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

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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.

I Need a (New) Hero! Get Inspired by the New Heroes

Tuesday we had our MOGO potluck, with some yummy, tasty food, followed by watching selected profiles from the 2005 PBS series The New Heroes. Hosted by Robert Redford, the 4-hour series profiles 14 social entrepreneurs from around the world who are making a positive difference for others. Many people hear about child slavery or child prostitution or poverty or other social ills and shake their heads and feel bad…and then go on about their lives.

The New Heroes features changemakers who have stepped up and taken positive action to help others. We watched the stories of Albina Ruiz, Muhammad Yunus, and Kailash Satyarthi.

Albina Ruiz was devastated by the health and environmental problems caused by garbage in Peru. She decided to take action and is now working to revolutionize waste management, helping create jobs, promote sustainability and protect people and the planet.

Muhammad Yunus was teaching economics in Bangladesh when he became aware of the crushing poverty all around him. He started asking poor people what they needed, and ended up creating the Grameen Bank, which lends microcredit to the poor, asking for no collateral and inspiring and empowering thousands. The bank also focuses on loaning to women, which was unheard of in his country.  Yunus won a Nobel Prize for his efforts, and his system has been replicated all over the world.

Kailash Satyarthi has dedicated his life to helping free the millions of people — many of them children — who have been forced into slavery. Satyarthi conducts raids to free slaves, has established an Ashram so that freed slaves have a place of safety to begin again, has worked to develop child-friendly villages that support, educate and nurture their children, and established the Rugmark system, so that people can be assured of buying slave-free rugs.

The series profiles 11 other changemakers inspiring and empowering others around the world. It’s easy to become depressed and pessimistic about the state of the world, but seeing these new heroes in action can uplift your spirits and infuse you with new hope, passion and commitment. Be sure to check it out!

Our next MOGO meeting will be Tuesday, September 9 at 7:00 pm at Cascadia Commons. We’ll be focusing on the power of advertising and marketing (and our own power to counteract its influence). Come join us for a lively discussion and some fun activities! Contact pdxmogo@gmail.com for more information.

~ Marsha

How Far is Too Far?

Chimpanzee behind barsWhen we see suffering and destruction and injustice, we want it to stop, and we want it to stop now. I know I often wish I could stop the world from spinning, give people time to learn the importance of living a humane life and choose to do so with an open and loving heart, and then start it twirling again, everyone now joyously making MOGO choices that nurture and support compassion and sustainability and justice.

As we know, such changes take time and often encounter a great deal of resistance. Advocates become frustrated and despairing and can begin to look at desperate measures, because, good God, how are we supposed to bear the suffering and destruction and injustice another minute?! So, the question is raised, How far is too far? Amelia Glynn posted an essay at SFGate about this very question. Her focus is on activists who have been harassing animal vivisectionists at the University of California – Berkeley. She says:

I understand that these activists, whomever they may be, are trying to make a difference. They view the researchers as the enemy and (perhaps) hope they can scare them into quitting… but then what? (I can only assume that the lab would simply hire additional researchers.) Is this supposed use of scare tactics okay? Are there more effective (and legal) means of creating change in this arena? And perhaps more importantly, should experimenting on animals be tolerated, even when it’s done “in the name of science?” What do you think?

Other kinds of tactics have also been scrutinized recently. A post on Feministing looks at PETA’s use of nude women in their “stunts.” (Comments to the post are pro and con for such tactics.) And, Sociological Images noted a recent PETA campaign with women depicted as meat. Do these campaigns go too far, or do the means justify the ends?

There are splits in the camps of practically every social change issue, with some on the “by any means necessary” end of the continuum, others on the “peace in every step” end, and many somewhere in between.

I have my own opinion about this, and the MOGO philosophy certainly promotes a specific view, but I’d love to hear what other people think. Please share your views about how far is too far and the kinds of advocacy you find most effective.

Photo courtesy of hagit.