Creating the Space for Conversations With Young People About Compassion for Others...
need to bring our children and students into the conversation and invite them to be part of the solution. I would love to hear what you are doing to create the space for conversation in order to help foster compassion and critical thinking.
I hope you enjoy the read!
The Earth Protector Story
It was a cold February evening and I was sitting at my desk preparing for an assignment for my Culture & Change class. We had just read the book, Creating a World That Works For All by Sharif Abdullah and I felt like I could fly. Yes, I wanted to create a world that worked for all!
If you know me at all you know that I have about a million ideas a minute of how to change the world. Most people just roll their eyes or say, "That's just Abby," when I go on about my next big idea. I get it, I can seem a bit pie in the sky sometimes.
It wasn't until I started my Master's program in Humane Education that I felt confident enough to try some of my ideas. The program has taught me so much about the world, about animals, and about people; that I want to share it with as many people as possible. I even try and include my son with what I'm learning. It's a great way to spend time together but also a wonderful opportunity to teach him how to lead a more compassionate life. I do this by showing and modeling as opposed to telling and instructing.
James has helped me collect donations for refugee's for the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights and even attended the "Big E" to witness how we use animals for entertainment.
Including James in this part of my life has been wonderful. It's also allowed me to become a Solutionary Parent. Solutionary parenting is parenting in a way that invites our children to be part of the solution. It is about helping them cultivate a love for our environment, the animals, and other people; so that they can be the next generation of changemakers that will design a world that works for all.
When I look at James I see so much of myself in him. He has a passion for life and incredible inner strength. So when James came to me that February evening and said that he wanted to do something to change the world, without any hesitation I said, "let's do it!"
My goal as a parent is to support his natural love and curiosity for life. I believe this can be the catalyst for social change. This will not just help form him into being a kind and compassionate child, but also what can help make him into a great citizen of the world.
I told James to sketch out some ideas and think about what his/our goal(s) were. He wanted to protect the world and the animals and the people in it so I said, why don't we be,"The Earth Protectors!" And that's just what we became.
When you have an idea, taking the first step is always the hardest. We often feel that we need to have the perfect plan in place before we can act, but that simply is just a self-imposed delay in disguise.
We could go through life having a million ideas but not doing any of them. Starting "The Earth Protectors" was a wonderful way to show James that his ideas are valuable, that children can make a difference, and that change happens when someone decides to do something.
The Earth Protectors is not an exclusive group and there are no memberships. It is simply a way of life that creates a path to compassion. It is open to any and all; no matter who you are or where you live. All are welcome.
Our compassion extends to the protection of the environment, to other people, and to the animals. We are the protectors of all that inhabit the Earth.
If you or your child has an idea of how to change the world, please don't just let it pass you by. Take the first step and see where it takes you. It may be the best journey that you ever go on.
If you missed the 2019 Humane Summit, you're in luck! You can still access the presentations by visiting the Humane Education Coalition's YouTube page and clicking here.
Yay for humane education! I hope you enjoy my presentation!
Why we choose not to ride elephants, go to zoos, or swim with dolphins...
As parents and educators, how can we collectively start the discussion with youth about animal equality and the impact that our choices can have? In this session, Abby Power will talk about how we can use humane education tools to introduce topics such as speciesism, systems thinking, cognitive dissonance, and critical thinking in order to engage our children to find solutions and make systematic change. As educators or parents, let’s give children the tools to be the next generation of changemakers.
*Tip: It's best heard with either headphones or by unplugging any external speakers.
Saturday Morning Lessons...
Today was a typical Saturday morning. I went for a run, tidied up the house and had breakfast. James asked if I would play with him and of course I said yes. We went up to his room, read a few stories and talked about his first week of kindergarten.
He then got a big smile on his face and announced that he wanted to play cops and robbers! I felt a twinge inside of me. "Ugh, really?" I thought to myself. I immediately started to try to rationalize it in my head. What boy doesn't want to play cops and robbers? It's okay, isn't it? Society tells me that it's harmless and that it's normal. Surely I'm just overreacting?
Deep down I knew I wasn't overreacting. I had just spent the past week watching films for my human rights class about the systematic root cause of the culture of male violence, bullying, sexism, discrimination and powers of oppression. What I found out was that it is all learned behavior.
Boys are taught that they need to be tough, aggressive and suppress their emotions or they risk being shamed. This gender stereotyping is perpetuated every day by the way we talk to our children and what our expectations are of them. We even see it in movies where males are portrayed as tough and often have to fight to show dominance. Phrases like "boys will be boys," "man up," or even "boys don't cry" are not helpful and only further perpetuate systematic oppression. As Jackson Katz explained in his film, Tough Guise 2, we are a "culture that romanticizes violent masculinity" (Katz, Tough guise 2).
So what do I do? How is a mom supposed to let her son play and use his imagination but weave these very important messages (that often counteract societal norms) into his life? It dawned on me, I could do this through play. Instead of saying to my son that we couldn't play cops and robbers, I simply turned play into a teachable moment.
I wanted to break the idea that there are good guys and that there are bad guys. I wanted to stop the us vs. them mentality that my five-year-old had already developed. Instead, I wanted to show him that we have the opportunity to look at the individual and to hear their story instead of relying on biases and false generalizations.
Here's how it played out:
James (As the Police Car): Let's play cops and robbers! Wee oooo weee oooo, stop right there, robber!
Me (As the Dinosaur): Oh no! Why are you coming after me?
James (As the Police Car): Because you just robbed the bank! You belong in jail!
This is where I started asking the probing questions:
Me: Why do you think the dinosaur needed to rob the bank?
James: Because he is mean and needed money!
Me: Why do you think he was being mean?
James: Hmm, maybe because he has no friends.
Me: Oh, I see. How do you think that makes the dinosaur feel?
James: Sad, really sad.
Me: Yes, I can understand that. What do you think you could do to make him feel better?
James: We give him money.
Me: That's an interesting idea. Do you think that would solve his problems?
James: Hmm, maybe not. Maybe the police man could help the dinosaur out instead of putting him in jail?
This is where we went back to playing:
James (As the Police Car): Oh hi dinosaur! You don't need to rob the bank. Let's talk about it. Want to be friends?
Me (As the Dinosaur): Oh yes, thank you! I was feeling so lonely. I really needed a friend.
James (As the Police Car): Okay! We are friends now, let's go play!
Although this is just a bit of imagination, it replicates what happens in our society. We go from step 1 to 10 and miss all of the steps in between. Those in between steps are the good stuff. That is where we learn, we break down barriers, we confront our biases, and we learn how to empathize and show compassion.
Perhaps the next time James decides to play cops and robbers with a friend or a classmate, he too can ask these thought provoking questions that can open the minds of his fellow peers.
We need to stop "fighting" crime and start teaching kindness. This is how systematic change happens...grassroots and from the bottom up. We can teach our sweet, special, and wonderful boys that it is actually brave to have empathy and show compassion. For when they are older and find themselves in a position to either bully or befriend, I hope that they choose to befriend, as they will have learned the skills to act with courage and show kindness.
So you see, lessons don't just happen in the classroom. They can happen everywhere. Look for those teachable moments that can change the hearts and minds of our children, who will later be the ones that will teach the future.
If you're interested in films around these important themes, I suggest the following:
Tough Guise 2
Katz, J. (2013). Tough guise 2: The ongoing crisis of violent masculinity [Video file].
Article Originally submitted to Raise Vegan. Read how I explained what veganism was to my son.
My vegan journey started after attending the New England Vegfest and hearing James Aspey give one of the most compelling speeches I have heard. I had been vegetarian for a while but deep down in my heart, I knew I had to be vegan if I wanted my values to be in line with my actions. That evening I finally got the courage to watch Earthlings. It was the longest hour and 48 minutes of my life. My hands covered my tear-soaked face as I gasped in horror during the entire film. Although it was incredibly hard, I made myself watch it. I knew this film was not just a fictional horror movie, but a picture of what was happening every minute of every day all over the world. I cried, I screamed, and was full of shame for what was happening to these helpless animals.
The reason these animals were being needlessly murdered was simply because someone liked the taste of a burger, not because we actually needed to eat animal products to survive. It was then and there that I said out loud that I will never participate in this unnecessary abuse ever again. I didn’t care how hard it was going to be (which it isn’t) or how much criticism I would get from other people (which I don’t). I knew that this was the right thing to do.
When I became vegan, I filled myself with as much knowledge about veganism that I could. I had a lot of questions at first that I needed to find answers to. I was the first one in my family to become vegan. At dinnertime my son, James started asking questions about why I was eating something different to him and I explained that I was vegan and I didn’t want to hurt animals so that is why I don’t eat meat. His eyes opened so wide and I could see all of the questions filling this three-year-old mind. He then looked down at his plate and asked, “am I eating animals?” He then went on to say that he didn’t want to hurt animals anymore and didn’t want to eat them.
I did a lot of research to make sure it was nutritionally appropriate for a child so young to be on a vegan diet. Along with my research and the information I acquired during the T. Colin Campbell Plant-Based Nutrition certification course, I learned that a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet is not only appropriate but is a wonderful way to raise your children in a healthy way.
In my experience, it helped that I let my son naturally come to the conclusion that eating animals is wrong. I truly believe that if children were given the choice, they’d instinctively decide not to eat animals. I found that explaining veganism to a child is much easier than explaining it to an adult. It is not until food industries, our society and clever marketing strip us of our connection to animals and we start living in a state of unconsciousness. Over the course of a few weeks me, my husband and son were all proud vegans.
Every day can provide a lesson about compassion. Teachable moments are always popping up and it opens up the opportunity to talk to James about veganism and why we are vegan. I find that books are a great place for teaching. When we are reading his Richard Scarry books and the pig is serving up meat (including pork) at the butchers, we talk about that. We talk about how the pig must feel and what they are really serving. I explain that although this is the way things are now, doesn’t mean it’s right and doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it.
For Christmas this year my husband and I bought James the “We Don’t Eat Animals” book collection by author Ruby Roth. He loves the stories in the books and can relate to them. When we read them at night I always ask him questions to gauge how he is feeling and answer any questions that come up.
Instead of going to the zoo, aquarium or circus we can go to things like Cirque du Solei, animal sanctuaries or on adventure hikes through the forest. At birthday parties I always make sure to bring him special cake that I bake for him to bring. This is quite common these days anyway because of so many children having allergies. Once I explain to him that while we may do things a little different than his friends it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun too. He never has to feel like he is missing out on food or experiences because of all of the wonderful alternatives there are these days.
Since James was born, it was crucial to me to teach him that there is nothing more important than kindness, empathy and compassion. Raising him as a vegan is a large part of this. He became an activist in his classroom and talks to his classmates on why he chooses not to eat animal products. My proudest moment was on a Saturday afternoon. James adamantly walked into the kitchen where my husband and I were talking and he exclaimed in his little three-year-old voice: “I am never, ever, ever eating ‘ammimals’ ever again! It is so rude!” He spoke with so much conviction, more than most adults. My heart sang for him.
Of course there have been testing times too. One day James came home from school begging to go to McDonald’s. His friends at school were talking about going to eat there and getting a happy meal. James started to tear up and said that he didn’t want to be vegan anymore and that he wanted to go to McDonald’s too. As a parent it’s hard to see your child be in moments of conflict but I always try to talk it through with him. I finally got to the bottom of what really was going on and it’s wasn’t about the food at all. It was about him wanting to get a toy. I then explained all of the other options we had and all of the other fun things we can do instead.
Peer pressure can be a challenge for anyone, especially young children, however I think that James will be equipped with the tools to be a critical thinker and to speak from his heart and be able to influence others in a kind and compassionate way. I always keep the lines of communication open and answer his questions open and honestly in the most age-appropriate way. As he grows I am excited to share this experience with him and work together as a family to make the world a more peaceful place.
Article Originally submitted to Raise Vegan. Read how a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet helped my son thrive.
My boy and his health concerns
When I think of my four-year-old son, James, I think of how kind and compassionate he is. He has a smile that lights up any room. You would never know from looking at him that the past four years leading up to now has been a roller-coaster of health issues. He has had diagnoses that include Failure to Thrive, encopresis, and recurrent ear infections among many other conditions. While the doctors were trying to push PediaSure to help him gain weight, I treated him with calorie-dense smoothies to help him grow. While the doctors pushed cow’s milk when he turned one, I transitioned him to hemp milk. When he struggled with years of encopresis and severe constipation, his doctors pushed large doses of MiraLAX and Ex-Lax. This was the final straw. Although I respect his pediatrician and specialists, they weren’t looking at James as a whole and only by their own specialty. I was looking at my son as a whole and knew that the food we eat can make a significant impact on his health.
Changing the way we eat
At this point, I decided to transition James and our family to a whole foods plant-based diet. The difference in him was amazing. His growth rates soared, his encopresis resolved itself, and the recurrent ear infections stopped. It was like he was a new child. He was no longer in daily pain and was filled with joy. I was finally able to step back and enjoy the days with my son and not worry about getting him to eat constantly, stress over relieving his constipation, or research nonstop about what I could do to advocate for his health and well-being.
When I went against the pediatrician’s orders of having James take MiraLAX and Ex-Lax and instead to start him a whole foods plant-based diet, I was worried about what they would say at his next check-up. Would they be angry that I thought I knew better than them and not approve of my decision to stop their suggested treatment plan? Would they report me to child protective services because I was raising a vegan child? All of these questions raced through my head, but what I had on my side was proof. James was not only healthy but he was thriving. This is all they needed to see. They were impressed how well he was doing and asked many questions about how I did it. I felt proud. I was proud that I stood up for him and did what I knew was right, and I was proud that I was able to share something new with esteemed medical professionals.
Making sure they get enough
Of course when you are raising a vegan child you want to make sure you are providing them with adequate nutrition. Should children eat the same things as adults? Do they need added fats in order to grow properly? I had a lot of questions and decided to enroll in the T. Colin Campbell Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate Program. The knowledge that I learned has been invaluable and only further strengthens my confidence that I know that I am raising my son in a way that will benefit him for the rest of his life.
Children and adults that follow a whole foods plant-based diet should be eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts as close to their natural state as possible. There is no need to stress about adding fat to their diet. Children will eat until they’re full. When you give them a variety of healthy food, they will choose from those and eat until they’ve had enough to eat. Once a child reaches adolescence they will require more calories in their diet. Whole foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds that are higher in fat will help with their growth.
Eating is fun!
In our family, we make eating fun. I have found that providing choice is important. James loves to come to the grocery store with me. I let him pick the fruits and vegetables that we are going to make for the week. This has been fun as we often get to try things that we’ve never had before. My advice is to always be the role model for your child. Show them how to eat well and they will soon follow. You are gifting your child a head start as a model for good nutrition that they can continue well into adulthood.
Hello! My name is Abby Power and I believe in being an advocate for compassionate change. This extends to showing compassion to ourselves, to the animals and to the earth. As a graduate of the T. Colin Campbell Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate Program you will often find me sharing the benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet to family, friends and community. I currently reside in Massachusetts with my husband and four-year-old son, James. In my free time, I enjoy dancing, practicing Vipassana Meditation and advocating for the animals!