ads and messages, and it can be very difficult for youth to do so.

The New Mexico Media Literacy Project has a great resource to help young people think critically about the messages and methods of marketers. They offer a Deconstruction Gallery of more than 40 ads, everything from "bundled" communication plans to food and personal care products to alcohol and tobacco ads. Each sample provides the ad itself (whether video or print), a set of questions to consider, and a sample deconstruction for the ad.

Although I would like to see more sample ads that are aimed specifically at youth, the gallery is a useful resource for educators, parents and concerned citizens who want to help young people hone their media literacy skills.

Of course, we at IHE would add to their list of questions some of our own that help dive into the impacts of the products and services themselves on people, animals and the earth -- such as:
  • What suffering, exploitation, or destruction is hidden from view? (In other words, what suffering to people or animals does the production of the product or the generation of the service lead to and/or what destruction to the environment does the product or service cause?)

~ 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.

Chimpanzees impress scientists yet again (via BBC) (2/23/10)

"Biobus" brings science education to schools lacking resources (via Treehugger) (2/22/10)

"For women, equality is still an illusion" (opinion) (via Washington Post) (2/21/10)

Olympic athletes "pimp" for junk food (opinion) (via Alternet) (2/21/10)

Oregon natural foods company owner passes his multi-million dollar business to his employees (via ABC News) (2/18/10)

"The power of local" (via YES! Magazine) (2/18/10)

Top companies causing trillions in damage to the environment (via Guardian) (2/18/10)

Research reveals interesting data about elephant intelligence (via BBC) (2/17/10)

Urban gardeners strive to change zoning laws (via Christian Science Monitor) (2/16/10)

How do you live when there's nothing left but food stamps? (via ColorLines) (2/16/10)

Survey shows gap between American attitudes and behavior regarding conservation (via Lab Spaces) (2/16/10)

Scholarship offered to white students to study race relations (via Christian Science Monitor) (2/9/10)

Keep up with more humane issues in the news via our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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The U.S. Educational System: 3 New Films You Should See

"The lesson is that the most cherished institution we have models a prison." (from The War on Kids)

"Who wants to go to a place where your thoughts and actions are controlled all day?" (from The War on Kids)

The War on Kids (2009, 95 minutes) compares our current educational system to a prison system. The film asserts that the failings of our educational institution are largely due to the broken systems that inhabit it. The focus has become on controlling children, taking away their freedoms due to irrational and inflated fears, and subjecting children to a prison-like atmosphere.

Here's the trailer to the film:

"The problem is a system that protects academic failure." (from The Lottery)

"A child's destiny should not be determined on the pull of a draw." (from The Lottery)

What if it were up to purely random chance as to whether your children got into a good school or a poor one? In the U.S. each year, hundreds of thousands of school children have their academic fates decided by lotteries. The Lottery (2010, 99 minutes) follows four families from Harlem and the Bronx who are striving to achieve a good education for their children. The film explores their lives in the months leading up to the lottery for Harlem Success Academy, one of the most successful schools in New York. It also explores some of the complexities and politicization involved in educational reform.

Here's the trailer to the film:

Why are our students in academic trouble when the U.S. spends more than any other country on education? Why are so many students dropping out? Why have so many children lost their dreams and their passion to learn? Dream With Me (2010) looks at the education crisis in the U.S. and the efforts of educators and others to enact positive change and completely transform the system. The filmmakers visited different schools around the country to learn about the problems and some potential solutions.

Here's the trailer to the film (& a message from the directors):

These are great films for sparking discussion, critical thinking and the creation of positive, restorative, transformative solutions for educating children and creating a better world for all.

~ Marsha

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Must We Struggle, Part 1: William James & Star Trek

I was reading an excerpt from philosopher and psychologist William James’ Talks to Teachers on Psychology: And to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals reprinted in the February 2010 issue of The Sun magazine. I was not in the best of moods at the time, feeling down about the state of the world and about U.S. politics in particular.

James’ sunny description of a happy week he spent at Chautauqua in the company of “intelligence and goodness, orderliness and ideality, prosperity and cheerfulness” surprisingly didn’t lift my mood. As I read about the wonderful Chautauqua where people gathered in community, peacefully and industriously, I felt strangely uneasy. Perhaps that was because behind the positive description lay the seeds of what James would go on to write:
“I stayed for a week, held spellbound by the charm and ease of everything, by the middle-class paradise, without a sin, without a victim, without a blot, without a tear.

“And yet what was my own astonishment, on emerging into the dark and wicked world again, to catch myself quite unexpectedly and involuntarily saying: ‘Ouf! What a relief! Now for something primordial and set the balance straight again. This order is too tame, this culture too second-rate, this goodness too uninspiring.”

Reading this, I, too, felt relief.

How strange. I spend my days trying to promote “goodness.” (Two of my books are titled, Above All, Be Kind and Most Good, Least Harm for crying out loud.) Yet I understood what James’ meant, and suddenly, I also understood what Captain Kirk meant in the Star Trek episode, “This Side of Paradise,” when he tried to convince his crew and a colony on an Eden-like planet (where a certain plant conferred bliss upon the inhabitants who lived harmoniously and happily) that humans are meant to struggle and “claw our way to the top.” As a young teenager, I balked at this. I yearned for such happiness myself, and seeing my idol, Mr. Spock, happy (for the first time in his life, as he says at the end of the episode) was deeply satisfying. In “This Side of Paradise,” Kirk managed to incite a riot among the blissed out crew and colonists (by blasting an irritating sound on the planet) that counteracted the effect of the plants. At once, the leader of the colony realized that they had “done nothing here.” He was seemingly grateful to be freed from bliss so that they could be productive.

In my teenage years, watching this episode many times, I neither understood nor agreed with the message. I mourned the loss of bliss. Now in my late forties, I understand the bland boredom that comes without a bit of struggle, without drive toward achievement and productivity. I understand what William James meant when he went on to write:
“The ideal was so completely victorious already that no sign of any previous battle remained, the place just resting on its oars. But what our human emotions seem to require is the sight of the struggle going on. The moment the fruits are merely eaten, things become ignoble. Sweat and effort, human nature strained to its uttermost and on the rack, yet getting through alive, and then turning its back on its success to pursue another more rare and arduous still – this is the sort of things the presence of which inspires us....”
But although I understand this now, I find it both perplexing and disconcerting. I have often said that I would like to put myself out of business; would like a world that did not have any need for my and others’ efforts at promoting compassion, peace, restoration and solutions to grave challenges. But if we achieve such a world, I do sometimes wonder what humanity will be like. Will we finally be content? Will we find paradise? Will we create the Eden we believe we fell from? What will a peaceful, sustainable world in which everyone’s basic needs are met and there is no more exploitation and oppression of others – human and nonhuman – look like in practice? What will we choose as our hurdles to jump, our heights to scale? Where will our drive to strive find its home? Can contentment exist with a lack of struggle?

In my next post, I’ll continue musing upon these questions, and in the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Claude and Medea

Image courtesy of eflon via Creative Commons.

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The White Tiger: Systemic Truths Revealed

I recently finished the award-winning novel, The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. The book is comprised of a series of letters written by an Indian entrepreneur, Balram Halwai (aka the white tiger), to the prime minister of China, about his rise from poverty to riches. Balram, a chauffeur to Ashok, confesses to murdering his employer, stealing his money, evading capture, and launching a successful taxi service. The book is clever, engaging, and although replete with stereotypes, quite thought-provoking.

I also found it deeply disturbing. There’s a way in which Ashok’s murder, ghastly and evil though it is, is understandable in the context of the story. Although Ashok treats Balram comparatively well, the master-servant relationship, played out over generations within their families, can be understood to inevitably lead to evil, as its oppressive and exploitative nature unwinds over time and through circumstances. Balram sees an opportunity to escape servitude and the bonds that have tied his poor family to Ashok’s rich family for generations in an often cruel and persistently miserable and seemingly inescapable culture, and he seizes it, even though it means murdering his relatively humane employer.

This I could somehow “handle” in the context of the story, but Balram’s future entrepreneurial success is predicated not only on this one instant of revenge and evil, but also on persistent corruption. There is no possibility of redemptive good. Balram is only able to build his successful taxi business by perpetually bribing the police and ruining others’ businesses and opportunities.

And this is what was so distressing to me. Even if the protagonist were to have become financially solvent initially by way of education, or luck, or wits, or "Slumdog Millionaire" genius rather than murder, he would have ultimately failed without becoming fully corrupt. The system that Adiga revealed in his novel necessitated corruption.

This is a dystopian novel masked in apparent reality. Unlike some famous dystopian novels (e.g., Brave New World, 1984, We), Adiga had no need to fabricate a future world unlike our own. Rather, he uncovered all-too-real systemic truths that pervade economic globalization and many societies.

My hope is that this novel engages systems-changers rather than simply entertaining its fiction-reading audience.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

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Mending the Broken Mirror: Educating for Resiliency and Restoration

IHE's Executive Director, Khalif Williams, has been a keynote and workshop speaker at the past two conferences of AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization). Last summer Khalif spoke on the topic: Mending the Broken Mirror: Educating for Resiliency and Restoration.

Khalif focused on exploring the issue of what is education for and posited that the purpose of education shouldn't be just to prepare students for careers. Because of our grave global challenges, students must be on the forefront of solving complex, interconnected issues through their careers, volunteerism, and involvement in system-changing. Their education must be worthy of their imagination, talents, and intelligence and help them acquire the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be fully engaged, hopeful, and fulfilled citizens in the unfolding of a peaceful, sustainable and humane world for all.

You can see Parts 1 and 2 of Khalif's talk below:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Note, if you can't view the above, go to AERO's site to see Part 1 and Part 2.

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Educate a Generation of Solutionaries By Transforming the Purpose of Schooling

I just submitted the following to, entering their contest on the best idea for changing America. If you find this to be a good idea, we at the Institute for Humane Education welcome your vote:

Currently, the primary goals of schooling are to graduate students who are verbally, mathematically and technologically literate and who are employable. We do not educate students to be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers for a better world. Our idea is to transform the very purpose of schooling so that schools provide all students, in age appropriate ways, with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries for a better world through whatever careers they pursue. Students who learn about pressing global challenges; who are taught to apply foundational subjects such as math, science, language arts, and social studies toward creating practical solutions to today's problems; who engage in school solutionary teams (rather than just debate teams), and who know that their schooling is designed to prepare them to contribute to a healthy society will solve pervasive and entrenched problems by transforming unjust and destructive systems through whatever careers they ultimately pursue. This generation of solutionaries will become engineers and politicians, healthcare practitioners and entrepreneurs, educators and police officers, architects and builders, farmers and lawyers, but they will bring to these fields new ideas and approaches that create better, wiser, and more restorative and just systems within them. Within a single generation, this idea could set the stage for the complete transformation of every system that is destructive, exploitative, or violent into ones that are sustainable, humane, and peaceful.

Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Claude and Medea

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Thoughtfulness

It can be easy not to be thoughtful -- not through any conscious intention to be thoughtless, but because we can get so mesmerized by our own lives that opportunities to reach out to others can float by without us ever being aware of them.

Lately I've been the grateful recipient of numerous acts of thoughtfulness by others, so I wanted to share a few:
  • A friend attending a meeting at my house brought yummy vegan dog treats for our puppy, Nala, to try. (She loves them!)
  • At the dog park the other day, one of the dog guardians brought water for everyone’s dogs to use. We'd forgotten to bring water, so Nala was grateful to rehydrate herself before romping off again to "wrassle" with the other puppies.
  • A friend called to wish me well before a presentation that she knew I was really nervous about giving.
  • At the conference where I was giving the presentation, the A/V tech came by to make sure I had everything I needed and that the equipment was working well.
  • Several people after the presentation came up to say thank you and to share their appreciation, which gave me good feedback (It was my first time doing this particular presentation, so I had a lot of trepidation about it.).
  • My husband overheard me mention that his set of earbuds that I use for meetings with my work colleagues via Skype were really hurting my ears; he came home a few days later with a smaller pair for me.
  • Some lovely "Valentine fairy" left us a couple of balloons on our doorstep to let us know we were thought of.
  • A neighbor put an article in my mailbox that was about a topic he knows I care about.
These little acts of thoughtfulness and kindness added immeasurably to the positive energy of my days. Part of creating a humane world is remaining open and aware of opportunities to show thoughtfulness to other people, animals and the earth.

~ Marsha

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Re-meeting Marc: What We as Teachers Do Matters

Many years ago I taught a week-long summer course out of my home to middle school students. There was a 13-year-old boy in that course who so profoundly impressed me. He was extremely bright, deeply compassionate, sensitive to others, open, reflective, and wise well beyond his years. I stayed in touch with him for about one more year, but then lost touch with him.

We reconnected on Facebook, and I invited him to come to my talk at the New York Open Center on February 6 (he’s now a lawyer living in New York). Seeing Marc – now a 30-year-old man – walk in the door was such a treat. He is as bright, wise, thoughtful, and compassionate as ever, and I could have talked to him all day.

When I introduced him to my mother (who also lives in New York and came to the talk), he mentioned that he became vegan at 13 because of what he learned in that course I taught all those years ago and said he’s still vegan to this day.

As an educator, it’s so rewarding to find out that you've mattered to another person, that your teaching has had an impact over the years. We teachers don’t often get such opportunities. When we do, we hopefully remind ourselves that this person before us represents many more we have taught over the years.

So, for all you teachers out there, remember that what you do matters. What you teach has the potential to have a lifelong impact.

Teach with all your heart and soul for a better future and know that there are Marcs out there whom you’ve inspired and helped to be great contributors to the world.

Zoe Weil
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm

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Food Issues Resource Roundup

Food has been in the news a lot lately (of course, when isn't it, since it's such a core part of our lives), from Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood obesity, to new studies about hunger in America to the use of antibiotics in livestock.

I've recently come across several resources that can be useful to humane educators, parents and concerned citizens in exploring food issues with others. Here are a few:

Chef Jamie Oliver won the $100,000 TED prize for his talk about obesity in America and the need to teach children healthy food habits and to transform the food system. Oliver's plan includes teaching people how to cook (including starting kids at a young age), increasing access to fresh food, and encouraging businesses to put food education at center of their business. You can watch his 20 minute talk below:

This summer brings a new documentary, Forks Over Knives, that looks at our relationship with food and examines the premise that many of our "diseases of affluence" can be controlled, and potentially reversed by changing our diets. The film interviews several physicians, nutritionists and researchers and focuses on the personal journeys of two doctors and researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn. Check out the trailer:

Two new books that look at difference aspects of food issues include:

Free for All: Fixing School Food in America by Janet Poppendiek. The book explores the school food programs in the U.S. and offers a vision for transforming the system to offer fresh, healthy food for all children.

On a Dollar a Day: One Couple's Unlikely Adventures in Eating in America by Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard. Written by two high school teachers (one of whom is a graduate of IHE's M.Ed. program) who first decided to do a food economics experiment by eating on one dollar a day each for a month, the book explores issues surrounding food economics and food policy, from food stamps and hunger to industrial agriculture and the actual costs of eating a healthy diet. The website includes a few lesson plans for educators.

~ Marsha

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Zoe Weil Guest Post on Eco Child's Play: We Must Raise Compassionate, Conscientious Children

IHE President Zoe Weil has a guest post over at Eco Child's Play, a blog focused on green parenting. Zoe's post challenges parents to raise conscientious and compassionate children. Here's an excerpt:
"We parents can resist cultural messages that are shallow and lack meaning and deep purpose, but it is no easy task. As if raising children weren’t hard enough, raising deeply humane children in a culture replete with materialism, endless competition, greed, either/or thinking and myopia, is profoundly challenging. We cannot do it without a deep personal commitment to modeling humane values, without a community of like-minded parents, without schools and teachers that support and reinforce our great purpose, and with endlessly blaring media messages that undermine our values at every turn."
Read the entire post.

In March, IHE is offering a month-long distance learning course for parents who want to raise compassionate, conscientious children. Raising a Humane Child starts March 1. Register now!

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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.

Bonobos exhibit sharing behavior (via Science Daily) (2/16/10)

Girls still influenced by marketing images of women (via School Library Journal) (2/16/10)

Education also a casualty in Haiti's quake (via NY Times) (2/13/10)

Homework at CO school includes "changing the world" (via Aspen Daily News) (2/13/10)

USDA tightens rules on definition of organic meat, milk (via AP) (2/13/10)

Are outsourced "green" or "vegan" shoes really "green"? (via Alternet) (2/12/10)

Chef Jamie Oliver wins TED Prize - seeks to educate, promote healthy food (via CommonDreams) (2/12/10)

Berkeley recycling so much that city budget is in the dumps (via MotherNatureNetwork) (2/12/10)

"Detroit high schools teach how to work at Wal-mart" (via GOOD) (2/12/10)

Are fair trade products really fair? (via Alternet) (2/11/10)

Dozens of women try "Great American Apparel Diet" (via ABC) (2/10/10)

Austrian millionaire gives away fortune to help others (via Mail Online) (2/10/10)

Junk food commercials linked to childhood obesity (via ScienceDaily) (2/10/10

Killing badgers not the answer to protecting UK cattle (via Treehugger) (2/10/10)

Michelle Obama takes on childhood obesity (via USA Today) (2/9/10)

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Teaching About Environmental Racism: Two Activities

We enjoy our cars, our homes, our stuff, and the wastes and the toxic chemicals and pollutants used to create or which are a result of our shiny stuff go “away” somewhere that we don’t really have to think about. But there is no “away.” The waste processing plants, the oil refineries, the chemical plants – those are somewhere, and usually that somewhere is in a low-income and/or “minority” neighborhood.

Many schools are teaching kids about recycling and going “green,” but often the issue of environmental racism isn’t addressed. Yet, it’s an important issue that affects everyone. Here are two activities from Teaching Tolerance for teaching kids about environmental racism:

Environmental racism is a concept that’s challenging for younger kids to grasp. The activity Introducing Kids to the Idea of Environmental Racism uses the more general issue of fairness as a springboard to help connect students with the concept of the inequality inherent in environmental racism and then offers them more information and a means for taking positive action.

Progressive City Planners is an activity for middle school students that asks them to “build” their own city and consider where they’re going to establish different elements, from parks and libraries to waste facilities and industrial plants that spew environmental hazards. Then students compare their city with those in the real world.

~ Marsha

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MOGO Bookshelf: Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers"

I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and over the weekend I read Outliers. I recommend it highly. The premise of Outliers is that those whom we consider amazing outliers – famous athletes, successful business leaders, great musicians -- whether the best Canadian hockey players, Bill Gates, or the Beatles –- owe their success not simply to their innate talent or genius, but to a confluence of luck and events that together pave the way for their eventual rise.

Essentially, we become masters when we’ve put in the time – estimated at 10,000 hours for mastery of just about anything – but that time comes not simply from our personal will to succeed, but from opportunities and possibilities that arise because of the most arbitrary of circumstances.

What is so wonderful to me about Outliers is that it dismantles the mythology of the “self-made man” while placing agency in a complex web we’re so unused to examining. It is a systems book, meaning it uncovers how certain systems facilitate (or block) the ability of people to succeed.

For me the book begins a deeper discussion, one I hope Malcolm Gladwell will address in a future book, that examines the systems we need to transform and create in order to enable all of us to live in ways that are meaningful, healthy, productive, and contributory.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

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Tino Sehgal and the Power of Conversation

This past weekend I was in New York City offering a Most Good, Least Harm talk at the New York Open Center. Whenever I go to New York, I try to squeeze in a visit to at least one museum, and this time I went to the Guggenheim.

The Guggenheim Museum was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is architecturally unique. The inside is essentially a long spiral ramp, surrounding a large open space, and topped with a dome to the sky. For the first time in its history, the rotunda was empty of art. Sort of.

On the floor of the rotunda lay a man and a woman, moving in slow motion, dance-like and without expression, in an endlessly evolving embrace.

As I walked up the ramp, a 10-year-old child introduced herself to me and asked if she could ask me a question. I said yes, and she queried, “What is progress?” We walked up the ramp for a bit as I answered her question as best I could, and she asked for an example, and then she stopped to tell a 20-something-year-old guy what I had said before departing. Then he began engaging me in conversation as well, and we moved quickly up the ramp talking about progress and various topics that evolved from that until he vanished suddenly behind a post and an older woman introduced herself and began talking about toys and then aliens. We walked slowly, pausing to just stop and talk, until we eventually reached the top where the “exhibit” ended.

This was the art. And the artist, Tino Sehgal titled it “This Progress.”

I decided to begin again. This time, another child met me and passed me on to another 20-something who disappeared and left me with another older person. Although I began hearing the same initial question, “What is progress?”, the conversations were unique.

The “exhibit” fascinated me, and I will be thinking about it for a long time. A museum and artist created a situation for conversation and connection and creativity. Observing the visitors, I noticed pairs and threes deeply engaged in discussion, all having begun with the question about progress, but all having gone in their own directions. I would have loved to eavesdrop on them all.

It was interesting to observe my own style as a visitor. As someone who writes and thinks about the broader topic of “progress” all the time, I found myself in a bit of a teaching mode with the child and 20-something. But with the older person, I shifted into an equal sharing of thoughts and ideas and basic human information exchange, learning and stretching through the interactions. This “exhibit” offered me a surprising mirror into myself.

When I left the museum, a woman from WNYC-FM was interviewing visitors. The Australian couple she was interviewing had met the child at the beginning, but somehow didn’t engage at the next level and so didn’t participate up the ramp. This made me realize that participation in the “exhibit” was entirely voluntary and required personal effort. No one would push you to engage in conversation if you didn’t respond initially. I wondered what this couple’s experience was like. Did they simply watch the writhing duo on the floor for awhile and leave?

The woman from the radio interviewed me next, and I enthusiastically described my experience. She said not everyone was so positive. One person she had interviewed described it as “bait and switch,” meaning you paid money for art but didn’t get art.

But for me, Tino Seghal offered me an opportunity to connect with others, explore ideas, self-reflect, and consider the concept of progress. I was a co-creator of the art, and the product wasn’t just the discussion but also the lingering aftermath of new ideas and questions and connection with people who had been strangers until we had taken the time, in this unstructured, yet structured way, to simply talk.

Perhaps progress begins when we genuinely engage in creative discussion with others of different ages and backgrounds, open to the experience of learning and being moved and challenged. That this took place in a museum is perfect. Don’t most of us go to museums to be moved and challenged and opened to new experiences?

How would you answer the question, “What is progress?” I welcome your thoughts.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

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Featured IHE Student: Kelle Kersten

Why is there such anger, hatred and fear in the world? Why do we feel separate from others? How can we cultivate love for ourselves when we feel deficient and unlovable? IHE student Kelle Kersten began our M.Ed. program as a means to grapple with these kinds of challenging questions and to find ways to live and teach that reflected her deepest values. Kelle has turned her passion for sustainable agriculture and for helping youth in need into developing an after-school program designed to nurture and empower teenage girls. Read Kelle's essay about her experiences:

"I have been experiencing the M. Ed. program in humane education both as an on-going dismantling of rigid beliefs about myself and the world and as a natural unfolding of my soul. Essentially the program became an integral part of my spiritual journey to find meaning and hope in a world torn apart by hatred, anger, and fear. I have come to realize that these strong emotions, which erupt into acts of violence perpetrated upon the environment, humans, and other animals, arise out of the misconception that each person is a separate entity who must protect herself or himself at all costs and compete with other separate entities in order to survive. My Independent Learning Project (ILP) focuses on developing an educational program that will liberate both educators and students from this misconception so that their inherent compassion will motivate them to participate in activities to make the world a place where all beings are able to thrive.

"In the years following my graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources (1990) two passions have sprouted and powerfully shaped the course of my life up to the present time. My love of growing and preparing my own organic food was kindled in part by my mother’s devotion to gardening and by the delicious meals she lovingly prepared from the fruits of her garden. As I became aware of the impact of conventional agriculture on health, the environment, and animals, I was no longer content with merely growing my own food and began to actively educate people, especially young people, about the atrocities of conventional agriculture and about sustainable and organic alternatives—including growing one’s own food. Sustainable agriculture education became the keystone of my efforts to address environmental, animal rights, and human rights issues.

"Although my compelling interest in helping children and youth whom society labels as “at risk” turn their lives around crystallized later than my interest in sustainable agriculture, the seeds of this passion were sown in my childhood. My struggles with painful shyness and anorexia throughout my childhood and adolescence—the roots of which trouble me to this day—invoked a fundamental question that remains alive in me: How does a person cultivate love for herself or himself when she or he feels deficient and unlovable? My eight years of experience supervising, parenting, mentoring, and teaching children and youth in a variety of settings, including at six different group homes, constituted an effort to answer this question. Unfortunately, it became clear to me that this essential question is largely ignored by child welfare professionals in their emphasis on compliant behavior at the expense of opening and healing the hearts of the young people. I now realize that many of the young people in my care may have been incapable of respecting and caring for other people and animals, plants, and the earth, because they did not feel cared for and respected themselves.

"My vision to develop an educational program that would integrate my two passions—sustainable agriculture and opening and healing the hearts of troubled young people—has been enhanced by the M. Ed. program beyond my highest expectations. I initially enrolled in the program because I wanted to expand my knowledge of the humane education issues and of how to present these issues to young people in such a way that the young people would become inspired to live more sustainable, peaceful, and compassionate lives. While I certainly have accomplished these learning goals, perhaps even more significantly, my black and white view of the world has become much grayer, and I am beginning to think more in terms of “both/and” rather than “either/or” in regards to the multifaceted humane education issues. Instead of strengthening my positions on the various issues and thereby widening the gap between my students and me, this program has started to open up my heart so that I can embrace and learn from different viewpoints. This is the open way of being in the world that I want to model to my students.

"In addition to planting seeds of openness in my heart, the M. Ed. program provided a learning environment that has supported my unique organic, passion-driven, and intrinsically motivated learning process. In the Animal Protection course I was intrigued by the argument that ill-treatment of animals is justified because animals are separate, inferior beings (or machines). I wondered how this idea of separation took hold in the dominant culture, because many indigenous societies embody connection to the earth and all beings. I was inspired to explore the roots of separation and realized that our separation from the earth and other beings is an illusion; this illusion makes it possible for us to hurt the earth and other beings, and our true nature is loving, joyful, peaceful, and compassionate.

"While I most likely would have eventually discovered the illusion of separation through my concurrent study of Buddhist teachings, the ILP provides an opportunity to translate this enlivening revelation into effective educational practice. I will be creating a handbook for establishing an after-school program for teenage girls that will nurture their compassion and care for themselves, for other people and animals, for plants, and for the earth through active involvement in meaningful environmental, animal rights, and/or human rights issues in their community and beyond. The program will strive to help teenage girls develop into healthy and whole women and at the same time address some of the most critical issues of our times. In the process of developing this handbook and eventually implementing the program at my local high school, I may finally find the answer to my fundamental question concerning self-love and, thereby, be able to dissolve the vestiges of my shyness and anorexia and the underlying self-hate and become an effective agent of change, exemplifying the qualities of a humane educator."

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6 MOGO Things You Can Do While Stuck in Traffic

A few months ago I was stuck in traffic. Again. Fortunately, I'm blessed to be able to work from home, so I don't have to deal with traffic jams on a daily basis. But whenever I need to run errands or get to an event or pick up my husband from work, it seems as if I'm in the midst of rush hour, regardless of the time of day -- and I don't even drive on highways most of the time.

So there I was, sitting in traffic, fuming, because I'd rather be elsewhere, when it occurred to me that that's where I was, and I could choose how I reacted to it. I could decide to spend my time and energy differently. So I started thinking about what kinds of MOGO things people could do while stuck in traffic. Here are 6:

1. Renew your commitment to drive less and think creatively about how to do it.
Despite looming peak oil, the U.S. economy being in intensive care, and all problems associated with driving, it's still the transportation option of choice. According to the latest Urban Mobility Report, our love affair with the automobile costs us enormous amounts of time, productivity, money, fuel and more, not to mention the contributions to global climate change, habitat destruction, health problems and other ills. If I put a little effort into it, I could take care of most of my errands by bike. It's better for me, for my pocketbook and for the planet. Most of us have opportunities to carpool, take public transit, bike/walk or find other means to get our needs met.

2. Talk to the person you're with.
It amazes me how I can sit in traffic for long periods of time and not speak to the person next to me. What's that about? Not that talking is required, but it's good to connect with others. Ask your kids about their day. Have a silly conversation with your spouse. Consult a friend for advice.

3. Enjoy the scenery and/or learn your neighborhood.
The scenery thing depends on where you are. There's often not much to look at if you're surrounded by concrete and asphalt. Still, I sometimes make it a game to see what bits of the natural world I can find amidst the artificial around me. Flowers in planter boxes. Squirrels or crows hanging on the wires above. The colors in the sky. If that's not an option, then take time to learn your neighborhood. Usually we're zooming by, our attention (rightly) on the traffic around us. But, when we're sitting still, we can look around a bit and notice things we've never noticed before. I've found several small businesses I'd never noticed until I took the time to look.

4. Meditate.
You don't have to close your eyes to meditate (and you shouldn't if you're in traffic). Whenever I'm feeling stressed, it helps me to take a few moments to focus on my breathing, to think calm thoughts, to visualize places and people that bring me joy, to repeat a positive phrase. I always feel better able to cope when I've done so.

5. Sing a song.
Yeah you probably have the radio and your mp3 player to do that for you, but try singing a song on your own sometimes. It's fun, and all your bopping and jamming will bring a smile to the face of at least one person watching you from another car.

6. Think positive thoughts about the people around you.
Most of us need all the positive thoughts we can get, so why not send some out to the people around you while you're waiting for that light to change? Wish the little girl in the car next to you a fulfilling life. Hope that the person yelling in the car in front of you finds peace. Send out to the universe a desire for an end to cruelty and suffering.

What MOGO choices do you make while stuck in traffic?

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of N-O-M-A-D via Creative Commons.

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Update on Complaining and Gratitude

In my blog post, Ever-growing Expectations and the Roots of Complaint, I wrote this:
“Later this month I’ll be flying to Vancouver, B.C., for work. I’m planning to... reflect upon what I’ve received from the airline, airport, pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and all the personnel and inventors and engineers who will have made my flights possible. If something goes wrong and I miss one of my two connecting flights or wind up spending hours in an airport due to inclement weather or experience some other hassle, I hope that I will be able to maintain my resolve not to complain and instead find ways to still marvel, be grateful, and give something back."
Well, I wanted to write a post about how I did.

First, it wasn’t very hard to keep this commitment, initially, because despite the fact that I left Maine in a snowstorm, every flight ran on time, and I even had a whole row to myself between New York and Salt Lake City. I tried to contain my inner complainer a bit when the woman in the seat on the other side of the aisle was coughing the whole time, but since I was able to move to the window and create some distance I did fine keeping the complainer at bay. (I would add, though, that now I have a cough myself and need to fly to New York City on Friday, where I will likely annoy someone else if I’m still coughing -- I promise to keep a lozenge in my mouth the entire time if necessary!)

The flights back home were equally uneventful. I was grateful. Especially in the Detroit Airport, which has the coolest light and music show that accompanies the moving walkway between Gates A and C and which always makes me smile.

I arrived in Bangor at 1 a.m. After digging out my car, I began my 45-minute drive home in freezing rain. The roads were bad, but not horribly so, so I went slowly and expected the drive would just take longer than usual. But by the time I reached the town of Dedham, the road had become a sheet of ice.

Before I go on, I should say that this particular stretch of road between Dedham and Ellsworth comes with bad memories. On our trip to the area to find a place to live shortly before we moved here, I ran out of gas on this stretch of road. On another late night drive home from the airport, my car lights failed, which was quite harrowing. A friend’s son says that this section of road is haunted, and even though I wouldn’t go that far, it’s a hilly, dark, and lonesome road through the mountains at night. And I should also say that shortly after moving to Maine, I skidded off a road (not this one) on black ice and over a 10 foot embankment, totaling my car, and so I’m particularly scared of icy roads.

I came to the one light on the stretch of road where there’s a gas station. I considered holing up in my car until morning rather than trying to go further, but the thought of such a cold night in the car without appropriate clothing chilled me, literally. So I climbed the hill past the gas station and realized my car was having trouble gaining any traction on the ice. At the crest of the hill was the Dedham School. I pulled in to call my husband. He offered to come get me, thinking I was probably overreacting because of my history on icy roads, but I told him no in no uncertain terms!

My hope lay ahead one more mile. At the very top of a bigger hill, nestled in the mountains and overlooking a beautiful Maine lake, lay the Lucerne Inn. I had no idea if they were open, and I knew I could go no further after that because the road precipitously descends beyond the inn, but I decided it was worth it to try to make it there.

I did!

I almost wiped out as I got out of the car because the parking lot was a sheet of ice as well (of course it was!), but I caught myself. Then I was provided with a warm room with a comfy bed. I was so profoundly grateful. Grateful the inn was open and that someone heard me knock at 1:45 in the morning. Grateful I could afford a night’s stay at a lovely inn. Grateful that I hadn’t had to spend a cold night sitting in my car waiting for the roads to be safe.

So, I guess one could say that I succeeded in my goal not to complain when something went awry on the trip.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of Morten Rand-Hendriksen via Creative Commons.

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Pursue a Better World & a Meaningful Life with Our Distance Course

Last month we finished up another session of our month-long distance learning course A Better World, A Meaningful Life (it used to be called MOGO Online). We're so excited that our participants enjoyed and benefited from the course. We wanted to share some of their thoughts about it.
“I am changed because I will never again not think. Food, clothes, cars, building materials, cars we drive, banks we use, companies we support. I refuse to live in the dark and I do so, so happily. It is exciting to know 1 person, 1 family is going to make a difference.”
~ Melissa N.
“It went above and beyond my expectations. Among others, some of the strengths of this course is evident in how I was gently guided to self-reflect, focus on specific issues, analyze the problem in all its scope, yet come up with some specific, doable solutions that left me empowered and wanting to do more. Before you know it, you are taking 4-minute showers and packing away your ties that you chose carefully, but without caring enough to acknowledge what they represented! Thank you for creating a safe and supportive environment in this forum for such exploration to become possible.”
~ Kumara S.
“What I've gotten from this class is immeasurable. I've gotten a sense of peace, of backing away from a massive sense of responsibility, of a 'narrowing' of purpose, and from the feeling of hopelessness about where to start. I now feel excitement because you all helped show me that I can change the world in small, simple, and concrete ways starting right here at home.”
~ Susan M.
"I feel I am a better person, one who is looking at life with a new perspective, a new understanding of why people have chosen to make this way of life theirs. I don't think one could ever go back to the way they lived before this course. It is absolutely life changing and worth every bit of effort!”
~ Karen L.
“This class has been life changing. It has given me more to think about than what I can probably digest in a year. Hopefully it will be a lifetime pursuit. I have promised myself that I will continue to research, consider and challenge myself to be more MOGO every day. This class has prompted me to get off by complacent derriere and be more active. I have also been convinced that if I add amazing, important things to my life (volunteerism, activism...) it will not add to my feelings of being overwhelmed but it will actually bring centeredness and vitality.”
~ Deb K.
“One of the main things I have learned is that I have preoccupied myself so well with my day to day living and have conveniently, but not intentionally, kept myself in the dark about what is going on in our world with child labor abuses and the environment and our food production. It is big stuff to take in and comprehend and figure out how to deal with. I am thankful to the course for enlightening me on the force of one person’s choices and that each person’s damaging choices add up to a very big global mess....

"I am different because I am learning that it is just as much and/or just as little work to go about living either way. So why not go about it with a conscience to lessen my footprint. This change is spreading outward, impacting my children and my students in my classroom in a positive, broadening kind of way without being a threat or a forced learning...

"It has actually been fun to be more creative and responsible with how I live. It’s not hard and I feel good about putting less waste in my garbage, or walking to school and helping to lessen pollution, etc. You feel good when you are making conscious decisions to be part of a positive movement. This course has given this gift in just one month. That’s power."
~ Kathy H.
If you want to put your vision for a compassionate, just, sustainable world into practice, both in your own life and in the larger, global community, we invite you to sign up for our next session of A Better World, A Meaningful Life, which is in May. Register early to get a special discount!

Check out our other distance learning courses.

~ 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.

"It takes a village to raise a racist" (via Alternet) (2/9/10)

3 examples of families making eco-choices (via Treehugger) (2/8/10)

PlanetGreen guide to Sweatshop-free shopping (via PlanetGreen) (2/8/10)

Hydro-piracy in the Amazon (via Treehugger) (2/8/10)

The carbon fooprint of: tofu (via Treehugger) (2/8/10)

"Environmental future depends on education" (op-ed) (via Daily Cardinal) (2/7/10)

When will we stop the holocaust in the Congo? (op-ed) (via NY Times) (2/6/10)

FDA allows "not safe for humans" drug to be used with livestock before slaughter (via Alternet) (2/2/10)

Students develop own campaign to stop bullying (via (2/2/10)

Keep up with more humane issues in the news via our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Exploring the Roots of Youth Violence

There's no shortage of violence against youth in the U.S. But, what are the causes and how can we as educators, students, parents and activists best respond proactively to such a tragedy and help nurture systems and conditions that allow youth to grow into happy, humane citizens and changemakers?

Three organizations in Chicago (Project NIA, The Chicago Freedom School and Teachers for Social Justice), along with many volunteers, have created a curriculum guide to analyze the root causes of youth violence and to develop positive solutions: Something is Wrong: Exploring the Roots of Youth Violence. (pdf)

The 350-page guide is divided into several sections, including:
  • Understanding Oppression
  • Types of Violence Encountered by Young People
  • Artivism
  • Youth-led Research and Organizing
  • Curricular Resources
The lesson plans include a mix of discussions, readings, film viewings, interactive explorations, and critical thinking and analysis, as well as opportunities for students to engage in changemaking in their communities. The guide also includes plenty of useful resources and suggestions.

There's enough useful material here to last an entire school year, so be sure to download a copy and look for ways to integrate these lessons and concepts into your own teaching.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Teachers for Social Justice.

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I'm a Delegate From Surry, Maine

In my book, Most Good, Least Harm, I have a chapter on "Activism, Volunteerism, and Democracy." My contention is that in order to create a more sustainable, peaceful, and humane world, we not only need to make personal choices that do the most good and the least harm and choose work and careers that contribute to more restorative systems, but we also need to participate fully as changemakers and that means being active, of service, and a full participant within our democratic systems.

I’ve been an activist for half of my life and a volunteer in many capacities since college, most significantly in my full-time, unpaid role as the president of the Institute for Humane Education, but my participation in our democratic system has been meager. True, I can’t remember having ever missed an election, but voting once a year is hardly full participation in democracy.

So last Sunday, I headed to my town municipal building for our caucus, committed to be a more active member of my community and more politically involved. I was under the mistaken impression that we’d be caucusing to determine our gubernatorial candidate. I spent the morning reading all the websites of our candidates and contacted a friend who worked with one of them to get his opinion, so I felt reasonably prepared. But it turns out we have a primary for that (that’s how uninformed I was), and this was not the purpose of our caucus. There were fewer than 25 of us there (in a town of 1,500). I quickly found out why. The purpose of the caucus was to introduce some local candidates to the community, sign some petitions so that candidates could run for office, and elect people for various civic roles. With so few people in the room, it was hard not to wind up with a role.

I was asked to serve as a delegate at the Maine Democratic Convention in May. I hemmed and hawed. I talked about my busy travel schedule and my uncertainty about whether I’d be able to attend. I asked what I would do as someone who might in fact be supporting the Green candidate rather than the democratic candidate (I’m a registered Democrat in order to participate in caucuses and primaries, but I’m really a philosophical Green Independent). I was offered many reassurances. I said yes.

So here I am, finally practicing this piece of what I’ve preached and trying my hand at the political process with more commitment than an annual vote. Wish me luck!

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

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