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

New EWG Healthy Home Tips for Parents a Great Tool; But It Could (and Should) Be Even Greater

latinofamilyoutsideThe Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization that has been at the forefront of helping protect public health and the environment. Part of their focus is to help parents protect their kids from environmental toxins, contaminants and other nasties, and to provide information and resources so that parents can make healthier choices for their little ones. Their pages for parents include tips, resources, research reports, calculators and other useful tools, and EWG also works to promote legislation (such as the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act) and to encourage citizen activism (such as insisting that the EPA reduce Americans’ exposure to rocket fuel in their water). I find them to be a valuable resource, and I often refer people to their cosmetics safety database.

Recently they’ve come out with a 1-sheet “Healthy Home Tips for Parents,” (PDF) a downloadable guide to “the most important steps you can take at home to promote your family’s environmental health.”

The list includes suggestions such as:

  • Choose better body care products.
  • Go organic & eat fresh foods.
  • Pick plastics carefully.
  • Use greener cleaners & avoid pesticides.

And you can sign up for their e-newsletter to receive more detailed tips about each item on the list.

I’m glad that EWG is promoting the positive steps for parents that they are, and they have some great suggestions, but I’m saddened and disappointed that they’re not going further. I know that change can be scary and inconvenient and confusing for some people, but when we’re talking about our children’s health and the health of our planet, I would think that EWG would offer larger measures, too. For example, in their tips, they suggest that parents “choose milk and meat without added growth hormones.” How about suggesting to parents that they not feed animals and their products to kids at all? Awareness about the environmental and health impacts of eating animals only continues to grow and evidence of the benefits of choosing a plant-based diet rather than eating animal foods only continues to strengthen.

One of their tips is to “Eat good fats.” Instead of recommending plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flax seeds or flax seed oil, or certain types of seaweeds, (although they do mention that you can get omega-3s from “nuts, oils and produce”), they recommend choosing “low-mercury fish.” Low-mercury still has mercury in it.

They recommend using a HEPA-filter vacuum, but don’t suggest preventative strategies such as getting rid of carpets, which can be full of toxins and hold in all kinds of pollutants and allergens. They suggest that parents choose “snug-fitting cotton pajamas” for their kids, but don’t mention the enormous environmental impact of cotton production (such as the pesticide and water use). How about suggesting an alternative for parents such as shopping at thrift stores, so that they can find used pajamas for less cost and less environmental impact?

I realize that they’ll be providing more in-depth suggestions regarding each tip in their e-newsletters, but since many parents may only look at the single sheet tips, it’s important to include such essential information there.

EWG does some very valuable and credible work, and I’m glad they’re providing such important information to parents. I just wish that they – and many of the other non-profit groups working to make the world a better place – wouldn’t stop shy of suggesting broader and deeper actions that parents and citizens can take. Let’s offer parents and citizens a range of suggestions that shows them the ideal choices, as well as some easier stepping stones, so that they can make the best and most informed choices based on their current circumstances and willingness to enact change.

~ Marsha

Pledge to Go Cruelty-free With Your Products

I’m a week late for WWAIL (World Week for Animals in Laboratories), but it’s always a good time to choose to go cruelty-free for your health, beauty and household products. Many people don’t realize that many of the shampoos, cosmetics, cleaners, soaps and more out there — and the ingredients in them — are tested on animals. And, unlike tests for new drugs, animal tests for these kinds of products are NOT required.

I came across this little video from The American Anti-Vivisection Society (thanks, Stephanie, for the heads up) that sums it up nicely:

The tests are cruel;

The results aren’t reliable;

There are plenty of terrific cruelty-free products available to choose from (many of which are also eco-friendly).

If you’re wanting to go cruelty-free with your products, you can sign the pledge to “take the leap” to cruelty-free products and find a cruelty-free shopping guide (note that not all products on this list are vegan) that lists cosmetics, personal care products, household products and even companion animal care products.

With all the plethora of products out there, there isn’t a single reason that anyone should still be using products tested on animals.

You can also go steps further and:

  • Write to the companies that still test on animals, asking them to choose non-animal alternatives;
  • Contact your local stores and ask them to carry cruelty-free products;
  • Encourage the stores you patronize — restaurants, groceries, hardware stores, etc. — to use only cruelty-free products (such as the soaps in the public bathrooms);
  • Leave a note with hotel managers to carry cruelty-free products;
  • Tell your friends, family and colleagues about your choice and encourage them to learn more and take the pledge themselves;
  • Write letters to editors and others to inform the public about this issue.

~ Marsha

Take Calculated Steps to Reduce Your Eco/Carbon/Water Footprints

Most of us pursuing a MOGO life pay attention to the impact of our choices on people, animals and the planet. We have some vague idea of our ecological footprint  — the amount of land, water and other resources it takes to support us, and the amount of waste that we generate. But, have you ever calculated your footprint? There are a slew of “eco” calculators, and of course, they can only give you a general idea of how your choices affect the environment and its inhabitants, but they’re still a helpful and fun tool that you can use yourself and share with others. Here are 4 popular ones that I’ve found:

~ Marsha

MOGO Blogroll: Fake Plastic Fish

Do you find yourself haunted by the amount of plastic in your life? Has it become a nemesis? Perhaps it’s the addiction you can’t shake, promising yourself that this is the last piece of Tupperware, that next time you’ll remember to bring your reusable bags to the store, that you’re really going to switch to refillable pens….

Recently I discovered a cool blog called Fake Plastic Fish.  The founder, Beth Terry, uses her blog to chronicle her efforts to stop buying new plastic and to educate and inspire others to reduce their own plastics use. In addition to plastics-related news stories and an ongoing tally and analysis of her plastics use, Terry also has a great list of the plastic-free changes she’s made. Last year she also led the “Take Back the Filter” campaign to convince Clorox (which owns Brita in the U.S.) to start recycling some of its water filter cartridges.

FPF also has a plethora of useful websites and other resources, and Terry uses really clear categories for tagging her posts. I also like that Terry shows an awareness of the impacts of plastics not just on people and the planet, but on animals, too.

The Big Green Purse blog recently did an interesting interview with Terry about her blog and about plastics.

I felt pretty proud of my plastics use…until I looked around FPF. It’s definitely a good tool to help me remember that I can always to more to do less with plastics.

~ 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.

Mark Your Calendar: Jeffrey Masson at Powell’s April 3

faceonyourplateWell-known for diving into the depths of animal emotions in books such as Dogs Never Lie About Love, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, and The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has a new book out this month that focuses on who ends up on our plates and the consequences of eating them.  Heralded by one reviewer as “Intelligent, absorbing and very easy to digest, this is an essential book for any person who thinks and/or eats,” The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food (W.W. Norton, 2009) examines the health, environmental and spiritual impacts of industrial agriculture and of eating animals.

Masson will be appearing at Powell’s (1005 W. Burnside) here in Portland, Oregon  on Friday, April 3, at 7:30 pm. Here’s his current book tour schedule.