MOGO Tip: Pay It Forward, Tell Them You Did, and Encourage Them to Do the Same

“You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to Pay It Forward. To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven.” He turned on the calculator, punched in a few numbers. “Then it sort of spreads out, see. To eighty-one. Then two hundred forty-three. Then seven hundred twenty-nine. Then two thousand, one hundred eighty-seven. See how big it gets?” ~ from Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

A lot of people have heard of the book and/or movie called Pay It Forward, authored by Catherine Ryan Hyde, in which a young boy hopes to create a better world for himself, as well as others, by doing a good deed for 3 people and asking them to “pay it forward” by doing a good deed for 3 other people, and so on. The PIF philosophy has inspired a lot of people, sparking the Pay It Forward Foundation, the Pay It Forward Movement, and a whole bunch of individuals and groups paying it forward.

It’s a philosophy that I really love and believe in, and I try to “pay it forward” whenever I can. But, I’ve been forgetting an important part of paying it forward: letting people know that I’m doing so and encouraging them to do the same. Of course, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t do kind things unless we can tell someone we did them. (In fact, I love doing little kind things anonymously.) But, when it’s appropriate, it’s an important part of paying it forward to encourage others to pay it forward, too. Here’s a recent example.

My mom and husband and I were downtown for a presentation about the crisis in the Congo. When getting out of our car, a woman came over and asked if we could make change for 50 cents for the parking meter. I gave her 50 cents and told her to keep it. She was surprised and grateful. I told her “Just pay it forward to someone else.”

That extra statement — “Just pay it forward to someone else” — can be the catalyst for helping kindness and awareness grow.

By the way, if you’re interested in sharing a Pay It Forward card when you do some of your good deeds, you can download and print out Pay It Forward cards (pdf).

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

MOGO Tip: Write Right Now for a Better World

letterwriting1I have a friend who has written to legislators, corporations, and other leaders and officials since she was in high school, and she has kept a big binder of all the letters she’s written – and any responses she has received. That’s not the only citizen activism in which she has engaged, but she has certainly made sure that her voice and her views have been heard by hundreds, if not thousands, of people in power.

I’ve discovered through some of my own letter-writing to officials that issues (and better solutions to problems) I assumed they would already know about are frequently unknown to them. I’ve learned not to make assumptions about what people at any level of authority know and to do what I can to help educate, inspire and empower them…and to offer positive suggestions and praise as often as I express my concerns and complaints.

Whenever we take the time and courage to speak our piece about a MOGO world to others – including those in major decision-making roles – we help create that just, compassionate, sustainable world we seek.

Try to make it a habit to regularly write letters and emails to legislators, officials, editors and others who can help enact decisions that can bring about positive systemic change.

If the thought of writing a letter or email makes your palms all sweaty, here are a few sites with some good tips:

Let your voice be heard: Write right now! It only takes a few minutes!

~ Marsha

MOGO Tip: Add Something Good to Your Life

boyroseTo many, making MOGO choices can seem like a lot of “giving up” something — certain foods and clothes, transportation options, stuff, personal products, etc. Living a MOGO life isn’t about deprivation or sacrifice; it is about making choices that do the most good and least harm, and that can sometimes mean making a different choice that involves going without something we used to do or have. And sometimes, we become focused on getting rid of destructive products and choices and on “giving up” more harmful habits.

In living a healthy, balanced MOGO life, it’s also important to ADD positive things to our lives — things that bring us balance and joy and meaning. Whether that means spending more time in nature, taking time to pursue a hobby, connecting more with friends and loved ones, pursuing a spiritual practice, volunteering for worthy causes, or sharing what we’ve learned with others, focusing on adding good to our lives is just as important a part of MOGO (if not more important) than ridding ourselves of harmful choices.

Lately, my husband and I have been more focused on adding “good” to our lives – to doing more that’s positive, healthy, and restorative, and less that’s stressful, lacking in meaning and not aligned with our values. Recently we’ve started a new experiment: we choose one positive thing that we want to add to our lives and do it every day for 30 days for at least 10 minutes a day.

My husband, John, chose drawing, something that he loved to do when he was younger and has longed to begin again. I chose practicing my guitar, something I’ve managed to alternately pursue briefly and neglect excessively for many years. We were only successful with the experiment for the first 11 days of March…and then my mom came to visit; we’ve postponed our efforts until next month. But, in the 11 days that we did the experiment, both of us found a great deal of joy and fulfillment in just those 10 minutes a day. We hope to add something new and positive to our lives each month for the rest of year, and then to reflect on how we’ve changed, and whether our lives are more joyful and values-aligned. Some of my future planned experiments include yoga (for health), bicycling (for the health of me and the planet), writing emails to legislators and policy-makers (to practice my citizen activism), and exploring the natural world (to help remind me why I work so hard to live a MOGO life and encourage others to do the same).

Of course, there are a lot of ways to add something new and MOGO to your life, so consider what healthy, sustainable, restorative, positive, life-affirming MOGO action you could take. You could try the 30 days/10 minutes experiment, or something else that better resonates with you.

If you’re considering taking on a significant life change and need some major support (in addition to the friends and family around you), you might consider using a tool like First 30 Days. I ran across this website recently, and it has tips and support for dealing with the first 30 days of all sorts of changes, from managing a disease to adopting a pet (or child) to living better in all sorts of ways. You can even sign up to get a tip a day sent to your email inbox.

MOGO Tip: Become Your Own Garbage Hauler for a Few Days

garbagebagsJust how much waste do we generate? The average American generates 760 kgs of garbage per person per year (4.6 pounds per person per day).

And this New York Times article from May 2008 reveals that “Americans generate roughly 30 million tons of food waste each year, which is about 12 percent of the total waste stream.”

A lot of what we throw away is stuff we don’t really use (or need), or stuff that could be diverted elsewhere, whether reused, recycled, redirected (or refrained from using in the first place).

Challenge yourself for a day or a week: keep all your waste — everything that you would throw away, and store it somewhere, so that you can get a real sense of what your garbage footprint is. If you can’t keep it, then write down everything you toss and keep a list. Then look through your treasure of trash and notice what could be recycled, what could be reused, what could be redirected, and what you could have done without in the first place. Think about how you could have gotten what you needed without generating garbage. If you have kids, get them in on this little adventure; turn it into something fun.

Although I’m encouraging you to keep your waste for just a few days, one guy decided to keep all his garbage and recycling for a YEAR, to see how much would accumulate, and how well he could do at reducing his waste impact. Dave kept a blog of his efforts, cataloging all the waste he generated and how he dealt with it.

Dave now has a website, Sustainable Dave, with resources, tips and insights for reducing waste and living sustainably. Check it out for some tips to help you reduce your waste-print.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of fnavarro.

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.

Change Your Gold Standard From Child Labor and Environmental Destruction to Ethical and Sustainable

People of all cultures have always adorned themselves in some way, including with jewelry. In addition to pretty decoration, it’s often been used to show status and wealth. Until recently, most people haven’t paid much attention to how our bling becomes the twinkly baubles we like. The Hollywood movie Blood Diamond brought attention to the issue of conflict diamonds, but what about gold?

The Associated Press recently released a story about their exploration of gold mines in selected countries in Africa. What they found in these mines were thousands of children. As they say:

If you wear a gold ring on your finger, write with a gold-tipped fountain pen or have gold in your investment portfolio, chances are good your life is connected to these children. One of them is Saliou Diallo. He’s 12 years old and less than 4 feet tall.

In addition to the atrocious conditions, the children are regularly exposed to toxins, such as the mercury used to find the little bits of gold:

Mercury attracts gold like a magnet. But it also attacks the brain and can cause tremors, speech impediments, retardation, kidney damage and blindness. Saliou’s tub of dirt yields a silvery ball the size of an M&M. He hands it to his boss, who lifts up his shades to eye it. The man heats the ball over a charcoal fire to make the mercury evaporate, leaving behind a fleck of gold.

Just handling mercury is treacherous; breathing its fumes is worse. The children don’t know that. They crowd for a glimpse of the gold as its silvery husk slowly vaporizes. At mealtime, Saliou rinses his hands in water from a muddy pool where the mercury run-off was dumped. He scoops a mouthful of rice and licks his hand clean.

And, although most people would prefer to avoid gold made with child labor, it’s not easy to know the sources of gold:

The trail of gold that begins in Saliou’s mercury-tainted hands ends with bullion in bank vaults and with necklaces, rings and bracelets sold by jewelry retailers all over the world. Precisely which products contain child-mined gold, no one can say for sure. Unlike a diamond, gold does not keep its identity on its tortuous journey from mine to market. It passes through 10 or more hands. And when it is melted, usually several times, and mixed with gold from other sources, its address is effectively erased.

In addition to the issue of child labor, the journey of gold — from mine to someone’s body, bank vault or investment portfolio — is filled with environmental devastation and significant impacts on communities and adult workers. No Dirty Gold provides a brief overview of the issues, as well as campaign materials.

Since I don’t wear much jewelry, and my tastes are usually on the simple, cheap side, I can’t with any authority recommend specific jewelry companies as alternatives. If you do a web search for “fair trade” jewelry, or “fair trade” gold, or ethical or eco-friendly jewelry for example, you’ll find that several companies pop up. My husband’s niece and her fiance have even started their own “ethical gold” company, called Urth Jewellry. (This isn’t a plug, I promise!) You can find out more about why they started their company in this interview. I learned a lot from them about conditions in mines in Bolivia and Madagascar, the two countries they’re working with to be able to produce ethical gold.

If it troubles you to think about the source and impact of your rings, necklaces, bracelets, pins and earrings, consider some other choices:

  1. Don’t buy any jewelry. Consider how much joy and meaning it brings to your life. Do you really need it? Do you really want it that much?
  2. Make your own. There are an almost infinite number of possibilities for creating your own jewelry that pleases you, looks good, and harms no person, animal or part of the planet. And it’s fun!
  3. Borrow or swap. Like something your friend wears? Ask if you can borrow it! Offer something s/he likes in return. Have Jewelry swap parties. There are endless options.
  4. Go used. You can find all sorts of jewelry at thrift shops, garage sales, etc.
  5. If you’re into more expensive jewelry, consider why. I’ve always been puzzled about why people get so crazy over jewels and expensive jewelry. They have the value (both monetary and emotional) that they do, because we’ve given them that value. (Of course the jewelry company ads have certainly helped.) Do you seriously think that your significant other spending tons of money on jewels means that s/he loves you? Aren’t there better, healthier, more meaningful ways for that love to be manifested? And, if you’re one of those lucky folks who has tons of money to spend, then wouldn’t the amount of your wealth be better displayed by using it to help create a peaceful, compassionate, sustainable world?
  6. Choose jewelry made from less traditional, more sustainable materials. Take rings, for example. They can be made of sustainable wood and cork, glass, and several other materials that are lovely, and much more ethical.
  7. Consider recycled jewelry. In addition to recycled gold, silver, etc., you can find all sorts of more unique creations created out of everything from forks to bike chains to computer chips to toothbrushes.
  8. Buy fair trade, conflict-free, eco-friendly, and all the other appropriate labels. Just make sure that the labels mean what you think they mean.
  9. Have someone reputable (who can verify where and how the materials they use were produced and transported) create custom jewelry for you.

~ Marsha