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


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).

The Quotosphere: It Always Matters…

This one’s on my fridge:

“Your life does matter. It always matters whether you reach out in friendship or lash out in anger. It always matters whether you live with compassion and awareness or whether you succumb to distractions and trivia. It always matters how you treat other people, how you treat animals, and how you treat yourself. It always matters what you do. It always matters what you say. And it always matters what you eat.

“When you choose to affirm the dignity inherent in life and to uphold the beauty, the magic, and the mystery of the living Earth, something happens. It happens whether or not anyone else recognizes your efforts, and it happens regardless of how wounded and flawed you are. What happens is you join the long lineage of human beings who have stood for and helped to bring about a future worthy of all the tears and prayers our species has known. Your life becomes a statement of human possibility. Your life becomes an instrument through which a healthier, more compassionate, and more sustainable future will come to be.”

~ John Robbins (from The Food Revolution)

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.

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