by Institute for Humane Education
As a humane educator and public speaker, Abby Power uses her solutionary vision to spark change wherever she goes. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Humane Education through the Institute for Humane Education.
As a changemaker, she is working outside of the classroom to help people make the connections needed for change. She currently lives in Ashland, Massachusetts, with her husband, five-year-old son, and canine companion. In her spare time, you may find Abby dancing down the street, encouraging the people that pass her to also live a life that’s filled with joy and passion.
We asked Abby to share about her work for a better world.
IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?
AP: Growing up, I’ve always seemed to be on a different journey than everyone else. If the way to go was to the left, I always went right. This constant pushing against society left me feeling disconnected from my family and my peers.
As I got older, I started to embrace who I was and the way I saw the world. I became more confident and got more involved with activism and speaking up against injustice.
Shortly into my activist journey, I noticed that so many activists were angry all the time. I didn’t want to be around them, and if I didn’t want to be around them, why would anyone else want to be either? How would change even be possible?
That’s when I knew that the missing piece to creating change was by cultivating compassion through the combination of humane education and activism. That’s when I enrolled in the graduate program at IHE. After finding the Institute for Humane Education, I finally felt whole.
I think a lot of activism is missing the key ingredient of solutionary thinking. At a recent rally with the Nonhuman Rights Project, I held a placard outside of the DCU Convention Center where the Commerford Zoo was hosting a kid’s fun fair.
As I was walking back and forth with my sign, I did an experiment. At first, I would walk as normal, straight-faced, with a look of intention and determination. Although I was not disturbing anyone, people would hurriedly pass by, trying to not engage.
I then changed my approach. A smile beamed from my face, and I looked kindly into people’s eyes. People were confused at first, but ultimately those who passed by would look back at me, smile, and take a moment to read my sign.
My smile and acknowledgement of seeing them as individuals was pivotal. It was like I was offering my hand to bring them into the conversation, not to push them away.
There is so much work to be done to better the world, and humane education can help get us there. If what we are trying to do is teach others to show compassion, we must do that within ourselves as well. Instead of marching down the street shouting at each other, can we dance down the street, bring people in, and help them understand these important causes?
Let’s try combining joy, passion, and education, and see the magic that unfolds.
IHE: How are you currently manifesting your humane education work for a better world?
AP: Every day I ask myself how I can make the world a better place. One way I do this through parenting. My wonderfully kind son, James, has such a zest for life. I try to parent in a way that invites him to be part of the solution.
When I am doing my advocacy work, I always give James the option to be included (if it’s age appropriate, of course). He is not only seeing his mom have courage, but it also builds his own bravery and determination.
We have many open conversations about what is happening in the world. The key has been asking him questions that get him thinking.
Having children come to their own conclusions opens the door to critical thinking, and I think that is such an important skill to have. When you take this approach, the dots start to connect themselves and the seeds of solutionary thinking start to grow.
In addition to parenting, the work that I have done while in IHE’s graduate program has been so gratifying. I have created a certified wildlife habitat for my garden, performed spoken word poetry, danced, created a film, designed social media campaigns, and offered community presentations, just to name a few examples.
In our human rights course, we were asked to interview individuals who were currently seeking asylum from their home country due to persecution. This was an incredibly powerful assignment for me.
I met three men from the LGBT Asylum Task Force and interviewed each of them and learned of their harrowing stories. By having the privilege to meet these men, I was able to listen to their stories and then go out and share them with the community. My hope is that their words will help spread awareness about how we treat people in this world and help us find compassion.
In another assignment, I interviewed the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights at Boston Medical Center. I was originally going to send flowers as a thank you, but then I thought, what would be more meaningful? What else could I do?
They were in desperate need of clothing donations for the refugees, so I decided to organize a clothing drive in my community. I spread BCRHHR’s story around town, and the number of donations we received was unbelievable!
These are just a couple of examples showing the opportunities we have to spread humane education all around us. Any moment can be turned into a teachable moment and one that sparks change. How wonderful is that!
IHE: You also have created a short film about your journey as an animal protection activist. What made you decide to use film as a vehicle for sharing about what you’ve been learning and doing? What do you want viewers to take away from your film?
AP: Film is such a powerful channel for change. I had never tried producing a short film before, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to document my experience as an advocate for animals. I wanted to showcase all of the different ways we can work together to fight for the animals. It is intended to build hope and courage and a way for all of us to find our voice.
I deliberately defined activism broadly in this film, to point out that everyone has a talent that can be used toward protecting animals. Whether that be in the form of direct outreach, protest marches, creating wonderful vegan food, educating others, writing about the fight for animals, supporting vegan businesses, bearing witness, teaching children about living a compassionate lifestyle, or even by simply living a vegan lifestyle, we are being a voice for the animals. It is all valuable and needed.
I wanted to end the film at the Maple Farm Animal Sanctuary. Like so many sanctuaries, this is a place of refuge, where animals can live out their lives in peace.
The last image in my film is of Gail staring out into the distance through an open barn door.
Gail was used as a dairy cow for the first 10 years of her life. I wonder what she must be thinking in that photo. Does she remember her time before being rescued? Does she miss her family? Where are her children now?
Unlike the 300 million cows who are slaughtered worldwide every year, she is free … like all animals should be.
IHE: You also earned your certificate in plant-based nutrition. How do those skills you’ve gained add to your work as a humane educator?
AP: The reason I became certified in plant-based nutrition is near and dear to my heart.
In June 2016, at the age of 57, my dad died of a heart attack. After something so traumatizing, I had a decision to make. I could either give up hope and live in darkness, or I could use the pain to push myself to do something great in my life.
I chose the latter. I needed to lift myself back to life.
That is when I decided to become certified in plant-based nutrition. I learned that food should be joyful, colorful, fun, and most importantly, it should be healing. I now give presentations to many different communities, in the hope that it may save someone else’s life, since it was too late for me to save my dad’s.
We have to remember, in addition to being compassionate to nonhuman animals, our Earth, and others, we have to show compassion to ourselves. We need to recognize the importance of self-care in a field that can sometimes be so overwhelming.
When we show compassion to ourselves, we will be better prepared to show compassion to others.
IHE: You educate others in a lot of different ways, from giving presentations, to writing, to making films, to helping parents. What inspires you to use those different mechanisms for reaching others?
AP: What I love most about IHE’s graduate program is that it has given me the courage to act.
Ideas for change seem to endlessly swirl throughout my mind, but I never knew how to put these ideas into action. IHE was just what I needed and helped teach me how to take the first step.
I am now able to combine my vision for creating a more humane world with IHE’s steps on how to get there. By combining both thought and action, we can create a purely transformational way of thinking, one that includes solutionary thought and action.
The vehicle for change can come in many forms. The reason that I have tried so many different mediums is two-fold: self-development, and the ability to reach many different people.
The beauty of the assignments in the graduate program is the ability to use them as an opportunity to try something new and to master a new skill.
IHE is unlike any other graduate program. It’s about mastering what you are learning and applying it in real life, while also having a supportive team behind you, rooting for you all the way.
I’ll be able to graduate from the program with so many different skills that I never would have learned before.
When we broaden our scope of what education means, the ability to reach more people becomes greater.
You don’t know what it will be that makes your neighbor rethink the way they interact with the world, so I say we try to use all of the tools that we have in our toolbox and see what works. Different things speak to different people. That’s the beauty of creativity.
IHE: What are your future plans for your humane education work?
AP: I’m excited to see all of the different places my work in humane education will take me. I have so many ideas!
A question came to my mind recently, “What’s the point in changing, when we’ve lost our sense of wonder with the world?” I think this question is pivotal to humane education and one of the areas where I want to focus my work.
Mr. Rogers has been an incredibly influential person in my life, especially as I was growing up. I want to look at the work he has done and find a way to carry on the message through solutionary eyes.
I want to help others rediscover that wonder that they once had as a child, so they can see how much there is to gain when they realize just how interconnected our lives are.
Another area of work that I want to continue is illuminating the juxtapositions of life in a way that is joyful and that invites people in. I want to use joy as a vehicle for social change.
I want to inspire other people in a way that it leaves them feeling like they can fly and gives them the tools to fly. In a world that seems unbalanced and filled with hate, we can tip the scales toward love every single day.
Lastly, a longer-term idea that I have is to make dying solutionary.
Can we completely reframe the way we look at cemeteries and the idea of death? I see an enormous opportunity in changing the way we memorialize our loved ones, as the conventional way hasn’t changed much.
My vision is to create a protected space where we can regrow forests with those who have died, using Bio Urns. What was once exanimate space could be filled with life.
The forest would be a place for families to come and reflect and be with their loved ones, much like with traditional cemeteries. The difference is that it would also be a place of renewal and growth.
I envision a solutionary “living building” center for social change within the forest, where people would be welcome to meditate, practice yoga, or explore their creativity.
It could be a space for community to meet and grow and develop together. Native plants would fill the space to further support the ecosystem.
I picture young children running around the forest laughing, exploring, and learning.
I hear wind chimes and water babbling. I smell the flowers, earth, and fresh air. I see bright vibrant colors through a sea of green.
I feel peace and groundedness from the roots and joy in an ecosystem that can be enjoyed by all.
People want their lives and their deaths to mean something; what a way to give back to the Earth that has supported us all of these years.
IHE: What gives you hope for the future of our world (and the world your son will inherit)?
AP: I have so much hope for our future. I see the most hope in the eyes of our youth.
This generation is one of the first that will really need to be equipped to deal with the challenges that they will have to face as they get older. They will need to be solutionary.
Instead of feeling scared, I feel excited to know that there are amazing resources out there, like IHE, that can teach them how to become solutionaries.
Throughout my journey into humane education, I’ve realized that the barriers to act are within our own minds. I always thought I had to accomplish this or that in order offer something valuable to this world. I want people to know that I’m not anyone special. You wouldn’t know me if you walked past me down the street.
But I’m here to say that you don’t have to wait to be “someone” in order do “something.” Anyone can change the world and inspire others to do the same. All you have to do is take the first step.
I’ll share one last story:
When I was growing up, before I left for school, my dad would always say to me and my brother, ”Make it a great day.”
I didn’t really think about it at the time, but he never said, have a great day. It was always, “Make it a great day.” I think there’s something to that. It’s about having intention.
We can decide to turn our anger into passion, our passion into compassion, and our compassion into action.
That’s when, I believe, we can transform an ordinary day into something extraordinary.
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