by Marsha Rakestraw

Do a little thought exercise with me…

Think of someone close to you — a friend, family member, a colleague, your boss. Someone you know well. Take a minute or so and jot down things about them that bug you — things that irritate you.

Now think about your life for the last few days. Jot down some of the things you can think of that went wrong — that were a burden, or annoying, or upsetting.

Now think of that same person from a minute ago. And jot down things about them that you appreciate and respect — good things about them that you’ve noticed.

And now think about your life for the last few days and jot down some of the things you can think of that went right. Things that helped you, supported you, brought you joy. Anything that was a blessing (however you define that).

How did you feel doing the first set of lists? The second set?

What We Pay Attention to Matters

Especially in the 21st century, we have a lot competing for our attention and a lot that we can give our attention to. What we often forget is that, whether consciously or not, we’re choosing what to give our attention to.

Often it’s easier for us to focus on the negative (like the first set of lists), than on the positive (the second set).

What we give our attention to shapes our worldview and how we exist in the world.

Do we go through life focused on the obstacles or how others aren’t meeting our expectations?

Or do we focus on all the support and kindness and goodness that we receive each day? Do we look to the possibilities?

Examining our own lives, and reflecting on the relationships that we have with others — whether loved ones, strangers, animals, the planet, or even an inanimate object — is an essential part of not only being a good humane educator, but of being a good human.

As Gregg Krech, founder of the ToDo Institute, says: “We are very good at putting ourselves in our own shoes and noticing what it is like to deal with everybody else. But it takes a profound shift of awareness to temporarily abandon our personal perspective and consider the perspective of another being.”

Practice Gratitude and Attention With Naikan

To help us in examining the truths of our own lives, we can use the tool of Naikan.

Naikan is a Japanese self-reflection technique.

It means “looking inside” or “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye,” and it’s designed to help us honestly and sincerely examine our conduct and relationships.

At its core, Naikan is based on three questions:

1. WHAT HAVE I RECEIVED FROM _______________?
2. WHAT HAVE I GIVEN TO _____________________?

We at IHE like to add a fourth question:

4. WHAT CAN I DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME _____________________________?

You can use Naikan to focus on a person, animal, planet, object, or go even broader.

When we fill in those blanks with all that we can think of — such as what we’ve received from the soil, air, water, family, friends, co-workers, the clerk at the store, the stranger, the animals who inspire and ground us, the workers who grew our produce, etc. — we see just how much we can be thankful for and how much we can give to others.

Naikan also helps us become more mindful of the harm we’ve caused to other people, animals, and the Earth, so that we can strive to make choices that do more good.

Model Our Message

Being an effective humane educator is certainly about building our knowledge base and providing accurate information and offering people positive choices.

But more than anything it’s about modeling our message.

And to make sure we’re modeling the message we want to convey, it’s important that we’re mindful of our interactions and relationships, how we’re spending our time, and where our brain energy — our attention — is going.

Naikan can be a really helpful tool that can be modified in a variety of ways — focusing on one thing (all the instances of nature around me, all the good things that a certain student is doing today, all the opportunities to thank someone or help someone).

Students also tend to like this practice.

We encourage you to add Naikan to your humane educator’s toolkit.


Be sure to forward this to at least ONE person who would benefit from these resources.

Subscribe to This Blog Become a Humane Educator Support Our Work


Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash