Life is Our Classroom

As part of my doctoral program at Saybrook University, I am taking a class entitled Humanistic Foundations of Organizational Development. I am enjoying the class tremendously, and learning about some inspiring and relevant thinkers, such as Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire (1921-1997), author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, author of If God Were a Human Rights Activist.

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Paulo Freire
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Boaventura de Sousa Santos

In collaboration with my fellow Humane Education specialization students Suzy Fisher and Jennifer Elfenbein for a class project, we created this video about our educational program and the Institute for Humane Education, through which we do core coursework. It’s a labor of love, and we are quite proud of it. Please watch, and if it makes you think, we’ve done our job!

Having a heart can be expensive, or, I’ve decided not to be thick-skinned about the homeless who ask me for money

Living in the Bay Area had the effect for a while of hardening me and my usual soft heart against the homeless. According to the San Francisco Homeless Project, SF has the second highest rate of homelessness in the United States. And for the Bay Area, it has double the rate of Oakland, and three times that of San Jose.

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During the 11+ years I worked in Berkeley, there were times I swore Berkeley had the highest rate of homelessness in the US. Granted, if I were homeless I’d rather be in Berkeley than a lot of other places, but I got to where I hated leaving my office to walk down Durant Avenue toward Telegraph Avenue.

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Mike Harris has been homeless for years and often plays music on a boombox while panhandling outside of Asian Ghetto (Durant Food Court). He takes heart medication. He asked me for money everyday for more than 10 years. I rarely gave him any, and didn’t know his name until today when I found this image.
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The streets of Berkeley.

Not that I had to leave work to be confronted with my discomfort. The old location of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) was a natural place for people living on the streets to go in to use the restroom facilities. Anyone who is out and about and has to use a bathroom faces a hard time finding places without the “restrooms are for customers only sign”.

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I much prefer this sign:

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My initial annoyance at having to share the facilities with the woman who came in regularly and cried while taking a sink bath became empathy and a realization of “There but for the grace of God go I” (or the equalivalent since I’m not into the God thing).

Benita Guzman, 40, washes her hair in the sink of a public restroom after dropping her children at school in Port Hueneme
Benita Guzman, 40, washes her hair in the sink of a public restroom after dropping her children at school in Port Hueneme, some 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles, California February 28, 2012. Benita Guzman, 40, and her niece Angelica Cervantes, 36, are homeless but stick together in an effort to keep seven of their eleven children together as a family. One in 45 children, totalling 1.6 million, is homeless, the highest number in United States’ history, according to a 2011 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness. California is ranked the fifth highest state in the nation for its percentage of homeless children. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)

My attitude first underwent a shift when I was working on my Masters in Library and Information Science a few years ago. For a class on Libraries and Society, I decided to write a paper about the use of public library facilities by the homeless. The research was so difficult to read; such heartbreaking stories and real despair. Libraries are meant for everyone, I do believe, but as a wanna-be librarian I was worried about having to be a social worker on top of everything else. But just as the museum restroom off of the Durant Avenue entrance to BAMPFA made sense when I thought about it, so did libraries. They are  quiet, warm in winter, cool in summer, relatively safe places to get off of the streets.

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At the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library.
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It’s hard to navigate life without access to a computer these days. Libraries provide them for the public.

Most of the people I know say they never give money to panhandlers and the homeless. If I admitted that I did give money now and then, I felt kind of stupid. I used to believe that if someone couldn’t take care of themself, they had no business having a companion animal. But companion animals are one of the most important joys of life to me, and I’ve changed my mind. This was brought home fully to me after hearing Karen Hamza of Angel Hanz for the Homeless speak on her own experience of being homeless and the services she now provides for the homeless to be able to keep their pets with them. I’ve been through some tough times emotionally in my life, and having the cats and dogs to comfort me and to take care of kept me going. I get it now.

At about the same time, my inspring and beautiful friend Molly posted on Facebook about how the homeless aren’t treated like humans and her experiences talking to people on the street, asking their names, and doing what she could. She and I went to lunch together one day not long after, and she really brought it home for me. We were walking back to our cars with our leftover boxes after lunch, when we started to pass two older guys who appeared to be homeless, or at least really down on their luck. I was going to keep going, but Molly stopped. I reluctantly stopped too, and then as I listened to her talk with them and ask their stories, and watched her give them her lunch (which was going to be her dinner), I couldn’t just stand there. I handed over my box, and was so touched to get a hug in return. Hugs are good.

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Ken Nwadike, founder of the Free Hugs project. He’s got the right idea.

I learned a lot from this encounter about myself and about compassion. When I was recently working at a mobile adoption event for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation outside of the Pet Food Express in Lafayette, I had the chance to practice my empathy and compassion.

Lafayette is not a poor community, and one does not expect to encounter the homeless there. Back in 2012, the median household income in Lafayette was $150,000, more than double the statewide average and nearly triple the national average. The real estate overview I looked at lists the median home price in Lafayette at $1,320,000 and the median rent per month as $5,000. That’s a lot of money. A lot. It’s like Monopoly money to me when talking about these unimaginable sums.

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Lafayette, California.
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The only way I’d ever have that amount of money.

When the 40ish-looking man came over with his dog, I didn’t even stop to think about him being homeless. He was very proud of his dog, a mixed breed with an adorable underbite, appropriately named Smiley. He mentioned he got the dog through Pets for Vets about 5 years ago, and how important the dog has become in his life.

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He then talked about his traumatic brain injury and cognitive difficulties and how much Smiley helps him with his post-traumatic stress disorder. By that time, it was clear to me that he was lonely, a bit confused, and in need. I channeled Molly and opened my ears and my heart. He finally said he was”kind of homeless” and quietly asked me for $3 for a coffee at the cafe across the street. I admit to very brief inner struggle and thought of fibbing and saying I didn’t have any cash. But my better nature won the struggle. I gave him a $20. Not the Monopoly kind, a real one. That’s not a small amount of money for me. Animal shelter and animal rescue jobs don’t pay a lot of money. But I can give up a few visits to Peet’s coffee and make up the $20. And I got my hug.

Then I heard from the people I know that I shouldn’t have given him money. You know what? It was my money and my choice. He was a nice guy, taking good care of Smiley, not aggressive, wearing clean clothes, and didn’t smell of alcohol. He is a man who has fallen through the cracks of  veterans’ services after suffering serious injuries in serving his country.

I didn’t take his picture; I have more respect than that. Most of these images are from Google Images searches, not my phone.

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Homeless veteran with dog, name and location unknown.
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Homeless veteran and dog at a hearing for increasing housing programs for veterans.

My naysayers make me think of the lines spoken by Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

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I am not trying to make anyone feel bad. I am not fishing for compliments or validation. I am asking you to think twice next time you turn away from someone on the street. And do not take the good things in your life for granted. We are taught the Golden Rule as children. Let’s follow it as adults.

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Peace, love, and hugs.

Recommended reading: 3 Ways to Respond Responsibly and Compassionately to Panhandlers

“Let’s go out there and do a f*** ton of good!”

“Let’s go out there and do a f*** ton of good!” was the closing sentence of Will MacAskill at the Effective Altruism Global 2016 conference held at UC Berkeley August 5th through 7th this year. Professor MacAskill is the youngest tenured professor of philosophy in the world (yes, in the world, at age 29) and is the co-founder of Giving What We Can, author of Doing Good Better, and a major voice in the Effective Altruism movement. As one might hope at a conference of altruists, the book was free!

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Will MacAskill

I only heard about the conference and the movement itself the day before the conference, when I met Tobias Leenaert, The Vegan Strategist, when I went to a talk he gave at the newly opened Berkeley Animal Rights Center.

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Tobias Leenaert, The Vegan Strategist

One online application submitted and there I was, at the Effective Global 2016 conference with about 1,000 other altruists.

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do it

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Your intrepid reporter, day 1.

After making my way through registration, and grabbing a coffee (altruists need coffee too!), I went to my first session, How to Change Your Mind, presented by Miya Perry, Head of Training for the Oakland start-up Paradigm Academy. We learned about changing our behaviors by digging deep into our System 1 and System 2 beliefs (I found this description helpful).

Next up: Cooperative Conversations, led by Tsvi Benson-Tilsen, formerly of the UC Berkeley Math Department and now at the University of Chicago. Conversation is more complicated than you think. We all operate from different world models of knowns, “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”, and our models may or may not overlap.

Et voilà, it was time to check out dinner! Being altruistic can work up an appetite. The food was delicious and predominantly vegan, with a couple of vegetarian alternatives for those who must have cheese (I understand, I really do). Vegan as the default was such a great way to go! Thank you, Centre for Effective Altruism, for that decision as well as the compostable bamboo plates and forks.

And of course, you know I wouldn’t leave out the all important dessert!

Saturday started with the keynote talk, The Past, Present, and Future of Effective Altruism,  by Will MacAskill and Giving What We Can co-founder Toby Ord. (Note: a side benefit was getting to hear all of the wonderful accents and languages from this international community. Will is Scottish and Toby is Australian, though both are now at Oxford in England.)

Toby Ord

Toby presented about the past, going through the history of ideas, while Will spoke about the present expansions in the EA literature, EA groups, and outreach.

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Will MacAskill on his first meeting with Toby Ord.
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Toby Ord takes us through the history of ideas.

Tired yet? It’s early still! Let’s grab a coffee and keep moving.

day 1 coffee

Away we go, to The Future of EA for Animals, presented by Jacy Reese from Animal Charity Evaluators. It was a quite lively discussion about the most effective ways to help animals

Time for lunch. The lunch buffet was set up on the plaza in front of Zellerbach Hall. In addition to good food, lots of small groups formed to continue the conversations that the various sessions (of which I went to only a handful) so far had triggered.

While a nap might have been a good thing about now, I soldiered on to Are Scientists Responsible Enough?, a talk given from the UK via the magic of Skype by astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees for the Centre for the Study of Existential Risks. As Lord Rees says (paraphrasing), because of the huge implications of the possible actions by a few people, we need more conerned and socially engaged scientists. As he said, “the global village has its village idiot with a global range”. In the US, his book is sold under the title Our Final Hour.

Back to my favorite topic–animals–with Irene Pepperberg from Harvard, talking on Avian Cognition and Consciousness: The Gray Parrot and Its Implications for Animal Welfare. We share this world with many other creatures and we are all interconnected. Empathy is called for, and we are only just finding out how much we don’t know about non-human animal intelligence.

Next, I went to a workshop on how to prioritize and compare different interventions for helping non-human animals, run by Lewis Bollard from Open Philanthropy Project.

Still holding up okay? Me too!

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Your intrepid reporter, day 2. Still smiling.

If we want to make the world a better place, of course, humans are a big part of the picture.  The next session I chose was The End of Poverty, a lofty goal.

Utilitarian philsopher Peter Singer, author of many influential books (Animal Liberation, Darwinian Left, and, relevent to this presentation, The Life You Can Save: How to Play Your Part in Ending World Poverty) was able to participate in a question and answer session with the audience through Skype.

His ending message: don’t think in terms of sacrifice but of fulfillment in your efforts to make the world a better place. As the saying goes, the life you save may be your own.

This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Rajesh Mirchandani from the Center for Global Development.

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The panelists for The End of Poverty discussion.
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From left, Svetha Janumpalli, Timothy Telleen-Lawton, Jeff Brown, Anne Healy, and Rajesh Mirchandani.

When evaluating possible interventions, some of the things to consider: scale, evidence/data, incentives, accountability, and transparency.

Catch your breath, and now we move on the day 3, which I started with a round of 3 20-minute talks. These were in the Senate Chambers for the Associated Students and Graduate assembly at UC Berkeley, on the 5th floor of Eshleman Hall. Very spiffy, and great views.

First up, Tobias Leenaert on Helping Animals with Technology or Morality? It takes a lot of motivation to get people to change their habits for ethical reasons. Maybe the vegan movement should focus on getting people to eat meat alternatives as they become more readily available (just try them, they’re [mostly] delicious!), and then their attitudes toward animals will shift as a result. In other words, instead of trying to change people’s beliefs to change their behavior, change their behavior and the attitude shift will follow. I will say that I am creeped out by lab meat, aka, clean meat, cultured meat, and tissue-engineered meat. But I am not a meat lover and my attitude is already with the animals!

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When surveyed, most professors of philosophy agree with the statement that it is not ethical to eat animals, but in reality, their behavior doesn’t match up.

Tobias was followed by Adriano Mannino of Effective Altruism Foundation on Affecting the Far Future with the Animal Cause. The foundation is an anti-speciesist think tank and project incubator headquartered in Germany. His point, if I understood correctly, is that people who value the lives of animals and want to prevent animal suffering are of a mind-set that also predisposes them to take on other causes and value all things living, human, non-human animals, plants, the planet, and that we can build toward a better future for all utilizing those values.

Finally, the round of speakers ended with nanotechnologist and futurist Christine Peterson, co-founder of Foresight Institute on Upstream Altruism: Applying EA Principles to Early-Stage Action.

My favorite bit was the idea of “hit and run” altruism, which could be equated to random acts of kindness. Nanotechnology means nothing to me, kindness does.

We aren’t done with lab-grown meat yet! Back to Zellerbach Hall for a panel discussion, Rethinking Meat and the End of Factory Farming, moderated by Claire Zabel with Open Philanthropy.

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From left: Tobias Leenaert, Claire Zabel, Lewis Bollard, Isha Datar, Bruce Friedrich, and Allison Smith.

For more information on the panelists:

Tobias Leenaert

Lewis Bollard

Isha Datar

Bruce Friedrich

Allison Smith

I met Allison Smith again at the workshop on interventions, led by Allsion and Jacy from Animal Charity Evaluators.

I promise this is the last on lab-grown meat; panelists Uma Valeti of Memphis Meats, Oliver Zahn of Impossible Foods, Tim Geistlinger from Muufri, and Isha Datar from New Harvest answered audience questions about technology, nutrition, and the notion of cellular agriculture. I’m still sticking with plant-based, thanks.

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Seated, from left: Uma Valeti, Oliver Zahn, Tim Geistlinger, and Isha Datar.

We’re almost done! Yes, I’m getting tired too.

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Your intrepid reporter, day 3.

I couldn’t leave without going to the talk by Cass Sunstein, who I know as the editor of texts I’ve used in animal protection classes in my humane education program. He has other claims to fame: Harvard Law professor, legal scholar,  Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012, and author of many books, including The World According to Star Wars (surprised by that one?!).

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Professor Sunstein’s talk was titled From Behavioral Economics to Public Policy. Don’t let the title scare you. Many Star Wars references were sprinkled throughout (I won’t pretend to have understood most of them).

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Cass Sunstein

It was a very interesting talk on social meaning and concepts like using nudges to get people to do good things. For example, at the Amsterdam International Airport, flies painted in the urinals nudge men to aim at a spot where pee doesn’t overflow onto the floors. These have resulted in 44% less “spillage” in the men’s bathrooms at the airport. Don’t ask me how it was measured. Or who had to measure it.

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Men are weird.

And now to the closing remarks!

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Will MacAskill on the future of the Effective Altruism movement

A gathering on stage of the staff of the Centre for Effective Altruism who made the conference happen, the awesome volunteers, and a big thank you to them and to all of us for attending and spreading the ideals of effective altruism.

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And proving that we are also optimists, all of us went outside to gather for a group photo, I haven’t seen the final result, but here we are trying to squeeze together in front of Sproul Hall.

I’d like to end this with one last thought. The weekend before this, I attended the World Vegan Summit 2016 in the same location. I thought I would have a lot to write about, but I had an uncomfortable feeling the whole time (compounded by food poisoning; gotta wash those fruits and veggies and use clean hands, food service people!). It was an amazing opportunity to hear Professor Gary Francione, a divisive but forceful leader in the animal rights movement, and I learned alot. But there was a vibe of “our way is the only way” that doesn’t sit well with me. I am much more interested in open-minded thought and discussions.

Peace. And may the force be with you.

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Please turn off all electronic devices

I am in my 50s (how did that happen?). I did not grow up in the world of personal computers, cell phones, tablets, iPods, etc. It was with great excitement that my family bought a color television. The old black and white set was relegated to my mother’s bedroom, where it sat on her dresser with its wire coat hanger antenna. When one of us was sick (or pretending to be), we would camp in Mom’s room and watch from her bed. We didn’t have remote controls. As the youngest of 4 children, I was the human remote control (“Hey Gen, change the channel to Mannix.”)

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I think we got 4 channels.
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Mannix, starring Mike Connors, ran from 1967 to 1975.

A fun Friday night at the Cottraux house was eating TV dinners in front of Mannix. My teenaged sisters were usually out on dates, so it would be me, my brother, and Mom, each with a TV tray and the dinner of choice. I enjoyed these, surprisingly. They were considered a treat. My food tastes have changed, thank goodness!

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Yes, I actually enjoyed these.

None of us in the immediate family like to talk on the telephone. In fact, some of us (me) hate to talk on the telephone and have telephonophobia. This is a real thing, the fear of telephones, and is considered a form of social anxiety. But my teenaged sisters HAD to have their own phone in their bedroom. It was a beautiful Princess phone. I thought my sisters were so COOL and I wanted to be just like them. Still do in fact.

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I’m not sure if my sisters’ phone was pink, but I thought it was beautiful.

 

I had no interest in mobile phones when they came out. None. Plus they were huge and hideous.

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I finally got a mobile phone in 2000 when I was working for California State Parks on a 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. shift and was often the first one at the park on cold, dark mornings. I justified it as a safety thing. I never talked on it. I had it for years. It didn’t even have games that I know of.

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So how did I become the person at the summer residency program at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, Maine who always had her iPhone in her pocket and had trouble setting it aside during activities?

 

I’ve written a little bit about the week in Maine:

I’m finally headed to summer camp…

Falling in love with frogs

This was a time to enjoy being in a beautiful natural setting with amazing people and at least 5 species of awesome frogs. It was not a time to be worrying about where to charge a phone. Some of my favorite activities:

The Bioblitz Dance (Bioblitz Dance)

The Bioblitz Dance is an ongoing “dance” challenge as part of the National Park Service’s Centennial.  The dance was created by John Griffith of the California Conservstion Corps. You too can do the Bioblitz, and post the video to YouTube under the title “The Bioblitz Dance”. It’s fun! And remember, it MUST be done outdoors.

 

Seton Watching (Go Out and Seton Watch!)

At first I heard the name of this activity as Seated Watching. Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was a naturalist and wildlife artist, born in England to Scottish parents. His family emigrated to Toronto, Canada when he was a child. He reportedly retreated to the woods to escape his abusive father.

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Ernest Thompson Seton

The idea is pretty simple. Find a comfortable spot outdoors, sit quietly, and observe. Each of us chose a spot, and every day for the week we had varying lengths of time set aside to go sit and observe. You might think my spot was the frog pond, but it wasn’t. I did my own version of Seton watching in the early morning hours at the pond. My “official” Seton watch spot was in a hammock under the trees at the edge of the meadow leading to the pond. My first choice was actually an old school desk in the woods, but I couldn’t remember which trail went there, and the hammock was empty and close by.

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The instruction was to observe a spot about the size of a magazine spread, but since I was looking up into the tree canopy, it was a little different. But still amazing. The play of light through the leaves varied each day depending on time and weather. The sounds of the wind through the trees (I think they were birches) was always intriguing. I could hear birds all around me but I couldn’t see them. I stayed awake. And I didn’t look at my phone.

Wonder Walk (Wonder Walk instructions)

Wonder Walking is done in pairs, with each person taking a turn as the Leader and as the Follower. We did this on the first day when we really didn’t know each other, so there was an element of trust that had to be assumed in turning yourself over to a stranger to be led eyes closed. The odd thing is that I was much more relaxed as the Follower than I was as the Leader. Maybe not that odd, when I think about it!

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Rafael leads me on a Wonder Walk. Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.
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Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.

If you are at all curious about Wonder Walking, I am game to go on one with you. Just let me know!

Group Outdoor Art Project

When this activity was announced, my first reaction was “Can’t I do an art project by myself?” Once a loner, always a loner.( I am trying to prove that wrong in my old age.) As an art museum registrar, I found it particularly interesting that all of the groups chose to do ephemeral, performance pieces. Some involved sound, including music created with natural objects in the environment. Flowers played a big role in other offerings. My group did a participatory, silent piece that resulted in a bird bath filled with flowers. It was quite beautiful. And I enjoyed the group process more than I admit.

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Also highly recommended: eating your meals with friends out of doors. And campfires with campsongs (learn the lyrics to Señor Don Gato; you’ll thank me) and (vegan) S’mores. 

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Veggie dog on the dock at Castine, Maine.
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Who doesn’t love a campfire?
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Age 54, my first S’mores experience.
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Illustration by John Manders

Get outside, and please, turn off your electronic devices!

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A Tale of Three Sisters

3 sisters

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There are three sisters living in my spare bathroom. They are very beautiful girls, each different from the other and I love them all. Their names are Joelle, Amelie, and Elodie. They are in fact triplets, although there is a big, middle, little connotation to their size and attitudes.

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Joelle
Joelle, the big sister. Confident and social, and physically the biggest as well. She’s also great at IT.
Amelie
Amelie, the middle sister. A bit of a loner but always gentle with her sisters.
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Last but not least, tiny Elodie. Never underestimate the smallest!

I find myself reflecting on sisters and sisterhood. I am the youngest of three sisters (the youngest of four siblings, but my brother isn’t getting much space in this post; sorry Steve!). Our mother gave us each one of these pins several years ago. I rarely wear mine, not because it doesn’t have meaning, but because I just don’t wear pins often. Mom, bless her heart, never seemed to understand that we didn’t really want to dress alike or get the same gifts.

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Maybe I don’t wear it because the Far Fetched label makes it seem like an impossibility that three sisters are getting along?

There are many stories of sisters. I found several versions of Native American legends of the three sisters and planting “three sisters gardens”. This version is from the Cherokee:

Once upon a time there were three sisters. The first sister was very tall and strong; her name was Corn Girl, and she wore a pale green dress and had long yellow hair that blew in the wind. Corn Girl liked to stand straight and tall, but the hot sun burned her feet and hurt her. And the longer Corn Girl stood in her field, the hungrier she got. And every day more weeds were growing up around her and choking her.

The second sister was very thin and quick and fast, and her name was Bean Girl, but she wasn’t very strong. She couldn’t even stand up on her own. She was good at making food, but she just had to lie there stretched out on the ground, and she would get dirty and wet, which wasn’t good for her.

The third sister, Squash Girl, was short and fat and wore a yellow dress. She was hungry too.

For a long time, the sisters didn’t get along. They each wanted to be independent and free, and not have anything to do with the other two. So Corn Girl stood there with her sunburned feet and got hungrier and hungrier. And Bean Girl lay there on the ground and got dirtier and wetter. And the little fat sister Squash Girl was hungry too.

So Bean Girl talked to her sister Corn Girl and said, “What if I feed you some good food, and you can hold me up so I don’t have to lie on the ground and get all dirty?” And Corn Girl thought that was a great idea. Then little Squash Girl called up to her tall sister, “How about if I lie on your feet and shade them so you won’t get sunburned?” Corn Girl thought that was a great idea too.

So the Three Sisters learned to work together, so that everyone would be healthier and happier. Corn Girl helped Bean Girl stand up. Bean Girl fed Corn Girl and Squash Girl good food. And Squash Girl shaded Corn Girl’s feet and kept the weeds from growing up around them all.

And that’s why the Iroquois and the Pueblo people and the Aztecs and everybody in between planted their corn, their beans, and their squash together in the same field – the Three Sisters.

I accept my role as Squash Girl happily!

Unfortunately, my sisters live more than 3,000 miles away and we don’t get to see each other very often. I don’t have many photos of us together, and it is very rare that there is a photo in which all three of look as gorgeous as we really are. Pictures from our childhood are all packed away and not yet digitized.

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Not so great photo from a few years ago after an Atlanta Braves game.
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Yes, the brother is in this time.

Continuing the exploration of sisters, on the serious side there is the play The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, written in 1900 and first performed in 1901.

 

The three sisters in Chekhov’s play, Olga, Masha and Irina, are living in a drab town a year after their father’s death and finding life tedious. From IMDb:

Olga, Masha, and Irina Prozoroff lead lonely and purposeless lives following the death of their father who has commanded the local army post. Olga attempts to find satisfaction in teaching but secretly longs for a home and family. Masha, unhappy with her marriage to a timid schoolmaster, falls hopelessly in love with a married colonel. Irina works in the local telegraph office but longs for gaiety. Their sense of futility is increased by their brother’s marriage to Natasha, a coarse peasant girl. She gradually encroaches on the family home until even the private refuge of the sisters is destroyed. They dream of starting a new life in Moscow but are saddled with the practicalities of their quiet existence. Despite their past failures, they resolve to seek some purpose and hope when the army post is withdrawn from the town.

IMDb

There are also several geographical sites named Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters in der Abendsonne
The The Three Sisters, Alberta, Canada.
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Three Sisters, in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia.
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The Three Sisters islands, Queensland, Australia.

But I prefer popular culture sisters. In Little Women, there are four sisters, so that never worked out for me to label them as me and my sisters. Meg was clearly my sister Cathy, sweet and nurturing and maternal. Jo was obviously Ellen, funny and athletic and the one who holds them together. But was I kind, sweet, sickly Beth or artistic, selfish and temperamental Amy? I think I was a bit of a mix, without the sickly part. Of course, we all had a bit of each sister in us.

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Then we get to the Gabor sisters. I don’t think there are any personality matches there (thank goodness).

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As a child of the 1960s, I watched endless reruns of Petticoat Junction.

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And I can’t leave out the Brady sisters! Oddly, my favorite was poor maligned middle sister Jan. I couldn’t stand goody two-shoes Marsha or insipid youngest Cindy. And Jan had the long beautiful hair.

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My favorite isn’t a story of three sisters but of two. The 1954 movie White Christmas is not the best (or the worst), but at the beginning of the movie  comes the song Sisters, by Irving Berlin.

Sisters
Sisters
There were never such devoted sisters

Never had to have a chaperone “No, sir”
I’m there to keep my eye on her

Caring
Sharing
Every little thing that we are wearing

When a certain gentleman arrived from Rome
She wore the dress and I stayed home

All kinds of weather
We stick together
The same in the rain or sun
Two diff’rent faces
But in tight places
We think and we act as one

Those who’ve
Seen us
Know that not a thing could come between us

Many men have tried to split us up but no one can
Lord help the mister
Who comes between me and my sister
And Lord help the sister
Who comes between me and my man

In the film, the song is performed by the Haynes sisters, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Vera-Ellen was a dancer, not a singer, so for this song, her lines were actually performed by Clooney as well (i.e., Rosemary Clooney sang a duet with herself).

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I, however, am partial to the version done in the film by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

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But you are here to see kitten pictures! Here you go, the three beautiful sisters at their weigh-in yesterday.

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Joelle
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Amelie
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Elodie

Please consider fostering for your local shelter or other animal rescue organization. Not only do you help them save more lives, you get the wonderful opportunity to spend time with some amazing animals such as Joelle, Amelie, and Elodie. I foster for the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, CA. It’s one of the best things I do in my life.

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Half the Sky/A Path Appears

 

(Note: This is an assignment for HUED 630 Human Rights at Valparaiso University.)

The saying “women hold up half the sky” is often attributed to Mao Zedong. Whatever else might be said about the Chinese Communist Revolution, Mao did push for the abolishment of child marriage, prostitution, and concubinage as well as getting women into the workforce and appointed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. This is according to authors Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, in their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2009, Vintage Books).

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Other sources refer to the ancient Chinese proverb “Women hold up half the sky, but it’s the heavier half” (Kelly Osterhaler, 2009) and note that it’s been attributed to Confucius as well as to Mao Zedong.  Whatever the source, the oppression of women and girls continues to be one of the world’s major humanitarian issues.

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Confucius statue

WuDunn and Kristoff are the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. WuDunn is also the first Asian American to win a Pulitzer Prize.

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Their book, PBS documentary series (2012), and Half the Sky Movement: The Game (no longer available, but you can still watch the trailer here and check out other social impact games at Games for Change) focus on sex trafficking, maternal mortality, sexual violence, microfinance, and girls’ education.

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Heavy subjects, yes, but also subjects we can work to make changes toward and improve the lives of everyone across the globe. Kristoff and WuDunn note on page xxii in the introduction to the book, “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process underway–not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful business women.” They also offer practical ideas for way we can all help. The last two chapters of the book are What You Can Do and Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes. I think we can all spare ten minutes! You can also follow the lives of the women featured in the documentary series on the Half the Sky website. Women such as Rebecca Lolosoli in Kenya

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and  Duyen, Phung, and Nhi as they continue their education in Vietnam.

In 2014, WuDunn and Kristoff published A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity (Knopf Doubleday), which begins with another quote:

“Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally, there is nothing – but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.”
—Lu Xun, Chinese essayist, 1921

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Lu Xun

This was also made into a PBS series, in 2015. See the trailer here. The United States is featured with other countries in this series, with episodes that include a survivor of sex trafficking in Nashville, breaking the cycle of poverty in West Virginia, and 2 organizations in Atlanta that combat domestic violence.

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Find out about more about ways to help and to share your story at A Path Appears.

Should you doubt that any one person can do anything to spur change, I suggest the book Free the Children, by Craig Kielburger with Kevin Major (1998, Harper Perennial) and the website Free the Children. I bring up Craig Kielburger’s story for several reasons. First, to show that a motivated individual, no matter what age, can speak up and make a difference. Second, in this post focused on women’s rights and oppression I would argue that child abuse is closely aligned with abuse of women and that women’s and children’s rights are interconnected. Enslaved children include young girls who go on to be enslaved and abused women, and the sex trafficking of young girls is particularly of concern to anyone concerned with human rights.

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Brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger are the founders of Free the Children and ME to WE. The Canadian humanitarians, activists, and social entrpreneurs began their work over 20 years ago to fight child labor and exploitation.Craig was 12 years old when he began, Marc was 17.

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In the epilogue to his book, Craig cites the oft-quoted Gandhi, “We must be the change we want to see.” He follows this with “That change starts within each one of us. And ends only when all children are free to be children.”

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I’m finally headed to summer camp…

Not really, but I’m going to Maine for a week for a residency at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, Maine for my doctoral program. Fourteen (yes, 14)  of us will be staying in a cabin with bunk beds and 1 (yes, one) bathroom. Am I excited? Anxious, more like.

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Surry, it’s there somewhere.
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Surry, Maine. Note the lobster traps. I don’t eat lobsters.

 

As a child, I NEVER wanted to go to summer camp. EVER. My siblings were of a more “joining” nature–sports, after school activities, student government, scouts (ugh). I was not of this nature. In the least. I much preferred the solitude of a good book in a quiet place ALONE.

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A child after my own heart.

Mom signed me up for Brownies. I was okay with that. Brownies is basically craft time with snacks, things I love (still).

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Arts and crafts, yes.

Then came Girl Scouts. I was an awful Girl Scout. Sell cookies and earn badges and make camp stoves out of tin cans? Exactly what were the tin can stoves for? CAMPING! I played hookey from troop meetings until Mom caught on and then she let me drop out. Thank you, Mom!

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Not me.

 

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Not interested if I have to actually work for them.

She know better than to propose summer camp. I spent my summersreading books, drawing pictures, and watching way too much television. I was so happy!

My vision of summer camp is of mean girls, being humiliated and probably drowning, awful food, and bug bites and sunburn. The word rustic should be applied to expensive artisanal foods, not living arrangements.

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What I see when you say rustic cabin.
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Rustic bread? Now you’re speaking my language!

When I was about 10 or 11, in an effort to get us out of the house, my stepfather gave my brother money to take me to the movies. He took me to see the double feature of Butterflies are Free and Bless the Beasts and the Children. Probably not appropriate for my age. Have you seen Bless the Beasts and the Children? (Get the Carpenters song out of your head.) Summer camp is not a nice place. People and animals DIE.

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How I imagine myself at summer camp:

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The letter I would write to my mother (soaked in tears):

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I am sure the house will be very nice and surprise me. The 14 of us will become good friends (we’ll for sure get to know each other), have a good time, and learn a lot from our instructors and mentors. That part I am excited about. I have a feeling I’ll be taking showers at weird hours and mostly avoiding the bathroom as much as possible. I will post updates, no worries about that! And if anyone pushes me in any body of water, maybe I’ll finally learn to swim.

 

 

 

You CAN Change the World (and Have Fun in the Process)

(Note: This is for an assignment in Humane Education 640: Culture and Change at Valparaiso University.)

The Emperor Ashoka (died 232 BCE), third monarch of the Indian Mauryan Dynasty1, is quoted to have said: “No society can prosper if it aims at making things easier. Instead, it should aim at making people stronger.”

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Ashoka statue, Kanaganahalli, Gulbarga, Karnataka, India (photo by Alene Devasia)2

In this spirit, Bill Drayton founded the organization Ashoka, in 1980, with the mission: “To support social entrepreneurs who are leading and collaborating with changemakers, in a team of teams model that addresses the fluidity of a rapidly evolving society. Ashoka believes that anyone can learn and apply the critical skills of empathy, team work, leadership and changemaking to be successful in the modern world. “3

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Ashoka is a global network with Ashoka Fellows in 70 countries. Fellows are divided into the six broad categories of

  • Civic Engagement
  • Economic Development
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Human Rights
  • Learning/Education

Learn more about Ashoka

Drayton, an assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Carter Administration in the 1970s, began searching for people to bring about change in areas he saw as critical human needs.

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Bill Drayton, photo from ashoka.org

As described in a 1998 profile in The Atlantic, Ashoka “looks for people who will become references in their field, who will set or change patterns at the national level or, in the case of a small country, at a larger regional level. Ashoka searches for people who, in Drayton’s words, will leave their “scratch on history.” When the foundation finds a bona fide social entrepreneur, it elects him or her to a fellowship, provides financial and professional support to help launch the fellow’s idea, and connects the fellow with other social entrepreneurs working on similar problems. Like a venture-capital group, Ashoka seeks high yields from modest, well-targeted investments. It seeks returns not in profits but in advances in education, environmental protection, rural development, poverty alleviation, human rights, health care, care for the disabled, care for children at risk, and other fields.”4

If you don’t meet the stringent criteria or no one has had the sense to nominate you as a Fellow, you can volunteer with Ashoka through its Everyone a ChangemakerTM program.

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What makes a successful social entrepreneur? According to Adnan Mahmud, founder and CEO of LiveStories and Co-Founder of the non-profit organization Jolkona, which works with students and young adults to build a new generation of philanthropists, “successful social entrepreneurs lead by example and have fun at the same time” (i.e., “love what you do”). 5

Adnan Mahmud, photo from https://twitter.com/adnanmahmud

How do social enterprise ideas differ from traditional business ones?

“Social enterprise ideas, unlike conventional business ideas, typically result from a desire to solve a social need; similar to how many non-profit and charity organizations find their beginning. Traditional business ideas can also come from identifying a social need. But, the difference between a social enterprise idea and a traditional business idea is the motivation of the entrepreneur. The primary motivation for a traditional entrepreneur is more-often-than-not a desire to make money; a social entrepreneur is driven more by a passion to solve a social problem, and only chooses to use business as a mechanism to solve these problems.”6

One successful example was begun more than 60 years ago by Pennsylvania Mennonite Edna Ruth Byler (1904-1976), who on a trip in 1946 to Puerto Rico was struck by the poverty she witnessed. She believed market opportunities in North America would provide economic opportunities for artisans in developing countries. She started by selling handcrafted items out of the trunk of her car, and eventually the fair trade organization Ten Thousand Villages was established.7

 

 

One of the most famous examples (and famous founders) of a social enterprise is the company Newman’s Own, founded by the late actor Paul Newman in 1982. All royalties and profits from the sales of its food products go to the Newman’s Own Foundation, which has granted over $450 million to thousands of charities.8

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You can also eat well for a good cause by supporting social enterprise restaurants and cafes, many of which provide job training and skills for people with barriers to employments as well as raising money to support social missions. An example in the Bay Area is the Delancey Street Restaurant on The Embarcadero at Brannan. The Delancey Restaurant opened in 1991 and was built by the Delancey Street Foundation’s residents, former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless, and others in need of help to live in mainstream society.9

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Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that I also found examples of animal-minded social enterprises. Twelve of these companies were profiled by Trend Hunter in 2013.10

Animal-minded enterprises on Trend Hunter

 

My particular favorite is Rescue Chocolate (no surprise, again). Who can resist the slogan “the sweetest way to save a life”?11 The chocolates are all vegan and 100% of the net profits go to animal rescue organizations around the United States. They also incorporate educational messages in the names and labeling of the chocolates, with:

  • Peanut Butter Pit Bull (crispy peanut butter and chocolate, countering the negative public image of the pit bull-type dogs)
  • Pick Me! Pepper (sweet ’n spicy dark chocolate with peppers, highlighting the advantages of choosing pets from animal shelters instead of breeders or pet stores)
  • Foster-iffic Peppermint (dark chocolate with peppermint, highlighting the need for people to provide foster care for shelter animals as they await their forever homes)
  • The Fix (plain 66%, highlighting the importance of spay and neuter)
  • Mission Feral Fig (fig, cranberry, almond, and spices, highlighting the humane solution for feral cats, TNR)
  • Fakin’ Bacon (smoky, sweet and salty, a salute to farm animal sanctuaries and compassionate gourmands)
  • Forever Mocha (hazelnut praline and coffee, highlighting ways to help people make and honor a lifetime commitment to their pets)

Learn More About Rescue Chocolate

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If your interest is at all piqued, I recommend for further reading How to change the world: Social entrepreneurs and the power of new ideas by David Bornstein (2007, Oxford University Press).

I’ll end with the two quotes that open Bornstein’s book:

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.—Thomas Edison

References

  1. Dhammika, V. S. (1993). The Edicts of King Ashoka. DharmaNet Edition. Retrived from https://www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/ashoka.html
  2. (2014). Asoka statue, Kanaganahalli. Retrieved from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/113022477
  3. Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. (n.d.). Vision and Mission. Ashok Retrieved from https://www.ashoka.org/visionmission
  4. Bornstein, D. (1998). Changing the world on a shoestring. Atlantic Monthly January 1998. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/01/changing-the-world-on-a-shoestring/377042/
  5. Mahmud, A. (27 September 2013). Do good & do well: 3 tips for social entrpreneurs at home and abroad. Huffpost Impact. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adnan-mahmud/do-good-do-well_b_3998875.html
  1. The Sedge. (17 January 2014). 22 Awesome social enterprise business ideas. The Sedge.org: Where social enterprise works. Retrieved from http://www.thesedge.org/whats-new/22-awesome-social-enterprise-business-ideas
  2. Ten Thousand Villages. (n.d.) Our story: A pioneering businesswoman. Ten Thousand Villages. Retrieved from http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/about-history/
  3. Newman’s own Inc. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.newmansown.com/charity/
  4. Delancey Street Foundation. (2007). Delancey Street Restaurant, San Francisco. Retrieved from http://www.delanceystreetfoundation.org/enterrestaurant.php
  5. Reid, T. (25 January 2013). 12 animal-minded social enterprises: from holistic farming companies to altruistic pet beds. Trend Hunter. Retrieved from http://www.trendhunter.com/slideshow/animalminded-social-enterprises
  6. Rescue Chocolate. (2016). About us. Retrieved from http://www.rescuechocolate.com/pages/about-us