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 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.

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

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 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

Two Wolves, Two Pictures: Which Do You Feed?

twowolvesThere’s an old story usually attributed as a Cherokee legend. I haven’t been able to determine its origin, and it has been shared and changed countless times, but I still think it has great value. This particular version comes from Zoe Weil’s book, Most Good, Least Harm:

“There is an old Cherokee story about a grandfather who is teaching his grandson about life.  He says to his grandson, ‘A fight is going on inside me.  It is a terrible fight between two wolves.  One is evil; he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and superiority.  The other is good; he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, and compassion.  This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.’

The grandson thinks about this for a minute and then asks his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’

The old Cherokee simply replies, ‘The one we feed.'”

Likewise, there’s an activity that I use when I give my presentation on compassionate activism. It was developed by a colleague of mine, Kim Korona. The gist of the activity is to have two sets of words describing emotions written on pieces of paper. The first set have words like hatred, anger, despair, hopelessness, fear, and self-righteousness. The second set have words like loving, compassionate, joyful, hopeful, empowered, and understanding.

For the activity, I have volunteers take one of the first sets of words, go up to the front and strike a pose, become a frozen statue that reflects the emotion of that word. When everyone in the first set is up, they form a human picture of anger, despair, hatred, etc. I then have a second set of volunteers do the same thing — this time with the other set of words, so that they end up forming a human picture of hope, joy, compassion, etc.

I ask the audience to give their reaction to each picture and talk about how they felt about each one. Obviously, everyone prefers the second human picture. I tell everyone that the point of the activity is to help us remember that what we feel on the inside reflects on the outside. So, if we’re full of hatred and anger and despair and fear and hopelessness, that will reflect in our lives and our choices….just as in the Cherokee story, the wolf that we feed will be the wolf that wins.

In a world so full of violence, destruction, suffering, and cruelty, it’s so easy to wrap ourselves in a bubble of those same kinds of emotions. It’s hard to be patient with those making choices that harm others. It’s challenging to feel compassion instead of to judge. It’s excruciating sometimes, to feel love instead of anger and hatred. But, if we truly want a compassionate, joyful, just, sustainable world, then we must live that human picture and feed that wolf.

~ Marsha

Make Your Life Your Message

Most of us want a world full of love, joy, peace, kindness, compassion, justice and respect for all. But often our daily choices don’t reflect our longing for such a world. It’s too easy to give into the mainstream mindset of violence, consumption, fear, greed and competition, rather than making choices that nurture and support a humane world. But when we take time to stop think about what our deepest values really are, and compare them with the impact of our daily habits, we can better assess whether our life is really our message.

Zoe Weil, president of the Institute for Humane Education (and my boss), has created a questionnaire to help people think about their values and their choices. Take some time and complete the MOGO Questionnaire, and then try to create new habits and take positive actions that will help create a truly humane world. I’ve taken versions of this questionnaire several times throughout the years; it’s always illuminating and instructive. And, it’s inspiring to see how far down the humane path I’ve come — and humbling to see how far I have to go. Give it a try….

MOGO (Most Good) Questionnaire:

1. The qualities (virtues) that are most important to me are:

2a. With my family, friends, and neighbors I model the following qualities:
2b. I would like to model the following qualities more consciously with my family and friends:
2c. In order to achieve this goal, I will take the following steps:

3a. In relation to my health (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) I take care of myself in the following ways:
3b. I would like to learn/do the following in order to improve my health (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual):
3c. I will take the following steps to improve my health (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual):

4a. In relation to people who produce and supply the products and services I use, I currently make the following choices to prevent others from suffering or being exploited:
4b. In relation to people who produce and supply the products and services I use, I need to learn about the following in order to make choices that better reflect my values:
4c. I will take the following steps to learn, think critically, and make more humane choices in relation to people who produce and supply the products and services I use:

5a. In relation to animals (wildlife and those used for food and clothing, in product testing, in forms of entertainment, who are in shelters, etc.), I currently make the following choices to minimize animal suffering and exploitation:
5b. In relation to animals (wildlife and those used for food and clothing, in product testing, in forms of entertainment, who are in shelters, etc.), I need to learn about the following in order to make choices that better reflect my values in relation to animals:
5c. I will take the following steps to learn, think critically, and make more humane choices in relation to animals:

6a. In relation to the environment (air, salt water, fresh water, land, soil, forests, rainforests, natural resources, etc.) I currently make the following choices to live an environmentally friendly, sustainable life:
6b. In relation to the environment (air, salt water, fresh water, land, soil, forests, rainforests, natural resources, etc.) I need to learn about the following in order to make choices that better reflect my commitment to protecting and restoring the environment:
6c. I will take the following steps to learn, think critically, and make more environmentally friendly, sustainable choices:

7a. In relation to activism and volunteerism, I already do the following:
7b. In relation to activism and volunteerism, I would like to help more in the following ways:
7c. I will take the following steps in order to help others through activism and volunteerism:

8a. In relation to charitable giving and sharing my resources, I contribute in the following ways:
8b. In relation to charitable giving and sharing my resources, I would like to contribute more enthusiastically and effectively in these ways:
8c. I will take the following steps to contribute more enthusiastically and effectively:

9a. In relation to democracy, I’m active and engaged in the following ways:
9b. In relation to democracy, I need to learn the following in order to be more meaningfully and actively engaged and participatory:
9c. In relation to democracy, I will take the following steps to be more meaningfully and actively engaged in the democratic process.

10. This is the epitaph I would like to have:

11. In order to turn my intentions in this questionnaire into practical changes, I will use the following methods to support and discipline myself (this support can be internal, such as starting a meditation practice, or external, such as taking a class, finding or creating a support group, or a combination of both):

12. Within the next week, I am going to do the following 3-5 things in order to implement this plan:

13. I am going to put a reminder to myself in my calendar on this date to assess and evaluate my efforts and successes at fulfilling my commitments and to plan again:

How have you made your life your message? Please share!

~ Marsha

100s of Words of Wisdom for the First 100 Days of Our Next President

wordswisdomTomorrow we’ll most likely know who will be the next President of the United States. Of course, almost everyone has his/her preferred candidate, but regardless of who wins, if our country (and the world) is going to become a healthy, sustainable, peaceful one, there are going to have to be some major changes. In the last couple weeks, notables in their fields have been giving advice and sharing expectations for the next president. Michael Pollan published his famous “Farmer in Chief” letter in the New York Times about the importance of redesigning our food policy. And now, the folks at Worldchanging have gathered the words of wisdom from “the smartest, most interesting people” they know to answer the following:

In 100 words or less, what should the next president do in his first 100 days to address the planet’s most pressing problems?

There are responses from 48 leaders in their fields. Here are a few of my favorites:

From Ted Wolf of Focus the Nation:

“The forty-fourth President of the United States should devote two weeks of the First 100 Days to a round-the-world journey with a stop on every continent. At each stop, he should gather leaders of culture, faith, and civil society at a World Heritage Site and listen to their counsel. He should then convene regional heads of state at a place showcasing sustainability innovation and explain America’s stake in their success. Once home, the President should frame his agenda around efforts to move country and planet beyond carbon, warfare, and absolute poverty. Barnstorming a world without borders, the President can begin America’s journey toward a bright green future.”

From Kenny Ausubel of Bioneers:

The President can:
Engage the country to re-imagine how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
Declare a new social contract of interdependence: Taking care of nature means taking care of people, and taking care of people means taking care of nature.
Transform the global economy from a vicious cycle to a virtuous cycle, using a Green Deal to boot up the restoration economy.
Adopt the Presidential Climate Action Plan (PCAP).
Devolve power and money to the cities and states.
Hold a Constitutional Convention to institute the legally enforceable rights of nature and ecosystems.

From Paul Hawken:


1. Establish long term goals for the nation with respect to:

Science and Research

2. Create a Department of Peace.
3. Clean house at the EPA and Department of the Interior.
4. Split off USDA from Department of the Interior as a separate cabinet post and call it Department of Food and Agriculture.
5. Set a ten-year goal for 90% reduction in fossil fuels.


1. Eliminate all subsidies and tax breaks for carbon based fuels.
2. Create $4 trillion of new Energy Bonds wherein we loan money to ourselves to build out a smart grid and move to 100% renewable energy.

My 100 words would be something like:

“Listen. Be a model of compassion, integrity, intelligence, accountability and insight. Promote kindness and tolerance. Find common ground with other nations and establish “third side” thinking about conflicts. Institute measures that protect our natural resources and all beings of the natural world and encourage other countries to do the same. Institute humane education in all settings, especially in every school in the country. Reward policy and systemic choices that help create a humane, just, sustainable, peaceful world. Empower individuals and communities to institute positive change. Encourage bioregional economies. Bring together stakeholders from conflicting “sides” of important issues and charge them with developing creative, positive solutions that benefit all.”

What would your words of wisdom for our next president be?

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Emborg.