I’m a humane educator, someone who teaches about the interconnected issues of human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation in an effort to inform and inspire people to be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers for a better world. In my early years as a humane educator I regularly visited schools offering classes, courses, and doing presentations at assembly programs. I’d often bring a bag filled with objects that represented choices: a Styrofoam cup and a ceramic mug; a commercial window cleaner and a spray bottle with a mix of vinegar and water; a product tested on animals and its cruelty-free counterpart; a plastic bag and the canvas bag that carried all my props. I would ask students which of these choices does the most good and the least harm. After years of asking this question I realized that it had become the guiding principle of my life. I call it the MOGO principle, MOGO being short for ‘most good.’
Since that time, as the president of the Institute for Humane Education, I’ve been offering MOGO talks, workshops and online courses to thousands of people. And everyone seems to agree that striving to live according to the MOGO principle is a good thing to do, through all our choices and relationships, from what we eat, wear, and buy, to what we do for work, to how we participate in democracy, volunteerism and changemaking.
But it’s not so simple. We may want to make choices in our lives that do the most good and the least harm, but we are largely ignorant of many of the effects of our choices on others, and sometimes we get lazy and greedy. Often our desires and perceived needs compete with our values, leading us to buy products that cause harm to the environment (e.g. electronics), or were made in sweatshops (e.g. most clothes produced overseas), or may have been tainted with human slavery (e.g. much chocolate and cotton) or animal suffering and cruelty (e.g. almost all meat, dairy, eggs, fur, leather).
One hundred years ago, where I live in rural Maine, it was fairly obvious how to make MOGO choices. Everyone knew where their food, clothing, energy, shelter and transportation came from and who and what was harmed or helped by their actions. It still wasn’t easy to always be good though. Fear, jealousy, anger, and other emotions all led our great grandparents to make choices that weren’t always MOGO.
Today, not only do we have those same challenging emotions and impulses, it also takes enormous motivation to find out who and what was harmed or helped to supply us with our basic needs, let alone everything else we indulge in. Because our lives are inextricably connected to everyone and everything across the globe through economic globalization, to make MOGO choices means that we must become conscious of these connections and make choices that help rather than harm everybody, not just our family, friends, and neighbors; not just our own pets; not just our immediate environment.
Yet so many current systems make it impossible to make MOGO choices much of the time. For example, I’m typing this essay on my computer which is filled with toxic components, mined in unsustainable ways, and which harm people and the environment during both production and disposal.
So how can we consistently live a MOGO life? I wrote a book, Most Good, Least Harm, to answer this question, and the overarching message is this: we can lead a MOGO life by endeavoring to the greatest degree possible to bring what I call the 3 I’s of inquiry, introspection, and integrity to our life choices, whether these are daily decisions about what products, foods, or clothing to buy, or larger decisions about our work, activism, volunteerism, and involvement in changemaking.
What does this look like in practice? To bring our inquiry to our decisions, we must continually seek out knowledge by asking:
- Who or what was or will be harmed or helped by this choice?
- How can I find out?
After seeking out the information we need to make informed and conscious choices, we can then introspect. We can consider where the confluence of our values and our choices lies. We can ask if a product, food or article of clothing we may desire is worth the harm it causes. We can explore whether our work and free time could be better aligned with our deepest passions and concerns. We can self reflect about our desired epitaph and examine what is most important to us. We can cultivate our ideas for changing unsustainable and inhumane systems and bring our talents to bear on creating new systems so that they are healthy, compassionate, and just.
Finally, if we wish to lead MOGO lives, we must commit to living with integrity, that is, we must choose to live according to our values to the greatest degree possible, and become engaged solutionaries based on what we’ve learned and what matters most to us.
That’s it! Except it’s the biggest challenge in the world to lead a MOGO life. But really, what else is there worthy of our lives? How else will we die without regret, shame, or guilt? How else will we know the depth of inner peace and the power of pure human joy that comes from having done our part to make a positive mark on the world and helped to solved our gravest challenges?