MOGO Tip: Learn Something New Today…And Every Day

Several years ago I was talking to a neighbor about the conditions that factory farmed animals endure, and I mentioned that one of the evil practices the industry uses for battery hens (those kept in cages to lay eggs) was forced molting. She asked me what exactly forced molting was. Uhhh. I didn’t know. I’d read that it was a bad thing done to battery hens, and that’s all I needed to know; it must therefore be a bad practice. But, if I was going to talk intelligently and knowledgeably about animal protection issues, I needed to learn more about them. A great opportunity for learning something new.

Many years before that, I’d been a staunch believer that homosexuality was a sin – ‘cause that’s what I’d been taught. I had no reason to question it, because everyone else around me believed it. I could safely assume it was true. And then, in college, I befriended my new fellow dance majors, many of whom were gay. And I realized that all my “facts” and beliefs were just assumptions that I’d established out of the culture, habits and traditions under which I was raised. A great opportunity for learning something new.

My new shampoo has an unpronounceable chemical in it. I see a label that says “certified humane.” I find the perfect outfit at a certain store, but I’m not sure where or how the outfit was made or what the business practices of the store are. All great opportunities to learn something new.

If we truly want to make choices that reflect values such as compassion and justice, and that do the most good and the least harm for all, it’s important that we educate ourselves about the impact of our choices, question our assumptions, and learn ways to create positive change.

~ Marsha

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

Lucky Puppies, Monkeys, Mice and Others: Two Examples of Pro-Vivisection Propaganda Targeting Children

My boss, Zoe Weil, recently wrote two blog posts about examples of pro-vivisection propaganda targeted to kids. One example is new, the other old; both are abhorrent. The new example is her post about the The Lucky Puppy Coloring Workbook, which features two kids who learn about the wonders and importance of animal research when they take their sick dog (Lucky) to the vet. The vet explains how well the animals who are experimented on are treated. It’s a party for everyone involved! And, of course, at the end of the tale, one kid wants to be a vet, and the other a research scientist. (You can see another post about the Lucky Puppy from the Change.org Animal Rights Blog.)

Zoe’s other post focuses on an older piece of propaganda called “Let’s Visit a Research Lab.” This piece is an illustrated poster that shows what it’s like inside a “real” animal research facility. Zoe notes:

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

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

Obviously, I’m not a supporter of animal experimentation. But, unfortunately, the issue isn’t simple or clear-cut. What is clear, however, is that it’s important to be aware of propaganda like this and to make sure that such deceit and misinformation are kept out of the classroom (unless they’re being used for critical thinking activities to analyze propaganda). It’s also a great reminder that it’s essential that information promoting and supporting a humane world be completely truthful, accurate, credible, and designed to spark people to think for themselves…not to be brainwashed.

~ Marsha

Kids Books to Give Thanks For

In the U.S., November often brings tales of pilgrims, Indians, turkeys for dinner and the “First Thanksgiving” to children in schools and library storytimes. If you want to celebrate the season with kids, but prefer stories reflecting more compassionate food choices  and/or want a more accurate portrayal of the relationship between colonialists and natives, look to titles like these to share with your young ones, or their teachers:

In A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting, Mrs. Moose asks her husband to bring home a turkey for Thanksgiving, but what they turkey doesn’t understand is that they want him to join them FOR dinner, not BE the dinner.

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey follows what happens when a group of school children visit a turkey farm and decide that the turkeys shouldn’t become anyone’s Thanksgiving dinner.

You can also look for books that are about harvest or that focus on particular fall foods, such as pumpkins.

There are a slew of “First Thanksgiving” children’s books available, but most of them are from a “colonialist” perspective. Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin have written an article deconstructing myths about “The First Thanksgiving.”

They also offer recommendations of books by Native authors to use during Thanksgiving time, including:

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac, which tells the tale more accurately from Squanto’s viewpoint.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine Grace O’Neill and Margaret M. Bruchac, which provides a view of the “first thanksgiving” from a Wampanoag perspective.

Dow and Slapin also recommend other books that focus on Native thanksgiving and harvest, such as:

Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition by Sally Hunter, which follows a young Winnebago boy through the year as he learns about his people’s relationship with corn.

The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering
by Gordon Reqquinti, which follows an Ojibway wild rice harvest.

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message
by Jake Swamp, which offers up a message of thanksgiving to Mother Earth.

Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking by Laura Waterman Wittstock, which follows a young boy who learns the traditions of tapping trees to make sugar.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of justjennifer.

(Reprinted from the Institute for Humane Education’s November 2008 Humane Edge E-News.)