A Vegan Manifesto: The Oppression of Vegans in Society

 

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In four years as a vegan, I’m still grappling with the fact that I have yet to have a single authentic conversation with a non-vegan on the issue of food choices. Those who choose veganism often filter their true feelings, and here’s why:

  • Since the dawn of veganism, vegans have been ridiculed by society. It’s clear in TV shows, the news, movies, and the radio that culture at large, especially in the west, has continued to bash veganism as an extremist lifestyle, leading to a manufactured lack of confidence among many vegans
  • The widespread societal attack on this lifestyle choice has led vegans to feel excluded, misunderstood, and judged for decades.
  • People choosing veganism must always walk carefully on the eggshells of society’s comfort zones. (It turns out people get really defensive about their food choices)
  • Without safe spaces to truly express the transformative, emotional journey that so many vegans go through, we are left instead to engage in artificial, disconnected arguments with those vehemently defending what is merely an inherited set of social norms.

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Discomfort is the seed of growth
Going vegan for so many of us is a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, mind-expanding, ego-exploding process. Look: nearly all vegans spent years and even decades blissfully eating meat and dairy. This means that at some point, virtually all vegans you know chose to transform the worldview they had into something drastically different. And the catalyst of this transformation is open exploration and extensive research into our food system. And that shit is not comfortable! No one is saying discomfort and change is rainbows and butterflies, but stepping outside of what is comfortable and seeking the truth are the only ways to expose yourself to the beautiful and terrible truths that are intentionally invisible within our comfort zones. Yes, “the truth hurts”; and at the same time, “the truth will set you free.”

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In my personal realization of the horrors that animals face in the food industry as well as the incomprehensible destruction animal agriculture has on our planet, my whole life flipped upside down. I began to see the world through an entirely new lens. As if someone had scrubbed all the bullshit out of my mind and off of my body, I was able to see clearly for the first time in my life all the violence we were perpetuating on innocent animals, on our own bodies, and on our once-pristine planet. Even worse, I was able to see that I had been an active part of this destruction all my life, ignorant to the truths hiding just beyond the border of my comfort zone; ignorant to the fact that my actions impact my personal well-being, the livelihood of the animals I share this planet with, and of course, the health of the planet itself.

You matter: your actions do have an impact
So many of us live lives of comfort and convenience. From simple pleasures like iced water and hot showers to the lavish privileges we enjoy like endless food options and fancy cars, it seems that humans are more concerned with what’s easy and familiar than what is honorable and compassionate. Lots of people cling to the idea that individual change has no impact on the world, giving them free rein to continue living and consuming mindlessly and without compassion.

And this is increasingly apparent in westernized societies where any threat to overconsumption and convenience is beat-down immediately to protect the status quo. With little to no regard for the expense that our food choices have on each other, other living beings, and our planet, this reactive tendency in our culture is merely a manifestation of the ego and a suppression of the soul.

When your actions have victims
You have probably heard something along the lines of: “It’s my right to eat what I want when I want.” But you know what? No. It is not your right to do something if that “something” has victims outside of yourself. I am a huge proponent of personal freedom, but when your so-called freedom is actively suffocating the freedom of other beings, that argument is automatically void of logic. When your actions are perpetuating unnecessary violence and suffering unto innocent beings, you have left the realm of freedom and are entering the realm of domination.

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Culture is not your friend
Terence McKenna said it best: “Culture is not your friend.” Western, dominator culture would like us to believe that we can have anything we want without any consequences. This type of dangerous thinking has led us to rape and pillage our precious planet of its natural resources, steal indigenous land and massacre native peoples, own human beings as slaves, and slaughter tens of billions of animals every year for food, clothing and entertainment.

I find it astonishing in our culture that so many humans demand perfection and deliver mediocrity, putting minimal effort into living a meaningful, diligent life, while expecting infinite levels of pleasure and privilege on demand. This imbalance must be healed through an understanding of our interconnectedness to all living beings as well as a commitment to remain open to the truth and live according to that truth.

We must not dismiss ideas simply because they make us uncomfortable and challenge our worldviews. We must embrace the flaws and impermanence of our perceptions. We must face the realities that bring us immense sadness and immeasurable love. We must allow the truth to shine through so that we no longer have to live a lie. Together, we can stand up to the culture of violence and suffering we inherited against our will. Life on Planet Earth is a miracle of our universe, and it’s time we start acting like it. Let us shine the lights of excellence within us all and share the greatest version of ourselves with each other. Let us envision and co-create a world of peace, joy and love. It starts within each and everyone of us.

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An inconvenient truth even Al Gore couldn’t handle

Homelessness: this social crisis is one many of us come face to face with everyday – a daily reminder of the kuleana, or responsibility, we have to our community and our land. But this blog isn’t really about houselessness as much as houselessness is a way to talk about deeper and more uncomfortable issues.

From a simple perspective, the houseless peoples in Hawaiʻi are in need of homes, or in other words, they need land. The houseless are also food insecure, needing to beg for food or for money to buy food. Additionally, 805 million people are chronically undernourished; yet as more than a tenth of the global population face this reality, obesity simultaneously plagues  the human population, with a staggering 35% of adults overweight and 12% of adults obese in 2008.

What kinds of disconnects are present in our world today that allow for this dramatic disparity? 


A discomforting truth

Though many argue that overpopulation is the leading cause of these crises, evidence is surmounting that there exists ample land today to house and feed every person in the world sufficiently while still resulting in a surplus of land and food. The real problem that is starting to get the attention it deserves is the overconsumption and overproduction of unsustainable food products that occupy our much-needed lands and that hoard the finite amount of water and energy resources available on our planet.

70 billion farm animals are killed every single year. You may think this is shocking but still ask, “How is this related to homelessness?” Well, if you estimate the global human population at 7 billion people, you can see that this means that 10 times the global human population of our animal brothers and sisters are slaughtered on an annual basis.

Each of these animals are given land, resources, and a lot of food to feed the demand for animal food products. Worldwide, cows drink 45 billion gallons of water and eat 135 billion pounds of food each day, while humans consume a small fraction of that (5.2 billion gallons of water and 21 billion pounds of food). Beyond just what the animals consume for sustenance, the USGS found that animal agriculture as a whole uses between 34-76 trillion gallons of water annually, and according to the USDA, agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of all water used in the United States.

So, we know now that hundreds of millions of people in our global community go hungry everyday, and we see dramatic numbers of houseless and food-insecure communities rise in cities around the world, especially on the Hawaiian islands. Yet, as a society, we find resources to dedicate nearly half of the land on the mainland and 30% of the Earth’s entire land surface for livestock production, on top of the billion pounds of food and water mentioned above that is dedicated to producing the meat and dairy products our society loves to eat.

There is a metaphorical alarm clock we have conveniently been pressing the snooze button on for too long. It’s never been more necessary to look beyond the surface of our problems and begin tackling solutions at the root of these issues. Furthermore, it is critical to admit that we inextricably play a part in perpetuating houselessness, social inequality and environmental destruction multiple times a day in what we choose to eat and buy at grocery stores and restaurants.


A culture of domination

Animal agriculture is a symptom of a culture of domination as much as it is a mechanism for desensitizing the people towards continued domination of humans, non-humans and our natural environment. We now know that we are in the most dramatic period of extinction in all of known history. Stewart Brand talks about the sixth extinction we are experiencing and says,

“Extinction is a different kind of death. It’s bigger. We didn’t realize that until 1914, when the last passenger pigeon died, the most abundant bird in the world that’d been in North America for six million years. It went from five billion birds to zero in just a couple decades (when) commercial hunting happened … These birds were hunted for meat that was sold by the ton, and it was easy to do because when those big flocks came down, they were so dense that hundreds of hunters and netters could show up and slaughter them by the tens of thousands. It was the cheapest source of protein in America. By the end of the century, there was nothing left but these beautiful skins in museum specimen drawers…theres a sense of deep tragedy that goes with these things.”

This TED Talk titled “The dawn of de-extinction,” gave stories and photos of just a handful of the myriad beautiful species of birds and animals that have been obliterated from our planet in the last couple of decades alone due to mindless animal exploitation by humans. A new report from the World Wildlife Fund affirms that human activities have killed more than half of the wildlife on the planet since 1970.

Hawaiʻi is the infamous hub of this crisis, as our islands are the extinction species capitol of the nation and the endangered species capitol of the world, blowing all other states and nations out of the water in being the hotspot for devastating losses of biodiversity in only a handful of decades. It is our kuleana to begin to see this complex thread that connects the dots between homelessness, animal agriculture and the sixth extinction.

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The golden rule

In myriad cultures, the universal lesson taught to people is known as the golden rule, often told as, “treat others the way you want to be treated.” This is similarly taught by all major religions and spiritualities – eastern and western – as a high moral code which emphasizes the reciprocal nature between ourselves and others, and it encourages empathy within people.

Eastern religions call this karma, and the bible portrays this concept that “we reap what we sow” in Galatians 6:7, which proclaims, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” There seems to be dissonance between the social and environmental crises we face and the universal agreement that compassion and empathy are critical to foster a pono world.

Today, the immense allocation of resources to animals for the purpose of producing excessive amounts of meat and dairy products is the sowing of suffering, violence and exploitation within our animal kingdom as well as nature herself. And as we reap what we sow, we are now witnessing the reaping of that suffering, violence and exploitation to our own species. With unprecedented extremes in the spectrum of health from either extreme malnourishment or rising obesity rates, the reasons for this paradoxical gap in social equity are clearer than ever. Similar extremity is seen as we approach the climax of global warming and climate change that scientists have been warning us about for more than half a century.

Humans are undeniably the species that most dramatically discriminate against other species. The word speciesism sums up this attitude succinctly, and it is defined by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation (1975) as, “a prejudice or bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.” Speciesism and classism go hand in hand.

People have conveniently devalued, used and abused animals in the name of habit and desire, and this culture continues as long as society chooses comfort within that unfortunate reality instead of choosing a move towards mindfulness and compassion. The mindset of speciesism is reflective of humans’ “social acceptance” and hierarchy of illusory groups, also known as classes, within its own species. This culture of domination and denial seems to become a consistent theme within the human reality of the past several generations in the way we treat humans, non-human species and our environment as a whole.


The comfort in discomfort

It’s difficult and uncomfortable to come to terms with the sobering realities of our generation. And the inequalities and suffering that exist today are often not as frightening as our own significance in causing these problems as well as our incredible power as rational beings to eliminate those contributions.

The beautiful irony about this discomfort is that one can only expand his or her perceptions of comfort, or ‘comfort zones’ through discomfort itself. The challenge here is allowing oneself to open the door of discomfort and dive in to overcome the fear we are conditioned to have towards it. For the explorer of discomfort, it becomes the catalyst to the inevitable heightening of consciousness and the perpetual questioning of why things are the way they are.

When ego is dissolved or removed from a situation, one begins to approach discomfort with a higher level of openness and love. As uncomfortable as some truths are, it has never been more necessary and urgent to practice the golden rule. We must embrace consistency in compassion to heal much of the suffering that has manifested as a result of an inconsistency and dissonance between our values and our everyday actions.

As Manulani Meyer states in Our Own Liberation: Reflections on Hawaiian Epistemology, “I know (we) will survive and indeed, walk the highways with relief for the new adventure ahead, knowing that every step back is one step closer to my homeland” (125). Herein lies the confidence that the source of comfort and spiritual liberation is discomfort itself – and all the healing, justice and equality that follows.


Facing inconvenience with compassion

For much of our brothers and sisters living in Hawaiʻi, the problem is not so much in recognizing the problem. In the land of aloha, there is a collective realization that the issues of homelessness and inequality in general exist and that we need to address them. The true problem, instead, lies in the fact that the most effective solutions are often discomforting and inconvenient for society.

With a pervasive fear of public backlash, only a few environmental organizations recognize that production of animal products is the highest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions which not only threaten myriad species, but threatens our own species as well. This failure of even the environmental movement to appropriately prioritize contributors of global warming shows the true pervasiveness of the fear of making each other uncomfortable.

In the most catalyzing documentary on the devastating impacts of global warming and climate change, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” has been criticized for ignoring the inconvenient truth that our society’s addiction to animal products is accelerating climate change and social crises at unprecedented rates. But, in 2013, seven years after the release of his film, Gore turned rhetoric to action and chose to switch to a plant-based diet.


From discomfort to action

As we see the sudden rise in the momentum of peoples’ movements around the world following the flux in murders of and violence towards unarmed black people by police officers, the potential for people power as well as the desire for a more just and equitable world is spreading like wildfire.

And though the animal industry that profits from the sale of meat and dairy products attempts to influence politics and control public opinion through marketing and lobbying, the truth is beginning to peak out, and it must prevail if we want to genuinely tackle social inequality and the environmental crisis. In 2010, the UN released Livestock’s Long Shadow, which states that “a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.”


As we function within the holds of capitalism, the economic tipping point is our kuleana, and we can accomplish this through our personal actions at least three times a day with what food we choose to buy and eat. This economic tipping point occurs when an unethical practice is no longer profitable for industry because the consumers refuse to support those practices. This method proved successful when the people of England created an economic tipping point that caused food companies to eliminate genetically modified ingredients from their products.

With this purchasing power to influence practices of the food industry, each individual can be empowered to vote with his or her dollars by eliminating or minimizing purchases of animal products that sow suffering in the environment, in non-humans, and of course, within our own species. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”

To truly survive and thrive together, there must arise a consciousness that transcends our fear of discomfort and our desire for convenience. As the most rational species on the earth, our kuleana is this: to choose consciously the foods we purchase and eat in order to deliberately sow new seeds of peace, justice and compassion, so that we may reap peace, justice and compassion within ourselves as well as the human and non-human earthlings we share this planet with. Since preschool and kindergarten, we have been told the golden rule: to treat others the way we would like to be treated – I think it’s time we start listening.



With aloha,

Doorae

There is more to life than work

Pondering how work and money may be costing us our spirits and exploring a global movement for shorter work weeks

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Is 40 hours too much?

Do you work 40 or more hours a week? If so, you are not alone; ninety-four percent of professional workers put in over 50 hours a week, and some work more than 65 hours in a week. In this trend, the 40 hour work week is becoming a thing of the past as people are overworking more than we have seen in recent history.

But, this short-lived tradition of workaholism faces threats as more begin to seek alternative lifestyles. The concept of a 20 or 30 hour work week may seem far-fetched, but it is one that is showing to have positive results for our well-being and for the economy and society as a whole. With so much of the population working days, nights, and weekends in multiple jobs, it seems working overtime has effectively hijacked the lives of millions.

Though western culture tends to value economic growth, most individuals agree that when it comes to work, less is more. Shortening the workweek is an idea trending in popularity, especially since the publication of the bestselling book The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, who proves it is possible to be both successful and impactful while working less and playing more.

Work can kill the human spirit

In Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk “How school kills creativity,” he explains just one way that standardization and rigid structures are detrimental to our most basic needs and desires. As human beings, it is in our nature to innovate, cooperate, and think critically, and much of today’s systems inhibit us from those integral life experiences.

To learn from the education system, we can transform existing frameworks that continue to overwork and under-appreciate the human spirit. From the classroom to the cubicle, our ability to be creative and follow our passions are less and less tangible the more we learn and work in sterile, routine environments.

In the current job market and school system, we are largely forced to specialize in the tasks and assignments we carry out. And though specialization is beneficial in a variety of ways, Ken Robinson argues that creativity comes from the interaction of interdisciplinary perspectives. A shortened work week is an effective way to facilitate that interdisciplinary interaction by fostering freedom and building community, as it gives people the opportunity to have experiences that stimulate the human spirit, through social engagement, travel, creativity, etc.

How necessary is money?

Further indicative of the necessity of change, the vast majority of people work simply to make money. Ironically, paper currency is very new in the span of human history, yet it dominates our lives and simultaneously causes widespread anxiety, inequality and overall suffering. Our relationship with money has led many to question the negative effects money has on humans, as discussed in the TED talk titled, “Does money make you mean?” With loss of empathy, lack of compassion and decreased generosity now associated with having more money, it’s time to envision alternatives to our economic priorities.

Lucky for us, financial capital is only one of eight forms of capital, which gives hope for the movement to shorten the work week. To name a few, social, living/biological, and spiritual capital offer fresh perspectives to the notion of economic prosperity. As humans are naturally reciprocal beings, we thrive when we are less reliant on currency, and instead more dependant on the “give and take” offered in economies that allow for bartering, timebanking and similar relationship-based practices that transcend financial transactions.

The International Slow Movement

The international slow movement further affirms the need to reprioritize and simplify our lives and commitments. As a recovering workaholic, I recognize the difficulty in avoiding working too much. With so many opportunities, and with social norms telling us we must work to be productive members of society, it takes a certain level of will and self-awareness to make the leap and join the movement to slow down and truly live our lives the way we choose to.

Should you quit your job?

It is important to recognize that depending on what you do, working hard can be good for the soul, for the planet and for the economy. There are work conditions that allow people to love their jobs, such as getting along with co-workers, having a unified culture, feeling challenged and having variety in responsibilities.

And studies reveal reasons why people quit their jobs include feeling underappreciated and lacking senses of purpose and empowerment. And in a revolution of resignations, it seems people have a growing sense of empowerment to quit their jobs. This confidence to hand our bosses our two week notices indicates the desire for something beyond the widely accepted idea of work as a mundane, obligatory task.

In another one of his TED Talks, Ken Robinson further articulates the downfall of the rampant disempowerment that comes from standardization. By connecting how fast food hurts our bodies because of the lack of compassion and the standardization in its sourcing and production, we can see that the standardization of workaholism similarly malnourishes human spirit and energy.

Things to consider…

Every person’s situation is unique, so what I recommend to those who feel overworked and unfulfilled is an exploration of non-obligatory experiences, as they will likely help you discover and affirm your passions. A shorter work week and slower lifestyle enhance one’s ability to live in line with her natural tendencies and instinctual desires, while simultaneously helping the environment and boosting the economy.

The big question is this: Do you enjoy and feel purpose in the work you do? If you dread your job or feel drained after a day of work, perhaps its time to re-prioritize. My dad always says that work and play should be synonymous, and he emphasizes that people should quit their jobs if they cannot see work as play. Or in the words of Confucius, ”Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Essentially, this movement attempts to balance out the lifestyles many of us live, and Kris Carr agrees that doing less is more, and she asserts that it “is not about lowering your standards or shrinking from life. You matter. You are important. The world would be far less awesome without you. And, believe it or not, it will still keep spinning even if you step back and nurture yourself.”

Decades later: Tyrone Hayes repeats the warnings of Rachel Carson


This blog is a reflection of the beginning of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a book that eloquently depicts the miracle of nature and its suffering at the hands of humans; Silent Spring and Carson’s passion and knowledge catalyzed the modern environmental movement and the call to end the widespread use of toxic pesticides.

“Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good? If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problems.”

Carson had an undeniable love for nature in her articulate and vivid descriptions of the colors, sounds and interactions of her natural environment. In the first chapter alone, her words captivate the reader into a state of empathy for all the  plants and animals which suffer from the careless dumping and spraying of pesticides and toxic chemicals in the air and on our land.

As a long-time scientist, Carson’s poetic words beg the people to wake up to question the harsh consequences that these chemicals will have on human civilization. Reading this book in 2014, over 50 years after its publishing, is eye-opening. Carson accurately predicts the crises we face today as bee populations “mysteriously” decline, vast amounts of soil lose agricultural viability, and humans fall ill to a growing host of defects and illnesses.

Just last month, Dr. Tyrone Hayes, visited Hawaiʻi to hold talks on atrazine, a pesticide tested widely in the U.S. and on our islands. With Hayes’ published studies proving that atrazine turns male frogs completely into females, the toxin is still permitted for testing and use on our lands at more than 20,000 times the dose given to the frogs that experienced a complete gender switch. Shown to cause infertility and illnesses for multiple generations of exposed people, this dangerous pesticide is already banned in the very country it originated from.

Alluding to Silent Spring, Tyrone Hayes titled his talk Silent Spring to Silent Night: A Tale of Toads and Men. Just as Carson described the sudden silence of the birds who gave constant song to the spring, Hayes read the audience an entire page of a book written a few decades ago; dedicated solely to describing the piercingly beautiful, reliable sounds of the frogs in a California town, this quote from the novel intricately shares the essential nature the frogs’ song had to the town – a town that is now shockingly silent.

Both Carson and Hayes warn the people to question the unnatural methods of conventional habits while providing the scientific expertise and data to emphasize the growing urgency of this inter-generational problem: our dependence on and complacency towards the rampant spraying of hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides (or biocides, as Carson recommends we call them).

And just as the chemical industry attempted to discredit Carson upon the popularity of Silent Spring due to her direct exposure of the health and environmental dangers of pesticides, Hayes faces a similar fate today. Before Hayes’ talk at UH Mānoa, I googled his name for some background on the issue, and saw multiple paid ads discrediting the doctor, shown below.

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Published in the most prestigious scientific and academic journals, Hayes is attacked by paid attempts of the chemical industry to perpetuate peoples’ docile attitudes towards the poisonous substances entering the air we breathe, the oceans we enjoy, and the food and water supplies we rely on. And, with very little digging, one can find the paid ads trace directly to companies and organizations who have a financial stake in industrial agriculture and GMO crops.

Can we, as a society with more access to information than ever before, heed the warnings of Carson, Hayes and hundreds of others who have shared the potential fate we all face if we do not take action? Will we tell our kids and grandkids that we resisted and overcame the irresponsible actions of humans, or will we wonder why we let it continue?

Though Hawaiʻi faces some of the most intense testing of dangerous pesticides, we are also leading the way in radical policies and grassroots organizing against this uncompassionate, unsustainable way of growing food and interacting with Mother Earth. May we all harness the same sense of urgency Carson and Hayes speak with and demand a new way of doing things that puts people, plants, animals and the planet above the desire for profit.

What you can do:

  • Empower yourself: read a book, article or background about a pesticide used in your neighborhood.
  • Vote with your dollars: words only go so far. Corporations and agribusiness thrive on irresponsible and detrimental practices only as long as we allow them to. We, as their customers, have complete control of the choice to support or oppose these practices through our purchases. When you channel your hard-earned money into companies and products you trust and believe in, you are casting your vote for the kind of changes you want to see in your community. Buy organic, and ask your store’s produce guy or the growers at the farmers market if and what they spray on their produce. Walk away if you don’t like their answer!
  • Go to a meeting or event with an organization working on issues of pesticides, sustainable agriculture and environmental sustainability. (e.g. The Hawaiʻi Center for Food Safety just opened, and many opportunities are out there to get involved)
  • Start a meaningful conversation with your friends, family, classmates or co-workers about the effects pesticides and toxic chemicals are having and will continue to have on our own health and the health of the environment we live in. Discuss the solutions to these problems.

Remember: hundreds of millions of dollars go into marketing and damage control to convince people that pesticides, genetic modification and industrial agriculture will “feed the world” and drive global sustainability. Seek your own answers by doing research on both sides of every argument, and always consider who profits off of your beliefs.

At the very least, be aware and stay positive. With both awareness and optimism, all of us who envision a healthier future for the humans and non-humans of this planet will be unstoppable.

And, finally, always remember the bigger picture. As Rachel Carson puts it: “We have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife and man himself. Future generations are unlikely to condone our lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life. This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, “The obligation to endure gives us the right to know.”

Kohala / Hawi Town: a local utopia

My favorite place and what makes it so special

Community planning is big for environmentalists around the world. With thousands of ecovillages and intentional communities around the world redefining what it means to live together and how to live together, there is a paradigm shift rising to transform the consumption-based, resource-extracting and individualistic lifestyles many have adopted in westernized places. In the near or far future, I hope to explore and live in these communities that focus on mindfulness and sustainability, and to continue to find people who understand the interwoven nature of the social, environmental and economic impacts of our everyday lifestyle choices and habits.

For me, the Big Island of Hawaiʻi is a near utopia, and Kohala especially epitomizes much of what I wish to see more of in urban and suburban areas. As a rural town, Kohala is serene. There is no humming of buildings or busy highways to block nature’s music and no artificial lights to dilute the night sky from shining bright. It is the norm to grow your own food and barter fruits, vegetables and other goods with your neighbors. On the streets or at the farmer’s market, residents catch up and its clear that everyone knows each other. The town is home to small, localized versions of everything, and nearly every place is unique, humble and has a friendly smile waiting inside.

The Sweet Potato Kitchen in Hawi town is the epitome of a local hole in the wall restaurant – except that it’s in between two walls! The restaurant that boasts being organic, vegan, non-gmo and locally sourced has quaint seating right in the alley between two buildings and is colorfully painted. The friendly owner comes out to talk story and tell us all about the teas I’ve never heard of and the list of ingredients they are out of and the many specials not shown on the menu. With seating for only about a dozen people, every customer gets special attention and the flexible nature of the menu and the ability to ask as many questions as you want made this meal out adventurous and intriguing. The food served is colorful and made with love from high-quality, local and organic ingredients – such a treat! Having worked at restaurants for 2+ years, its often said that dining out “is all about the experience,” and the Sweet Potato Kitchen gave us one to be remembered.

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The couple we stayed with built their home out of reused and recycled materials, and the home had no hookup to electricity. As the sun went down, we each put on head lamps for light and cut herbs and vegetables from their farm. Even the water used from washing dishes went straight into a bucket that went to feed their plants, and when you needed to go to the bathroom, you could choose your favorite tree in the orchard to “fertilize” 🙂 (doing this really makes one question the practice of flushing our waste with gallons of fresh water and bleached paper everyday – a widely accepted, modern mystery).

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Living in Honolulu, even the beach in Kohala was breathtaking. Without a single other person in sight, we swam in beautiful, pristine water on a perfect day. For the sunset, we walked up the road and stumbled upon a picturesque pasture of vast, bright green hills that I only thought existed in the movies or on a canvas. And, without electronics to distract us, we talked story and played board games instead of watching TV or getting lost in text messages and social media. As in most rural areas, the amount of stars you can see at night without light pollution is breathtaking. In the mornings, we woke up with the sun, and the ducks and the goats on the farm were the only alarm clock we needed.

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As a disclaimer, I haven’t traveled to nearly as many places as I would like to, but thus far, Kohala has been the most inspirational place for a community-based, sustainable town with people who get it. Practices and choices that seem so obvious are so far removed from how many of us live today. To simplify our lives, love our neighbors, and live with nature are concepts we know are important and ones we often talk about, yet we tend not to practice.

As someone who just moved to a studio in Waikiki with no lanai or land to grow food on, I know there are barriers to overcome in seeking the type of community I talk about. But, no matter what your circumstance, each of us has the ability to get closer to this lifestyle and to practice behaviors we know will make our minds, bodies and souls both healthier and happier. Even living in the busiest place of all the Hawaiian islands, I have found two impressive gardens started by neighbors on my street alone, and I see lanais all over Waikiki overflowing with plants. In the early mornings, I take walks along the shore for my daily dose of nature and love seeing all the early risers surfing and swimming in the ocean or just reading a book along the coast.

Wherever you are, you can find your own forms of simplification, community building and environmental living. We can all move beyond the rhetoric of sustainability and green living, and just live in the ways we are able and willing to and in ways that allow more and more of us to be truly free and genuinely happy. Kohala, to me, is so special because it has taught me to question consumption and live in ways that transcend our addiction to wasteful, materialistic lifestyles that destroy our environment, hurt our relationships with ourselves and other, and fail to nourish our souls. As a peaceful community living in abundance and simplicity, Kohala has inspired me to seek locally-based solutions wherever I go, and I hope you find some inspiration, too 🙂

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5 core values I live by, and why they made me go vegan and buy organic

I have been vegan for over a year now, and as result of being both vegetarian and vegan, I have also committed myself to a non-GMO, mostly organic diet, and this blog will tell you why.

Before you read further, I kindly ask that you let go of any negative connection you have made with the word “vegan” and instead picture a colorful array of your favorite fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

With a personal commitment to be positive and focus more on what I’m for rather than what I am against, I’m organizing this post by the values I live by and explain why they have led me to choose organic, plant-based whole foods.

1.    HEALTH: I’ve never felt this good in my life

It’s important to understand that I spent the first 12 years of my life eating meat and seafood, and for seven years after that, I still continued consuming milk, butter, yogurt, cheese and eggs. I ate processed, packaged food that entire time. In those first 19 years of my life, my immune system often failed me. I always had stomachaches, I caught the cold multiple times a year, and I developed allergies to many fruits and most pets by the time I was in high school.

When I began to choose organic produce, all of my allergic reactions went away, and I was able to eat all those fruits I thought I was allergic to. When I cut out dairy and animal byproducts, my stomach problems disappeared and I no longer get fevers or the cold. When I consciously chose non-GMO, unprocessed foods, my diet became much more creative and colorful, and I suddenly had energy after I ate rather than feeling tired and irritable. My body is in its most productive, active, and energetic stage it’s ever been, and looks really can be deceiving because at 100 pounds, I’m the strongest I’ve ever been.

My health has become one of the most important things for me, and I’m a firm believer that you can’t take care of others (to the best of your ability) until you really take care of yourself. I’ve also never been so confident in my body to heal itself. I’m writing this with injuries in which I couldn’t walk much or use my left arm, and I have healed in just a few days. I haven’t had health care in a few years, and I’m absolutely positive I do not need it (other than in very few emergencies).

2. SUSTAINABILITY: I love nature, and I want it to survive and thrive

I’m an environmentalist, and some people may even call me extreme. My bike gets me everywhere I need to go, I never use a plastic bag at the store, I often bring my own fork and plate when I go out, and I take cold showers under three minutes to save water and energy. But, in reality, those are small steps to take in such a severe environmental crisis.

After reading Will Tuttle’s World Peace Diet (the book that made me vegan), I discovered the incredible environmental destruction caused by the meat and dairy industries. They are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. It is said that it would be better to be a vegan and drive a Hummer than it is to be an omnivore and drive a Prius.

Tuttle also explains that one-day’s worth of food for a vegan requires 300 gallons of water to produce. That’s a lot, right?  Well, a day of food production for an omnivore requires an unthinkable 4,000 gallons of water. For comparison, an average ten-minute shower uses 70 gallons of water. Based on these numbers, going vegan for just two days will save a year’s worth of showers in water.

For the first time, I felt uncomfortable calling myself an environmentalist while still supporting the livestock industry, and I could truly sense how important each meal is in being mindful about how my actions affect the environment.

Even the United Nations recommends a global shift to a vegan diet to save the world from climate change!

3.    COMPASSION: I love animals (and plants, too!)

I went vegetarian for animal rights when I was 12, and people often wonder if I love animals so much then I must care about plants. So, why do I eat them?! They have feelings, too!

(deep breath)

First of all, let’s agree that plants are physiologically different from animals. When you pick an apple, that tree will continue to bear fruits (it’s like trimming your hair). When you kill an animal, it’s not exactly the same story. There is a major difference between pulling lettuce and carrots from the ground and slaughtering a cow. You tell me which situation causes more pain. Animals are intelligent creatures that have complex nervous systems, and anyone who has had pets or has worked with animals will agree that they have emotions, preferences, reactions to pain, and an intense desire for love and freedom (kind of like us!)

Furthermore, my goal is to reduce unnecessary suffering; simplifying my meals gets me closer to that goal. Eating neither animals nor plants would definitely be the most compassionate diet, and I hope that one day, we can evolve into a species that doesn’t need to eat at all! Then, we can be completely nonviolent towards both plants and animals, but for now, can we agree to be realistic? A little bit of compassion is better than no compassion at all.

I do, agree, however, that many plants and seeds are exploited and abused by industrial agriculture, which is a main reason I choose organic (and local) produce whenever possible to support the most mindful practices and farmers.

4.    SOCIAL JUSTICE: I’d like to see less hunger & suffering in the world

I’m an activist first – always have been and always will be, so social justice is extremely important to me.

I often hear people tell me they don’t want to be picky with their food because they are grateful to have any food at all. They say, “There are a lot of hungry people in the world.” And, I totally agree!

In fact, world hunger is one reason I plan to be vegan forever. Over 12% of the world’s population is chronically malnourished, six million children starve to death every year, and all of it is completely avoidable.

At least half of the world’s grains (much more in the U.S.) go to produce animal feed. If those went directly to feeding humans instead, not only would we feed hundreds of millions of people and solve the global hunger crisis, but we would even have an incredible surplus in food. Heavy consumption of meat and dairy fuels a completely inefficient, uncompassionate system.

The U.N.’s recent report also exposes the hidden dangers of the livestock industry.

And to truly address social justice, it’s important to look deeper in the issue. Slaughterhouses are the most dangerous workplace, resulting in serious injuries, and many even exploit minority and immigrant workers. Some of these companies lure immigrants to work for them and eventually report those same employees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to avoid getting blamed for their hiring. Many who worked at slaughterhouses also face long-term mental instability and trauma from their experiences.

Worker’s rights also come into play in my decision to support local, organic farms. Big agribusinesses and industrial practices undermine rights of farmers, exploit farm workers, and often expose workers to extremely dangerous chemicals and pesticides.

PEACE: “Imagine all the people, living life in peace”

I’m a strong believer in the idea that what you reap, so shall you sow. Will Tuttle discusses this concept in depth in World Peace Diet. He explores the disconnect from the suffering involved in the production of animal products, and he investigates what implications that may have for our society. When such a harmful yet prevalent system exists in society, we in turn will be harmed. Suffering is a cycle, and in a holistic approach to peace and nonviolence, indifference to suffering often equates to violence.  We must be proactive in our actions and aware of our inactions to have the most peaceful society possible.

Arguably the most holistic teachings of ahimsa, or nonviolence, exist in Jainism. Jains are often complete vegetarians and even wear masks when walking and brush their seats off before sitting to avoid killing bugs. Many teachings, ancient and modern, teach that such mindful, compassionate practices lead to happier, healthier lives for yourself, for the earth, and for other species.

As peace is a universally desired state of harmony, it’s essential to consider what steps can be taken towards it. Your actions as an individual are extremely powerful, even if it’s a small change at your next trip to the grocery store or your next meal at that restaurant you love.

Anything is possible!

I’d like to end by saying that maybe a year and a half ago, I was convinced of the impossibility and irrationality of veganism. For me, it was not an option. I had strong inclinations about the radicalism of a vegan lifestyle and could not fathom life without ice cream, pizza, and chocolate. I even used to scold my mom for wasting valuable money on expensive, organic food when I was younger. I’ve been on both extremes of the spectrum and understand that each of us has unique experiences and cultures. All I can do is share my values and stories; and if it’s comforting, I discovered that I never did have to give up ice cream, pizza, or chocolate by going vegan. Instead, I now make them all by scratch with local, organic, fair-trade ingredients or get them at the local health store or co-op! Here’s some photos of typical vegan, organic, and local treats for inspiration (special thanks to my lovely sister for her cooking):

ImageRainbow quinoa & split peas with curried lentils and cilantro (with a side of local, organic lettuce & homemade kimchi)

ImageA delicious breakfast made with vegetables from our local, organic CSA box!

ImageA clean & delicious homemade, organic dessert: 1 ingredient ice cream (frozen bananas) topped with 3 ingredient dark chocolate (cacao powder, coconut oil & maple syrup)

With love,
Doorae

5 ways to create positive change & save the world

“Adversity is a fact of life. It can’t be controlled. What we can control is how we react to it.”

In my last post, I mention a plethora of problems from the global environmental crisis to the consumerism that has taken over most of our lives. It is clear that the world is in dire need of change, and it starts with the individual to create this change. We must take responsibility by educating ourselves and taking action. It’s never too late to do your part.

Here are five simple things you can do for yourself and the world:

1. Watch a documentary

Documentaries provide unadulterated information on any topic. I highly recommend “Food, Inc.,” “Bag It,” “The Corporation,” “Blue Gold”, and “Hungry for Change,” all of which are available on Netflix. If you haven’t seen them already, these documentaries are life-changing and will make you reconsider the way you eat, buy, think and act.

2. Read the news

Avoid news sources that are looking to advance themselves. Instead, seek sources that are looking to advance communities and societies as a whole. For Honolulu, Civilbeat.com gives you information and news happening in the community that mainstream media often does not cover.

3. Eat more plants!

Some of the documentaries I mentioned above provide in-depth investigations of the food industry that may shock you. It may sound hard to believe, but the meat and dairy industries are the leading cause of the environmental crisis. They emit 40% more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. An average omnivore’s diet requires over 4,000 gallons of water to produce while a plant-based diet requires about 300 gallons of water – all for just one day’s worth of food. If that’s not enough, studies show that vegans have a 40% less chance of getting cancer and avoid a host of illnesses including heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes. I could go on and on, but if you’re interested, read the “World Peace Diet” by Will Tuttle and watch “Forks Over Knives.” This video will also change your perspective on eating meat and dairy.

4. Walk, bike, or bus

Living on such a small island, it’s easy to convert to a zero-emission form of transportation. By walking or biking to school and work, you can burn calories instead of burning fuel. You’ll save money and feel better. The bus has great bike racks if it starts to rain or if you have a far commute. Plus, who wants to sit in traffic or find parking anyway? If you choose to drive, make sure to carpool whenever you can and plan your routes to be as efficient as possible. Remember that there are ways to convert your vehicles to electric or hybrid, and many gas stations offer biofuel, which fuels diesel-powered cars with reused vegetable oils from local restaurants!

5. Vote with your dollars

We all have to buy things, but there are things we can do to reduce our impact and make a statement when we shop.

  • Buy recycled and recyclable things (clothes, paper, supplies) at thrift stores or “green” businesses.  You can even get all your books used from Amazon or in electronic form with your Kindle or tablets. Basic things like phone chargers or cases for your electronics can be bought in “like new” condition and are easy to find online or at your local thrift store. Gently used products are cheaper for you and less damaging to the environment.
  • Be prepared! Bring your reusable shopping bags and reusable water bottle wherever you go. Most grocery stores offer a $0.05 discount for every bag you bring and several coffee shops offer incentives if you bring your own mug.
  • Buy from local and/or sustainable businesses. Avoid big chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco. This small step protects our environment, keeps the money in Hawaii and reduces our dependence on mainland and international imports. Websites like Google and Yelp make it really easy for you to find out which local stores or restaurants carry the products you are looking for. Etsy is also a great site to find recycled and eco-friendly products!
  • Know your food – at the preschool I work at, the #1 rule is to take care of yourself, followed by taking care of others and taking care of the environment. This starts with your body. You really are what you eat!

    -Read the ingredient label. A lot of hard work by grassroots organizations went into requiring companies to be honest about the food they produce. Take advantage of this information to make sure those companies aren’t taking advantage of you. Whole foods are what your body needs and wants. Things like peanut butter should only have one ingredient: peanuts! The time it takes to read the ingredients and nutrition facts is worth the illnesses you can avoid. Tip: If you can’t pronounce an ingredient or if a product has over 10 ingredients, it’s probably not good for you. -Avoid Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs): GMO food is directly linked to infertility, food allergies, cancer, autism, etc. It’s really not worth the money you think you’re saving (healthcare is pretty expensive). Nearly all corn, canola, and soy grown in America are now genetically modified. Buy corn, soy, or canola products only if they are certified organic, or if they are verified by the “Non-GMO Project”. You’ll see these labels on the shelf or on the product itself. This is where ingredient reading comes in handy. Watch out for byproducts like soy lecithin, high fructose corn syrup, and maltodextrin which you will find in a lot of packaged, processed foods, candies and juices. Go to your local health store as conventional grocery stores have a limited supply of these items.  Watch “Genetic Roulette” if you’re not convinced. (By the way, over 90% of cotton is genetically modified as well so look for organic cotton or buy recycled clothing since GMOs have a harmful impact on our land and environment as well).
    ***If you have an iPhone, download The Non-GMO Shopping Guide!

Remember that every purchase you make has an impact on the world. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you go to your favorite stores and restaurants. Business owners and managers take what their customers say to heart! Let them know you’d like to see more eco-friendly products and ask for healthier options sourced from companies that ensure fair trade, fair labor and cruelty-free practices.

From GMO foods to the loss of natural resources, every environmental crisis we are facing is connected in a web of suffering and oppression. Each and every person has the power to start making change. When we find the compassion for the world that allows us to exist and thrive, we can create the universal change that Mother Earth needs.

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

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The Power of Interconnectedness: Peace through Mindfulness

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My increasing realization of the interconnectedness in life has been truly eye-opening. With the exposure to one issue comes the inevitable connection of and exposure to another issue. This continuous cycle of realizations at first seems overwhelming, but in fact became increasingly empowering. With this empowerment through education and exposure, social justice becomes a tangible goal. We must all look at what’s happening in our lives and in society to find solutions to the problems we all find frustrating and disempowering. It starts with the individual and inevitably will lead to the global and universal change that the world is in dire need of.

Since the explosion of technology and the growing disparity and concentration of wealth, a severe disconnect from nature occurred. Food is no longer sourced from our backyards and neighborhood farms, but is sold instead in supermarkets through products that contain more synthetic chemicals than actual food. While we watch our televisions and read our magazines that tell us what to think, eat, wear and buy, we are slowly losing our ability to see the bigger picture. Every purchase and decision we make has an impact on the environment, economy and well-being of the people. For the sake of cost and convenience, we have ignored the importance of voting with our dollars. In fact, it seems we have forgotten the importance of voting at all. We fear natural things; we cannot bear to have an ant crawling on our skin and cannot live in the same room as a spider. We have become a separate entity from the very world that allows us to exist and thrive. We are now called consumers rather than human beings. Our philosophy has become us versus the world. This reality and competitive perspective towards the things in nature has proven to be more harmful than ever imagined. Our reliance on pesticides, addiction to pleasure, fear of inconvenience, and overconsumption of resources poses a guaranteed threat to current and future generations in innumerable ways.

Global Environmental Crisis

The world is facing crises we never could have imagined a few decades ago. It’s estimated that there will be no more edible fish within a few decades. Bees, the single most important source of life and reproduction in nature, are facing extinction. The consumption of food increases every year while the population continues to rise at uncontrollable rates. Viable land to grow food and build homes for future generations is running dry. Without a change to our lifestyles and ways of thinking, there will no longer be enough trees for fresh air, land to live on, or food to eat.

We tend to imagine the end of the world as a sudden, unexpected event, not realizing that we may be the direct cause of such an event. Our individualistic lifestyles that ignore consequences and seek temporary pleasures are pushing the world to its tipping point. Humans are the single most destructive beings on Earth. Countless species go extinct each day because of our practices and lifestyles. Forests are being cleaned out at incredible rates. Over one million animals are slaughtered every hour to produce food, clothes, and cosmetics for humans.

Yet, many still claim that humans have a right to use animals and nature because of our unique ability to reason and be self-conscious. But, with that rationality, logic, and self-awareness, should we not then be the most mindful, compassionate species on Earth? When we take away the idea of what is superior or inferior and begin to focus on the fact that all living things have a meaningful purpose in life, we can begin to feel the interdependence and oneness of everything in nature. In exploiting the environment and dominating entire species and immense resources, we are unintentionally destroying our own well-being. Our water sources are running dry, food security has become a thing of the past, and our health continues to deteriorate.

 The Downfall of Pleasure

My religion professor gave a speech last week that explains this problem that is unique to humans. From the perspective of Indian renunciants, “we have come to depend on a regular supply and input of external temporal stimuli in order to find pleasure in life… As we become more accustomed to such stimuli, take them for granted, and label them as necessary, their ability to create the same level of pleasure they once did diminishes, so we have to find new or stronger stimuli to bring about the desired sensations… We no longer find pleasure in food without spices, functional clothing that does not happen to be in fashion, the sounds of nature, the simple touch of another, or in just being. We come to be controlled by the need for increasingly unnatural and external stimuli in order for our pleasure centers to be adequately activated to make us happy. We [have] become addicts to increasingly temporal stimuli for increasingly temporal pleasure.”

We must begin to make the connections between the suffering in the world and our addiction to pleasure and external stimuli. In a time of growing depression, mental illnesses, and violence, there seems to be something missing from the way many of us live our lives. We continue to rely more and more on material products, television, and prescription drugs, not realizing we are supporting an unsustainable system – a system that continues to make us dissatisfied and a system that has abandoned ethics in the name of maximizing profit.

In viewing the problems the world faces, we must not only look at their effects on humans, but also consider their effects on all species of the natural world. We must be mindful about the foods we consume, the things we buy, the waste we generate, and the way we view our environment. We have become known as Generation Rx, a generation reliant on drugs and synthetic products, but in my eyes, we have the ability to become a revolutionary generation that demands a better world for our children and grandchildren. We live in the information age, and with constant access to smartphones and internet, we now have the ability to choose whether we will absorb what’s shown to us in the media or whether we will dig deeper and ask for honest answers. We can all empower ourselves through action with mindfulness, compassion, knowledge and positivity. Check out my next post to see what you can do as an individual to do your part! Happy Earth Month!

The Illusion of the Pursuit of Happiness

It seems that happiness is the most desirable state of mind and many do whatever it takes to find it. Yet, this “pursuit of happiness” is often an illusion. For most, especially those of us living in the first world, happiness is not a path but simply a state of mind you can either choose to embrace or repress.

In today’s world, however, we are intensely distracted through television, advertisements, luxury, convenience, and laziness, which all deter us from what is truly important. These distractions allow us as a society to continue living complacent lifestyles. The more we consume and the more we desire, the harder it will be to understand and have compassion for others. Can we truly be happy when we live this way?

Imagine a world without the distractions we live with today. When you take the time to look away from the TV, above the skyscrapers and beyond the paved roads and freeways, you can enjoy life in the simplest way. You can appreciate each cloud, enjoy every rainbow, and be grateful for every rainfall. You find that you are able to open yourself up to strangers, meet amazing people and experience incredible things. Everything and everyone is beautiful: ever-changing yet permanent – perfectly placed in the world.

When you really stop to see these little miracles in nature, you can realize that all of your perceived problems were only distractions from this reality. In fact, some of the happiest and most peaceful societies are ones who live off of the land, seamlessly in tune with the environment. In these societies, survival and sustenance are not guaranteed and there is subsequently little room for greed, hatred, or jealousy. People living in these cultures realize the importance and beauty of every animal and plant in their environments, and they live in ways to protect and preserve them. The fact is that the natural world is always breathtaking; we often just forget to let it take our breath away.

Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur who went from rags to riches believed that “happiness is not by chance but by choice.” And though not all of us will have the success or ability to become millionaires like Rohn did, it is his philosophy that is necessary to create the changes you wish to make in your own life and the world. Almost everything is in your control: your emotions, reactions, and attitude towards life and people. If you find you are not content with the ways you spend your time or the environment you are in, then change it! Everyone has the power to choose to be happy in any situation, and only when desires and dissatisfaction cloud these situations can unhappiness emerge.

Happiness is not exclusive nor will it fall into your hands one day. It is and always has been available for you to embrace, and once you do, you may never let go. With that said, make your habits and lifestyle reflect what you want in life. Let blame and negativity be a thing of the past. Be positive and surround yourself with positivity. Learn to appreciate life and all it has to offer. Be understanding and compassionate. Do the things you want to do and be the person you want to be; you may find that all is good in the world and chances are, no one is out to get you. And remember, “happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

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How to be Passionate in an Apathetic Society

Apathy is always something I have struggled to understand. Growing up with parents who took me to protests and demonstrations, I never knew it was an option to not care about the injustices & inequality that were so apparent in society. I saw the power of activism and the beauty and effectiveness of grassroots organizing. As they say: “Aint no power like the power of the people cause the power of the people don’t stop (say what)!” Of course, at the age of 20, it does become a challenge to have such a strong passion for activism in a society where people are often too distracted to speak out and take action. Don’t get me wrong – I feel no animosity or throw blame at anyone with that mindset. In fact, I too find it difficult to find the time and determination to try to fix all the wrongs I see in the world – especially since those wrongs seem so endless.

Yet, it is that conception of hopelessness and defeat that slowly takes the power out of the peoples’ hands. It seems we have forgotten that every major injustice in history was undone only through the will and passion of like-minded individuals who refused to sit by and “deal with it”. We see these monumental changes happen only when people choose to stand up to authority and speak out for the greater good (look at the civil rights & feminist movements).

In my vision of utopia, I see a world where all people in society have the ability and the desire to spend their time and resources helping each other with a clear goal to advance the quality of life for everyone (not just themselves). Though it’s sad to see, we have truly conformed to individualistic lifestyles where we attempt to find success only for ourselves. And this basic philosophy is so widely accepted, that our compassion and love often become clouded and are overcome with greed and hatred.

This is shown clearly through the lack of compassion for the environment, for animals, and even for other human beings. We see the suffering of the oppressed, the homeless, and the impoverished. We see the ruthless destruction of our environment. We accept the exploitation and commoditization of animals. We even stand by and watch as weapons, violence, and wars are used to resolve conflicts. Through all of this, we continuously allow ourselves to be desensitized to things that we know in our hearts are morally wrong. We are very possibly the most rational species on Earth, yet we have become so disconnected from our natural tendency to be compassionate, that we allow all of these injustices to go on while feeling little to no remorse.

This is where apathy attempts to take over and plague our minds, and it is up to us, as individuals and as a society, to go against the system and do the things we know are right and fight the things we know are wrong. As difficult or inconvenient as it may seem to make certain lifestyle changes (going green, going vegan, staying informed), we have a moral obligation to do so in order to shape a more peaceful, loving, compassionate, and happy society. I do not wish to push my beliefs or philosophies onto others, but with mindfulness, I will continue to live my life in the best way I can and attempt to be as selfless as possible through activism. I am far from perfect, so I can only try to better myself in order to lead by example and hopefully make the world a better place one small step at a time.

Jack Kerouac said it best: “Here’s to the crazy ones … the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”