When What's MOGO Is Looking Within

My husband is a big Bob Dylan fan, so for our anniversary I bought us front row seats to a Dylan concert in Bangor, Maine. It was exciting to have such great seats, so close to the stage and with an unobstructed view. But when the concert finally began with Leon Russell opening the show, the woman next to us chose to stand and dance, blocking our and many others’ view of the stage. My husband and I were able to lean forward and peer around her, but others behind us couldn’t. And so after the set, a woman behind us asked a staff member to ask her to sit once Dylan started playing.

But when Dylan came out, she stood up and never sat back down. Even when she wasn’t dancing, she stood. In a crowd of thousands, she was the only one. The woman behind me asked if I would tell her to sit down, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. My husband, however, was really irritated, and even though he’s normally an easy-going man, he asked her if she would please sit down. She refused. And so we spent the entirety of the concert leaning as far forward as we could to see around her. At least we could do that, since we were in the front row. People in the rows behind us didn’t have that option.

Now, I’m a dancer. In fact, I often find going to concerts difficult because when I hear music I want to dance. With singers like Dylan – who are more folk than dance musicians – it’s easier to sit and listen; but more often than not I gravitate to dance concerts rather than sit-down concerts. So I know how it feels to want to get up and move when music is playing. What I don’t understand, however, is the kind of narcissism that compels someone to ignore everyone else’s wishes; to think one’s own personal pleasure justifies wrecking other people’s experiences; to believe that it’s okay to prevent others from even seeing the artist whom they paid quite a lot of money to enjoy.

I spent quite a bit of time during the concert pondering the MOGO (most good) thing to do. Would any good come from trying to talk to this woman? Would I be able to speak to her compassionately and respectfully when what I felt toward her was a combination of indignation, anger, and disgust? I wondered how she became this way. She was dressed to the nines in a slinky black dress with 5-inch spiked heals, a jaunty hat, and bright red lipstick. She often danced erotically, appearing to relish being seen and admired. She knew she was blocking people’s view and knew others were upset, but she didn’t care. What was it like to be her?

I never did say anything to this woman. My feelings toward her were unremittingly hostile, and even though I knew better, I found myself wishing bad things for her. All that did was further impact my own ability to enjoy the concert. In the end, what seemed MOGO was to focus on the music and practice letting go of my own anger and irritation, to better myself rather than focusing on bettering her.

Still, was there anything I or anyone could have said that would have made a difference for either her or those of us whose view of the stage was blocked?

For a humane world,

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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First-of-its-Kind Report Offers Insight into Status of Animals in U.S.

You've probably seen reports about how countries have scored in regard to each other in various areas, from rankings about education and economics to evaluations in narrower areas, like the Happy Planet Index or the Trafficking in Persons annual report. But almost no one is engaging in quantitative assessments of the status of animal protection. Our friends at the Humane Research Council, founders of HumaneSpot and creators of the Animal Tracker report, have just released the Humane Trends Baseline Report, which collects 25 diverse indicators to "assess the status and progress of animal well-being, providing a comprehensive view of animal use and abuse in the United States."

The categories of indicators include:

  • companion animals (such as number of animals killed and proportion of new animals purchased);
  • animals used in science (such as proportion of states w/ student choice policies and proportion of experiments involving pain w/o providing anesthesia);
  • wildlife and exotics (such as proportion of endangered species and proportion of states with laws limiting exotic animal ownership);
  • farmed animals (such as consumption of animal products and proportion of states with minimal anti-confinement laws);
  • general indicators (such as amount of discussion of animal issues and proportion of universities with animal protection studies programs).
Read the complete report as a PDF file.

View the report website.

Since this is the inaugural report, the data and categories are limited, and the report looks only at the United States. But this is an important survey that provides a snapshot of the status of animals in U.S. society and that offers educators an excellent tool for exploring important issues surrounding our relationship with animals, such as whether our choices and the systems we support that abuse and exploit animals are consistent with our values, how we can make choices that do the most good and least harm for all, and what obstacles we can remove to make it easier for our society to treat animals with respect and compassion. The report could also serve as a springboard for students to create additional indicators that provide a clearer and more detailed picture, as well as for students to apply the indicators to other countries and see how the U.S. compares. A useful tool for critical and creative thinking.

~ 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.

"The schools we need" (commentary) (via Orion) (9/11)

Reconsidering our relationship with chimpanzees (via Wesleyan Magazine) (8/11)

"What you need to know about the Canadian tar sands" (via Treehugger) (8/29/11)

Company offers alternative livelihoods for poachers (via Treehugger) (8/29/11)

"Unschooling" gaining in popularity (via Huffington Post) (8/29/11)

Researchers say bear bile farms not only cruel, but "unnecessary" (via Treehugger) (8/28/11)

Corporations seeking deeper relationships with schools, writing curriculum, training educators (via The Republic) (8/26/11)

"The dangerous psychology of factory farming" (commentary) (via The Atlantic) (8/24/11)

"How to fix our math education" (commentary) (via NY Times) (8/24/11)

Researchers say Earth may be home to more than 8 million species (via NPR) (8/24/11)

New method of fishing expanding among Australian dolphins (via The Telegraph - Australia) (8/24/11)

Expanding opportunities for the world's "energy poor" (via Ode) (8/23/11)

"Big brand clothing found laced with toxic chemicals" (via Treehugger) (8/23/11)

"Plastic bag lobby wins favorable revision for school textbooks" (via Sacramento Bee) (8/19/11)

Research says kids are losing creativity (via MSNBC) (8/12/11)

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Communities Challenge Obstacles to Legal Right to Say No to Destructive Practices

If a community wants to protect its water from the hazards of fracking or doesn't want a giant factory farm to move in, they can just pass an ordinance that says so, right?

Unfortunately, according to a recent article posted at Yes! Magazine by Mari Margil, associate director of the Community Environment Legal Defense Fund, that's often not the case.

As just one example, Margil cites the town of Morgantown, West Virginia, which passed a ban on fracking within one mile of its city limits. However, their ordinance was overturned by a circuit court. Margil says, "Judge Susan Tucker ruled that municipalities are but 'creatures of the state' without jurisdiction to legislate on drilling or fracking within their borders. Tucker further wrote that 'the State's interest in oil and gas development and production throughout the State…provides for the exclusive control of this area of law to be within the hands' of the state of West Virgina. The environmental concerns of the residents of Morgantown, she determined, were not relevant to her ruling."

Margil further says that, "At the state level, once an activity is deemed a 'legal use,' communities are legally prohibited from banning it. Legal uses include everything from drilling and fracking to factory farming and corporate water bottling projects. When state governments legally authorize corporations to conduct fracking, they simultaneously prohibit communities from saying 'no' to it."

Some communities are choosing to forgo the "traditional site fights" for a broader, though longer term strategy: "adopting ordinances that challenge the structure of the law that grants corporations rights that override local, democratic decision making." As Margil notes, "These ordinances don’t just ban drilling; they counter the legal rights of corporations by creating legal protections for communities and the natural environment."

Read the complete article.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Peter Waichman Alonso via Creative Commons.

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Making MOGO (most good) Choices: The True Price of a Cheeseburger

For my blog post today, I'm sharing a recent post I wrote for One Green Planet, a blog dedicated to ethical choices. Here's an excerpt from "Making MOGO (most good) choices: The True Price of a Cheeseburger":

"We eat many times each day, and there is no other daily choice that has a bigger impact on ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment than what foods we put into our bodies.

One of the staples of the western, industrialized diet is the ubiquitous cheeseburger. Many people know that cheeseburgers aren’t the healthiest of food choices. Some have heard that cheeseburgers take a hefty environmental toll. Animal protection advocates are aware of the cruelty in the beef and dairy industries. A few know about the human rights abuses that occur on industrial farms and in slaughterhouses. So what is the true price of a cheeseburger?

The effects on you

Let’s start with the positive effects of a cheeseburger. Most people eat cheeseburgers at fast food restaurants. They are convenient, tasty (at least to many people), inexpensive (because we pay for them through subsidies financed by our tax dollars), and filling.

The negative impacts on us occur over time, so we don’t notice them when we consume a burger, but eating a diet that regularly includes cheeseburgers can lead, over time, to heart disease, strokes, various cancers, weight gain and obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, and even impotence. Regular intake of high fat, high cholesterol foods such as cheeseburgers has been implicated in the major diseases of our time, killing around half a million people every year in the United States according to numerous epidemiological studies."

Read the complete post.

For a humane world,

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 Hotels in Eastbourne.

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Wild Bill and Sweet William: Transforming Ourselves and the World

This post is by contributing blogger Lynne Westmoreland, long-time music instructor and a humane educator. Lynne is a graduate of our M.Ed. program, and is the instructor for our online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life, which is designed for people who want to put their vision for a better world & a more joyful, examined life into practice (next session starts September 2).

It is considered common knowledge that people don’t or can’t change much beyond a certain age and/or stage of their development. This is a wonderful concept to ponder when people are behaving well and mindfully, but not so great when people are behaving badly or blind to the damage they are doing. Most of us tend to look around at the great challenges of our current world affairs and believe that collectively things are going badly, and there is little hope for improvement. I’d like to challenge that notion. I want to suggest that people and events can change suddenly and dramatically. I want to propose that, just as individuals can become aware of the personal destruction they cause to themselves and others, our global community can become aware of the terrible amount of unnecessary suffering we are creating for ourselves, others, the planet, and for all of her inhabitants (human and non-human). The reason for my hope is embodied in my father.

My father is a recovering alcoholic. He had an extremely difficult upbringing during the Depression, with only his mother to raise him and his sister after their father was critically injured and institutionalized when they were young. My father never received the love, attention, and kindness that children so desperately need to form healthy self-esteem and a sense of personal empowerment. My father’s response to his family’s inability to care for him well was to act out in ways that were first self destructive and ultimately destructive to those around him. My father drank to drown his rage, fear, and impotence. My brothers, my mother, and I were afraid of him and his unpredictable moods and violent temper.

At some point, however, my father experienced an epiphany. He realized that his behavior and attitudes stood in the way of the kind of life he really wanted, and he stopped his most destructive habit: drinking. I would not be truthful to insinuate that we all lived happily ever after as a result of that decision. In fact, my father and I moved in fits and starts, across decades, to redefine and reconnect with a vision of what life could be, even with all of its wounds, pain, and resentment. We each had to look at how we had been hurt and learn how to forgive. More importantly, we began to realize that we had to look at how we had been the cause of so much pain for the other and ask for forgiveness ourselves. As we healed, we were each able to incorporate service and compassion for others into our lives more and more often. Or maybe I have the order of spiritual healing backwards. Perhaps as we become more aware of the needs of others and we work toward their well being, our own sense of joy and fulfillment increase exponentially.

My father was a sought after speaker for many decades, and he would always open his talk with the words “They used to call me Wild Bill but now they call me Sweet William.” This reference to his drinking days as the "Wild Bill" phase and his sobriety reflected in the "Sweet William" persona always got a big laugh, but there is such truth in that opening. My father has become a man who thinks of others’ needs, a man who listens more than he talks, a man of gentleness and humor, and a person of integrity and conviction. He treats others as he would like to be treated, and he models a way of living that is inspiring. Last week I was with him to lend moral support as he nears the end of his life. In addition to a chronic condition that is terminal, my dad had to endure two very painful outpatient surgeries on consecutive days. On the day after these surgeries and in a great deal of pain, I awoke to find him gone before dawn. My father was taking the newspapers that had been delivered to the end of his neighbors’ driveways and carrying them up to their doorsteps. The neighbors he was doing this for are those who are more infirm than he. In this simple act of kindness my father taught me a lifetime of lessons.

My father is not perfect nor is he a saint. But his life does reflect the enormous distance we can travel, individually and collectively, toward healing for ourselves and for the world we live in. Our global community is in the Wild Bill phase right now but tomorrow, or next week, or next month we are capable of entering our Sweet William time of understanding, healing, and strength through compassion and gentleness.

Image courtesy of Nossirom.

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Teaching: The Greatest Responsibility and Opportunity

For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent post I wrote for Common Dreams, a progressive news site. Here’s an excerpt from "Teaching: The Greatest Responsibility and Opportunity":

"In 1987 I taught several week-long humane education courses to twelve-year-olds in a summer program offered at the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve spoken about the experience of watching those kids turn into activists overnight through in my TEDx talk, “The World Becomes What You Teach,” but what I haven’t spoken about very often is the long-term impact of something as seemingly fleeting as a middle schooler’s summer course experience.

Twenty-two years after teaching that first course, I invited one of those students, now an HIV/AIDS activist working for the mayor of New York City, to come to a talk I was giving in Manhattan. I hadn’t seen him in 18 years, and now the boy I remembered was a 35-year-old man. After the talk I introduced him to friends explaining that he was in the first humane education course I ever taught, and before I could even finish my sentence he interjected, 'That course changed my life!'

During the many years I’ve been a humane educator, teaching about the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental preservation and animal protection in an effort to inspire solutionaries for a better world (and now through my work training others through the Institute for Humane Education’s, www.HumaneEducation.org graduate programs, online courses, workshops and resources), I’ve received many letters from students saying the week-long course they took 'will stay with me for a lifetime' and 'was the most inspiring five days of my life.' But it’s not simply week-long courses. Many times, even a single 45-minute presentation has stuck. I’ve run into several teenagers who’ve told me they remember a specific activity we did or something they learned from one brief visit to their classroom years earlier.

All this is to say that teachers have a profound, life-long influence on their students even through the briefest of interactions. Virtually all of us have memories of a teacher who changed our lives. And since teachers are generally with their students not for 45 minutes or a week, but an entire year or more, that impact could (and should) be tremendous. Which means that teaching may carry both the greatest opportunity and the gravest responsibility of any profession."

Read the complete post.

For a humane world,

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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Using Photographs to Teach Social Justice

We've written before about the power of images to deeply affect and influence people. Our friends at Teaching Tolerance recently created a series of 12 lessons for middle and high schoolers about using photographs to teach social justice.

The lessons are divided into three themes -- understanding people's perspectives; exposing injustice; and confronting injustice -- and culminate with students showing what they learned in a creative means, such as through photos, multimedia, journaling, or social media tools.

While the series limits its definition of social justice to people, it still offers an important means for exploring issues such as discrimination, justice, activism, historical events, and how visual images influence us.

Check out all 12 lessons.

These lessons could offer a great springboard for considering what kinds of events and issues get photographed and shared in the news, or how photographs may be framed, biased, or even manipulated to influence viewers in a certain way, as well as the growing power of amateur photographers to capture and convey important news.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of IanMurphy via Creative Commons.

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Guest Post: Is Nature Somewhere Else?

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.

We tend to think of nature as separate. We imagine spending time “out there” hiking in some remote wilderness, drinking from mountain streams and observing creatures that have never faced highway traffic. There, in a place far from our busy lives, we might find peace, tranquility and some kind of deep connection to what is real.

If. We. Just. Found. Time. To. Get. There.

That’s part of the problem. Because we’re already there. We are nature, right down to the life processes of every cell. And what’s around us even in the smallest city apartment? Nature.

Nature is the food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink. It’s seedlings pushing up between cracks in the cement (and the cement itself, depending how you define it), birds lighting on utility poles, pollen making us sneeze, storm clouds swelling with rain. It’s a living planet in a universe of natural laws that continue to be revealed to the amazement of scientists like Harvard’s Dr. Randall and the awe of cosmologists like Dr. Swimme in The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story.

When we define nature as separate from us it’s easier to push it aside as something apart from our very life force. This disconnect isn’t healthy for us or the planet.

In part it simply has to do with SEEING. I learned this when I helped conduct a psychology study in college. We went to urban office buildings and asked people two questions. First, we asked each person to describe his or her mood. Second, we asked them to describe the current appearance of the sky. These people were in their offices or hallways when we talked to them, and the windows in most buildings were shuttered with horizontal blinds ubiquitous during that decade, so the only way they could have described the sky is if they had paid attention on their way to work or during a break. Here’s the interesting part. The people who identified themselves as pessimistic, angry, depressed, or in other negative terms were also the ones unable to describe the sky’s appearance. You guessed it. The happiest and most optimistic people either correctly described the sky or came very close.

That study was never published, but research these days now indicates that pausing to experience nature in our daily lives is powerfully positive. Just a few minutes of regular exposure has been shown to improve our emotional and physical health. It leads us to be more generous, to enhance relationships and value community. The effect of nature, even looking out a window at nearby trees, seems to lead us, as one researcher noted, to be “our best selves.”

So wherever we are, let’s pay attention. Let’s remind ourselves to look at the sky every day, not just for a moment but long enough to savor it (without declaring the weather good or bad). Let’s put our bodies into the experience by taking regular strolls and touching the bark of a tree, a flower’s soft petal, the texture of a rock. Let’s watch the habits of birds, squirrels, spiders, and other creatures making their lives amongst ours. Let’s pick one tree near our homes and notice it as the seasons pass, as we would a quiet friend sharing the same neighborhood. It takes only a shift of awareness, but it can make a world of difference.

Nature is right here, moment to moment, in each breath we take. It connects us to what’s real and helps us be the people our planet needs right now.

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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Everyone Can Be an Activist: Pairing Your Passion & Skills for a Better World

For many of us, the image of an activist is an angry, sign-toting, slogan-chanting protester. Those are the activists the media often portrays. But there are many different ways to be an activist – that is, someone active on behalf of others, a changemaker. If the opposite of an activist is one who is passive, then all who endeavor to create a better world, rather than passively accepting the status quo, are activists.

When I expanded my own definition of activism, and discovered a way to mix my passions and talents in service to a greater good, I was able to give more than I’d imagined. Each of us can assess our talents and passions, and find the place where they meet. Here are 4 questions that can help you direct your life toward choices that are not only deeply fulfilling to you but which will make a difference for others.

  1. What issues or problems most concern you? Beyond your family and friends, who and what do you care most about?
  2. What skills and talents do you have that could be combined with your concerns to enable you to make a difference?
  3. What specific steps could you take to bring your talents and concerns together to achieve your goals?
  4. If you are already an activist or changemaker, are you best using your time and talents to make sure that you are as effective as you can be? What might you be doing that would better utilize your skills and maximize your impact?

If we realize that we have talents and experiences that we can bring to bear, and if we then witness the good that can come when our skills are appropriately focused, we also discover the joy that comes in solving entrenched problems.

(This is excerpted from my book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life.)

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"

Want support in pairing your passion and skills? Find the freedom, support, tools, and motivation you need to bring more joy, balance and satisfaction to your life and to make a positive difference in the world through IHE's month-long online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life. Sessions start September 2, October 3 and November 4. Sign up now!

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Guest Post: Compassionate U: Toward a New Definition of Compassion

This guest post is by Shawn Sweeney, an IHE M.Ed. graduate and National Program Coordinator for the Jane Goodall Institute's Roots and Shoots program. Shawn is founder and principal contributor of Compassionate U.

Today we have more information available to us than ever before. Knowledge that once took a very long time to transmit can now be available to us at our fingertips in a matter of seconds. All one has to do is pull out their smartphone or tablet pc and it’s right there.

As humane educators, teaching people to make decisions consistent with their values, the availability of this information can make those decisions easier and more difficult at the same time. We want to make compassionate decisions that show the kind of care and concern that we have for other people, for animals and for the environment we all share.

When we do research about a certain product, activity, food, you name it, we may find that a decision we were about to make might not be so compassionate. To address this challenge, we need to weigh our options and make our decisions accordingly. We can do this on our own, or we can choose to do it in community, where the decision can be much easier. And it is community, that provided the platform for our new website, Compassionate U.

Created this summer, Compassionate U, seeks to provide a space where dialogue around compassionate decision making for world issues takes place. Where people are welcome to discuss their concerns about how to approach the world, and how to live a compassionate life. Divided into six sections, this site offers everything from recipe and book reviews, to personal stories (both from in-house writers and guest writers), to columns that offer advice and spark discussion on compassionate decision making.

Compassionate U was founded by a group of my friends who were seeking to build community around these issues for everyone, but as 20-somethings growing in our respective professions, especially for our generation, as we proceed into increased leadership in our companies and communities. As a generation we are perhaps the last who remember a life without computers. A life when you had to wait, at least a little while, to get an answer to your question.

And now, with our world being completely saturated with information, as we begin to move into leadership and decision making, we have a great responsibility to make choices that both address the most pressing issues of our time, as well as show the kind of compassion of which we are capable. Compassionate U is exactly a place where we can discuss and share dialogue on these and many other issues, so that we can be confident in our decisions, and work towards a more just, humane and better world.

Compassionate U offers opportunities for people to share their stories of compassion; whether they are triumphs or challenges, all are welcome. This is a great opportunity for new humane educators or people who are new to humane education entirely to reach out to a community who cares to share their story and begin discussion around humane education issues. For more information about writing a guest post email info@compassionateu.org.

Compassionate U is looking for volunteers! Specifically, we need an editor and a social media guru to help with these aspects of the blog. If you're interested in either of these areas, please email

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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.

"Why are Finland's schools successful?" (via Smithsonian) (9/11)

"Seafood suffers from fishy eco-labelling" (via Nature) (8/22/11)

"What works to close the education gap" (via NPR) (8/22/11)

New study shows widening gap between "haves" and "have-nots" (via Boston Globe) (8/21/11)

"The kids are not all right" (op-ed) (via NY Times) (8/21/11)

Couple fights to keep organic garden that defies zoning bylaw (via Straight.com) (8/21/11)

Florida schools adopting tougher standards for kindergarten (via Palm Beach Post News) (8/20/11)

Rights Commission rules that U.S. must do more to protect victims of domestic violence (via IPS) (8/19/11)

"One billion vehicles now cruise the planet" (via Discovery News) (8/18/11)

Gallup poll shows how public feels about public education (via Phi Delta Kappa) (8/11)

"Schools restore fresh cooking to the cafeteria" (via NY Times) (8/16/11)

"Teachers feeling 'beat down' as school year starts" (via NPR) (8/10/11)

Netherlands trying new system to charge car owners for miles driven (via NY Times) (8/10/11)

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

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Congratulations to IHE's 2011 Graduates!

We're so proud of the amazing group of 18 graduates who have completed their M.Ed. degrees with the Institute for Humane Education this year. Congratulations to:

Derin Darby, Nadia Erdolen, Shannon Finch, Lisa Forzley, Sherry Gilkin, Wendy Gilmore, Charley Korns, Garth Knox, Brian Loring, Paula Manor, Becky Morgan, Hope Phillips, Rachel Rettinger, Kurt Schmidt, Trudie Steenwyk, Shawn Sweeney, John Tewksbury, and Dace Zoltners!

Here's what a few of our new graduates are up to:

Lisa Forzley is a humane education specialist with the Detroit Zoological Society.

Charley Korns is hosting film screenings and discussions on topics related to humane issues.

Becky Morgan works as Project Coordinator for Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS), which helps kids learn about global issues through food.

Kurt Schmidt is excited to be incorporating humane education principles and practices into his continued teaching of mathematics courses to students of aboriginal descent from Atlantic Canada.

Shawn Sweeney works as National Program Coordinator for the Jane Goodall Institute's Roots and Shoots program.

Lynne Westmoreland is working as a social justice and religious education instructor at her church, is teaching a course on compassion, and is an instructor for IHE's online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life.

If you want to take your compassion and convictions and turn them into a career that can transform your life and the world, apply for one of IHE's new graduate programs, in partnership with Valparaiso University. Earn an M.Ed., M.A., graduate certificate and more. Contact Mary Pat Champeau, Director of Education, for more information.

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Helping Youth Become Solutionaries: The Rockville, Maryland Proposed Deer Hunt

For my blog post today, I wanted to share a letter I wrote to the mayor and council members of Rockville, Maryland, regarding their proposed deer hunt. While they are hearing from many people and experts, I specifically wanted to address the issue as a humane educator.


To the mayor and council members of Rockville, Maryland:

I am the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education, and it’s come to my attention that Rockville is considering a deer hunt. I wanted to write to express my concern, specifically about the effect on children of a deer hunt. As a humane educator – someone who teaches about the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental preservation, and animal protection in an effort to provide students with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries for a better world – I believe that a deer hunt would represent not only a poor solution to the problem Rockville faces, but also be detrimental to youth.

At a time when it’s so important to foster reverence and compassion among children and to increase their “nature literacy,” a deer hunt has the potential to quash that empathy and appreciation and dull their creative and problem-solving capacities. We are capable of finding safer, more humane, more peaceful methods for addressing local challenges with wildlife, and if Rockville simply resorts to a hunt, the message that healthy, humane solutions are possible is lost. And because it is lost among youth who most need to cultivate these critical thinking skills for a changing world, there is the likelihood that many young people – especially the brightest and most creative – will lose a tremendous opportunity for innovation.

Perhaps the students in Rockville schools could address the challenge of deer proliferation in Rockville, studying the issue and using it as a real-life example in their science, math, social studies, government, and language arts curricula. Inviting youth to first study and then come up with ideas for solving local wildlife challenges would be wonderful pedagogy and help Rockville set a precedent for engaging its young population in solutionary thinking. It would also prevent the dulling of young people’s compassion and love for other species, a quality we should be nurturing at a time when habitat is being destroyed, species are becoming extinct, and humanity is threatening the ecosystems upon which we all depend.

Zoe Weil


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 in Action: Helping College Students Rethink Animals

We first interviewed our good friend and colleague, Paul Gorski, assistant professor at George Mason University and founder of EdChange.org, last fall, about his work amidst the intersections of justice. When we learned that he taught an intensive course about animal rights and humane education for the first time this summer, we had to get the scoop.

IHE: What inspired you to teach a summer course about animal rights and humane education?

PG: I always am looking for fresh opportunities to engage students in processes that might help them, in essence, see what they've been socialized not to see. Most of them eat meat; many love going to circuses and Sea World. I knew that, despite my evolving consciousness related to other sorts of justice issues, I was oblivious to, or chose not to see, some forms of animal exploitation for much of my life, as well. Thanks, in part, to my partner, Jennifer Hickman, a lifelong animal rights activist, I am increasingly passionate about animal rights and their intersections with topics about which I normally teach: social justice education, economic justice, and environmental justice. I knew, partially because I am so compelled by animal rights, that the title of the class would make students curious--especially those who had taken other classes with me. Plus, a majority of my students in New Century College are future teachers. All of this sort of came together, and I was inspired to create and teach the class.

IHE: How were you able to get the course approved? Were there any obstacles from George Mason University?

PG: I teach in New Century College, which is a sort of college-within-a-college at George Mason University. The programs within New Century College are all interdisciplinary and integrative. Every faculty member comes from a different discipline. As a faculty member I am encouraged to dream up and design innovative courses. I have been lucky to teach in two of the most pedagogically and curricularly innovative programs in the U.S., first in the M.A.Ed. and Ed.D. programs at Hamline University, then in New Century College at GMU. So I didn't experience any obstacles teaching the Animal Rights and Humane Education course, nor have I experienced any obstacles teaching Social Justice Education, Poverty, Wealthy and Inequality, or courses on other politically-charged topics.

IHE: How did you decide what materials (films, speakers, etc.) to use, and can you share a few of them?

PG: Luckily, I'm close enough to Washington, D.C., to have access to some fabulous organization-based resources. I used a lot of guest speakers, including Justin Goodman (Laboratory Investigations Department) and Katie Arth (D.C. Organizer) of PETA, Anne Hogan (New Media) and Matthew Prescott (Corporate Policy and Supply Chain Strategy) of the HSUS, and a team of students from GMU's Animal Rights Collective. These guests talked to my students about the campaigns on which they're focused and the strategies they employ in those campaigns. I chose a range of speakers in order to make sure my students saw models of people doing humane education from a variety of philosophical and strategic positions, from a more welfarist point of view to a more liberatory point of view.

Similarly, I used a variety of films, often juxtaposing corporate or industry claims, such as by showing a film on the Ringling Brothers website about their elephant programs, with more critical analyses, such as by showing the "Entertainment" portion of the film, Earthlings. I showed a few other disturbing films, including Meet Your Meat, that graphically depicted animal exploitation, but I also showed films, like The Cove, which focused more on forms of activism.

I designed the class as a week-long seminar, so we met all day for a week, Monday through Friday, allowing us to get out into the field, as well. We spent one full day at the Poplar Springs Farm Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland, which is one of my favorite places in the world. Terry, one of the sanctuary's founders, introduced us to many of the animals, sharing the stories of how they ended up there. That process--sort of describing each animal as an individual with a personality--seemed to be extremely powerful to my students, most of whom were not animal rights activists. We spent Friday at the Taking Action for Animals conference in Washington, D.C., so that my students could engage with people involved in the movement.

IHE: Can you give us brief overview of the course?

PG: My intention was to introduce students to a wide range of animal rights concerns and to help them consider those concerns in light of their own lives, their own choices, and their future careers (mostly as teachers). Each day we focused on one or two animal rights issues: factory farming, animals in entertainment, animal testing, and so on.

More importantly, though, in New Century College we require students to take a certain number of "experiential learning" credits. Most of the courses I teach in the summer are experiential learning courses. I like to tell students in my experiential courses that the nature of experiential learning is that learning happens in your head and in your bones. The idea is not to read something, then write an essay, but to experience something much more deeply. So there was no lecture and very little "chalk talk" and a lot of dialogue, a lot of experiencing, a lot of analyzing.

There were several in-class types of interactive and group assignments for which students collected data and examined various perspectives on animal rights concerns such as dog fighting, fur trapping, and canned hunting. In addition, students had to complete two out of four major course assignments at the end of the class. These included (1) an analysis of the effectiveness of a specific animal rights campaign from the perspective of a particular target group (for which they could choose their own peer group or their future students); (2) a philosophical essay in response to the question, Do animals have rights?; (3) a creative project in a form of their choice on the theme, The Human Cost of Animal Suffering, in which they explored how animal abuse affects the human spirit; and (4) a humane education lesson plan on an animal rights issue of their choice.

Our in-person week was followed by a week of online discussion, as well.

IHE: Humane education isn't about indoctrination, but it sometimes gets that label. How did you deal with any concerns about bias or indoctrination (from students, administrators, etc.)?

PG: I teach these sorts of courses in order to open new windows for my students. I do not enter these classes hoping to turn all of my students into activists, although part of me might be drawn to that possibility. I am up-front with my take on many issues, but I also have learned over the years to create space for my students to grow and grapple with cognitive dissonance. The students recognize this, I think, so I rarely have to deal with concerns about bias or indoctrination from them. The issue has never come up with administrators, whether with this class or any other I have taught in New Century College. But I do know that, if I am an effective facilitator of learning, and I just let students know that a new window is there, they will be curious enough to look through it eventually. Often that doesn't happen on the spot, in the class. Maybe it happens the next time they see animal abuse or drive by a chicken farm. But I work as hard as I can to give them all of the cognitive tools they need so that they start to question what they hear and see. My sense is that this approach results in greater learning for students and, perhaps, in more activism by those who choose whatever we're discussing as they're particular battle. It's all a matter of effective facilitation.

IHE: How did students react to what they learned?

Reactions varied. One student became a vegan after the first day of class and started sending me descriptions of the vegan meals she was cooking each night that week. Others were more hesitant. It was interesting to see a sort of divide between those who felt very engaged by some of the more graphic films or by PETA's brand of activism (what I would call an "animal rights" approach) and those who were critical of that sort of thing and preferred a more welfarist approach. Many of the students were future elementary educators, so they often spoke about all of this through what they assumed to be the lenses of their future students.

I collected reflection papers after each day of class, though, and I have read all of their final assignments, so about this I'm certain: Every student was surprised by the amount of exploitation animals suffer for human profit. Every student sees that aspect of the world a little differently now.

IHE: What was the biggest lesson you learned, and what from the course did you find most challenging and most inspiring?

I relearned a lesson I never seem to learn adequately: My students are amazingly smart and incredibly complex thinkers. I teach about a lot of difficult, gut-wrenching topics, and I often find myself reflecting on whether to show this or that film clip, whether certain topics are too upsetting, whether students will tune out if we start talking about, say, links between animal or human exploitation and corporate profits. I hear people say things like "ignorance is bliss" and I think, Not to my students, it's not. I think there are a lot of problems with teacher education in the U.S., but perhaps the biggest problem is that, even while we challenge future teachers to have high expectations for their future students, we don't always seem to have very high expectations of what they are capable of doing. I relearned that my students are desperate to be pushed, to get messy, to trade comfort for deeper learning. I relearned how honored I feel that they allow me along for the ride.

The most challenging part of the course was the lack of time.

IHE: Why do you think so few universities offer courses about animal rights/animal protection, and do you think the trend to do so will grow?

I know that schools and colleges of agriculture within some universities offer courses in animal welfare, but these usually are framed from the point of view of the industry. Often these sorts of programs would be hostile to conversations about animal rights, a discipline that could be seen as threatening to agricultural industry profits.

The courses that do exist appear to be found primarily in philosophy programs and the occasional animal studies program.

I do think the trend will grow, particularly as people who teach about social and environmental justice come to realize that these disciplines and movements are interconnected. I know that IHE has collaborated on some great course and program opportunities, and the Humane Society University recently was approved to start offering several full Masters programs, so those developments should bolster animal rights and humane education as legitimate scholarly pursuits.

IHE: At IHE we focus on the interconnectedness of social justice, environmental preservation, and animal protection. You usually teach more about issues of poverty, racism, and gender. Do you find yourself integrating more of the animal connections into these courses, or is there still a separation?

In the past couple years I have introduced my "circle of justice" model in most of my classes. It is a diagram that overlays social justice, environmental justice, and animal rights concerns, demonstrating how they are intersectional; how the biggest exploiters of humans, systemically speaking, also tend to be the biggest exploiters of animals and the environment; how all of this appears to be driven by profits and power. But I'm still evolving when it comes to providing a seamless integration, largely because each of these issues is so enormous in its own right.

I also am working with Al Fuertes, one of my favorite colleagues, to design a new concentration in New Century College in Social Justice and Peace, which will include an Environmental Justice course I designed for GMU's Conservation Studies major as well as the Animal Rights and Humane Education course. My dream is to develop a program--perhaps a graduate program--based around my "circle of justice" model.

IHE: Will you teach this course again?

PG: I likely will teach the course either in the summer of 2012 or the spring of 2013.

Paul C. Gorski 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.

~ Marsha

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The Greatest Gift: Raising Our Children to Be Humane Citizens

What do you want most for your children? I think that the majority of us parents, when we deeply reflect upon this question, find ourselves hoping our children will grow up to be joyful, kind, generous, honest, compassionate, good people. There’s a word that sums up these qualities: humane.

As parents, I believe we have a responsibility to raise conscious and conscientious children who have the knowledge, will and capacity to address grave problems, such as climate change, escalating worldwide slavery, alarming rates of species extinction, terrorism, an energy crisis, and more.

This means that we parents must ourselves become curious, creative, critical thinkers, role models of humane living, and engaged changemakers for a better world through our parenting, acts of citizenship, work outside the home, and community involvement.

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.

But as hard as this challenge is, choosing to build a supportive community around our children, to influence their schools, and to take up the great work of modeling for our children the lives we would wish for them is profoundly rewarding. Parenting our children in this way brings its own joy, meaning, and great satisfaction because we ourselves choose to live with integrity, honesty, kindness, wisdom and perseverance which is the best antidote to fear, despair, and disempowerment, and perhaps the greatest gift we can give our kids.

For a humane world,

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"

Our six-week online course, Raising a Humane Child, is designed to help you in your quest to live your life according to your deepest values and to raise your children to be joyful, engaged citizens in creating a just, compassionate, healthy world for all. Many tell us this course is life-changing. It is also world-changing. Sessions start September 12 and November 7. Sign up now.

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Under the Influence: 4 Must-Read "Motivation" Books for Changemakers

It has never been more important for people passionate about creating a better world to pay attention to how and why people make the choices they do. What influences their decisions? Their buying and donating choices? The beliefs and values they have? What turns inspiration into positive action? The business world has spent significant time, money and effort to explore these issues, while changemakers are just starting to realize that good intentions don’t necessarily equal good results and that understanding these issues is essential. There are a slew of great books that have been published in the last several years about motivation, social psychology, and influence; here are just four that we recommend as must-reads:

Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes

by Katya Andresen (2006)

Yes, this is a marketing book, but Andresen’s insights into what motivates audiences and how to shape messages and campaigns is essential reading for non-profits and lone changemakers alike.

Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change

by Nick Cooney (2010)

One of the things we like best about Cooney’s book is that it synthesizes much of the social psychology research on motivation and decision making and filters it through the social change lens. Not every suggestion is worth supporting, but its core message is spot on. Read our blog post about it here. If you find this social psychology and behavior study intriguing, check out some of the books mentioned within Cooney's book, such as Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

by Malcolm Gladwell (2002)

This is a classic and required reading for our graduate students. Even if you’ve read it, go back and give it another look. Big social change can come from small, important actions.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

by Chip and Dan Heath (2010)

I liked this one so much that I bought a copy (and I rarely buy books anymore). A great exploration of the psychology of change, why some “simple” changes are so hard, and strategies for easing the way to positive change. Read our blog post about it here, and also check out the Heath brothers’ earlier book, Made to Stick.

~ Marsha

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What the Teachers Are Themselves

For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent post I wrote for Care2.com, an online community for people passionate about creating a better world. Here’s an excerpt from What the Teachers Are Themselves:

"There’s a couplet by Rudyard Kipling that shines a sometimes too bright light on one of the biggest truths we educators must confront:

No printed word, nor spoken plea can teach young minds what they should be.

Not all the books on all the shelves – but what the teachers are themselves.

Mahatma Gandhi said something similar when asked by a reporter, “What is your message?” and he replied that his life was his message.

And my wise friend and the director of the Institute for Humane Education’s graduate programs, Mary Pat Champeau, has always reminded me that in our role as parents, nothing matters more than modeling the behaviors we hope to cultivate in our children. (In other words, we must not yell at our children to stop yelling.)

... There are few professions in which being a truly great human being and embodying the best qualities of humanity (compassion, wisdom, kindness, curiosity, generosity, courage, perseverance and so on) is part of the job description, but teaching is one of them."

For a humane world,

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 Gamma Man via Creative Commons.

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Humane Educators' Toolbox: The Oil Game

Thanks to a recent post on Treehugger, I discovered an intriguing video highlighting a lesson called "The Oil Game," which, as creator Tom Harper says, is "designed to explore our oil dependent lifestyles and to question how we might move beyond that to a less oil dependent, more sustainable world."

In the video clip below, the students are engaged, thinking critically and creatively, solving problems, and developing positive solutions.

The Oil Game from Tom Harper on Vimeo.

I would love to see what the whole game looks like in action. It seems like a great opportunity for students to explore something complex, important, relevant to their lives, and able to help them become active citizens in creating a healthy, just, humane world for all.

~ 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.

USDA defines "egregious cruelty" for livestock handling (via Vegan.com) (8/15/11)

"Why bottled water companies target blacks & latinos" (via Mother Jones) (8/15/11)

Researchers investigate impact of licensed characters on "nag factor" (via JHB School of Public Health) (8/15/11)

"We're all responsible for bullying" (via Education Week) (8/15/11)

"No take" policy helps marine life recover at Mexican marine park (via International Business Times) (8/14/11)

Study shows gender cues (like pink) hurt breast cancer awareness, rather than help (via Sociological Images) (8/14/11)

Rethinking using chimpanzees in research (via Washington Post) (8/13/11)

Should U.S. renew apprenticeship programs? (via CNN) (8/11/11)

"Since when is it a crime to be poor?" (via Mother Jones) (8/9/11)

"The UK riots: the psychology of looting" (commentary) (via The Guardian) (8/9/11)

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

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Mark Your Calendar for "Expanding the Circle of Compassion" Webinar

Honing our skills, increasing our knowledge, and learning from others are all important elements of being an excellent humane educator. Here's an upcoming opportunity to do just that:

Our friends at HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers) are leading a webinar called Expanding the Circle of Compassion. It's available either Wednesday, August 24 or Friday, August 26, starting at 9:30 am PT/12:30 pm ET. Here's their description:

In this webinar, we will explain the inherent value of teaching humane education in its broadest sense and the range of HEART’s services and programming. We will focus on content from our comprehensive 4th-8th grade ten-lesson humane education curriculum, which promotes critical thinking and deepens students’ awareness of various human rights, animal protection and environmental preservation issues. Our lessons help students understand the global consequences of their actions and provide them with the tools to make more compassionate choices. Our program is designed for in-school settings and has been modified easily for other educational venues. In this presentation, participants will learn about HEART’s unique approach to humane education and gain the necessary skills to develop or expand their own programs. These lessons will both offer them new ideas and show them how to incorporate different learning styles. In our human rights unit, we will demonstrate portions of our child labor lesson “How Much Does that Really Cost?” by using a kinesthetic activity. For animal protection, we will share portions of our lesson called “Dogs, Cats, and Cows. Oh My!” that focuses on puppy mills and factory farms. We will then demonstrate an interactive, environmentally-focused activity, along with guided imagery, from our lesson “Protecting Mother Earth and Her Inhabitants.” The interconnectedness among these lessons will be emphasized by sharing components of our lessons “The Circle of Compassion” and “The Power of One.” All of HEART’s lessons can be enhanced by incorporating hands-on projects and service learning activities (examples will be provided). Lastly, we will share some of the challenges of teaching broad-based humane education, how to overcome these potential obstacles.

The webinar lasts for 90 minutes and is co-sponsored by PETsMART Charities and our friends at APHE (Association for Professional Humane Educators).

Find out more & register. I'm already signed up!

~ Marsha

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Jennifer Lehr: Helping Angry Children Deal & "Dealing" With Angry Children

I don't have kids of my own, but as an educator and citizen, I often learn a lot from parents in their journeys to nurture healthy, happy, compassionate, conscientious children. (One of my favorite books is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk -- and, of course, Above All, Be Kind.) So, I was happy to recently discover Jennifer Lehr's blog, "Good Job!" And Other Things You Shouldn't Say or Do (unless you want to ruin your kid's life). I love how she strives for compassionate, mindful communication with her children, seeking their underlying needs and striving to find positive solutions (much like humane education).

In a recent post, Jennifer explores angry children "saying and doing things that in turn anger their parents which in turn 'makes' their parents say and do things that further anger or alienate their children in their well-intentioned effort to show them that they will not tolerate rude behavior."

Here are a couple sample excerpts:

"... children aren’t born knowing how to deal with anger. And once they do start to learn, they need practice. In a safe environment. And they need parents who model it beautifully day in and day out."

"... Unfortunately, adults getting mad at children because of the way they’ve expressed their anger is more of a distraction than anything. It takes the attention away from the reason their child is upset and focuses on how they are showing their upset. It convolutes the situation and often the original upset never gets the time of day. It just festers. Your child never gets heard or understood. They don’t get an empathetic ear, they get punished. And they feel badly about themselves. They feel wrong. And rude. And bad. And angrier! Because usually the way parents deal with a child’s “inappropriate” way of showing their anger is not only distracting and not helpful, but it’s also wounding."

"... The message that threatening, yelling, isolating, hitting and abandoning gives is this: You are only loveable when you are behaving properly. If you can’t control yourself, I will treat you poorly, often equally as poorly as you are treating me or worse."

Read the complete post.

Although Jennifer's wise words are for parents in engaging with their children, they're also a great reminder for us in how we engage with other adults -- and how we deal with our own anger.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of hyperorbit.

Parents: get help and support in nurturing compassionate, conscientious children. Sign up now for one of our sessions of our six-week online course, Raising a Humane Child.

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Do You Tune Out or Tune In to Atrocities?

Zoe's been busy with speaking & traveling and didn't have time to write a blog post for today, so here's a repost from 11/19/10. Enjoy!

I’ve always been struck by people saying that they don’t want to know about a particular atrocity or cruelty or problem in the world. It’s not uncommon to hear this from adults (though rarely from youth). I think the motivation to avoid new knowledge stems from people’s desire to live with integrity. That might sound like an odd statement, but if you learn something that calls into question choices you make, and you really don’t want to change, then you’ll be faced with the unpleasant experience of living without integrity. Better not to know. Ignorance is bliss after all.

But I’m struck by this head-in-the-sand behavior because it’s foreign to me. I’ve always wanted to know. Even if I am unready or unwilling to make a different choice, I’d rather know and live with my discomfort than not know. I’d rather have the opportunity to live more closely aligned with my values.

Over time, though, I’m beginning to understand the disinclination to know. I do get tired of all the bad news, of learning about more problems, of facing my own lack of integrity. This fatigue is helping me understand those people who say, “Don’t tell me about _______. I don’t want to know.” And understanding is a good thing. It helps me build bridges and offer smaller invitations. It helps me teach more wisely and carefully and inspire baby steps toward knowing. It keeps me from being self-righteous, and helps me maintain some humility.

Still, even when I get tired, I know there’s no other path for me. Maybe I’ll take a brief respite from the myriad books and videos that expose me to the grave and horrible problems in the world, but not for long. There’s work to do, and I don’t know how else to live with myself or to live in this imperfect world that needs our good work.

What about you?

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 Identity Photogr@phy via Creative Commons.

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