MOGO Mini-Tip: A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

toothpastebrushIn the hurry-scurry of our daily lives, it’s easy to buzz through on auto-pilot and not bring attention to the amount of stuff we’re consuming each morning — the soap and shampoo in the shower; the toothpaste; the coffee or juice in our cup — and throughout the day. Certainly, the amount of toothpaste we use in a day, or amount of drink we toss down the drain might be small, but all those little excesses add up — for the planet as well as our pocketbooks.

If we can focus on paying attention when we brush our teeth and wash our hair and drink and eat and clean the counters and scrub the dishes, and take only what we need to successfully complete the job, it might surprise us to notice how much extra we’ve been taking. We can use fewer resources and save money. And, when we put food on our plates, if we’re paying attention, we might eat less, and thus lessen our chances of gaining weight, as well as of wasting food.

I like to remember Gandhi’s statement that “He who has more than he needs is a thief,” and while some might think it’s a little harsh, it serves as a good reminder to me to pay attention to how much of the world’s resources I’m consuming.

~ 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.

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.

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

Mini-MOGO Habit: Change the Way You Think About Holiday Gifts for a Happier, More Humane Experience

News headlines read “Merry Wal-mart, America” and “It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like a Wal-mart Christmas.” A New York Times article outlines Wal-mart’s glee at expected increases in sales this holiday, while many other retailers plan for a financially dismal season. Wal-mart’s CEO says, “In my mind, there is no doubt that this is Wal-Mart time.” People are hurting for cash this season, and many are turning to the big box chains for lower prices on stuff. But what’s not coming out in the news is that giving your money to corporations such as Wal-mart means supporting low wages, undercutting local merchants, increasing urban sprawl, buying goods made with sweatshop and child labor, and so on.

And then every year we read stories giving us tips for reducing our holiday stress and surviving holiday shopping. And stories about people attacking (or occasionally killing) each other for the privilege of snagging the last must-have toy of the year (whose popularity quickly fades and is replaced by another toy). And stories about buying the perfect green gifts (that usually cost a lot more green than you could ever afford).

What’s with all the stress and violence and need to give and receive a big pile of stuff each holiday? The winter holidays used to be a time of spirituality, family and reflection, and they’ve become an homage to the gods of consumerism, stress and distraction.

This year when thinking about giving gifts to loved ones, consider these healthier, more humane alternatives:

Don’t give a material gift at all. I know; it seems almost sacrilege to say it. But, while gift giving for the holidays has been a long-standing tradition, it’s not a mandatory part of celebrating. As No Impact Man Colin Beavan mentions in his recent Yes! Magazine article, a recent study on the experiences of 117 people at Christmastime discovered that “people who emphasized time spent with families and meaningful religious or spiritual activities had merrier Christmases….In fact, subjects who gave or received presents that represented a substantial percentage of their income…actually experienced less Christmas joy.” Beavan and his family chose not to exchange gifts as part of their “no impact” experiment and found the experience surprising and enlightening. I know that giving gifts in my family became such a bastion of stress and resentment that we all finally decided to stop exchanging gifts — and we’re much happier for it.
Consider focusing on other important aspects of the season, such as visiting friends or spending quality time with family. Nurturing relationships is an important gift in itself. Alternatively, in the season of goodwill toward others, instead of spending your time shopping, spend it helping those who need it; volunteer for local groups in your community. Make it a family (or friends) affair and share the gifts of your time and talents with others.

If giving a gift is a must, consider:

  • Make a donation in their name to a worthy cause, especially one that supports their interests. My husband’s sister donates to their local humane society in our name each year, which makes us both happy, helps others and doesn’t add to our stack of stuff. You can even band together with friends and give the gift of water to those who need it. How can most material gifts compete with that?  Be sure to skip supporting the cause by buying the adorable commemorative ornament or calendar or mug, though; such items mean less money going to the actual cause and may support the very practices you’re trying to avoid.
  • Think creatively. This year’s Yes! Magazine staff’s list of suggested gifts includes some really creative ideas, such as fixing a treasured item that’s broken, or taking a class together. Think unique, experiential, personal, and meaningful. Do they love farmers’ markets? How about a split share in a CSA? Do they have a sweet tooth? How about baking them a different decadent delight each month? Have they been meaning to organize all those digital photos from that unforgettable trip? Make them a special annotated scrapbook on Flickr or another shared photo site.
  • Make sure the gift is something that they truly need, want, and will use. Granted, my husband and I live more simply than many people, but it always seemed such a sad waste that almost every gift we received for several years — though well-meant — was nothing we could use or wanted and usually ended up going straight to the thrift store.Food can be a good gift choice, if you know people’s preferences. For many years we made pumpkin or banana bread-in-a-jar gifts for friends and co-workers. The gift was yummy and included a reusable jar and the recipe. My husband’s mother always sends us organic fruit from a company here in Oregon. One year we made all our family vegan recipe books of well-tested tasty dishes that they were likely to enjoy…and so they wouldn’t worry about what to feed us when we visited.
  • Make sure the gift fits the MOGO product criteria, i.e., the gift is:
  • Humane to other people – that is, produced according to fair labor practices that do not exploit, oppress, and cause suffering to others.
  • Humane to animals – that is, its production does not cause animals to suffer and/or die.
  • Sustainable and/or restorative – that is, its production and disposal can be sustained through available resources, without causing destruction to ecosystems, and may actually contribute to ecological repair.
  • Personally life enhancing – that is, it brings something positive to their lives and does not become one more burdensome thing to take care of.
  • Make the gift yourself. But again, give them something that they really need or want. DIY is becoming the rage, with the ailing economy and increased awareness of consumerism, but just because you can make something cool MacGyver-style out toilet paper tubes and used staples doesn’t mean it should be a gift. One of my co-workers used to knit cute holiday ornaments for everyone in the building each year, which was really kind and thoughtful. But, being someone who lives a simple life, such items weren’t something I could use.
  • Rethink used. Used items carry such a stigma for some people. “What?! You don’t care about me enough to get me something new?!” But often, reusing items can make the perfect gift. Your friend has always raved about that doodad you no longer want? Wrap it up and surprise him with it. Know the perfect book to give your mom? You can probably find it in excellent condition at a used book store. One year a group of us had a “white elephant” exchange with a twist. Instead of bringing yucky junk we didn’t want anymore, we each found something truly useful from our homes that we were ready to pass on to someone else. Talk about fighting over good stuff!
  • Make sure the present and its gift wrap are recyclable, reusable and/or biodegradable.

Need additional ideas? Buy Nothing Christmas and New American Dream offer more gift suggestions.

~ Marsha

Originally published in the December 2008 Humane Edge E-News.

Mini-MOGO Habit: Less Splish Splash in the Bath(room)

waterdropshandNext to the air we need to breathe, water is our most precious (and required) of resources. Everyone needs it to survive. Too many don’t have access to enough.

You may not be able to directly affect the water access of someone a great geographic distance from you by your own water habits, but you can make a positive difference in the bioregion around you.

For this next week or so, every time you’re in the bathroom (your own or someone else’s), pay attention to your water habits. Just start by noticing when and how much water you use. When you wash your hands. When you bathe. When you brush your teeth. When you do whatever primping and abluting you do to make yourself feel presentable. When you…you know.

And then, start challenging yourself to get by with less. Shorter time in the shower. Turn off the water while you’re brushing (or soaping up, or lathering your hands). Fill a glass and use it up instead of letting the tap run. Let it mellow if it’s yellow (you may want to reserve that one for when you’re at home — or at a friend’s who shares your passion for doing your part for the planet).

And then, when you’ve made it a habit to make every drop count with those simpler steps, look for bigger challenges, from running a bucket in the shower while the water heats to putting a bucket under the sink and removing the bottom of the drainpipe to create your own inside greywater system (remember to check the levels regularly so the bucket doesn’t overflow, and to use the water only on non-edible plants [and only use non-toxic, biodegradable soap]).

If you really want to get wild, you can look into strategies like complete greywater systems and composting toilets.

And then….start paying attention to your water use in other parts of the house….

~ Marsha