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September 2003
Guest Editorial: Want to Join our Movement of Compassion?

By Zoe Weil



For a brief time in my twenties, full of animal rights fervor and righteous anger, I used to walk by people wearing fur coats and say to them (the sarcasm dripping off my tongue) “lovely dead animals you’re wearing.” Not surprisingly, I didn’t get a very positive response, so I tried wearing an oversized ‘ban fur’ button and giving fur coat wearers nasty looks. This didn’t work any better. Sometimes I approached fur wearers saying “Excuse me, would you mind reading this,” and handed them a card that politely explained the cruelty inherent in fur. This appeared to work better, but after reading the card one woman came up to me and told me that the disdainful and angry way I looked at her, despite the polite words, was hurtful. She said she had inherited the mink from her mother, and asked how I could be so judgmental and angry when I knew nothing about her. We talked for awhile, but I can’t say that I changed much. Still full of my own rage and sorrow at the horror we inflict upon other species, I had little room in my heart for a woman who decided to wear a fur—family heirloom or not.

I was not making friends or influencing people. I was, in fact, turning people off to the compassionate message I so wanted to convey. Instead of modeling kindness, I was modeling anger. I was hardly creating a positive or welcoming club to join. Looking back on how I used to behave, I can almost see the satire of the activism I once unwittingly promoted:

“You, too, can join our movement of rage, hatred and disgust!”
“Learn how to make enemies and turn people off!”
“Feel disdain for others, and show them how you feel!”

Although we can laugh at the absurdity of creating such an image for ourselves, the truth is that we must battle this public perception because we have created it. People think we are hateful because too many of us are hateful. Until we change this image, we will be pushing people away and ultimately failing those whom we hope to help.

Fortunately, I learned my lesson and realized a far more effective, welcoming and positive approach. I became a humane educator and began introducing young people to the problems in our world (from animal suffering to human oppression to ecological degradation) in lively, exciting and empowering ways so that they knew they could make a difference. I’ve worked hard to make the message I convey one of true kindness, and to create an image of our peaceful movement as truly peaceful by modeling peace in my own interactions with others.

After years of witnessing the enormous success of humane education to inspire young people to become active, I began training others to be humane educators, so that together we could create a movement that would inspire profound changes in our society. We now offer the first Master of Education degree in Humane Education in the U.S. One of our students, journalist Emily Bellairs, used to spend a lot of time at protests until one day she decided to use her journalistic training to discover how the protesters were perceived by the public. What she discovered was that by and large the public did not respect the protesters or appreciate their message, assuming instead that they were extremists whose ideas and perspectives were not worthy of consideration. The protesting method was failing to sway public opinion, and Emily came to realize that other approaches would work far better. That’s why she’s now training to be a humane educator.

If we want to create a compassionate and sustainable world—for animals, people and the ecosystem—we need to become the kind of people others want to know and learn from. We need to create a movement others want to join. We need to create a vision that others respect. We can do this by holding fast to the vision itself—a vision of a better world where all are treated with respect—and by making sure that we live this vision in relation to everyone, our friends and our future friends.

Zoe Weil is the president of the International Institute for Humane Education (IIHE), a nonprofit organization that trains individuals to be humane educators through its M.Ed. and certificate programs and weekend workshops. For more information, visit or email


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