People & Animals

AV magazine issue 1, 2010 2010 Issue #1 Compassion into Action Most Good, Least Harm
Zoe Weil

As a visiting humane educator in the 1990s, I was often asked to give presentations at assembly programs in schools. I would bring a canvas bag filled with objects that represented choices: a ceramic mug and a Styrofoam cup; a cloth diaper and a disposable diaper; a toothpaste tested on animals and a cruelty-free brand, and so on. I would ask the students which of these two choices did the most good and the least harm. At some point I realized that this question had turned into the guiding principle of my life, and I began calling it the MOGO principle, short for "most good." I also realized that this principle was far-reaching and had the power to simultaneously transform us as individuals and create a truly peaceful and humane world if we were to embrace it collectively. When we ask what will do the most good and the least harm to ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment, we discover that there is much we can do to contribute to a more compassionate, restored world and that doing so is profoundly meaningful. The MOGO principle is simple in theory, but it asks much of us. It requires a willingness to learn new information so that we might continually reexamine our lives with the greatest good in mind and commit to conscious and deliberate choice-making for the benefit of all. Doing so calls upon us to live with courage, wisdom, perseverance, and compassion. While at first glance this might seem quite challenging, embracing the MOGO principle is deeply rewarding. It puts us on a lifelong journey that helps us realize peace within ourselves as well as create a peaceful world for all.

The MOGO principle also has another important side effect: it reduces selfrighteousness and cultivates humility. When we look at our choices through only a single lens—such as kindness to animals—we may fail to see the impact we're having in other realms. Thus, we might choose a vegan diet and cruelty-free products to diminish the harm we cause to farmed animals and those in laboratories, while we still buy sweatshopmade, ecologically-destructive clothes or consume chocolate produced through slave labor. When we adopt the MOGO principle in all its depth and complexity,we discover that there is much to learn and much to explore in our effort to live deeply compassionate lives. This is both humbling and helps us to respect others' choices and invite them to explore with us rather than expect them to follow our one true path.

How does one live according to the MOGO principle? I find that it helps to use what I call the three I's: Inquiry, Introspection, and Integrity. The only way to make choices that do the most good and least harm is to employ our inquiry daily. Because we live in such an interconnected, globalized world, we cannot know about the impact of our choices unless we consciously inquire about them. Prior to the 20th century, where I live in rural Maine, everyone knew the effects of their choices because they could see them. They knew where most of their food, fuel, water, building materials, and transportation came from. Today, we don't know. For example, I'm typing this essay on my computer, which is filled with toxic materials, often tested on animals and mined in unsustainable and destructive ways. It was assembled in factories where women and children may have been working horrendously long hours under inhumane conditions. Its eventual disposal will likely cause more environmental destruction and human and nonhuman hazards. How could I ever know this unless I consciously brought my inquiry to my daily life? Next, we must introspect to determine whether or not our values and our choices are in sync, and reflect upon what we can and cannot change. Finally, we must choose to live with integrity; that is, to walk our talk and live according to our values to the greatest degree possible.

It's probably obvious that this is no easy matter. I'm not in favor of toxins in my products, sweatshop labor, environmental destruction, or animal testing, yet my computer contributes to all of these, and I haven't chosen to forego this machine, which is so necessary tomy work as a humane educator and writer.

But the answer to this seeming quandary is the MOGO principle itself. MOGO isn't simply about making compassionate product, food, and clothing choices but also about participating in democracy, activism, and choosing work and volunteerism that contributes to systemic change so that we don't have to decidebetween our values and the products and foods available to us. If we work for change, we not only turn our passion into action, we also create a world in which all of us can more easily live with integrity through our daily choices. Thus, we are called upon to be not only more conscious and conscientious consumers but to be changemakers who utilize our talents and skills to create positive changes that will enable all of us to more easily and fully live according to our values.

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