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, veganism, or eating locally grown foods aren’t extremely helpful choices, but telling others what is the best choice 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.
Slowly but surely, such people are surfacing. 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 something behind that doesn’t work for a better vision that will, forming a new team 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 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. Some come when they suddenly see and are horrified that we’re losing our democracies to corporatocracies. Others appear when they discover they can’t afford, or even obtain, local, organic foods to feed to their families.
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, plant trees that blossom not only into restored and sustainable ecosystems, but also into democracy and empowered women. Some start community gardens to feed themselves and their neighbors, rich and poor. 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, nurses and electricians, parents and shop owners, artists and accountants, priests and rabbis. 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 religion to business to democracy to the media to politics. They are bringing these interconnected issues to rotary clubs and boardrooms, villages and parliaments. 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 harmonic chorus that is echoing everywhere. Perhaps you’ll bring your passions and skills to bear on the enormous, but glorious work that is ahead of us. I hope so. As for me, I wish I could go back in time and smile at the cyclist who road 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, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: "The World Becomes What You Teach"
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