by Zoe Weil
Artist and changemaker Chris Jordan asks several questions in his fascinating TED talk.
Through his powerful photographs of human behavior and mass consumption, Jordan attempts to make our unconscious societal choices conscious, so that we can change destructive and unhealthy behaviors and systems.
Jordan’s wall-sized photographs depict, in a compelling and often visually stunning manner, such mundane realities as the number of plastic cups we use on airplane flights in the U.S. each day or the number of people who die from smoking cigarettes every year.
By making our societal choices accessible in this way, he invites viewers to reflect upon their own individual contributions (presumably both positive and negative) to the world. I consider Jordan’s work to be a spectacular example of humane education through art.
But what I found most compelling about this particular presentation was his question to the audience: How do we change?
It’s an old question with a long pedigree of distinguished and not-so-distinguished answers. Psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists, preachers, and advertisers alike have all sought to understand the forces that mold us, and then to mold us toward their own aims.
This is true for humane educators as well.
The primary goal of humane education is to provide people with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to create a peaceful and humane world. Note that humane education seeks to do more than provide relevant information and skills; it must also instill desire to create a good world and motivate others to be engaged changemakers.
We humane educators are in the influence business, attempting to answer the question “How do we change?” so that we can help our students change themselves and the world for the better.
From my perspective as a humane educator, I believe that we change:
- by emulating those who inspire us most (so humane educators must model a positive message as fully as possible).
- through daily practice and a commitment to live with integrity (so humane educators must provide maps for such a practice).
- when the choices before us include convenient, healthy, and positive options (so humane educators must offer these and work toward their development).
- when we are part of healthy systems and live in healthy situations (so humane educators must help create such systems and situations for our students).
- with support from others who also strive to change for the better (so humane educators must provide such support).
- by pursuing lifelong learning and wisdom (so humane educators must inspire others so that they are passionate about learning).
- when we have hope (so humane educators must offer painful truths about current realities in ways that do not create despair but rather engender enthusiasm for new possibilities).
Our task as humane educators is to create change, and so we must seek to answer Jordan’s question so that our work has the greatest impact.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas for answering this perennial question.