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

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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: 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.

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)

How Are You Spending the Days of Your One Precious Life?

calendar31“Time only seems to matter when it’s running out.” ~ Peter Strup

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” ~ Steve Jobs

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” ~ Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)

“At some point in your life, you’ll only have thirty-seven days to live. Maybe that day is today.” ~ Patti Digh, author of Life is a Verb

I’ve been reading a book called Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally. The book came about because, 37 days after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, the author’s step-father died. That experience led her to think long and hard about how she would spend her time if she only had 37 days to live; she discovered that what was most important to her was “living each individual, glorious day with more intention.”

Part of what I really like about this book  is that it makes me think hard about how I’m spending the days of my life. Am I making choices that truly reflect my deepest values? Am I really positively contributing to the world? Am I living joyfully and fully?

None of us knows how many days we have, which is all the more reason to make sure that our time is spent in ways that are truly meaningful to us and nurturing to the world.

Ask yourself: if you were at the end of your life, would you be satisfied with what you’ve contributed? With how you’ve lived? What would you want to be able to say about how you’ve helped create a just, compassionate, sustainable world? If you don’t like your answers, there’s still time to transform your life so that it more deeply reflects your values.

~ Marsha

Finding Something to Love in Everyone

bunchflowersThis month I’m serving as co-advisor for MOGO Online, a 30-day course that IHE is offering. We have 35 students from 6 countries, which is a heartening turn-out for our first online course.

Each day the participants complete an activity or exercise designed to get them thinking and exploring about MOGO (most good) choices in their personal lives and on a systemic level. Today’s exercise focused on “What do you care most about?”, and there have been some really interesting answers. The question sparked me to think about what my own response would be.

I can’t remember the wording of the quote or its source, but a few years ago I read a quote in a book on Buddhist philosophy that basically said “To truly love, you must love everyone.” The thought that I should actually proactively work to love everyone – not just those in my family or circle of friends – but EVERYONE really struck me and has stayed with me to this day. I’ve always loved animals and the natural world, but because of some trauma in my childhood, I grew up not liking people for the most part. And, what I’ve learned — and continue to learn — about all the horrific things that people are doing to each other, animals and the planet made it easy to dislike humanity as a whole, prompting me to save my love and concern for animals, the planet, my loved ones and for those I perceived as “good.”

But, completing the coursework and readings for becoming a humane educator, and reading philosophies such as those found in that book on Buddhism, has lead me to open my heart much wider. To focus on the good in humanity, to understand that people are much more than certain habits or choices. To acknowledge that most people are making the best choices they know how at the time.

I used to focus on animal protection and environmental preservation issues, but now my circle of concern encompasses everything. Of course, since I’m only one person, I can’t address every single issue or concern, but looking through the lens that sees the interconnectedness of all issues helps me make choices that have a greater positive impact for all. It’s still hard for me to “love everyone.” And I certainly don’t like or condone a lot of what I see; but, trying to live a MOGO life continues to help me find something to love (or at least respect) in everybody.

~ Marsha