15 Tips for Cultivating a More Humane Life

(Note: Short on time today, so I’m posting a slightly revised version of a post I did about 8 months ago. I still think it’s relevant, so hope you enjoy it!)

There are a ton of tips out there for making green and responsible choices — choose compact fluorescents, drive less, buy organic and fair-trade, use cloth bags, etc. These are all terrific, simple things that most of us can do; but, it’s also important for us to examine the bigger picture — to have a vision and connection and purpose in helping create the world we want for all. Here are 15 tips for cultivating a more humane life:

  1. Seek out inspiration, knowledge and support. Read, view and explore widely and deeply. Find role models whose bits of wisdom resonate with you. Find inspiring and meaningful quotes, visuals and other tidbits. Surround yourself with empowering and supportive people. The humane journey can feel lonely, but there are a lot of people out there working for a humane world; we need to connect with and learn from each other.
  2. Go plant-based, local, organic, unprocessed, seasonal, fair trade as much as you can. Our daily food choices have such an enormous impact on ourselves, other people, animals and the earth that they deserve special consideration.
  3. Build community in your neighborhood. This could mean something as complex as developing and living in a co-housing community, or something as simple as getting to know your neighbors, holding a neighborhood potluck, or sharing tools and other resources. We love and respect what we know. When we know each other, we have a better chance of treating each other with kindness and respect and of being more concerned about the impacts of our actions on others.
  4. Love your “enemy”. Finding compassion for those whose actions we abhor is one of the most challenging tasks we can ask of ourselves. But it is so essential to explore others’ points of view, and to develop tolerance and understanding for those who don’t share our views. We are all more than just the pieces of ourselves. Learn to find and love the positive pieces of others.
  5. Learn skills for communicating compassionately. We can’t build a humane community if we can’t listen, and if we’re making judgments and assumptions about others. Cooperate. Build bridges. Communicate to understand and connect, rather than to convince.
  6. Teach others & share the joys and power of what you’ve discovered, without proselytizing. If you can show people that they can live humanely while still meeting all their needs and finding happiness and fulfillment, you have the potential to influence their future choices and the lenses through which they view the world.
  7. Extend your circle of compassion to all beings and the earth. See non-human animals not just as biodiverse species to be respected, but as individual beings, each deserving respect and equal consideration. Immerse yourself in the natural world so that your reverence and respect can grow and flourish.
  8. Reduce your footprint. We can make conscious and careful choices and still have a huge ecological footprint. Hybrid cars, giant eco-houses and green travel to faraway countries are all greener ways of living, but they all still have a significant impact on the earth. Find ways to reduce your impact and live a meaningful, joyful life.
  9. Pay attention to the influence of media and advertising. A lot of our need for stuff comes from people telling us we’re not healthy-whole-sexy-successful-worthy-intelligent-interesting-normal unless we buy a bunch of products or choose a certain lifestyle. Make your choices with awareness and intention, rather than because you’re feeling inadequate or fearful or lonely or bored, and learn to know when someone is trying to manipulate you.
  10. Expand your global awareness and connection. Make room for everyone. We North Americans pat ourselves on the back for our eco-friendly choices, but we still consume the earth at an alarming rate, leaving much less for our brothers and sisters around the world. We also need to be aware of the choices our corporations and governments make in regard to other countries, and to speak out when those choices are poor ones.
  11. Examine your lenses. As activist Laura Moretti says, “That’s the nice thing about beliefs. Just because you’ve put your faith in them doesn’t make them true.” Learn to view the world through a humane lens: see the impact of your choices, the influence of your words and interactions with others, the example you set for children. Ask yourself if the choices you make every day (and the influences of those choices) reflect the kind of world you want for yourself and for future generations.
  12. Do some small something every day to make the world a better place. Celebrate the small victories and habits.
  13. Pause every day to count your blessings. Remember the journeys of your neighbors, especially those around the world who have much less. If we pause to reflect on all that we have and to feel gratitude for that, we’re much less likely to feel deprived and thus feel the desire to have more.
  14. Exercise your own power and responsibility. It’s not up to the government or scientists or industry or technology to fix things. We each need to step up and create the world we want. We can recognize the power each of us has — in our daily choices and in supporting (or refusing to support) certain systems — and use that power wisely.
  15. Expand your creativity. There are so many ways to solve problems and to fulfill our needs without depriving or destroying others. Take advantage of your creativity to explore them. Look for “third side” and “both/and” solutions that benefit all.

~ Marsha


Live Your Epitaph

Yesterday I was in a meeting in which two colleagues, both long-time, passionate volunteers for an important social cause, were heatedly arguing. Today I snapped at my husband…more than once.  Recently a friend told me about witnessing a woman yelling at and shaking her children — and when she offered to help, the woman turned on her. Of course, skim through the media and you’ll see countless atrocities upon people, animals and the planet.

How do we spend our days, our hours, our years? How do we address each moment of our lives? If we could transport ourselves into the future and look back on our lives, what kinds of lives would we have lived?

One of the great visualizations that Zoe Weil (President of the Institute for Humane Education and author) offers through her humane education teaching and in her new book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life, asks us to jump to the end of our lives and examine what we want to have contributed to the world — to consider whether or not we’re really living according to our deepest values. Here’s the visualization:

“Imagine that you are very old. You’re sitting on a park bench in a beautiful setting, breathing clean air on our now peaceful world. The greatest challenges of your lifetime (pollution, war, poverty, hunger, genocide, animal cruelty, global climate change, etc.), have been largely solved. A child walks up to you and sits beside you. The child says that in history class they’ve been learning about those difficult times, and the child asks you, ‘What role did you play in helping to create the world we have today?’

What do you want to be able to tell this child?”

It’s really an amazing and enlightening exercise.

Recently I also came across a series of questions on a website focused on positive thinking. The questions were something like:

Will it matter in a week? A month?
Will it matter in a year?
Will it matter in 88 years?

I think those are also great questions for us to ask ourselves, especially when we get so dug into our habits and preferences and lenses through which we perceive and analyze the world.

~ Marsha

MOGO Workshop Changes Lives, Changes the World

The MOGO group, after a day of sharing, learning, connecting and eating!

The MOGO group, after a day of sharing, learning, connecting and eating!

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a proud employee of the Institute for Humane Education, but I also volunteered to organize a MOGO Workshop for IHE here in Portland. It was held last weekend, and it was truly an amazing and transforming experience.

If you don’t know, MOGO stands for “Most Good” which refers to doing the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet. The MOGO Workshop was based around the 7 keys that IHE President and author  Zoe Weil writes about in her book Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life. The 7 keys are:

  1. Live Your Epitaph
  2. Pursue Joy Through Service
  3. Make Connections and Self-Reflect
  4. Model Your Message and Work for Change
  5. Find and Create Community
  6. Take Responsibility
  7. Strive for Balance
Two volunteers spend a couple minutes getting the vaguest idea of what life must be like for battery hens.

Two volunteers spend a couple minutes getting the vaguest idea of what life must be like for battery hens.

Throughout the day, Zoe used these 7 keys as the basis for helping participants explore, question, reflect, think critically and define their values, the impact of their personal choices and the power of systemic change. Zoe used a variety of interactive strategies during the workshop. She started almost immediately by having people think about and list all the challenges of the world, the ones about which they’re most passionate, and what skills they have for helping solve those challenges. It was a very revealing exercise.  Some of the other activities included having people write their epitaphs, share experiences of joy through service and write out their MOGO Action Plan, as well as exploring the impact of our product choices on ourselves, other people, animals and the earth and learning about the ways other concerned citizens are creating positive change in the world.

As the local organizer, I was able to invite several of my friends and colleagues, and there were also several people there who didn’t know anything about the MOGO principle but were curious about the concept. Sweetpea Baking Company generously donated some yummy vegan donuts, which were quickly consumed (I jealously snagged a few extra for myself – not very MOGO, I know). And, Papa G’s catered an awesome vegan, organic, mostly-local lunch of enchilada pie, salad, corn, beans and rice, cornbread, and the best pear cobbler I’ve ever had (even better than my husband’s!). We were also fortunate that it was a beautiful, sunny day!

Everyone seemed to have a terrific experience (the evaluations were all very positive), and I think people left with a stronger sense of community and purpose, and the feeling that we all indeed can make a powerful positive difference in our lives and in the world.

IHE Prez and MOGO Workshop facilitator Zoe Weil. She totally rocks!

IHE Prez and MOGO Workshop facilitator Zoe Weil. She totally rocks!

I’m looking forward to connecting more with the participants and spreading the MOGO principle all over Portland…and the world!

~ Marsha

The Question is Not “Can They Reason?…” The Question is Why Are Will Still Exploiting Animals?

cowA new study shows that fish are smarter than scientists thought.  Wired did a story a few weeks ago on “clever critters” who use tools of various sorts.  Psychologist Irene Pepperberg has just released a new book, Alex & Me, detailing her 30 year relationship with and research on Alex, an African Grey Parrot, who showed (among other revelations) that birds can understand abstract concepts.  Several months ago Joshua Klein gave a talk at the TED.com conference about the amazing intelligence of crows.   And, in my job for the Institute for Humane Education, I just finished editing and formatting a student’s lesson plan for elementary students about the commonalities that humans, cows, pigs and chickens share, such as having friends, good memories and senses of direction, and the ability to play computers games or learn from watching TV (check out this video as an example of the latter two).

For centuries we have tried to differentiate ourselves from animals, labeling ourselves as smarter – and thus better – because of our use of tools, our ability to feel, our ability to recognize ourselves and to understand abstract concepts, our use of language, our awareness of death, and so on. Throughout the years, we’ve seen these theories upon which we’ve based our superiority shattered. Animals, too, share these same (or similar) qualities. Yet, we humans continue to wear blinders when it comes to our place in the world, because it’s a lot easier to look at yourself in the mirror each morning if your conscience isn’t struggling with the consequences of your actions. As Arthur Schopenhauer once said “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

Skeptics say that the behavior in animals which some scientists say reflects consciousness, intelligence, the ability to feel and think, actually results from “natural selection and learning.” How is that any different from our own way of existing? We learn by imitation, trial and error, and cultural passage, just as non-human animals do. We often revere people who exhibit unique or rare behaviors; yet, when animals show unique behavior, it is dismissed, because science demands repeatable examples. One could argue that most people behave and react very similarly. Is it then only those who possess genius who are truly conscious and intelligent? Are the rest of us existing through the shadows on Plato’s cave?

It really doesn’t matter, though, how smart animals are, or how conscious or how feeling. Because we know that the real relevant distinction is DNA. Objectively, there is no good reason to consider animals inferior. We do so because we choose to. As scholar Brian Luke once said, “Regarding other animals as subhuman is more a choice than a recognition of some objective fact.” We can talk about intelligence and emotions and suffering, but the bottom line is: Who can we get away with exploiting? We aren’t  supposed to exploit other humans anymore — although that hasn’t stopped us from continuing to do so — but we can get away with exploiting non-human animals. So we do. Novelist Brigid Brophy said,

“Whenever people say ‘We mustn’t be sentimental,’ you can take it that they are about to do something cruel. And if they add ‘We must be realistic,’ they mean they are going to make money out of it.”

We exploit animals—we cause them suffering and distress and agony and loneliness—because we choose to. Not because it benefits our soul, but because it benefits our pockets. Or simply, because we want to.

To me, the question of whether or not animals are conscious or intelligent or inferior is irrelevant. The relevant question is: What kind of person do I want to be? Do I want to cause suffering and destruction? Do I want to rain down hell on another being that I would do anything not to experience myself? Or, do I want to choose to be the highly evolved, highly conscious being that I claim to be? Do I want to strive to be the most human (and humane) that I can, which means showing compassion and respect and reverence and responsibility? Not just to my fellow humans—but to all beings, regardless of consciousness or intelligence. Regardless of DNA.

We claim to want a world of peace and love. And we can have the world we want—it’s all in the choices that we make every day. Every choice we make carries such power. Every choice we make helps shape the world. But we won’t have that world as long as we oppress and exploit other beings – including animals. Many of us don’t directly hurt animals, but the choices that we make and the systems that we support do. So we are still complicit. We are still responsible.

I invite you to make a choice today and every day. Make a choice to see beyond outward differences. Make a choice to see that all of us—humans and not—feel love and fear and a desire to live out our lives in peace. And make a choice to live your life in a way that will truly create a world of peace and love for all beings.

~ Marsha

MOGO Mini-Habit: Speak the Good in Others

whisperingMy 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Leddy, had us students do something that I have never forgotten. She called it a “car wash.” Every week one of us would be the “car,” and the other students would form two lines in front of the car. One by one, zigzagging from one side to the other, the car would go to each person in the “wash” line, and that person would whisper into the “car’s”  ear something good about them — something that the speaker liked, respected, appreciated or admired about them. I don’t remember many of the things my fellow students said to me. I remember one guy said that I was his third girlfriend (whatever that meant).  I remember that the boy I had a crush on told me that he liked playing sports with me (I was a major “tom-boy”…and still am.) Someone else liked my smile. Someone else said that she noticed that I tried to be nice to everyone. The details of those individual encounters is fuzzy, but the memory of how I felt after having been washed in all that good will and kindness is still precious to me.

I introduced this activity to my cohort of fellow humane educators when we had our Residency one year, and the faculty liked it so much that they used it as the closing activity for Residency. (They’ve modified it now so that students write down something about their fellow students during the week, so that everyone has something positive to take home from everyone else — a more meaningful way to do it.)

For my 25th birthday, my husband wrote down 25 things he loved about me and put them in a simple handmade book — one item per page, one page per hour of the day. It was one of the best gifts he ever gave me; I still have it these 17 years later.

One New Year’s Day, just after midnight, I sat around with a small group of friends in my co-housing community, and we each took turns sharing an intention that we had for each of the others. When we finished, everyone in that circle felt loved, appreciated, respected, more confident, more hopeful about the future — and more powerful about helping shape that future. I’ve never forgotten that night.

These are just a few examples of the times that sincere, authentic, kind words have helped shape my view of myself and have affected the next steps on my life’s journey. Yes, it’s important to look within for all those important qualities of joy, confidence, meaning, respect, love, and so on. We can’t rely on others for our self-perception, and it can be incredibly detrimental to pay too much attention to what others say about us. But I also think that it’s important that we help serve as a reflection for others so that they can more easily break through the static of culture and personal history that get in the way of their being able to see their own good and value.

Look for the good in the people around you and speak it. You will both be empowered by it.

~ Marsha

Mini-MOGO Habit: Practice Third-Side Thinking in Your Choices

choicesroadsignWe live in what appears – on the surface – to be a dichotomous society: black or white, masculine or feminine, paper or plastic, organic or conventional, animals or people, jobs or environment, us or them, and so on in an infinite number of either/ors and exclusions of something or other. But in reality, we often have a much broader set of choices. There is almost always a third choice. Or a fourth. Or fifth.

I was skimming a magazine today that offered list of ways to save money and energy when upgrading your electronics. Some of the choices included stereo vs. mp3 player; cable vs. satellite; plasma vs. LCD TV. The point of the article was to show which items use less energy and emit fewer amounts of CO2. But, I immediately thought. Why are they telling me those are my only choices? I don’t own a stereo OR an mp3 player. I use a little portable boom-box that I’ve had for years (or my 6 year old laptop). I don’t use cable or satellite; in fact, I don’t even have a television, so the plasma vs. LCD is a pointless comparison for me.

Why do we stop at the easy either/or answers? Why don’t we dig deeper, further for the more meaningful solution?

We can start simply, like: instead of paper or plastic, I can bring my own bag. Or, do without one completely. But, I can also dig deeper: Do I really need to go to the store to buy this thing in the first place? What can I do instead? Borrow, build, share, improvise, do without?

No Impact Man Colin Beavan has mentioned on his blog that he always takes his own cup to the coffee shop, rather than using one of their disposable ones — and people thank him for it.  I would go even deeper and  suggest going without the store-bought coffee at all (I think my husband and I are about the only two people here in Portland who don’t drink the stuff), or at least ensure that it’s organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, sustainable stuff.

I recently read another article in a magazine about when and how to replace leather shoes with vegan ones. What was one of the first suggestions? Payless. Yes, they have vegan shoes that are pretty economical. But, many of those shoes are also made with petroleum products and other chemicals and quite probably were produced in sweatshops in another country and shipped thousands of miles. An excellent opportunity for some third side thinking.

As you go throughout your day, pay attention to the choices that you’re offered – and the ones you offer yourself – and then take some time to think about and look for third, fourth and fifth choices.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly they start appearing.

~ Marsha

Mark Your Calendar: Upcoming Portland Area MOGO-esque Events

Be sure to schedule these into your iPhone, Blackberry, calendar, piece of scratch paper, or whatever you use to keep track of can’t-miss events:

The most essential ones (in my opinion — but, of course, that’s ’cause I’m helping organize them) are Zoe Weil’s appearance at Powell’s on February 4, and the MOGO Workshop on Saturday, February 7. Here are some details:

Author and president of the Institute for Humane Education, Zoe Weil, is appearing at Powell’s – Hawthorne (3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd. ) at 7:30 pm to talk about her new book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful LifeMost Good, Least Harm shows that choosing to do the most good and the least harm is personally enriching and helps to bring about a peaceful, sustainable, and humane world for all. If you care about social change issues at all (you know, like world peace, human rights, animal protection, environmental preservation — those kinds of things), be sure to attend.

Zoe is also leading an all-day MOGO (Most Good) Workshop on Saturday, February 7 here in Portland.  Creating a humane and sustainable world is not easy.  But when you live a life that deeply embodies your principles, not only do you help improve the world, you also cultivate your own inner peace and joy.  Tap into your deepest values and make choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet with this terrific workshop. The regular registration fee is $110; the registration fee for students is $75; but, what’s that when this workshop could change your life and change the world?! Find out more.

Here are some other upcoming events to be sure to attend:

Internet Activism with Glenn Gaetz
Sunday, January 25, from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, at PSU (Smith Memorial Union, Room 238 )
This workshop, sponsored by the Let Live Foundation, features Glenn Gaetz from Liberation B.C., who’ll be talking about topics like  “making a website, using social networking sites, e-newsletters, and other relevant online tools.” Let Live will be hosting a different topic each month, so be sure to check them out.

Why Farm Animals Matter
Tuesday, February 3, at 7:00 pm, at PSU (Smith Memorial Union, Room 101)
NW VEG, Vegans for Animal Advocacy and the Let Live Foundation are sponsoring this talk by Erin Williams, communications director for HSUS and author of the book Why Animals Matter. Erin will be talking about “the importance of making humane, sustainable food choices” and will share some of the exciting recent advancements for farmed animals in the United States.

NW VEG has some other great upcoming events, such as their new Happy Hour on Friday, January 30, their book club on Tuesday, February 10, and  their first annual Vegan Valentine’s Bake-off on Sunday, February 15. Find out more about NW VEG Events.

Also in the same vegan vein are the events sponsored by the MeetUp group Viva La Vegan. You have to be a member to enjoy all the benefits (about $6/year), but great upcoming events include the Garden Planning Primer on Saturday, January 31, and the free Ice Cream Social on Saturday, February 14Find out more and consider joining.

Know of more terrific MOGO-esque events in the Portland area? Let us know.