Wanna Create a Better World? Then Get Your Facts Straight: 7 Tips for Sharing Accurate Information

factsAlex Steffen from Worldchanging wrote a great post recently about comparisons used for sustainability issues to help — usually the public — more easily grasp the consequences and impacts of various actions. As he says:

“We all see sustainability comparisons regularly: ‘…if Americans stopped buying red, round clown noses, they’d save as much energy as it takes to make all the pogo sticks used worldwide.’ These are fun. Sometimes these are clever. Unfortunately, these are also almost always completely useless….”

Steffen goes on to say that the numbers and statistics used can be awfully fuzzy and/or arbitrary, that different comparisons measure the same sorts of things in different ways, and that comparisons can be confusing.

As he says in his post:

“…in too many cases, advocates choose to measure different things in different ways in order to get to a number that supports their preferred climate action, or just see putting these sorts of statistics into the world in purely utilitarian terms: if it gets people to act, why quibble about the details?”

Steffen says that the details are definitely worth quibbling about, and I agree.

One of our most essential duties as an activist for whatever cause(s) or issue(s) is to ensure to the best of our abilities that the information we’re sharing is accurate. Once our credibility is lost, it’s lost. Here are just a few tips to consider about providing accurate information:

1. Use reliable sources and double check them. Don’t just take one organization’s word for it; check several sources. If you’re seeing facts and statistics on an advocacy website, do they cite those sources? Are those sources credible, or are they links to more advocacy sites and information? What’s the original source of that information?

2. Whenever possible use primary sources. Can you visit a factory farm yourself? Review that latest study on global warming yourself and not just skim the press release sent out by an advocacy group? Talk to a person who’s an expert on the issue in question? Find the original source for the statistic being used? Go to the source when you can.

3. Use industry and government sources when possible and appropriate. No, they’re not more likely to be accurate or credible (in fact, often the opposite), but, like it or not, the public often gives more credence to industry and government sources as being “objective” and tends to think advocacy groups are more “biased.” (Which, of course, we are.) One of the things I love about Vegan Outreach‘s literature is that they often manage to use farmed animal industry statistics and quotes to show just how horrible industrial agriculture is.

4. Never exaggerate or mislead. It can be tempting, as Steffen mentions in his post, since it’s for a good cause, but honesty and accuracy must prevail.  And, again, if you get caught telling a little white lie, your credibility is gone, and a potential future advocate is lost.

5. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” There are so many challenges in the world, that even if you focus on one issue, there’s too much to know. Certainly it’s important to be as knowledgeable as you can, so be sure to continue to educate yourself; but, it’s okay to tell someone that you don’t know the answer to their question or assertion. People will often appreciate your honesty, and if you can point them to some credible resources that CAN answer their question, even better.

6. Tell them “Don’t take my word for it.” Invite them to explore the issue(s) themselves and do their own investigating. They’re more likely to believe what they read, see or hear with their own senses, rather than getting it second (or third) hand. We WANT to encourage critical thinking and questioning, including of what we ourselves are saying.

7. Admit when you’re wrong. Information is dynamic, and with new knowledge, facts and statistics can change. New studies may reveal new data. Or, you may have found the same statistic from three reliable sources and then subsequently discovered that all of them were mistaken. Don’t hesitate to admit if you’ve been inadvertently sharing an inaccurate piece of information or if someone you’re talking to turns out to know more about the issue than you do. Mistakes happen. Honesty and sincerity are more important than clinging to erroneous data, even if it seems to “weaken” your stance.

And, of course, it’s important to remember that not everyone responds to logic and data. Many changes of heart (and habits) aren’t made from the information on charts and graphs, but come from an awareness of the impact of our choices on others and a realization that we don’t want to cause others harm.

~ Marsha

WebSpotlight: Understanding Prejudice

As much as we want to believe otherwise, prejudice is still a significant element of society. And many of us who would claim to be completely unprejudiced have biases that we may not even be aware of.

The website UnderstandingPrejudice.org offers a wealth of information and resources for students, educators and others interested in exploring issues of prejudice and bias.

The website offers activities, links to websites, articles and other readings, as well as to relevant organizations and experts. I also like that they include an exploration of speciesism as an element of prejudice.

One of the most compelling and useful aspects of the website are the interactive surveys, quizzes and tours on topics such as “Test Yourself for Hidden Bias,” “What’s Your Native IQ?” and “Where Do You Draw the Line?” (Note that most of the interactive elements require you to first register, but doing so allows you to track your responses over time.)

It’s amazing what you can discover about yourself from these quizzes and surveys. Check out the site and improve your knowledge while decreasing (hopefully) your hidden biases.

~ Marsha

National Justice for Animals Week

I just discovered that this week is the first ever  National Justice for Animals Week, sponsored by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.   The goal of this annual campaign is to increase “public awareness nationwide about how to report animal abuse—and how to work within your community to create stronger laws and assure tough enforcement.”

The campaign has a different suggested daily action to help work toward justice for animals, as well as information and resources to help you take action in your own community and abroad. You can also sign the Animal Bill of Rights, which, while not nearly strong enough, includes language to help protect animals from the worst exploitation, neglect, abuse and cruelty.

I also joined their Facebook cause and am recruiting others who might not know about this issue.

Check it out, and join in if you are moved to help animals who cannot help themselves.

~ Marsha

MOGO Mini-Tip: Never Say Never

neverRecently I was having dinner with some new acquaintances, and we were talking about the way that my friend and colleague, Khalif, lives. Khalif is the Executive Director of the Institute for Humane Education, and he and his wife and two sons live in a 580 square foot eco-friendly house they built themselves (with the help of friends). They don’t have plumbing, and they’ve been without electricity for several years (they recently installed solar panels, so they now have a light or two). They use the “humanure” method for dealing with their own waste. They eat vegan, local, mostly non-processed stuff, and almost everything they buy is used. Their lives are simple, low-impact, healthy, and happy.

This way of living is so outside the realm of a couple of my dinner-mates that they said “I admire him, but I could NEVER live like that.” [Interestingly, Khalif lives more like (and still more easily and conveniently than) most people in the world do.]

Of course, as a long-time  activist, I’ve heard plenty of people say “I could never give up (insert animal product here)!” or “I could never live without my car.” or “I could never make the time to cook my own meals/eat healthy/look at the impact of my choices on others.”

I’m sure you’ve heard people say “I could never….” about something. We encounter something strange to us, and we’re certain that we could never. There are some things we should definitely never do, but most of our “nevers” stem from what we’re accustomed to. We grew up eating animals — it’s a part of our tradition, our culture, our daily habits — so we think we could never choose differently. Likewise, many of us grew up with running water and plumbing and electricity at the flick of a switch, so we can’t imagine being able to live without them. Cars take us where we want to go with speed (usually) and convenience, so we come to believe that we could never do without them. And with the explosion in technological devices, there are now all sorts of gadgets that we could NEVER live without.

I’ve had plenty of I could nevers. I never thought I’d stop eating animals, live without a television, or go to the bathroom in the woods.  I never thought I’d come to dislike shopping or pop culture. I never thought I’d come to love humanity. I never thought I’d do public speaking as often as I do.

You get the idea. We close ourselves off to positive change because it’s scary and inconvenient at the time and not what everyone else is doing, but it’s actually just a matter of what we’re used to. If we’re willing, we can create new, more compassionate, just and sustainable habits, so that eventually we look back on some of our choices and think “I can’t believe that I ever thought I’d never….”

Take a close look at your nevers and consider whether there’s any wiggle room for “Maybe I could….”

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of demi-brooke via Creative Commons.

De-Spam Your Phone Books

phonebooksThe last time I used a phone book was when I was in a restaurant, waiting on a friend, and I had forgotten to bring her phone number. When I’m at home, I never use a directory, unless it’s the local ReDirect Guide, which has listings for healthy, sustainable businesses and organizations, or Green America’s National Green Pages, which has listings of “green” businesses nationwide. But, both of those are guides that I requested. They weren’t littered on my doorstep, wrapped up in a non-recyclable, will-be-around-for-practically-forever plastic bag.

Yesterday my husband came home and told me that his co-worker had accepted 8 copies of the phone book from the delivery person, because she didn’t want to upset him. What’s a store going to do with 8 phone books? Unless they’re going to become part of a special sales incentive, they’ll probably get thrown out.

Certainly it’s possible to recycle phone books, though apparently many people don’t. And, if you’re fortunate, you can catch the delivery person in the act and politely refuse a phone book — which I’ve been able to do about twice in my almost 8 years here in Oregon.

Phone books definitely are useful for some people, but in today’s instant-answer technological world when that same information in those yellow pages is available online, for many people they’ve become just another — albeit very large and bulky — piece of spam.

It feels ecologically unethical for something to be produced that most people are going to immediately toss. So, if you would like to join the ranks of people who want control over their phone book options, then here are a couple of choices:

A few days ago a friend sent me a link to Yellow Pages Goes Green, a site that offers to contact the various phone directory companies to ask them to remove your name from the directory distribution list. I filled out their opt out form right away, but then I realized that I don’t really know much about the organization. It has been written up in several blogs and a couple of newspapers, but that doesn’t reveal much information. So, use your judgment about using this option.

You can also call each of the Telephone Directory companies and ask them to remove you from their lists. Here are their phone numbers:

  • AT&T/YellowPages (formerly SBC and Bell South):   1.800.792.2665
  • Verizon (Idearc):   1.800.888.8448
  • Dex:   1.877.243.8339
  • Yellow Book:   1.800.373.3280 or 1.800.373.2324

It takes a little more time, but at least you’re in direct contact with the companies.

Really, though, this is the sort of issue that calls, not just for personal action, but for systemic change. Millions of trees are cut down to create pretty much instant trash. So, I invite you to contact the phone companies, as well as your legislators, and encourage them to develop a positive solution, such as one that mirrors the Do Not Call Registry.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for folks carrying bulky plastic bags, and hop online to search out “phone book crafts.”

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of frankh via Creative Commons.

Selling American Girlhood: The American Girl Phenomenon

rethinkingschoolsmarketingYour daughter/niece/friend’s child wants a doll, and although you have fond memories of the exploits of Ken and Barbie from your own childhood, you realize that Barbie really isn’t the best role model. And, of course, those brazen, anorexic Bratz things are out of the question. So, you turn to something like the American Girl dolls. Those seem pretty girl-power focused. Plus, they have dolls of different ethnicities. And, there’s a magazine and a series of historical books about each girl, so they inspire reading and learning about history.  So, it seems like a pretty safe, pro-girl choice, event if AG does promote a lot of products, right? Not so fast.

The latest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine has a terrific analysis of the American Girl doll/book/movie/products/girl culture phenomenon. “Marketing American Girlhood“, by Elizabeth Marshall, searches underneath the initial layer of “girl power” and diversity that American Girl purports to promote and examines the actual messages and intentions. Here are three short excerpts from the article to tempt you to read the article:

“However, any potential ‘girl-power’ lessons are short-circuited in these books through the use of historical fiction to deliver traditional lessons about what girls can and should do. While the stories take place in key historical moments, such as the Civil War, and World War II, the girls rarely participate in historical events in any substantial way.”

“The American Girl historical girl collection also purports to be multicultural and includes African American (Addy), Latina (Josefina), and Native American (Kaya) characters. However, this inclusion is superficial and represents the ways in which ‘difference,’ like ‘girl power,’ has become a commodity that American Girl markets to its consumers.”

“Some might argue that American Girl is not as bad as other materials on the market, or as offensive as Barbie or Bratz dolls. This argument misses the key features of what makes this phenomenon so insidious: how corporations play on the feminist and /or educative aspirations of parents, teachers, girls, and young women and turn these toward consumption. American Girl is less about strong girls, diversity or history than about marketing girlhood, about hooking girls, their parents and grandparents into buying the American Girl products and experience.”

As a former youth librarian, when the AG books first came out, I was happy to see something to counteract the lure of licensed-character books and other stuff. Sure, they weren’t meaningful literature, but they had a positive spin and attracted a large number of readers. But then came the stuff: the magazine, the doll accessories that cost more than some real accessories, more dolls, more stuff. Under the guise of girl-power, AG is grooming another generation to become happy consumers,  who don’t question the impact of all that stuff or the messages behind them. Check out the article and share it with parents and friends.

~ Marsha

MOGO Mini-Tip: Thank Everyone

thankyounoteLike many kids of my generation, I was raised to say thank you when helped in some way or when given something. I remember having to sit at the table with my pencil and a thank you card, searching my brain for a way to thank someone one I didn’t know for something I didn’t want in the first place.

Over the years I’ve maintained a fair level of common courtesy, but slipped out of the habit of showing people appreciation and gratitude for their help or their gifts (whether material or not). Of course they knew how much I appreciated what they’ve done, without me saying so; why wouldn’t they? So no need to send them a thank you, right?

In the last couple years I’ve come to really appreciate all the gifts and blessings in my life, and I’ve been trying to make a point of being consciously grateful for all those blessings and of thanking all those who help make them possible. A lovely dinner with friends? That deserves thanks. Someone loaned me equipment for a workshop? Definitely helpful. The store clerk was friendly and accommodating? Thank you! Someone cut in front of me in the road? Thanks for helping me remember to pay attention and to be considerate of others.

I have a stack of postcards that I often use to write thank yous to people in my co-housing community for all the ways that they help make my life better and happier and less stressful. For the recent MOGO Workshop I helped organize here in Portland, I had a lot of help. I sent a thank you (via email) to everyone who baked something, loaned something, offered something, did something. It made my heart feel happy and content to know that I was not just feeling my appreciation and gratitude, or verbally sharing it, but showing it in written form (even if it was only via email).

I read in an article once about how much we take for granted; how we wake up in the morning and pretty much expect that everything is going to work like it’s supposed to: We wake up in the morning and the sun is up; the toilet works; the shower brings hot water and turns off when we want it to; the lights, heat, doors, windows, keys, refrigerator, shoes, and so on work. Most of us have sufficient clothes and food; our mode of transportation gets us where we’re going; our computers operate properly, et cetera. It’s only when something doesn’t work as we expect that we usually take notice. And then there are all the many many things that people do for us each day that we don’t even observe: those responsible for our food, clothing, transportation, safety, recreation, health, and on and on.

I’ve noticed that in my increased awareness of all the people and things I have to thank, that I’m more grateful in general, and more likely to be friendly and more connective with others, even strangers.

So, choose a day or two and notice all the things that work, all the people (both seen and unseen) who help, all the little things that make your life a little better. Then thank them. Thank everyone. See how it makes you — and them — feel.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Dominik Gwarek.