Terrific Tips for Helping Your Kids Connect with the Natural World

I'm short on blogging time this week, so this is a repost from 7/13/09. Enjoy!

Summer is a great time to help your kids (and yourself) reconnect with the natural world, and there have been some great ideas and suggestions on the web lately.

Just want to get your family out and about? The National Wildlife Federation’s “Be Out There” campaign offers information and tips for getting your kids outside to learn, explore and just appreciate. They also have a whole slew of suggested activities for engaging your kids with the natural world. The Daily Green has collected 30 of these activities into a nice little slideshow.

The Children & Nature Network, co-founded by Richard Louv, seeks to build a movement reconnecting kids and nature and offers a section on their website of ideas and resources for families.

Looking for something a bit more scientific? The Daily Green recently posted 16 “citizen science” projects that help kids learn about nature while also helping collect data that actually helps scientists in their research. For example, you can observe frogs, fireflies, Monarch butterflies, flowers or bird nests and report on them. If you’re a city kid with not much wild around, there’s even a Project PigeonWatch.

Of course, you can find several activities in IHE's Resource Center for helping spark a sense of wonder, such as Scavenger Hunt, Smell Teas, the Wonder Walk, Everything is Beautiful and Find Your Tree.

Additionally, activities for younger school kids, like Natural Treasures and Night Watchers, could easily be modified for a fun adventure with your family.

In her book, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, IHE President Zoe Weil has a variety of suggestions for helping inspire reverence and respect for the natural world. Here are just a few for younger kids:

  • Make outdoor activities routine rather than rare.
  • Plant a garden. Your toddler will enjoy being by your side, looking at bugs and worms, feeling and smelling the soil and flowers, and eating the fruits of your labor. If you don’t have a backyard or access to a community garden, you can still plant herbs in window boxes.
  • Check out books by Joseph Cornell and others who describe fun and inspiring outdoor activities you can do with children.
  • Bring reverence for nature inside, too, by doing projects with natural materials. Pine needles, sea glass and shells, leaves and pieces of bark, dried beans, fragrant herbs and silky milkweed can all become the raw ingredients for your children’s imagination and creativity. (Be careful not to move living things such as moss, bark that is still on live trees, animals, etc.)

Older kids and teens may even want to manifest their appreciation for the environment by volunteering for nature parks or taking on projects to help clean up trash. Look for such opportunities you can engage in as a family.

As Zoe says,
“When we revere the magnificent earth and its creatures, the earth reveals itself ever more to our senses and to our hearts and souls. Our children’s spirits will soar when they watch the vermillion sun sink below a pink sky as it sets in the west. They will marvel at the speed and agility of a bat hunting for insects at dusk, and their own eyes will light up, as if in reflection, when they witness the light of a thousand fireflies at twilight.” (From Above All, Be Kind, p. 101)

~ Marsha

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It's Time to Connect Your Beliefs With Your Actions

You want your life to reflect what truly matters to you, but in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day and the pressures of culture to conform to a work-buy lifestyle, it's challenging to step out of that rut and forge your own, authentic life. We at IHE can help you connect your deepest beliefs and values with your actions. This fall is a great time to sign up for one of our upcoming programs:

Graduate Programs in Humane Education

IHE's new and expanded graduate programs provide in-depth training in comprehensive humane education, helping educators, activists, and others gain the skills and strategies to teach others about the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental preservation, animal protection, and media, culture & consumerism, and to empower them to become solutionaries for a better world. The programs include:
  • a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Humane Education;
  • a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Humane Education;
  • an M.Ed. in Instructional Leadership, with a Concentration in Humane Education;
  • an M.A. in Liberal Studies, with a Concentration in Humane Education;
  • a credit-bearing Graduate Certificate in Humane Education (which can be either stand-alone or added to an existing degree).

Find out more about our Graduate Programs.

Online Courses

Our online courses offer powerful, transformative learning for educators, activists and concerned citizens seeking the tools, knowledge and motivation to align their actions with their deepest values and to become more effective leaders in creating a just, compassionate, healthy world for all.

IHE's online format allows our classes to be innovative and interactive in the use of communications technology, enables people across the globe to participate, keeps our programs affordable, provides a flexible learning environment, and quickly builds a powerful, cohesive community of learners.

Our Fall 2011 sessions:

Rounded autumn leavesA Better World, A Meaningful Life
A month-long online course for people who want to put their vision for a better world & a more joyful, examined life into practice.

September 2-30, 2011

October 3-28, 2011

November 4- December 2, 2011

4 happy, smiling kidsRaising a Humane Child
A six-week online course for parents who want to raise compassionate, caring, conscientious children in a humane, healthy, sustainable world.

September 12 - October 21

November 7 - December 16

Woman helping girl hold plant in her handsTeaching for a Positive Future
A six-week online course for educators who want to inspire their students to become leaders and changemakers for a healthy, peaceful, and sustainable world.

October 17-November 25, 2011

Find out more about our Online Courses.

Remember that we also have a dynamic, always-growing Resource Center, with suggested humane education activities, books, videos, links, and more!

~ Marsha

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Humane Educators' Toolbox: Filmmakers Capture Visions for a Possible Future

What does a just, compassionate, sustainable, healthy world for all look like? An important part of creating a humane world is being able to envision it. The Possible Futures Film Contest challenges filmmakers of all skill levels to commit their vision for the future to film. They just wrapped up their 2011 contest, receiving 317 entries from 44 countries. Below are the 1st and 2nd place overall winners from the judges' selections. They're short, poignant, and inspiring. Take a few minutes to watch:

First Place: Superhero by Nitin Das (India)

Superhero from Nitin Das on Vimeo.

Second Place: Smooch by Dawn Mikkelson (United States)

SMOOCH - Possible Futures from Emergence Pictures on Vimeo.

You can view the top nominees and award winners, as well as all 317 entries, which are organized into the categories peace and freedom; fair societies; sustainability and beyond; and human fulfillment. The contest will run again in 2012.

Filmmaking is a powerful medium for inspiring personal and systemic change, and it's a great way to get young people involved in exploring the global challenges of our world and taking positive action on their visions of the future.

~ Marsha
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Guest Post: What Movies Tell Girls

This post is by guest blogger Laura Grace Weldon. Laura is a writer, editor, and non-violence educator. Her recent book is Free Range Learning. She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she and her family regularly indulge in movie nights.

For years my daughter’s favorite movie was Just Visiting. This 2001 remake of a hit French comedy was packed with plenty for my little girl to adore. Magic, time travel, and plenty of humor. Some quotes from the film are still in rotation as favorite family sayings.

Although it didn’t lack for laughs, it was missing something more vital. Strong female roles. Sure, women star in the film. Passive, pretty characters who only gain a stronger sense of themselves through men. Well, there’s also a stereotypical witch. Don’t even get me started on that.

I’m not about to stomp my foot and decry one B movie because the women’s roles aren’t up to good-for-my-daughter standards. But when I take a look at movies available in theaters and on Netflix, foot stomping seems imperative.

In the real world girls and women have full, interesting lives. Their conversations are complex and rarely limited to shoes, hair styles, and attracting the “right” XY chromosomes. But in the entertainment world, females are often little more than gloss. Little more than women’s roles in the past.

One way to gauge a female character’s presence in any movie is the Bechdel test. This method doesn’t imply that a particular movie has merit, it simply demonstrates character treatment based on gender. To pass the Bechdel test, a movie has to meet all of the following three qualifications:

  1. Have at least two female characters (with names known to the audience)
  2. who have a conversation with each other
  3. about something besides a male.

Recall the last five movies you saw. How many really pass the test? I’m not sure Just Visiting passes. But according to the Bechdel test database, recent movies such as Limitless, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Tree of Life, Water For Elephants, Your Highness, Beastly, I Am Number Four, The Lincoln Lawyer, No Strings Attached, Source Code, and Avatar don’t pass.

Kids’ movies aren’t much better. Bechdel test failures include Hop, Rango, Rio, Jack and the Beanstalk, Megamind, The Secret of Kells, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Shrek Forever After.

Another way to pay attention to gender disparity in movies is to simply count the number of female speaking characters. Top movies for kids from 1990 to 2005 averaged less than one female out of every three speaking characters. And in both animated and live action movies from 1999 to 2006, researchers noted that females were outnumbered by males in speaking roles as well as crowd scenes. Worse, girls and women were typically portrayed in stereotypical, often hypersexualized roles. It seems girl power, even in today’s family films, has a lot to do with sexy clothes.

This gender disparity is more than annoying. It’s damaging. Sexualized stereotypes are linked to a slew of problems in girls, as well as women, including eating disorders, poor self-esteem, and depression. Girls and young women who frequently consume mainstream media content are more likely to believe that a woman’s value is based on physical attractiveness. Even very young girls are beginning to self-objectify, to think of themselves as objects to be evaluated by appearance.

And there’s a lot of media consumption going on. Half of kids under six watch at least one DVD a day. That’s some heavy reinforcement of Hollywood ideals. In our house Just Visiting has given way to new favorites. I’ll be watching them with popcorn, a snuggly blanket, and some attitude. My foot is just itching to stomp.

Here are a few resources to light the way:

Image courtesy of Jeff Brunner.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by guest posters are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Humane Education or its staff.

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Embracing Our Devils?

In a recent blog post on turning 50 and letting go of demons I reflected upon two specific demons that plague me: worry and wanting things to be different. I wrote about wishing to banish these demons as I pass the half-century mark of life.

And then today I read this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“If my devils are to leave me, I am afraid my angels will take flight as well.”

Reading this quote reminded me of another quote by physicist Niels Bohr: “The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

For years I have wanted to rid myself of those personal demons that diminish my and others’ lives, but at the same time I have recognized that virtually all my worst qualities have a corresponding positive side, and vice versa.

Isn’t this true for most of us? The easy-going person may lack drive. The argumentative person may be the kind of critical thinker who can solve problems. The highly compassionate person may find the cruelty in the world unbearable and become impotent. The person who has trouble being in the present moment may be highly efficient as their mind keeps working every second thinking about the future.

And so while on the one hand I want to rid myself of my personal demons, I so appreciated reading Rilke’s quote this afternoon, reminding me that my personality – good and bad – is made up of light and shadow. In banishing the shadow, I might banish some of the light.

Thanks Rilke.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

Image courtesy of simon plestenjak via Creative Commons.

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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.

Gov. Brown signs "California DREAM Act" (via LA Times) (7/26/11)

New field of "spatial humanities" brings new perspective (via NY Times) (7/26/11)

"The scourge of 'peak oil'" (via Al Jazeera) (7/25/11)

"Rancor and the new normal" (commentary) (via Ethics Newsline) (7/25/11)

Young Qatari works to help animals in hostile, indifferent climate (via Zoe) (7/25/11)

The fascination with natural African-American hair (via CNN) (7/25/11)

Will taxing "junk food" & subsidizing healthy foods help Americans eat better? (commentary) (NY Times) (7/23/11)

After oil spill, officials don't know how many pipelines in U.S. cross rivers, streams (via The Missoulian) (7/21/11)

"The perils of Polar Bears' longer swims" (via NY Times) (7/20/11)

UK announces ban on testing household products on animals (via The Telegraph) (7/18/11)

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

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Why We Need Humane Education: Study Shows Empathy Can Reduce Racism

When we ask people to list the best qualities of being human, empathy is always included. We find some version of proverbs like "Never criticize a [person] until you've walked a mile in his moccasins" a familiar part of our culture, and all the major world religions offer a variation of the Golden Rule as a basic tenet. Empathy is an essential quality for doing the most good and least harm for people, animals, and the earth, and now a new study suggests that empathy can play an important role in reducing racism.

Whether we want to or not, many of us still exhibit "automatic" or unconscious types of racist behavior. According to Greater Good, this study, published in a recent edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, demonstrates that "by simply putting ourselves in another person’s shoes, we can significantly reduce our unconscious biases—and significantly improve our real-world interactions with people who look different from us."

And those "who look different from us" can be extended to nonhuman animals and to people with beliefs and values different from ours.

In addition to helping us learn more about what influences people to take positive action, studies like this one provide useful evidence for humane educators who need to data to help make their case in bringing humane education into their schools and communities.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Drew Tolson via Creative Commons.

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Guest Post: Critical Ties: The Animal Rights Awakening of a Social Justice Educator

This post is by guest blogger Paul C. Gorski. Paul is founder of EdChange and an Assistant Professor at George Mason University, where he teaches courses on social justice education, animal rights, and environmental justice.

For more than fifteen years I have been an activist, educator, and scholar of human rights and social justice. This work has been my passion, my spirituality, my vocation. I’ve participated in street protests, infiltrated corporate symposia on globalization and capitalism, taught courses related to social justice education, and written about the ways in which economic injustice, racism, sexism, poverty, and other atrocities affect educational experiences for disenfranchised communities.

Nearly a year ago I met Jennifer, my partner, whose passion for animal rights drew me in immediately. I’d talk about the work I was doing to expose and unsettle relationships between corporate capitalism, high‐stakes testing, and class inequities in schools. She’d talk about her work to eliminate factory farming, entertainment animal abuse, and dog racing. Whereas she was interested in the relationship between animal rights and environmental justice, I was interested in the ways in which environmental injustice and social injustice overlapped.

And something clicked.

The worst human rights offenders, systemically speaking, are the worst animal rights offenders and the worst environmental offenders. Yes, there are individual oppressors of people, animals, and the environment. But when I consider local, national, and global systems of power—the kinds of systems which can socialize masses of people to comply with, or ignore, certain practices and policies or which have the economic sway to pressure the state into sponsoring (such as by loosening regulations on) these abuses—what I find is the same, regardless of whether I’m targeting animal, human, or environmental injustice: corporate interests.

A simplistic but illustrative example: I consider the corporate interests that have a stake in me not knowing how KFC chickens are raised and slaughtered (animal rights). I notice that these are the same interests that have a stake, as well, in me not knowing about the conditions in which underpaid, low‐income, largely‐immigrant workers who, due to a lack of humane and living wage employment opportunities (human rights), raise and slaughter those chickens, work. And I can’t help but acknowledge, as well, that these are the same interests who do not want me to raise questions about the ways in which such practices contribute to environmental degradation. Alternatively, they sell buckets of chicken so cheaply that people choose not to wonder about any of this. Or worse: they use their economic muscle to socialize the public into thinking they—this corporate powerhouse—are the victim of a terroristic, radical animal rights agenda. In other words, they help to socialize a population that doesn’t even know that they ought to wonder about any of this.

This, in essence, is the somewhat‐depressing story of how I, a social justice educator, have come to see animal rights, social justice, and environmental justice as movements that, separately, cannot be whole. And I cannot be whole in a spiritual sense, nor in my roles as an activist and educator, if I don’t understand deeply, and work at the intersections of, all three, or if I fail to see their shared ties to the economic injustice pressed upon us by the corporate elite.

My philosophy on animal rights, then, is informed largely by the point in this triangle at which I have the most experience: social justice. Just as every human has the right to dignity and justice by virtue of being human and nothing else, so does every animal (and every living being). Where animals are abused, the soul of humanity is torn. Where I participate in animal injustice by inaction or by action, I injure my own spirit. I remember bursting into tears one weekend morning as an eight‐year‐old when the Wide World of Sports program featured calf‐roping. But this, to me, is secondary. Every animal by virtue of being—that is what a commitment to animal rights means to me.

As I type this I realize that my philosophy might sound, to some, heady and impersonal. There is a human element to my commitment, as well. I have two adopted cats, Unity and Buster. I found myself in tears a couple months ago when CNN aired a story about a bear who, abused into performing in a “Bears on Ice” show, mauled one of her trainers. To clarify, I was outraged by the animal abuse, disturbed but somewhat satisfied by the mauling, and devastated to hear that the bear was shot and killed simply for responding like any abused creature might rightly respond. So this is personal to me in deep ways.

And so I enter the discourse on animal rights, intellectually and emotionally, with the intention of becoming more deeply informed and critically conscious as an activist and educator preparing to be of service to all liberation movements. And I enter it knowing that I cannot be of full service to any liberation movement without being informed by, and seeing the critical ties linking, all liberation movements.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by guest posters are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Humane Education or its staff.

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If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em or... Transformation at Fifty

My son is about to turn eighteen. For his eighteenth birthday he plans to get a tattoo. Although I like the image he’s chosen – of a rock climber silhouetted against a gorgeous setting sun – I don’t think getting a tattoo at eighteen is wise. I’ve told him so in every possible way. I’ve provided every reason I can think of to wait until he’s older. To no avail. All I’ve created is friction between us.

He was studying Spanish and living with a family in Uruguay for five weeks earlier this summer, and while he was gone, I had a change of heart. Others helped me to realize that getting a tattoo, especially of an image that my son (who’s been rock climbing since he was five) has loved for almost two years now, is a form of self-expression. While it’s true that some may judge him negatively because of it, I cannot know whether there might be others who judge him positively.

So I let go of my antipathy toward this inevitability, and I told my husband, and he said...

“Maybe I’ll get a tattoo.”

You would have to know my husband to know how shocking this comment was; but my response to him was even more shocking, even to me:

“Maybe I will, too.”

Maybe I will too?! I have always said that I would never get a tattoo. I’ve never much liked them; I don’t like pain, and I’m always changing, so I can’t imagine ever wanting a permanent mark on my body. I couldn’t believe I said this. It made no sense.

And then, as the days went on I found myself realizing that I would do this strange thing, so unlike me, so tremendously out of character.

When we next Skyped our son in Uruguay, I told him about my change of heart about his tattoo, and he said, “So you want me to get it?” I responded that I didn’t want him to get it, but that I no longer felt he shouldn’t, and that I accepted his getting it if he wanted to. And then my husband said that we were planning to get tattoos on his birthday, too, and he was so psyched to have his parents join him during this odd family bonding rite of passage for his eighteenth birthday.

I’m planning on getting a luna moth tattoo. The symbolism works for someone who believes she will always be changing, because nothing represents the capacity for transformation to me more than a caterpillar spinning a cocoon, dissolving into genetic goo, and then changing into a completely different being (one who flies!) out of the same DNA. Plus luna moths only live for a week, reminding me that all we have is the present moment. Life is fleeting. Make it beautiful and meaningful each day and don’t worry about what’s ahead that we have no control over. Plus, if ever there was a constant in my life it’s my love of animals. That’s not changing, so an animal tattoo is fitting.

And if nothing else, this tattoo is a reminder that even at 50, I can transform from a person who disliked tattoos and would have bet money I’d never, ever, EVER get one, into someone who is planning to go under the proverbial needle in a couple of weeks.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education

Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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A Tribute Video for the Institute for Humane Education

At the Institute for Humane Education we’ve just celebrated our 15th anniversary. On July 2, we held a big bash, during which we showed a short (9 minute) tribute video compiled from two hours of videos sent to us by friends, graduates, and supporters. For my blog post today, I wanted to share it:


Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Teaching Tolerance Offers Social Justice Education Fellowship

Teaching Tolerance, a terrific project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is looking for "a dynamic, educational professional to develop curricula, evaluate content for its print and web publications, and support its professional development activities."

• Substantial curriculum/lesson-writing experience;
• A demonstrated commitment to social justice, equity and inclusion;
• An understanding and appreciation for multicultural teaching, anti-bias education and culturally responsive pedagogy;
• Instructional experience in diverse K-12 setting;
• Expertise across subject areas and grade levels;
• Thorough understanding of curriculum standards and their impact on K-12 instruction;
• High levels of organization and ability to juggle multiple projects;
• Superb writing skills and proficiency in Excel.

The fellowship is for a year and is in Montgomery, Alabama.

Find out more.

~ Marsha

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Humane Educators' Toolbox: First World Problems Rap

Thanks to the folks at Sociological Images, we learned about this funny, clever, and relevant short video, created by Zach Katz, a talented young man who makes parodies, rap songs & skits. "The First World Problems Rap" highlights the "challenges" (especially for youth) of living in the "first" world, from a fridge that's overly-full, to running out of hot water after a half-hour shower, to "my laptop's battery is low, but the charger's over there" to "my cleaning lady's vacuuming, I can't hear anything." Watch the video:

What a gem for exploring issues of culture and consumerism with young people! This is a great conversation starter about wants and needs, the true price of our stuff, economic disparity, marketing and advertising, and language use, as well as a great example of what youth can do to bring attention to important issues. Enjoy!

~ Marsha

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On Turning 50: Letting Go of Demons & Focusing on Creating a Better World

I turned 50 last week. I’m more fit than at 20, and much happier too. My life feels meaningful and purposeful, and the dominant emotion I experience when I attend to my life is gratitude. But there are still some demons that haunt me, and they don’t abate. I’ve tried to keep them at bay for decades and all my efforts simply keep them from gaining much more traction. I haven’t cast them out.

The biggest one is the “Things aren’t the way I want them to be and they should be different” demon. This is an easy demon to cast out when the thing I want to be different is something I have control over. But when it’s another person’s behavior – especially someone close to me – and I have no control, but still perseverate on their failures to be different, I create suffering: suffering for me certainly, but also suffering for them.

The next biggest demon is worry. I worry a lot. I can catastrophize in a nanosecond. I worry about so many things: family members, of course, but also whether I’ll make a connecting flight; whether I offended someone with something I said; whether we’ll hit peak oil before we have alternative clean fuels; whether we’ll have honey bees in a decade and who will pollinate if we don’t; whether so many species will disappear that a cascade of extinctions will threaten everything we know; whether the twinges I feel in my leg will turn back into debilitating sciatica. You get the picture.

Yet worrying serves no purpose at all.

It might seem that these two demons might be motivators for my changemaking work, but they aren’t. If anything they are impediments. What motivates me to devote my days to my work at the Institute for Humane Education and to creating a generation of solutionaries able to solve global challenges is vision, hope, and love -- not worry and frustration that things aren’t the way I want.

In reaching the half-century mark, my goal is to practice letting go of these tenacious demons that have glommed onto me. And I know that this is no easy task. It’s going to require all my own tenacity to refuse to indulge these demons, to prevent them from continuing to forge grooves and pathways in my brain that become ever more entrenched, to divert initial worry and frustration into a new groove of acceptance.

By acceptance I do not mean that I will not seek to create change, but rather to choose where and how to influence and help so that I am more successful, joyful, effective and loving in the process.

That’s my goal for the next 50 years, and I realize that it will take discipline and daily practice to achieve it.

Wish me luck.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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On Our Must Read List: The Exultant Ark

"I think that there's more to lose by treating insects badly when they're sentient than by treating them well when they're not. And quite aside from whether they're sentient, they're part of the biotic matter out there. They're beautiful, they're alive." ~ Jonathan Balcombe

We haven't read it yet, so we can't recommend it, but The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure, by Jonathan Balcombe, is definitely on our must-read list.

Exultant Ark celebrates a range of animal emotions & experiences through the pairing of stunning photos and a scientific context for what we know (or can surmise) about animal emotions and behavior.

The book recently received a positive review in The New York Times, and Wired Magazine has a great interview with Balcombe, as well as a slideshow of photos from the book. Here is a brief excerpt from the interview:

Wired.com: You write that "existing evidence, and common sense, supports the conclusion that all vertebrate animals are sentient," capable of feeling pain and pleasure, and of having experiences. "Common sense" is a red flag, though. Isn't that just another term for gut feeling, or even superstition?

Jonathan Balcombe: Pleasure is a private experience, well nigh impossible to prove, though of course scientists don't like the word "prove." And there are good reasons for being skeptical of making assumptions that are difficult to prove. But what I'm getting at is everyday experience: the capacity to be empathic in viewing other animals' experiences and comparing them to our own.

Nobody denies that other humans are sentient, though it's no more possible to prove another human being is sentient than it is to prove an animal's sentience. We don't accept such solipsism. It would be far-fetched. So let's stop drawing this line between humans and all other animals.

We accept, as we should, that we're sentient. Given that as a baseline, we know that sentience and consciousness have evolved. We might talk about where to draw the line taxonomically, but I find it really objectionable when scientists use the solipsist crutch to leave animals outside the circle of moral concern, which is the implication of all this.

Read the complete interview.

Connecting with animal emotions can be a powerful tool in broadening people’s levels of compassion. However, we have to remember that recognizing and accepting that animals have emotions doesn’t necessarily guarantee more compassionate treatment. Just look at how we treat each other. People also readily accept certain emotions in our "pets," for example, yet we abandon and abuse them at an alarming rate and easily neglect to transfer those same feelings of love and nurturing to the creatures on our dinner plates, and in our research labs, zoos, fur farms, and so on.

Additionally, there is danger in relying too much on the existence of observable emotions as justification for extending or withholding compassionate treatment. What does that mean for species in which emotions aren’t readily apparent? Does that mean that we treat mammals and a few other species with compassion, but other beings like slugs and snakes and sturgeons don’t make the cut?

Books like Exultant Ark offer us rich ground for exploring important issues about rights, morality, the "other," connection, the impact of our choices, and simply the joys of being alive.

~ 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.

"What a population of 7 billion people means for the planet" (commentary) (via The Guardian) (7/18/11)

Study shows tuna species nearing extinction, but over-fishing them is "too profitable" to stop (via Treehugger) (7/15/11)

Study shows loss of predators has caused "widespread disruption of ecosystems" (via Science Daily) (7/14/11)

Studies show peer pressure inspires people to save more energy (via The Tyee) (7 14 11)

"California becomes first state to mandate gay history" as part of curriculum (via Christian Science Monitor) (7/14/11)

"How animal welfare signals moral progress" (commentary) (via CNN) (7/13/11)

Marketers finding new ways to target boys in the ages 6-11 demographic (via WSJ) (7/13/11)

Communities instituting programs to address food deserts (via USA Today) (7/13/11)

One city offers citizens free public transit for trading in their cars (via Treehugger) (7/12/11)

Teachers caught in middle when it comes to immigrant students (via AP) (7/6/11)

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

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Finding Daily Gratitude in Thank-You Letters

We've written many times before about the importance and joy to be found in gratitude. We feature the Naikan practice in one of our online courses; we've written about gratitude in the midst of catastrophe and cat bites and of the joy and power in thanking everyone around us. Even with frequent reminders, in the hustle-bustle of the day, those small moments of mindful gratitude can slip by without acknowledgement.

Recently I was feeling the need to remind myself of the importance of noticing and acknowledging reasons to be thankful, so I picked up the book 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life by John Kralik. Kralik (formerly a lawyer and now a judge) found himself at a very difficult time in his life -- one of those periods of life when you truly believe all the fates are conspiring to make you this miserable -- and he decided to focus on those things he could find to be grateful for and acknowledge them by writing thank-you notes. He set the goal of writing 365 thank-yous in one year.

While the book was a little tainted for me, with its tinge of "do good to get something good for yourself in return," what I most enjoyed about Kralik's book was all the people and situations he found to be thankful for. Yes, he wrote thank-yous to family and friends. But he also wrote thank-yous to the barista at the coffee shop who always greeted him by name; to his clients who paid their bills on time; to his old boss; to the surgeon from many years ago who helped heal his ailment; to restaurant managers, hotel security officers, courtroom clerks, the woman who cut his hair, and his daughter's teacher. I also really appreciated the content of his notes. All of them were brief; but they weren't bland, generic expressions of gratitude, nor did they sound like greeting cards. Each was sincere, specific, succinctly detailed, and included a positive consequence of whatever the receiver had done.

Whenever I feel that I'm drifting away from living my deepest values, it helps me to spend time with others who are modeling my message. Kralik's book has renewed my enthusiasm for writing thank-yous and has inspired me to broaden the outreach of my pen.

~ Marsha

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Humane Educators' Toolbox: 12 Angry Men

I watched the classic film, 12 Angry Men, recently, and I was struck by the ways in which the film so accurately depicts what social psychology experiments reveal about people’s willingness to suspend their own thinking faculties to go along with the group [in particular, the Asch experiments, in which individuals deny their own senses to agree with the majority, demonstrating the lengths (no pun intended) to which people will go to conform].

In the movie, had one man’s commitment to integrity and reason not prevailed, another man, reasonably likely to have been innocent of the crime he was charged with, would have been electrocuted. It is not a surprise that only one man of twelve was willing to step out on the proverbial limb in a group vote in which he was the only dissenter, nor is it a surprise that some went along with the prevailing view without much thought – easily swayed and influenced.

We all know these characters. We all know people whose beliefs can be too easily altered by new ideas; others whose beliefs are so entrenched that reason and rationality cannot sway them; others who stand out as extremely clear-headed and models of critical thinking; others who don’t care enough to be bothered to think very hard for themselves and will follow the crowd no matter what; others whose deep emotional needs and pain influence their ability to think rationally. And most of us realize that there is a little bit of each of such characters in ourselves.

The challenge for each of us, I believe, is to strive to be like the character played by Henry Fonda, a man committed to truth and aware that truth is often elusive; a man unafraid of speaking his truth even when it differs from others; someone whose heart and mind work together toward a goal of integrity and honesty; a person whose mind is not so open his “brain falls out,” but who exemplifies open-mindedness.

This film is an excellent tool for any critical thinking or criminal justice course, as well as for a course in American History. Though fiction, it offers much food for thought and discussion. As a supplement to the social psychology films at the Heroic Imagination Project website, 12 Angry Men offers humane educators – those who wish to ensure that their students have the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries for a just, compassionate world – an excellent opportunity to use film and culture to explore issues of character and choicemaking.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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4 Ways Great Teaching is Like Great Theatre

This post is by contributing blogger, Kerri Twigg. Kerri is an IHE M.Ed. student, parent, humane educator, drama teacher, and blogger, Kerri is the instructor for our online course about humane parenting, Raising a Humane Child (next session runs Sept. 12-Oct. 21).

Two things that always seem magical to me are teaching and theatre. Of course, I have been in classrooms where there was no magic, and I've been bored by plays. What I love about both teaching and theatre is the possibility of magic. It seems that what makes good theatre for youth is the stuff that makes great teaching for youth. The ultimate goal for me in creating learning experiences and writing plays is the same -- to create work that engages my students' minds, bodies and spirits to better understand the human experience and inspires them to think, ask questions, and take action.

While I could write many pages on the relatedness of good theatre and teaching, I'll just touch on four common elements:

1. A strong outline/a good play. In both the classroom and the theatre, an outline is necessary. While there needs to be room for student interactions and explorations, you need to know when and how you will be exploring. I find that having key activities planned gives me more room to explore with my students. A play needs a strong story and script that focuses on characters, action, and heart.

2. Don't tell them what to do or think; lead them to questioning. I have read and seen a lot of "prevention plays." These are plays that were created for the purpose of educating students on a particular issue -- usually related to drug use, sexual behaviors, or bullying -- and they don't work. They fail because they don't provide the opportunity for reflection, often portray stereotypes, and focus only on the subject. Teachers get the same results when they enter the classroom ready to dump information on their students without providing a way to play and make meaning of it.

3. Unpredictability. I love when art and teachers surprise me. It wakes me up and forces me to take notice. The magic is in including the element of surprise to further learning and experience and to inspire curiosity, rather than just for shock value. It is fairly easy to shock students when you're teaching about any of the humane education subjects -- it can be done with one simple photograph. The magic is in surprising them in the way you teach and what they discover about themselves and the world through your methods.

4. Audience. Without an audience the play cannot be seen, and teaching cannot be done; an audience is necessary for the art. Sometimes the audience for a play or a class isn't ready for the work. Sometimes it is exactly what a particular audience needs to hear on that particular day. I think this is the magic part. In designing learning experiences or writing a play, the audience must be kept in mind. The creator needs to try and predict the audience's reaction as best they can; they need to tinker with the pacing, stories and interaction. Sometimes the play doesn't need to be changed, but the work is presented to the wrong audience. It's a two way street, and a beautiful dance when it works.

Image courtesy of City of Albany Oregon via Creative Commons.

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Connecting Reverence-Building With Every Day Actions

During our Educating for a Better World Summer Institute for teachers, Caroline Overbeek (a soon-to-be graduate of our humane education certificate program), led a reverence-building activity with us that fits nicely into a science curriculum or as a launch point for a writing assignment in language arts (and which is a wonderful and inspiring activity for anyone).

Caroline asked us to lie down in a circle, with our heads in the center but not touching anyone else, and to imagine that we were lying on the grass (this would be even better if done on the grass, but even in a classroom this works well). She led us through a guided meditation that invited us to imagine the atoms in our bodies and the atoms in the grass – similar of course, even though in different composition. As we relaxed more and more and realized our atomic connection to the grass and beyond, she invited us to associate this feeling of connection with the Earth with an everyday action. Telling us to imagine ourselves doing this action and to connect it to this feeling, she gave us a minute to keep replaying the image in our imaginations before ending the 15 minute activity.

That night, when I lifted my pillow on my bed to prop it against the headboard to read, I thought of Caroline and the feeling of connection with the Earth. This is because that was the everyday activity I had chosen. I’d long since forgotten about Caroline’s activity (it was one of many in a very packed day, with many other events before I went to bed), but there was that connection planted that morning. Every night since I’ve thought of Caroline and felt a peace descend as I climb into bed to read before sleep.

Divorced as so many of us and our children are from nature, this activity offers a possibility for connection that is profoundly important. We will care for and protect what we love, understand and revere, and something as simple as this science-oriented, reverence-building activity can set the stage for daily reminders of our connection with the Earth and our interdependence.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Humane Educators' Toolbox: Timeline of Women's Right to Vote

Who was the first nation to give women the right to vote and when? How many other countries gave women the right to vote before the U.S. did? What countries still have not given women the right to vote? Why did Switzerland not give women the right to vote until the 1970s? In what decade did the most countries give women the right to vote, and why?

Those are just some of the questions I had when I discovered a useful little interactive timeline created by The Guardian, outlining when women received the right to vote in countries around the world.

For a lot of young people, the idea that women didn't have the right to vote can be an alien one. Many rights and privileges are taken for granted (at least for wealthier, white people in Western countries). This interactive map does a great job of highlighting the advance of women's suffrage, and opens up the opportunity to explore numerous issues, from the connections to world events, to which women gained the right (did all women? Only women of a certain ethnicity or class, etc.?), to how this change influenced societies, to the current disparity of women political leaders, and more. A great tool for exploring important issues with students.

~ Marsha

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MOGO Mindfulness: "Green" Doesn't Always Mean What We Think It Does

As citizens we often use product labels and information to help us make choices that do more good and less harm for people, animals and the planet. But we can fall into the trap of thinking that our conscious efforts to be more mindful and to choose "greener" products can shield us from making choices that cause greater harm. We can drift into a complacent dream state in which our hand automatically reaches for the seemingly eco-friendly product, without taking the time to investigate whether or not the packaging actually reflects the larger truth.

Our friend, Beth Terry, of My Plastic-free Life, offers a great example. Recently she tweeted one of her posts from 2008 that digs deeper into what appear to be eco-friendly pencils. The label on the box entices the green-minded by highlighting:
  • Pencils made from 100% recycled bags.
  • Packaging made from 100% recycled board.
  • Ferrules are 100% recyclable.
  • 100% post-consumer content recycled.
What person wanting to tread more lightly on the planet wouldn't want to snatch those up? But, as we learn as humane educators and concerned citizens, when we dig deeper, things often aren't as they initially appear. Beth does a little dissecting:
1) Pencils made from 100% Recycled Bags. What kind of bags? Paper? Plastic?

2) Packaging made from 100% Recycled Board. What kind of board? What does that even mean?

3) Ferrules [the metal part that holds the eraser] are 100% Recyclable. In whose universe? Yes, they’re metal and could theoretically be recycled. But do you really think those tiny things are going to be sorted out from all the other recycling waste at the MRF? And yes, I did have to Google “ferrule.”

4) 100% Post Consumer Content Recycled. Which part? The box? The graphite? The outside of the pencil?

Beth does a little more exploration, calling the company that manufactures the pencils, and discovers that the pencils are made from used plastic bags. She says,
"So what’s wrong with a pencil made from recycled plastic bags? We need to use those bags for something right? Except that pencils get sharpened. Normal pencils will leave behind wood shavings that can be composted. These pencils will leave behind plastic dust that will linger in the environment, just like the tiny pieces of plastic floating in the gyre or the plastic microbeads we’re flushing down our drains these days."
Read the complete post.
Source: My Plastic-free Life (http://s.tt/12v9O)

So, not automatically an eco-friendly product after all.

Certainly making choices that do the most good and least harm doesn't mean spending hours of time dissecting every product choice we might make. It happens over time, as we become more mindful, do a little more critical thinking, start asking more questions, and refrain from making assumptions. Eventually, our investigative skills become more honed, and we can more easily determine whether our choices indeed reflect the values we want them to.

~ Marsha

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Affluence and Affluenza

The film and book, Affluenza, explores the mostly modern condition of relentless consumerism, debt, yearning for more, dissatisfaction and sluggishness, and a treadmill life that leaves people feeling empty and stressed simultaneously. In our recent Summer Institute for teachers, high school English teacher, Mark McGonagle, came up with an activity that explored affluenza through a quiz for students whose score determined whether or not they “suffered” from this condition.

A question arose. Is affluence the same as affluenza? The answer is clearly “no,” yet there is sometimes a subtle (and often a not so subtle) judgment by social justice and environmental activists against those who are affluent. It’s true enough that most who are affluent are bigger consumers than those who aren’t. They have larger houses filled with more stuff, more vehicles (and motorboats and sometimes private jets), travel for leisure more often, and so on, contributing to greater environmental destruction than those who do not have these luxuries. They certainly appear to suffer from affluenza. Yet, it’s critical not to lump affluence with affluenza. Having money can be a phenomenal tool for change, and I know people with money who are profoundly generous, live simply, and create substantial systemic change through their donations to social change organizations. This could and perhaps should be the model for affluence.

Most people want to be more affluent, and most want money to buy more stuff. What if we were to transform the image of affluence? Imagine if money were perceived less as a vehicle for luxury and more as a vehicle for the power to create positive change. If we identified those affluent people who have eschewed personal luxury in favor of a deep and abiding commitment to use their wealth for systemic good, we would have models for “compassionate consumerism” that went beyond fair trade, eco-friendly, cruelty-free products and that embraced thrift and simplicity coupled with generosity and philanthropy for a better world for all.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Humane Education Activities: Help All Beings Gain Freedom From Oppression

At the same time that people in the United States were celebrating independence and freedom on July 4, millions of people all over the world are victims of bonded labor and slavery. According to Kevin Bales, author of Disposable People, right now there are approximately 27 million slaves all over the world – including many children. In addition, there are billions of animals suffering oppression and exploitation. We, as humane educators and concerned citizens, can help this become a world free from the enslavement, exploitation and oppression of other people and animals by bringing awareness to the lack of freedom that is endured by so many and by helping people feel empowered to take positive action. On our website, you'll find useful activities (and other resources) to help teach others (and yourself) about these issues, including:

The Aliens Have Landed: Exploring Oppression, Rights & Freedom
Students explore oppression, rights & freedoms by participating in a scenario in which aliens have invaded earth and humans must plead their case not to be oppressed to a Universal Court.
Recommended for grades 8 through 11.
Time: 60-90 minutes to several days

Do You Want Slavery With That?
Modern slavery is still ubiquitous. Students hear about it from the slaves themselves (through their stories) and consider what they can do to help.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 60-90 minutes

Don’t Tread On Me: Exploring Oppression
What is oppression? Who gets oppressed? Why don’t we all agree about that? Participants explore their own beliefs about oppression and learn about others'.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 60-90 minutes

The Dreaded Comparison
Participants explore the connections between human and animal oppression and ways that we can choose not to oppress others.
Recommended for grades 7 and up.
Time: 45-60 minutes

Free at Last?
Use visuals of everyday things around us to introduce and explore the concepts of freedom and oppression.
Recommended for grades 5 through 8.
Time: 15-30 minutes

A Moment in Your Shoes
How will students feel spending a moment in the shoes of a battery hen or a child slave? Use this lively and thought- provoking activity to introduce human and animal issues and the connections between them.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 45 minutes to several days

Picturing Oppression
Use images from magazines and other sources to spark students to consider the ways oppression, exploitation and dominance of animals and other people are still prevalent.
Recommended for grades 7 and up.
Time 60-90 minutes

Find more useful resources in our Humane Education Activities section and our Resource Center.

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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.

Fish photographed using tools (via Wired) (7/11/11)

Australia plans carbon tax for top polluters (via Philly.com) (7/10/11)

Industries lobby against voluntary nutrition guidelines (via Washington Post) (7/9/11)

More roads = more traffic (via NPR) (7/9/11)

"The best school $75 million can buy" (via NY Times) (7/8/11)

Is USDA deregulating all new GMOs? (via Mother Jones) (7/7/11)

Landmark agreement to lessen suffering of hens in U.S. (via Humane Nation) (7/7/11)

How jeans can cost $300 (via Wall Street Journal) (7/7/11)

Positive changes in Mexico reduce illegal immigration to US. (via NY Times) (7/6/11)

Cows get lonely, stressed when separated from their best friends (via Daily Mail) (7/5/11)

"Systematic cheating is found in Atlanta's school system" (via NY Times) (7/5/11)

Can anti-war protests increase support for the war? (via Scientific American) (7/5/11)

School plans to expand empathy education program (via DemocratandChronicle.com) (7/4/11)

"The Spam factory's dirty secret" (via Mother Jones) (July/August 2011)

A food revolution unfolds in Haiti (via Orion) (July/August 2011)

One girl's quest to end bullying (via Educational Leadership) (June 2011)

New York passes "historic green jobs financing law" (via Treehugger) (6/27/11)

European cities working to become less car-friendly (via NY Times) (6/26/11)

Maryland now requires "environmental literacy" for high school graduation (via Baltimore Sun) (6/21/11)

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

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U.S. Egg Industry & HSUS Collaborate on Federal Legislation for Battery Hens

Often positive change emerges in tiny steps. One such tiny step has been taken recently, when United Egg Producers, which represents most of the farmers in the U.S. who use egg laying hens, and the Humane Society of the United States reached a landmark agreement to seek federal legislation that would "require larger cages and other improved conditions for the nation's 280 million laying hens."

The primary strategy for animal protection advocates seeking less horrendous conditions for farmed animals has been filming and sharing undercover video, working to change state laws, educating the public, and launching state citizen ballot initiatives. This new potential legislation would affect laying hens in all 50 states.

According to HSUS, the legislation that the two groups hope to propose would:
  • "require a moratorium at the end of 2011 on new construction of unenrichable battery cages—small, cramped, cages that nearly immobilize more than 90 percent of laying hens today—and the nationwide elimination of barren battery cages through a phase-out period;
  • require phased-in construction of new hen housing systems that provide each hen nearly double the amount of space they’re currently provided;
  • require environmental enrichments so birds can engage in important natural behaviors currently denied to them in barren cages, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas;
  • mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as “eggs from caged hens” or “eggs from cage-free hens;
  • prohibit forced molting through starvation—an inhumane practice that is inflicted on tens of millions of hens each year and which involves withholding all food from birds for up to two weeks in order to manipulate the laying cycle;
  • prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses—a common problem in the industry that is harmful to both hens and egg industry workers; and
  • prohibit the sale of all eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements."
According to the egg industry, many of the changes would be phased in over the next 18 years.

Most animal advocates would say that such legislation doesn't go far enough. And of course, it doesn't for those of us who believe that animals shouldn't be oppressed and exploited. It does nothing, for example, for the millions of male chicks who are suffocated, gassed or ground up alive as a useless "by-product" of the industry, nor does it address painful practices like debeaking, or the horrendous slaughter of the chickens (who have no federal protection at all) when they're no longer of use. However, it IS a positive step for reducing the suffering of battery hens, who endure the most cruel conditions of any farmed animals. As HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle says:
"The goal of The HSUS is not endless campaigning or conflict with political adversaries, but to find a place where we can forge solutions that produce tangible and meaningful outcomes for animals and show a new way forward in society. And that means sitting down with people who see the world differently than we do, even sitting down with industries that we’ve had deep disagreements with in the past."

Find out more here, here and here.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Farm Sanctuary via Creative Commons.

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The Day We Buried Grif

We buried our beloved dog, Griffin, Sunday, July 10, and I wrote this poem in his honor for my blog post today.

The Day We Buried Grif
by Zoe Weil

We buried our dog this morning
In heavy clay soil.
He was light on the earth
a tiny three-legged boy
still so soft,
though no longer fierce.

We remembered him aloud,
sharing stories,
His love affair with our big three-legged shepherd;
our son’s biggest scar
when he tried to prevent him from biting friends
who’d stopped by and were chased back
to their car
by pugilistic Grif.

He likes that scar.
He loved that dog.
Whom he’d rescued at two and a half
Saying in no uncertain terms to his reluctant parents,
“We HAVE to adopt him,”
and we did.

Fifteen plus years together;
our son’s whole childhood,
the photos in the albums like proof,
one after another:
Griffin in his arms;
Griffin and he floating on a raft;
Griffin in his lap;
Griffin on his bed.
Always with Griffin,
the dog he saved.

Grif is in the earth beside Sophie, next to Maia,
flanked by Uba, Buddha, Pere, and Mish,
marking the inexorable passage of time,
marking years of love,
of joyous puppy and kittenhood,
and the solid decade each of companionship and devotion,
and then arthritis and kidney failure and decline
and their inevitable deaths.

Meanwhile, three others wait in the house,
banished from this burial.
Elsie, two;
Ruby, eight;
Sir Simon, thirteen.
The cycle continues.
Loving them a bit more tenderly today;
The day we buried Grif.
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