Almost twenty years ago, when I was stuck in traffic, a cyclist zoomed by me. I’d just added a new bumper sticker to my car that read, “Earth’s best friend is vegetarian.” I thought it was rather witty with its graphic of the Earth in the shape of an apple, and I personally considered myself far ahead of the proverbial curve, because I was promoting my personal animal protection goal to a wider audience of environmentalists. I even felt a wee bit smug about just how well I could make connections between issues and teach others about what I knew and they didn’t.
As the cyclist sped by, he yelled into my open window, “Earth’s best friend is a bike rider!” He wasn’t very friendly when he shared this. And he disappeared so quickly, without my having the opportunity to educate him about soil erosion, water pollution, depleted aquifers, greenhouse gases, fuel consumption – all caused in large part by animal agribusiness. How little he knew, and how much I had to teach him! Alas, he was gone before I could offer enlightenment (or defend my need for a car).
That bumper sticker is long gone. I realized it didn’t quite work. The sticker was smug, even self-righteous. It promoted a single act – vegetarianism – as best for the planet. Not that vegetarianism, or better yet veganism, isn’t extremely helpful toward diminishing our environmental impact. It is. But telling others what is best is long gone from my activist/educator repertoire.
What the world – human and nonhuman animals and the Earth itself – urgently needs are activists and citizens who balance committed, confident energy with humility, and passionate, creative effort with wisdom. Our world is desperate for those who are willing to uncover every stone in an endeavor to understand the connections between all forms of oppression and destruction; who are eager to see problems from multiple angles; who want to work together, listening and learning from each other; who steadfastly refuse to accept or promote simplistic answers to complex problems; and who diligently strive for visionary solutions that help everyone.
Such people are surfacing across the globe. They are like the baseball players emerging out of Ray Kinsella’s corn field in the movie Field of Dreams, coming because they are compelled to leave behind something that doesn’t work, for a better vision that will. They are forming a new team that neither they nor anyone else set out to create, one that doesn’t confine them to playing a specific position in a predetermined game organized by others who call the shots.
Some of these emerging players are young adults disillusioned by the polemics of organizations, institutions and the media that focus on either/or solutions to multifaceted issues. Some are teachers scared for the next generation and despondent when well-meaning but misguided laws like the U.S. No Child Left Behind Act fail so dismally to live up to their own visionary titles. Some are CEOs of multinationals or politicians who realize what the future holds if they do not step up to the plate as true leaders and change agents. Some come when they suddenly see and are horrified that we’re losing our democracies to corporatocracies. Others appear when they discover that everything they are trying to teach their own children is undermined daily by the culture that surrounds them.
When they arrive, some, like architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, authors of the book Cradle to Cradle, construct buildings and products that aren’t simply less bad, better at fuel efficiency, or more eco-friendly, but which are actually ecologically regenerative and restorative. Some, like Wangari Maathai, who sadly just passed away, have planted trees that blossomed not only into restored and sustainable ecosystems, but also into democracy and empowered women. Some become stealth adbusters, using marketing tools to expose underlying systems of manipulation that have become the norm on Madison Avenue.
These people are engineers and scientists, parents and shop owners, artists and accountants, farmers and healthcare providers. They are independent thinkers who see interdependency as part and parcel of the creation of a better world. They may work on separate pieces of the complicated puzzle, but they never forget how their piece is linked to the whole.
It is these people and the hundreds of connections they make, the ways in which they learn from and teach one another, and the revolution they are launching that is the real hope for the world. They are flocking to festivals, conferences and workshops that link human rights to environmental preservation to animal protection to business to democracy to the media to politics to art. They are bringing these interconnected issues to rotary clubs and boardrooms, villages and parliaments, the commons and the ivory towers. It is these people and the ideas they generate that are producing brilliant, cutting edge solutions grounded in root causes and linked to broad positive effects.
Perhaps you are part of this growing revolution. Perhaps you’ll bring your voice to the hugely diverse, but nonetheless harmonic chorus that is echoing everywhere. Perhaps you’ll bring your passions and skills to bear on the enormous, but really quite glorious work that is ahead of us. Perhaps you will be one of the people who provides humane education to the next generation so that each and every graduate becomes a solutionary. I hope so. As for me, I wish I could go back in time and smile at the cyclist who rode by me and say, “Yes, please share with me what you know! Together let’s protect this beautiful Earth and all its inhabitants. I promise I’ll stop being so smug.” If you’re reading this, long ago cyclist, email me and let’s do what it takes to change the world before it’s too late.
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and dynamic resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.
Image courtesy of Ashoka Photos via Creative Commons.