In my forthcoming book, Phoenix Zones, I write about how people and animals can heal in places where principles like freedom, love, and justice are upheld, as well as how staying true to these principles can mend society at large. I’m often asked what this approach requires of our everyday lives and choices – and what people can do now to create meaningful change.
My quick answer is that it takes two main commitments:
- Refusing to be a bystander when someone else is in peril
- Conscientious, everyday decisions that help, not hurt, others
Here’s a somewhat longer answer as well as some helpful resources…
First and foremost, we need to see ourselves as powerful “Upstanders” rather than bystanders – whether it’s for a child being bullied at school, a woman being harassed on a train, or an injured animal on the side of the road. Generally, five steps are necessary for effective bystander intervention:
- Pay attention. Notice potentially problematic situations.
- Interpret the situation. Identify when it’s appropriate to intervene.
- Take personal responsibility for providing help.
- Know how to intervene. Choose the most effective and compassionate approach.
- Take action to provide help.
But our influence doesn’t stop there. We each have the power to affect other people and animals, including those we will never meet, in countless ways. As my friend Marc Bekoff says, we can vote with our pocketbooks. We can disable oppressive, exploitative institutions by holding firm to the principles of Phoenix Zones – by refusing to support industries that violate the freedom and sovereignty of humans and animals. Instead, we can make financial and other choices that foster love and justice.
- Let’s Put Plants on Our Plates and Goodness in Our Glasses: Keeping animals’ meat, milk, and eggs off our plates and out of our glasses is arguably the most important choice we can make for animals, people, and the planet we all share. According to the United Nations, the Pew Commission, and other independent scientists, shifting to a plant-based diet is critical to address climate change, land degradation, and air and water pollution. It’s also important to children and adults around the world affected by famine and drought. Meat-laden diets play a key role in world hunger, primarily because using animals is a terribly inefficient way to produce food. Raising animals for food requires 10 times as many crops and enormous inputs of water and other scarce resources, compared with what is required to support a plant-based diet. A shift to a plant-based diet has the added benefit of reducing the risk for two top killers around the globe – heart disease and cancer. For those of you looking for resources to make the change to a plant-based diet, there are many – NutritionMD is my favorite to share with patients.
- Have Fun with (Ethical) Fashion: In 2016, I had the privilege of joining a live panel at the Annual Fair Trade Fashion Show. It opened my eyes to the growing trend toward more ethical fashion choices. One of my favorite online boutiques is Bead & Reel, which focuses on eco-friendly, cruelty-free, sweatshop-free styles for conscientious buyers – and many more businesses are making a similar move. Keep an eye out for my forthcoming interview with the founder of Bead and Reel, Sica Schmitz, to learn more!
- Buy with Benevolent Intentions: Though it’s important to reduce our consumption footprint, when we choose to make purchases, what we purchase matters. We’re “voting with our pocketbooks.” From fashion to cars to household products, we can choose products that spare the lives and liberty of children, animals, and other vulnerable individuals. For example, purchasing a car free of animal skins makes a big difference for the cows and other animals who are spared as well as the women, men, and children who would otherwise be exposed to deadly chemicals as a result of the leather tanning industry. In fact, I’ve learned to follow a general rule of thumb: If an industry is exploitative in one way it’s likely to be exploitative in another way. My husband, who loves working on cars, stays attuned to the car enthusiast website and YouTube site Autogefuhl (available in German and English), which highlights new models of leather-free cars and companies dedicated to eliminating animal skins from their vehicles. And it’s getting simpler to spot household and other products that are kind to and healthy for people, animals, and the environment. There are even Apps to help! Don’t be afraid to do some research or call or write a company – it’s all easier and easier with the World Wide Web.
- Cheer on Humane Charities: Many of us support charities committed to making life better for others. But not every charity is the same. Ask charities where your money goes. For example, does it go to direct services for the people and animals who need it most? For charities that fund research, you can also ask about if the funding is going to more relevant and progressive nonanimal research methods – such as in vitro cell and tissue cultures, microfluidic circuits, computer modeling, microdosing, and epidemiological studies – instead of animal experiments.
- Communicate with Compassion: Language matters. How we refer to each other and other animals is important. For example, choosing words other than “it” to describe other beings can improve the way we treat individuals other than ourselves. Removing words from our vocabulary that are meant to disparage others, including those that refer to animals, is also important. You might be surprised how many words can be traced to racist, ethnocentric, sexist, ablest, and other cruel origins. There is growing attention to the importance of bias-free communication, and an increasing number of resources are dedicated to a more conscious use of language, including the Conscious Style Guide and Animals and the Media, a style guide for journalists and other professionals in the fields of media, advertising, and public relations, as well as anyone else who is interested! When in doubt, look up the origin of a word. You’ll likely find more than you need to make an informed decision about its use.
- Teach with Totality: In many ways, the world starts and ends with the next generation. Teaching kids to develop compassion, curiosity, and critical thinking and perspective taking skills from a young age can prepare them for evolving language, products, and decisions.
If we lead with principles, we can be the change we want to see. The present and future are in our hands – from the ways we treat each other to the policies we craft for the future: the ways we educate kids; the laws we oppose or support; the media we promote or embargo; and the products we purchase or boycott. There are opportunities to make meaningful decisions everywhere we turn. Ask yourself: Should I buy, say, or do this? Who was or is involved? Who has or will it hurt? What will my choices mean, not just to me, but to others?
Do you have any ideas or resources you’d like to share?