An Ocean-side Conversation with Humane Educator Zoe Weil

Founder of the Institute for Humane Education, Zoe Weil

August. Blue Hill, Maine.

Little did I know that my quick trip to the Blue Hill library to do some emailing would lead me to one of my mentors in humane education, Zoe Weil. Two women were sitting at the study table and we started talking. One of them mentioned that there was a center for the sorts of things I was writing about just up the street in Surry and she knew the founder. I sent Zoe an email and two days later we were face to face, sitting on the rocky beach with the waves of Penobscot Bay rolling up to our toes and Zoe’s two dogs galloping over the boulders in search of sticks.

Zoe is full of energy and ideas, as one might expect from a ground-breaker in calling for humane education to be a cornerstone within our current education systems. Here is an overview of our hour-long conversation.

I suggested to her that we build in empathy for other species into every grade and she responded which the idea of building empathy in general. It’s one of the four elements of humane education – Reverence, Respect, Responsibility, and Empathy – for all people, animals and the earth. I asked her about the correlation between narcissism and empathy, and she mentioned that Japan is not a particularly narcissistic society but neither is it empathetic, in particular, towards animals.

One of the most interesting facets of our conversation was the dialog on empathy and corporate regulations. Zoe believes there are many systems in place that prevent empathic people from changing systems (which is one of the reasons I am promoting the out-of-the-box thinking fostered by arts education to create new systems). She pointed out that in many of her talks she says that she might not want to participate in the genocide of mountain gorills and people in the Congo, but the coltan in her antilock brakes, computer and cell phone, tie her inadvertently to the conflict over the mineral resource. For more on this complex issue, see

One of her colleagues is a corporate lawyer who is trying to change corporate codes in different states so that they can pursue profits but not at the expense of communities, the environment, the dignity of employees. He has yet to be convinced to add animals to the list. But, Zoe concedes, it will at least be part of the discussion.

Part of Zoe’s powerful work with the Institute for Humane Education is to help make it easier for corporations to do the right thing. She explains that corporations are given the same rights as people, but  unlike people, they are not held to the same responsibilities and obligations. She describes how her corporate lawyer colleague was able to create a corporation in Virginia called  ‘License to Kill’ with the mission “to use tobacco products to make money for shareholders that will kill half a million people a year within the limits of the law.” He wanted to see if he could get incorporated with this title and mission statement. He did.

Zoe fervently underscored the need for critical and creative thinking towards system change to be added to empathy training. I mentioned that part of the power of the arts is that it strengthens one’s inner sense of richness and self-understanding, as well as self-confidence and cooperation skills, which counteracts the often destructive ramifications of much unchecked consumerism which often lacks responsibility towards the environment and the animals that live in it (and often people in poverty). All for the sake of corporate profit. I told her a bit about the Park Dreams project and how everyone I have spoken with mentions, in response to the question “what was most meaningful to you in your middle school and high school education” something about theater, music, band, english or art class. Zoe suggested that teaching the thinking behind using the arts could be a powerful venue for changemaking, and I told her that I would add this to the presentation  Saving the Elephants, Saving Ourselves: The Role of Arts in Social Change.

She told me that the dream comes true through persistence.

All in all, it was an inspiring visit and I look forward to attending one of her MOGO workshops this year in between all the other work I’m doing for Park Dreams and The Elephant Project.

To read more about current lawsuits surrounding the right of corporations to be treated with the rights of human beings

About naturestage

Miranda Loud is the Founder and Artistic Director of the non-profit NatureStage based in Waltham, MA, and is an interdisciplinary artist - classical singer/organist/filmmaker/photographer and environmentalist. She writes about the vital need for education to include a more heart-centered approach to studying other species that leads to a sense of stewardship. Naturestage creates works that foster empathy and kinship with other species, using the emotional power of storytelling in different art forms, mainly film, photography and music. She is also a public speaker on art and social change. Her current projects include The One Language Project, Park Dreams, The Elephant Project, and Elephantasia which all use different art forms to encourage a mind shift in how we relate to other species by asking "How would the world be different if we viewed other species as someones instead of somethings? If, instead of drawing lines, we drew circles?"
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