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Making the World a Better Place

According to some hippie new age guru I recently read, “The spiritual development of humans is in its adolescent stage.” The evolution of humankind is now in its rebellious teenage years. There is a small group of people that devote their lives to helping human beings reach a more evolved state of spirituality and compassion. These people are known as humane educators.

By definition, a humane educator promotes compassion, respect for self and others (both human and non-human), teaches critical thinking and offers positive, healthy, sustainable lifestyle choices. Recall the school shootings in Columbine, and most recently the two in San Diego. You could say that these tragedies could have served as wake-up calls for the school system to hire humane educators instead of installing more metal detectors, but that’s a whole other story… Violence in society has been at the core of one local humane educator’s work—Dani Dennenberg, 25, of La Jolla, California, and with Seeds of Change Humane Education. Dennenberg’s mission as a humane educator is to visit schools and encourage students to think outside of the box; to think about the choices they make in their every day lives. Dennenberg says that when asked what the best qualities of humans are, students often respond with at least one of the following: “Mercy, respect, love, hope, joy, generosity, honesty, courage and integrity.”

Dennenberg asks students to determine whether they are living in accordance with these values, while giving them an opportunity to express who and what they care about. We often forget to ask ourselves these important questions. This helps to understand school shootings like Columbine. According to Dennenberg’s mentor and co-founder of the International Institute for Humane Education, Zoe Weil, it is critical to address the hidden realities that shape our culture and priorities that too often lead to disconnected and disaffected angry people, young and old alike. These realities include: war, poverty, sweatshops, megacorporations, factory farms, exploitation of other species, and the destruction of the planet. Hence the need for humane educators in helping students to think critically about the messages, which constantly bombard them in the media. Such advertising campaigns often brainwash young people into thinking that greed, violence, consumerism, exploitation and power over others is cool, valuable and fulfilling.

Weil also suggests that schools, though often unintentionally, teach students that it is acceptable to kill or harm other species in order to learn about them. Schools also teach that meat and dairy products are healthy, even the high fat, highly-processed varieties and that soda, expensive athletic shoes, fast food, and many other products are benign (even good). Children are also often taught that oil and chemical companies solve environmental problems. The list goes on…

Perhaps you’re asking yourself, who cares what kind of shampoo I’m buying; we’re at war with suicidal religious fanatics? According to Dennenberg, all of life’s social ills are interconnected. Social ills derive from similar attitudes and belief systems that perpetuate injustices and oppressions. Dennenberg asks, for example,” Does our treatment of animals influence how we treat one another?” That answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Dennenberg’s goal is to get people to start thinking critically about every choice they make.

What kind of makeup or hairspray do we buy? “Can we look our best without testing cosmetics and other household products on animals?” Dani asks. That answer is also “Yes.” Why not switch to toothpaste that hasn’t been rammed in the eye of a defenseless rabbit? Makes sense to me. Buying everyday products such as shampoo, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, air fresheners, etc. that are cruelty-free is one way to make a huge difference in the world. Companies and grocery stores are increasingly manufacturing and selling cruelty-free products. We are indeed moving towards a more compassionate society. When I ask Dennenberg why people should be concerned with animal advocacy at such a dire time in history, Dennenberg responds, “Awareness of pain and suffering around the world has been set in motion. We’re also obligated to examine the violence inherent in our own lives.”

The September attacks on America’s East Coast served as a wake-up call that there needs to be a change in the human consciousness. Dennenberg says, “We do not possess a limited amount of compassion. All social ills including violence and lack of compassion, exploitation of animals and the environment can be addressed collectively.” How to do this? Dennenberg says, “We have a unique and incredible power as consumers. Every dollar we spend is a vote for compassion or cruelty.”

While it may seem irrelevant if you use cruelty-free detergent or not, “Possessing the conscious ability to question the effect of every product we purchase, whether it be on non-human animals, the planet, our bodies, and/or the people who produce them is one way to empower ourselves and make a world of difference,” says Dennenberg.

Starting with yourself and making that progression will quickly transform other people. Social change spreads like a mushroom cloud. Just five to 10years ago, there were far fewer vegetarians and cruelty-free products. Dennenberg says, “With an increase in demand for some of these products, we’ve also witnessed a decrease in their price.” She also claims that there still exists a misperception that living a healthy lifestyle is unaffordable. “While certain products may be more expensive than those we’re used to purchasing, it’s crucial to consider the true price of the items. More importantly, by asking ourselves about the necessity of the products we purchase, the more simple our lives can become.”

More and more mainstream people are going to consciousness-awareness events such as the yearly Worldfest, held in L.A. and San Diego, which according to Dennenberg is, “an event that appeals to the average Joe.” Humane educators like Dennenberg and people who promote compassionate living have started to conduct market research much in the same way multi-million dollar corporations do. And humane educators have what corporations can’t even get to sometimes: the grassroots.

So be a part of this grassroots movement to evolve our human potential. Boycott products and companies that perpetuate our lack of compassion for each other and for animals. This ignorance that exists for the sake of the all-mighty dollar leads to our suffering, and by extension, to the suffering of those all over the world. Dani Dennenberg realized she made a tangible difference after she did a program on animal agribusiness for a high school. A young boy looked up from his desk and said, “I’m going to try a veggie burger just for you.”

 

Humane Educator, Dani Dennenberg

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