|Image courtesy michaelaw.|
During a recent board of directors retreat at the Institute for Humane Education, our facilitator helped the group (comprised of several new members) get to know each other through a wonderful activity. He’d collected a bunch of quotes and put them in a bowl. We each picked a piece of paper from the bowl, read our quote, and pondered what it meant for us. Then one by one we shared our quote and reflected about its meaning to us.
My quote came from Walt Disney, who said: “When your values are clear, your decisions are easy.”
Not in today’s world, I thought. Really, not even in Walt Disney’s world. Not if your values include compassion, kindness, and living sustainably. Being kind and compassionate and walking lightly in a complex, globalized world requires a great deal of knowledge about a great many things. It may be relatively easy to make kind and compassionate decisions in our interpersonal relationships, but what does it mean to be kind when the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, and the products we use may have contributed to the exploitation, abuse, suffering, death, and destruction of people, animals, and ecosystems?
My values are pretty clear. And I try very hard to live by them. But my decisions are certainly not always easy. Some are easier than others. I don’t want to cause unnecessary suffering and death to animals, so I’ve chosen to be vegan. I don’t want to cause the exploitation and enslavement of people around the globe, so whenever possible I opt for fair trade foods. But few foods actually have such labels; and every day I learn something new, such as how the high demand in the U.S. for the nutritious grain quinoa is now preventing poor Bolivians, for whom it has been a national staple for generations, from being able to afford what is grown in their own country. The truth is that the more deeply I attempt to live according to my values, the more challenged I am and the less easy it becomes to make truly humane and just decisions.
And so when it was my turn to share my quote with the group, I thought how perfect it was that I had picked this one. I had, in fact, written an entire book, Most Good, Least Harm, about the challenges, as well as the joys, of living as deeply aligned as possible with our values. I found myself thinking that Walt Disney’s quote represented a simplistic kind of black and white thinking that I’m trying to depose, by urging people – especially students – to think in ways that are complex, nuanced, thoughtful, and creative, so that they will be able to make wise decisions — a far more important thing to me than easy decisions.
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach”
My TEDxYouth@BFS “Educating for Freedom”
My TEDxYouth@CEHS “How to Be a Solutionary”
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