I usually share this quote by writer and blogger Ian Welsh with my students at the beginning of all the healthcare ethics courses I've taught: “Morals are how you treat people you know. Ethics are how you treat people you don’t know.” This is a powerful way to frame the idea of values and how we interact with society. The personal values that we develop as a result of experiencing life creates the foundation for making decisions, guiding behavior, and establishing priorities.
Twentieth century philosopher Lawrence Kohlberg devised a theory about how one becomes an ethical person. He called it Stages of Moral Development and concluded that people must go through one stage of development at a time before moving on to the next and that we move through these six stages as we find solutions to the challenges we face in life. Therefore, some people are unable to make certain decisions because of their ethical maturity. Even though someone is an adult physically, they can be morally immature based on the challenges they've been through and how they responded to them.
The first two stages in Kohlberg’s theory are called Premoral, or before moral reasoning. Stage three and four are Externally Controlled Morals, or rules of society and culture. Most people remain on these levels. Stage five and six are called Principled Morals, or rules of a higher authority. These include making decisions with the thought that everyone is entitled to common rights. A respect for yourself and tolerance for others requires complex thinking about how you relate with others going beyond what is law. This is believing that all humans have worth and value regardless of their social status. For example, segregation at one time was legal, however, it was unethical and violated a higher law. Only 25% of the population actually gets to these last levels of highest ethical development and maturity.
If our experience helps shape our morals, then we need experiences. People without kids do not truly understand people who have kids. The same goes for people with pets, or for people who have lost a child to gun violence. How can we truly feel empathy for somebody in a certain situation until we experience it on our own? Consider the following:
How can people who have never been uninsured have empathy for somebody who has lived with no insurance? Can a politician that has never been without insurance advocate for single-payer system that includes all? Will the CEO of an insurance company make decisions to reduce premiums, if she never suffered personal bankruptcy due to health care expenses? Can a man that has never been sexually advanced, groped, molested, or raped develop policies effectively for a woman who has? Yes, it is possible. People with higher ethical maturity levels have the ability to do these things. These types of people, I argue, are the kind of leaders we need making decisions in healthcare.
If one wants to buy a Mercedes they can go to a car dealer, pick a color, arrange financing, and have a new car. If one can't afford to buy a Mercedes then maybe they will leave the Mercedes dealer and pursue a Ford Focus or decide to just stick with riding the bus. Either way, you the consumer is in charge of that purchase. Mercedes isn't responsible or under obligation if one cannot secure financing or afford the car with cash. The luxury car maker has no ethical duty. Although healthcare is a business it has very different financial obligations than other industries within our economy. People do not want to purchase cancer treatments, chronic disease remedies, asthma inhalers, or request hip surgery. In the United States health care consumers are not in control of most health purchases outside of the retail market. This comes from the fact that consumers do not manage their healthcare dollars, instead, they send their premiums to an insurance plan that makes most decisions for them. Most health care consumers don't really understand their bills and can't tell you how much their products and services cost them. Health consumers know premiums, deductibles, and co-payments, which are the entry fees into the United States health system. Their choice and role in purchasing is minimal.
As a result, we cannot treat healthcare like any other industry in the free market. A healthcare system cannot function without the boundaries of duty and obligation like Mercedes can. However, the reality for Americans is that we are operating outside of those boundaries in a system without duty to the human being. American healthcare is a commodity treated like any other industry within the market economy and is not managed like a human right. In 1948 the United States signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which included equal rights to adequate health and health care for nation citizens as a public good. As of today, this makes the United States the only industrialized and developed nation that hasn't secured health care as a public right for its citizens.
Since someone else takes care of our healthcare dollars, and these healthcare resources are limited, using them must be done in a responsible way. The balance of profit and social justice is a true dilemma in our healthcare system, but is it not impossible to balance that scale. If leaders of an organization are motivated by money, it can deter the mission of caring for the sick and injured, promoting prevention, and keeping people healthy and happy. Fiscal responsibility is a duty to be responsible and accountable with money, especially someone else's, and is a marriage of numbers and values. Therefore, an organization's financial statement is their ethical statement. This is because what an organization prioritizes and spends their money on defines what's important to them. One of the biggest issues we have in the United States healthcare system is not having enough money for health care, but it is how that money is spent. Check out the salaries below of top health industry executives and consider what their organizations prioritize and what their values are:
Nearly all large healthcare organizations make their top executives extremely rich. A perverse incentive to profit off the sick. Sarah Anderson, Global Economy Director at the Institute for Policy Studies said "If executives are loaded up with stock options and other types of equity-based pay, they have a personal incentive to boost shares prices by whatever means necessary.” One top earner is CEO Martine Rothblatt of the pharmaceutical company United Therapeutics who took home $37 million in 2018. United Therapeutics makes drugs to treat high blood pressure and for pediatrics with high-risk cancers. For comparison purposes, Seema Verma the CMS administrator who oversees Medicaid and Medicare is given $165,000 in salary paid by tax dollars. If CMS administrators were getting paid $5 million dollars with tax money there would be upheaval about how our tax money is spent. How come we don’t question how our other healthcare dollars are spent?
Where do you think these executives fall within Kohlberg’s ethical maturity levels? In the current environment of 30 million people uninsured, and millions of others having high deductibles they can't afford, do you think it's acceptable for these types of compensations? Is it justified or fair that health CEOs took home 11% more of our money on average every year since 2010 according to an Axios analysis. What are the priorities of these executives when they take such high salaries? Is this fiscally responsible with our limited shared resources? Welcome to the executive compensation problem that exists in the United States. Other countries don't seem to have the same CEO compensation problem that we do. How big of an ego does the United States have?
Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development theory notes that it is possible for people to be unable to make certain decisions because of their ethical maturity. This provides an explanation for how healthcare executives can take home salaries of multi-millions of dollars amidst all the challenges the health system currently has; people are unable to afford to get a necessary surgery, procedure, or medication because their deductibles are too high, every six minutes a patient dies in an American hospital from a hospital-acquired infection, preventable hospital errors persist as the number three killer in the US–third only to heart disease and cancer, and on average a hospital patient is subject to one medication error per day. Large corporations and CEOs will argue that these wages are necessary to attract the best and brightest executives to the healthcare industry. How is it that our executive health leaders think they deserve such pay when our system is in shambles? For most other people in the corporate world bonuses and raises are based on performance and hitting targets and goals. I can't imagine we are hitting targets and goals with the current state of our health system. Or maybe the targets and goals should change? CEO Wayne Smith of Community Health Systems had received $16 million dollars in total compensation yet recently settled a lawsuit alleging false billing and kickback allegations, both federal crimes. If our system was booming with better health outcomes, affordable coverage, less fraud, and no uninsured, then perhaps it would be justified to have executives taking such high pay. Further, if we treat healthcare as a right, or like most countries do as any other public service like the library or police, then our current system functions without morals (or pre-moral stage one-two) also known as immoral. If leaders in healthcare had a stage five or six ethical maturity level (principled morals of a higher authority) do you think they would take salaries such as these? It is hard to argue that these executive leaders are ethically mature.
Healthcare isn’t Pepsi, Coach, Kellogg, Hilton, Koehler, or Mercedes. People don't need to drink Pepsi, wear Coach bags, eat corn flakes, or stay at hotels to survive, but they do need access to healthcare for optimal health and wellness. Leaders in healthcare must have different values than leaders in other industries within the shared economy because of this striking truth. To put this into perspective let's examine the scenarios of CEOs taking a pay cut:
The opportunities are endless in what health executives can do with our health dollars instead of high salaries for themselves and the rest of their executive c-suite team: lowering of deductibles and copayments, adding additional coverage such as functional medicine, holistic practitioners, more psychotherapy sessions, coverage for massages, provide free or low -cost services/programs/screenings, or increases in salaries for workers. What is it that organizations are willing to give up to take on a large multi-million-dollar salaries for their executive teams? Again, an organization’s financial statement is their ethics statement. Do you think they are acting with social and fiscal responsibility?
Specifically for pharmaceutical companies where executive compensation is higher than most health sectors, consumers do not directly feel the pain of the high costs of prescription drugs. This is because the costs are in co-pays which are set fees we can expect. These high costs are filtered through the system and hidden as higher premiums and deductibles because our insurance companies pay the rest of the bill for us with our premium dollars. We are not only paying for the drug itself, but also supporting a $66 million-dollar salary for its CEO. In 2017 healthcare reporter Bob Herman published an analysis of the salaries of over one-hundred CEOs of seventy of the largest U.S. healthcare companies since 2010 based on corporate financial filings and cumulatively these CEOs have earned $9.8 billion. Imagine the magnitude of those dollars and how they could be spent differently within our system. The Institute for Policy Studies note that $75 million is the equivalent of the cost of dental insurance for 250,000 Americans or the average annual health insurance plan deductible for 24,000 people. That is just a small fraction of that $9.8 billion. Even more, consider the cumulative cost of the rest of the c-suite that get similar salaries: CFO, CEO COO, CIO. An analysis done by Modern Healthcare noted that one company alone, Health Care Service Corp., the Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurer in five states, paid the top ten executives cumulatively $56.7 million in 2015.
There are several familiar guiding principles of healthcare ethics such as doing no harm, preserving life, being discreet, upholding justice, and respecting autonomy. Health leaders will never be given enough resources to satisfy all the demands placed upon them by a community, but they can turn to the guiding principle of justice to help them distribute their yearly budgets ethically. Justice refers to fairness and equality and stems from a rather simple but complex ethical concept called the Philosophy of Individual Worth. It is a duty and moral obligation for health systems to give the same treatment to everyone regardless of one’s circumstances. Leaders in healthcare have a duty to go beyond personal feelings and honor the individual’s worth. I mean, really, we want the same don’t we—for people to respect our needs, what we want, and believe? But this is hard to do and as a result, leaders in healthcare must have this skill, which I argue is only possible by some with higher ethical maturity.
Justice is also the fair distribution of benefits offered by a society and includes the fair distribution of its burdens as well. Society suffers injustice when not everyone gets to share in the benefits and when distributions of resources are not equal. In healthcare this creates an environment where health equity is compromised and health disparities shade society with injustice, which is the unfortunate reality in the United States. Since we live in a healthcare system where someone else takes care of our healthcare dollars, the concept of good financial stewardship and the duty to be fiscally responsible with limited healthcare resources is supported by the ethical principle of justice.
Award-winning 20th century philosopher John Rawls was interested in what makes a just and moral society. He formulized a hypothetical theory where people are equal to each other and all humans have worth in the Original Position and if we take a Veil of Ignorance with each other a social contract would develop that secures basic rights for everyone and protect those in all positions of society. His theory goes on to say that the advantaged have a responsibility to the disadvantage. Those that are disadvantaged could include those in poverty, ones with chronic disease that affect the quality of life, the disabled, etc.. Therefore, in the end, it is in our ultimate best interest to do this because everyone has the potential to be in the lesser position (loss of job, health, etc). John Rawls said “a just society is a society that if you knew everything about it, you'd be willing to enter it in a random place.” Consider that powerful thought: are you willing to be born into a low-income, black family in Chicago? Statistically this population has the highest health disparities in the country, and as a result, end up in unhealthy situations that produce a symptom of another statistic; highest homicide rate. At the core of Rawls theory is that no matter what our circumstance, environment, or influence, we are human, and all human interests must be observed to truly live in a moral, ethical, and just society. This is not what our reality is today. Especially not in our health system. If we want people to be tolerant of our ideals, we must be tolerant of others. This is why the balancing scales are often the symbol used for justice. Only one set of ideals getting priority does not work.
Executive compensation metrics are a powerful reflection of the priorities of an institution. While the general population complains about, and suffers from, the ever rising healthcare costs, no one is championing efforts for fiscal responsibility and transparency of the spending of our shared resources by executive leaders in healthcare. Instead, the general American population is unknowingly supporting executive leaders becoming very rich off of the sick and our limited healthcare dollars.
We have evidence popping up every day in our society that the status quo is not working. Just as health leaders reduce the numbers of nurses on the floor that care for patients in order to save health dollars, maybe we should consider eliminating a few million dollars of executive pay instead. What do you think will positively impact patients more: fewer nurses or less executive pay? According to a JAMA study, there is no link between CEO pay and hospital quality indicators such as re-admission rates, mortality rates, or community outreach programs. In other words, a highly paid CEO will not necessarily increase the performance of a hospital and the outcomes of patients. Its unsettling that CEOs at hospitals with high mortality rates are being paid just as much, or sometimes more, than those at hospitals with lower rates of mortality. Physician compensation is increasingly being tied to quality measures and I argue that executives should be treated the same given that they have a fiduciary and ethical responsibility to represent the welfare of the community in which the serve. An analysis by Kaiser Health News found it was more common for executive bonuses to be tied to boosting volume rather than increasing quality, which unfortunately sets up an environment where the incentives are to keep people returning to the hospital, not preventing them from needing to be readmitted.
With that, I am calling for policymakers, tax payers, and health consumers to consider new public policy to tackle the injustice of excessive executive pay that exists in the American health system. I am proposing a professional consideration of placing caps and limits on executive compensation in these fields. This is argued based on the fact that healthcare is something every human needs, and is an industry that all is born into, lives, and dies in, it simply cannot be employed in the same manner as a company that sells running shoes. The recommended process for determining the appropriate compensation usually is to conduct a review of what similarly-sized organizations in the same geography offer their senior leaders. However, since healthcare is not like any other industry due to its ethical duties and obligations, the same process simply cannot apply. A new way of calculating executive compensation must be developed so that precious and limited healthcare resources can be distributed fairly and used effectively. Until that happens, I am calling for health executives to make a progressive move and donate their excessive compensations back into the system. Does anyone have the guts?
I believe wholeheartedly that ethically mature leaders in healthcare exist that are capable of making major healthcare business decisions without the multi-million-dollar salary to prove their worth and competency. The present chaos that exist within our healthcare system shows that the current model of excessive executive compensation is not working and immoral. Begin to take power back and become an informed health consumer. Share this with somebody you care about.
I made a human. I delivered him to this world a month ago. I stare at the intricacies of his little knuckles, how already complex. The curves of his nose resemble perfectly that of his father; how strong that DNA comes through. His eyes are grey so I won't know if he will have my color or not for a while. There is an emotional bond I have with him that makes me smile every day.
Oftentimes, we cannot help but come from the thought that with so many unknowns and possibilities for error, defects and disease, randomly and genetically induced, it’s a miracle every time a healthy full-term baby is born. A lot of things need to go right for this to happen! From a speck of cells to a 9-pound newborn, our human instructions for development produce diversity beyond our comprehension. It’s fascinating because two humans can never be the same. Diversity is our roots and the basis of who we are. It’s concerning that any form of life can deny that truth and be prejudice to anyone different from them.
The making of human beings, or anything that’s alive, is so scientifically complex. Some say we are born three months too early, others say twelve months too early. This is because we are not able to fend for ourselves at birth. Most other “higher animals” (that we are in direct ancestry with) are mature when they are born, in comparison to the “lesser animals”, such as rodent’s and cats who aren't. We humans have the need to bond with our parents. The cuddling, snuggling, and smelling of the baby scent that drives all women crazy to have more is an innate need for female humans. I was wondering why my son can’t see more than twelve inches away at birth. My theory is the need to develop the sound and touch senses, which apparently need more time for maturing. Some call this immediate maturing outside of the womb as exterior gestation. Others say it is culture that forces this bonding need, the teaching of what instincts cannot supply. Culture allows for more than just Mom interacting with the newborn, thus development of social skills immediately begins.
Some theorize that our early birth is necessary to accommodate our continually enlarging brains. The need to get out before our heads get too big for a woman’s pelvis is where this thought stems from. Therefore, it can be our brain that is the evolutionary push for us humans to be born too early. There are a lot of women who never go into labor and need to be medically induced. Could it be that they’re the ones that have the pelvic bones that can handle longer pregnancies? But then there is the issue with our placentas not having caught up yet either in evolutionary terms, as they lose functionality substantially after nine months. I could theorize that perhaps some of those women who do not go into labor naturally at nine months not only have larger pelvic muscles but also more matured placentas. If doctors are inducing at forty-two weeks and no longer (due to the placenta functionality slowing down), then will humans ever evolve to where we need to be to accommodate larger brains? Will our heads not get any bigger and our intelligence stalled? I postulate that the placenta is what is holding us back. Placentas need to become more “fit” then perhaps the larger pelvic bones will fall into place after.
On another note, later in life humans tend to have issues with disease, cancer, common colds, allergies, and headaches. Some doctors think these are side effects of humans being born early. Humans, like all life, are still evolving. As we increase our head sizes, the rest of our life needs to adjust and it just hasn't yet. Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory will get us to a point of balance at some point. Until then, it is possible that the price of conscious intellect is to blame.
It is interesting what we do know about human newborns. We know to suck, which is vital for existence providing the ability to eat. We know how to breathe, our lungs just kick right in, also vital. Thankfully, nature knew to get these right first before pushing us out into our environment with not being able to fend for ourselves. After all, our bodies are biological machines with motors that need to run. It’s most spectacular at the molecular level as those cells are the ones that have always been working since conception. Since these cells spend the most time functioning and living, they have evolved the most! There are so many different “species” of bacteria that it should make us proud to come from a lineage that produced such complex organs like mitochondria and DNA. Our biology will adjust, it’s our history.
Food for thought. When the time comes and our placentas and pelvic bones have adjusted, what then would our world be like? Would we have different intelligence because our brains are bigger? What type of skills and talents would we have? How would our goods and evils adjust?
Society needs to evolve just as our DNA does.
Human brains are wired for categorization, thought by many to be an evolutionary advantage and a condition for rational thought. It is no surprise then that humans have classified the history of time on Earth into eras of clearly defined periods marked by some characteristic. Some eras are shorter while others span much longer time frames. A person can have eras of their own, viewing their own personal lifetime in various periods, such as being a teenager or married. Or we can view the categorization of something much larger like the timeline of the origins of our universe. In any case, what happens in the eras of any timescale defines the uniqueness of that time.
The usage of chronology for life makes sense since everything alive is evolving into something different from what it was in a prior state. In looking at the life span of the planet Earth, the home to all who are reading this, it is estimated to be 4.5-billion years old since it was birthed from a nebula of particles from our Sun during the Hadean era. Immediately after was the beginning of the Archean era, 4-billion years ago, when the Earth’s first continents were formed, then shortly after, our oceans. It was this blessing of water that created the first signs of life 3.5-billion years ago. Photosynthetic life eventually developed after falling in love with the energy of the sun and produced oxygen 2-billion years ago during the Paleoproterozoic Era. Water and oxygen together created the atmosphere 1-billion years ago during the Proterozoic era leading to complex multicellular life forming in the Cambrian era 580-million years ago.
As these complex multicellular life forms developed, events with sudden climatic changes such as an ice age, shifted the scale of physical evolution of all species of life existing at that time. Diverse hard-shelled animals first appeared 250-million years ago in the Mesozoic Era spawning the dinosaurs. When the dinosaurs became extinct, birds survived helping to develop the next set of life along with great change in the terrestrial vegetation leading up to the Cenozoic period about 65-million years ago. This time marked the proliferation of insects, and fish joining the birds in this process of proliferation. Periods of global heating and cooling over the next several million years created tectonic shifts in Earth’s continental plates and the development of land animals and their eventual migration around the globe marking the Pliocene Era 5-million years ago. Eventually animal migration allowed for the intermingling of species giving rise to a diverse set of mammals from horses to cats and homo habilis during the Pleistocene Era 2-million years ago. As homo erectus spread throughout the world 150,000 years ago, they contributed to the extinction of the large animals that they hunted. Since then, small scale climate shifts and continued migration evolved homo erectus into the humans we are today, homo sapiens. This gives our current Era of the last 11,700 years the name Holocene, dubbed “The Age of Man” as it plays spectator to most of humanity’s recorded history and the rise and fall of all its civilizations since then.
Anatomically, modern homo sapiens evolved within the last 150,000 years defining only 0.004% of Earth’s whole geographic history. While all organisms influence their environments to some degree, few have ever impacted Earth as much, or as fast, as our species has done during our short 0.004% stay. Modern humans are changing the world, ushering in a new era in geologic time, currently proposed to be called Anthropocene. This concept of a new era has been discussed and debated as the time in history where human influences became so great, that it changed the future of Earth and humanity all together. This is the first time that an era is credited to a particular species, the human.
But is this really something so dramatic? The impetus for leaps of growth in life on Earth usually include destruction then recovery. The changes currently being observed in our ecosystem are parallel with major events of past eras that developed the landscape we see today and the photosynthetic organisms that released oxygen into our atmosphere for us to breathe. The only distinction this time around is how quickly our impact has been and who is doing it. Humans have wandered the Earth for thousands of years but never has our capacity to alter the Earth’s ecosystem at a larger scale been more prominent than it is today.
When the Anthropocene Era began is under debate by scholars in various disciplines. To think about when our impact first began to alter the Earth’s ecosystem forever is surely not an easy feat to do. Geologists have been able to observe differences in rock to tell Earth’s story up to this point, but dissecting current time is harder to do since looking back is what Geologists are experts on, contemplating the present is not their specialty. From a philosophical perspective however, there was a beginning point when we became a driver instead of a passenger along the chronology of time.
Some theories based on atmospheric evidence suggest the era kicked off with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century due to human population growth and the rise of carbon dioxide. This was a time when humans first began to play with chemical manufacturing, and the building of machines. Others connect the beginnings to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture and the domesticating of animals with the Neolithic Revolution 12,000 years ago. This direct change from hunting and gathering resulted in societies being developed and the continued rise and falls of them since. Further, many believe that the very recent onset of our dependency on technology since the 1950s has fueled exponential growth to the point that some call it the “Great Acceleration.”
Then the Internet came, which revolutionized society like no other civilizations of the past. By building an interconnected framework around the globe, using satellites and computers to share data, we are moving energy in a coordinated manner around the Earth like never before, building our collective intelligence that can easily resemble a brain. Several trillion synapses are available in our brain for neuron communication, allowing for the processing of an enormous amount of information every minute. Our global system of communication is too processing data in amounts that are difficult to comprehend. For example, every minute email users send over 200 million messages. In the last 30 years, almost half of the world’s population used the internet connecting 2.5 billion people instantly like never before. This electronic infrastructure allows for the fundamental mathematical laws that nature follows to produce exponential growth. Perhaps we are living with the right conditions set up to allow for another boom of diversification.
Although I agree that today’s technology revolution has provided the catalyst to propel us into the next form of rapid growth and development of our species, I prefer to connect the beginning of the Anthropocene Era with the time homo sapiens’ consciousness expanded into a different form. It can be easily argued that all living things are conscious in some aspect, but many would agree that advanced consciousness like our own is unique. We broke through into a new level of consciousness that hadn’t existed before. This too has arguments about its beginnings, but my general feelings lead me to believe that consciousness began in the 6th century BC with the co-evolution of language and larger brain capacity that allowed humans to discover they had minds.
So when did the proper neuronal connections in our brains happen to allow us to become differently intelligent than other living things? From observing my own children I find that true advanced consciousness begins when a toddler realizes they are separate and distinct from their parents. Toddlers realize that their wants are not the same as their parents, and rebellion begins–leading to the term “terrible twos.” If you extend this idea to humanity, when did we rebel? When were we not happy with what the Earth provided for us to such an extent that we decided to take the wheel and drive? When did we become rational enough to have insights? When did humanity as a whole hit its toddler years?
Prior to our consciousness becoming so advanced we were a lowly species, dwelling on Earth in small proportions. Our lives were simple, our impact to our environment was slim. We weren’t burning fossil fuels or driving cars which made our air dirty. We weren’t polluting the oceans or dropping nuclear bombs. We certainly weren’t socially connected around the globe like we now are. The ability for us to destroy our own habitat was not possible, it was left up to the forces larger than us; the solar winds and the rock particles floating past us in the sky.
Relative to the age of Earth, in a very short period of time we have managed to push the extinction of species like the Zanzibar Leopard and West African Black Rhinoceros, culminating in large losses of tropical rain forests, and dramatic depletion of our ozone layer. To keep pace with our current lifestyle, we need places to bury garbage, chop down trees for paper, use water for new purposes such as doing laundry, breathe pollution from our cars, and destroy land and wildlife as our population increases. People are dying from not having food or water, and being killed over greed. Our love affair with plastic has damaged coral reefs disrupting the oceans’ own ecosystem. It’s estimated that we have affected about 80% of Earth’s surface all by our own doing. This number had recently doubled since the 1960s.
I believe that the Anthropocene Era encompasses more than humans impacting Earth; it’s also about us as humans affecting ourselves. Chemicals we use every day are altering what’s primal to us, leading to cancer becoming more prevalent. Parts of our genome simply cannot survive a situation where the environment suffers from the full overload of toxins we currently live in. Through cancer and disease our bodies are working out new genomic defects experimenting to see what survives. Unfortunately, we cannot evolve as fast as what we are exposing ourselves to via chemicals in the foods we eat and in the air we breathe. Evolution of living organisms takes thousands to millions of years to happen. We simply haven’t given our bodies enough time to adjust to the exponential changes we are introducing to our environment. Further, it is possible we are blocking any type of evolutionary progress we are making. With the rise of medication and prescription drugs, it’s possible that we are sustaining life and the passage of genes that are diseased, allowing nature to keep reproducing that which it is not supposed to.
The correlation between human society and environmental impact has a long history within our short human footprint. The rise and fall of so many civilizations proves that humans have yet gained the ability to evolve into a society that is sustainable. Many upon many have risen and fallen and the phoenix will continue to rise once again until we get it right. From a more current societal perspective, there is a revolution of sorts going on fueled by the new interconnection of the world and its embracement by the younger Millennial and Z generations. The gap between the ideals of past generations and these newer ones is very large. If the governments and societies of developed nations do not adapt to the change that the Millennials and Z’s require, it will collapse as a whole, just as pieces of it have already.
We are at the point of having a changed relationship with our home planet. It’s the beginning of what can be a short or very long “Age of Man.” Depending on how we approach this continued exponential period of growth, it will either be one of decline or one of growth into something fitter. Where will our newfound global awareness and intelligence take us? Research data clearly shows that the exponential growth is not letting up. If we continue to cut down forests, emit more pollution, push species to extinction, and pollute our oceans, something major is going to happen, if it hasn’t begun already. The Earth has survived many eras in the past through the regeneration of its surface as necessary. Humans on the other hand have not held billions of years of precedent like that.
Current aboriginal culture thriving today may be the ones that survive any future cataclysmic changes when they come, as they are the ones most closely living in alignment with the needs of the Earth, away from these perils of modernization. From whichever angle you look at our current situation, it’s hard to deny the culmination of ripe circumstances for change. It is perhaps time for the Anthropocene Era to begin the branching out of its diversification phase, or maybe extinction so that more fit life forms can thrive. When it comes to society and human consciousness, Darwinism still exists in its primal message. Only the fittest will survive; yet there is always life somewhere else to start as the catalyst for the new.
At our basis we are elements from the cosmos. When you bash together many different forms of molecules in any state, new forms develop as the current environment evolves. This theme of constant change is innate, sitting within the molecular dust that has made us into the physical beings we are today. Conditions always have to be just right for changes to begin.
This piece is one of 25 others in Thought Notebook Journal: Parallelism Of Cyclicality. Read the issue to learn more about our observations while studying the cyclical nature of our world.
The tremendous amount of inner knowledge and peace that came from today’s lecturer was incomprehensible. Never having the opportunity before to hear a lecture by a Buddhist monk Gen Kelsang Dorje, Resident Teacher for Vajrayana Kadampa Buddhist Center, provided a special experience for me. His calm demeanor, soft speech and monk robe, spoke volumes to the inner peace that radiated from him during his lecture: All In Your Mind: A Buddhist Perspective on Consciousness and Reality on February 13, 2014. Thousands of years ago the person known as Buddha examined the nature of the mind and developed a comprehensive theory of consciousness. Dorje discussed the central view of Buddhist philosophy and explored the Buddhist perspective on the nature and function of the mind and the true nature of reality.
He began by noting that meditation and Buddhism go well together. With that, he led us through a semi-guided meditation. Dorje commented that the quality of our mind is what is important and familiarizing our mind with that which brings benefit to us, will train our mind to be free from negativity. Thus meditation would be used as tool, allowing us to transform negativity from our minds. In doing so, this opens our heart and imagination, were we then can create a peaceful place.
After the short eight minute meditation, I felt as if I cleared space for his lecture, leaving behind any preconceived notions I might have had and allowing an open invitation to hear a perspective that wasn't one of my own.
Dorje then started by noting that all of our experiences are due to the quality of our mind. Meditation can assist in changing our mind to one of quality thinking, but we cannot change anyone else’s mind. This is because happiness is a feeling that comes from within, it’s relative. What happiness means to one person, can be very different than another. We must get over “trying to change others,” Dorje continued. Because we cannot change what is “out there” around us, until we change “inside us” first. This is a central tenet to Buddhist belief, and by taking the time to go within to change the quality of our minds, we can help to deter negativity around us. He pointed out that if anyone wanted to explore modern Buddhism further, to download the free eBook Modern Buddhism – The Path of Compassion and Wisdom, at www.emodernbuddhism.com.
Dorje moved on to discuss the nature and function of the mind, from the inklings of the Mahamudra scriptures, which represent the culmination of Buddhist practices. Dorje explained we should realize that within our own mind, we can obtain Buddha, which means “a mind that is awake.” He warned not to waste time seeking Buddha elsewhere but within. We all have this potential to be awake, Dorje went on, and that is, “awake from ignorance” and in peace with our own lives and personal karma we carry around. Yes, karma. He mentioned it often, as the part of us we bring from our past lives. This concept of karmic reincarnation is critical in Buddhist thought.
“How is it that we can learn how to be free from difficulty and suffering,” he asked, and noted that everyone wants to be happy – that’s our daily goal, or at least should be. No one intentionally walks around in life trying to be unhappy, he reminded us. Once we know where the suffering is coming from, we can do something about it. This concept of awareness is important in all aspects of our conscious development. Dorje continued along this thought and stated that in difficulty we tend to feel powerless, but we obtain power when we find the source. Awareness therefore brings with it power, to change. So what exactly needs to change? Dorje suggests that it’s our perception that needs to change–one from thinking we have a problem, to one of an opportunity to learn. In this mindset, the issue then is not really a problem. If we train our minds to react in this way, we will obtain the power we need to overcome it. He reminds us that life will happen to us, in every diversion possible, and the quality of our thoughts and how we handle difficulty, is all from the state of our minds. We all know that this sounds easier said than done, but Dorje insisted that we have the ”ability to accomplish this because we have a mind.” I began to think about how difficult it is to teach that the concept of happiness as internal, in a culture where happiness is found in external things.
He continued by saying that the nature of the mind is our consciousness, but is careful to note that he doesn't mean the brain. We know things through our mind not our body, and the brain is an organ of the body. “In Buddhism, the body and mind are two separate things, although they do have a relationship,” Dorje contended. He set the connection by asking what would happen to our body if our consciousness left us? He suggested our body would fall and be lifeless, as our consciousness “moves us.” I wondered if this was the case, could plants and animals be conscious?
“Consciousness comes from previous moments,” Dorje said, adding there is no beginning or end. Instead, our consciousness is a continuum. Moment by moment it's changing based on conditions and our actions within them. In turn, our lives are a result of our actions, hearing it again - karma. Dorje continued that babies come into this world with past wisdom and joked this is good news for parents, that it's not their fault. “Our job is to love kids, not to change them.” He declared that the objective of karma, is wisdom. Dorje recognized that not everyone believes in reincarnation and the thought of living many lives, but joked that if there is another life after this one, then reincarnation of our karma prepares us for the next life with its wisdom. I thought about my son, and how he smiled in his sleep the first weeks of his life. I always wondered how he could know what smiling was and how to do it, unless he had done it before. Especially since he could only see clearly within inches of his face.
Dorje concluded with discussing what reality means for Buddhists. “There is no other that appears to us, than what is in our mind,” he said. Everything we see even has dependence on what’s in our mind. Going back to the earlier example of what would happen if the mind left - what would we see? He stopped to say... who are we? “We are whoever we think we are.”
Dorje took many questions from the audience. One of the more interesting questions asked “What is origin of our consciousness? Where does the mind come from?” What a million dollar question I thought! Isn't this what every religious or spiritual tenet attempts to answer? He uses an analogy of a flower. What do you define as the beginning? The budding of the flower? Is it the germination of the seed? We really don't know he declared. With that, there isn't an origin, it just was.
It can take a lifetime for me to apply these learnings, but I guess that's the point of life, right? To live and learn.
This lecture was intriguing, as it was the first time I was exposed to mixing anything ‘mystical’ to the presence of God. The term mystical always seemed to be very secular and pagan. However Rev. Richard Woods, OP, PhD educated us that ‘mystical’ can define many different types of experiences. Everything from a near death, out of body experiences, to moments with God, or what others define as the presence of something greater than themselves, can be considered mystical. A ‘sudden acknowledgement’ of something greater than us happening became a theme throughout the lecture. Dr. Woods’ lecture ‘Mystical Consciousness: Brain, Mind, and the Presence of God’ on January 16th, 2014, discussed this concept of mysticism and its intersection between both religion and science. He highlighted who was, and still is, involved in this conversation, and their theories, providing different angles and approaches on the subject. I appreciated this openness to various thoughts on the subject. Although expelled from many studies in the early twentieth century, research regarding human consciousness and mystical experiences made a return in recent decades and once again has prompted serious scientific study.
The lecture started out with the following quote to spark our thoughts:
“In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.” ― Karl Rahner
The writers of the bible were called mystics, as their experiences and conversations with God are highlighted all over the bible. Think about John’s book of Revelation and the disciples’ encounters with Jesus after he died, or Moses when he obtained God’s commandments from the burning bush. Getting access to the inner wisdom of our world, and humanity, to get understanding and direction – are all part of the mystical experience.
Dr. Woods suggests we are all mystics and may just not realize it, as to one degree or another, we are always asking the questions about our existence, no matter which belief we come to. He says, “only in degree, not in kind, are all religions different.”
He notes another quote by an Islamic of the name Ibn Arabi;
“God deposited within human beings knowledge of all things, and then blocked them from perceiving it; this is one of the divine mysteries that reason denies totally and thinks impossible… no one can know what is within himself until it is revealed to him moment by moment.”
This overall concept of mystical experiences ties to that which is unseen, that we cannot see until we are given the privilege or opportunity to see it. This is why Dr. Woods suggests that we are all mystics and may not even know it.
In discussing the sociological religious experience humans tend to have, Dr. Woods goes on to say that our perception of time and space is facilitated by our brain structures, which is founded by our memories. Therefore, not knowing our memories, takes away who we are as people, and what describes the self. The concept of what is ‘the self,’ he went on to say, is very complicated. What are we? Who are we? What does it mean to be self-conscious? What does it mean when we die? Is it just our organs? Going further on the thought of just our organs, then the body and mind must be separate and distinct from each other. Since our existence (or as some subscribe to; since humans became conscious), people have turned to mystics to try to answer these questions about the self and understanding life’s journey. Theses mystics thought to be the ones that had direct conscious connection to something all knowing, or greater than them.
There are many debates that are on-going regarding the connection between God and science. One of these debates center around how mystical experiences tend to be both spiritual and physical. Dr. Woods reviewed several theorists that fit in four distinct categories, and their books that describe how they see this debate.
Atheistic – Don’t consider mystical experiences to having any connection with God. Books include:
Neo-reductionists – Consider mystical experiences as a brain function solely and not contact with God. Books include:
Traditional Religious – Where God is the source of all mystical experiences and science does not play a part. Book includes:
Positive Approach – Interconnection between Science and God during mystical experiences. Books include:
Dr. Woods pointed out that he finds it interesting that people have been polled since 1966 in the US and UK about religious and spiritual experiences. Trends from these polls show that more and more people are having mystical experiences. The studies also indicated that the older we get, the more likely we are to have a spiritual experience of some sort. Some of the questions I immediately began to think about related to why, how, and what purpose these numbers could mean in the larger collective whole of humanity? Are we subconsciously preparing for something? Is it time for humanity to get glimpses of truth? What shall we do with that truth once it’s unhidden to us?
Dr. Woods went back to defining ‘What is Mystical,’ since the term can include many types of experiences, including those induced by drugs, serious medical conditions such as seizures, deep meditation, and much more. In terms of classical traditional Christianity, a mystical experience means that there is an immediate experience of God within us and everywhere else. Here are some quotes from Christian theorists that have noted what the term ‘mystical’ meant:
“Immediate awareness of relation with God.”
“Momentary kiss with heaven.”
“Moments of good, truth and beauty…which ultimately changes you.”
The ongoing debate between religion and science and our consciousness, is not a new discussion amongst thinkers and scholars. Dr. Woods called the following people ‘Hall of Fame’ founders of the study between religious experiences and neuroscience in the late 19th century: William James, William Ernest Hocking, Sir Alister Hardy and Sir John Eccles. In the days of these men, it was a prestigious honor to be a part of what was called ‘The Gifford Lectures’ in Scotland which discussed the relationship between religion and science. These Hall of Famers all submitted lectures on their thoughts about the debate that is the basis for much of today’s serious scientific study on the topic.
We have experiences with God whether we know it or not, is what Hocking’s thought process consisted of. Even though religious doctrine belongs to the society, experience with it is personal.
Hardy had an interest in telepathic experiences and wanted to compare experiences for possible patterns or correlations with each other. He founded the Alister Hardy Trust and asks the question “Have you ever had a spiritual or religious experience or felt a presence or power, whether you call it God or not, which is different from your everyday life?” This trust was founded in 1969 in Oxford, with the objective of studying, “in a disciplined and as scientific a manner as possible,” accounts of religious or spiritual experiences, or what Dr. Woods, and many others in this field of research, call ‘mystical experiences.’
The neuroscience discipline has tremendous weight in the debate. Dr. Woods discussed how complicated our brains are in its structure and research in connection with spiritual experiences are being studied heavily. Various tools with acronyms such as EBS, EEG, CATZ, MRI, PET and others are being used in this research.
Dr. Woods’s personal ruminations, upon collecting all of the theories and research together, conclude that:
· Our brain is connected to our mystical experiences in some way or another
· Mystical experiences cannot be reduced to just experiences within the brain
· An awareness of profound unity or oneness is the common feature of mystical experiences
Have you ever had a mystical experience that allowed you to tap into the unseen?
We had some overnight isolated summer storms a few weeks ago. I remember waking up to the sounds of the rolling thunder, the lightening brightening up my bedroom, and the pounding of the rain on my window. I always enjoy a good storm, especially at night. Nature has a way of calming me and putting me back to sleep. I remember a smile on my face as I turned over to get comfortable and fell back asleep right away like a lullaby being sang to a baby.
Unfortunately for some, this evening was not so pleasant. The next morning, my fourteen-year-old daughter found three baby birds on our front lawn, two of them were dead, one of them still moving around lost and hopeless. Her motherly instincts kicked in immediately and she put the bird in a box and googled what to do. She nursed the bird feeding him water through a dropper and egg mixture on a toothpick. The bird was not quite feathered all the way, with patches of exposed skin. My daughter couldn’t help but notice "she" had a big behind, so she called her “Bubbles” short for “Bubble But.”
For the entire twenty-four hours she had the bird in her care, until it was brought to the wildlife center for rehabbing, my daughter was dedicated to ensuring Bubbles survived. I thought quite a lot about instincts the entire time as I watched in amazement of how easy it was, without thought, for her to save a life. How easy the humanitarian side of her kicked in. I was reminded of all the homeless she wanted to give money to and feed whenever she saw them, or the food packages she sends every year to the poor in third world countries without effort or second thought around the holidays. I like to think that nature is inherently good, and that everyone has a heart like her.
That is not the case in our world however. I believe we all have the capacity to be good, some of us are very in-tuned with nature’s light and love. However, some of us just are not. Animal instincts are for survival purposes, whereas human instincts can at times be selfish and unconcerning. Intuition comes natural, without reason, there is no justification. Our intuition takes over sometimes and we are not aware of it. Intuition is a first response, a quick reaction to a situation. When some find a wallet with money on the ground, immediately the initial thought is to keep it, steal the money and use the credit cards. However, some immediately try to find its owner without taking its contents.
The bird seemed orphaned by its parents, as there was no sight of them coming around. Since its siblings had passed on it was possible the mother of the bird was dead as well. We will never know. Perhaps it was natures call to have this family separated and left for dead, in which case Darwin's survival of the fittest is then the winner. Regardless of nature's plan, maybe this newfound personal spiritual reality my daughter received from this experience will make her more "fit" in the future to survive in this fragile life. Maturement of her intuition may have been needed for some future anticipation.
Bubbles ended up at Flint Creek Wildlife Center where they are tasked at rehabbing her and sending her back into the nature.
As I look into my garden, scorching in the summer weather, I see growth and life. What amazes me about my garden, and what makes me pursue one every year, is the beauty of its life cycle. Albeit life in a different form from what we typically know it as human beings, but nonetheless life. Or is it really that different? Water, sun and soil are all the seed needs. Very little human intervention is needed. In fact, some plants grow yearly without any of our help, purely natural. Are seeds considered dead then when they sit untouched by soil, water, and light? When does life begin with a seed? Some seeds never get the chance to have its life-cycle initiated. The diversity of life with seeds fascinates. Not only are there at least 10 different kinds of tomato seeds available, but depending on its environment they can grow so differently from one another. Life that springs from seeds also can undergo disease and genetic mutations, producing an extra limb off a carrot flesh, or an abnormal looking onion.
I had a conversation many years ago with a consultant that I worked on a project with that told me that plants are intelligent as well. They know to bend towards the light to grow, and climb to produce strength, to flower in specific spots and to begin germination when water is present. So I watch my garden year after year, and bask in its diversity, its intelligence, its natural yet flawed process, and reflect on how similar I am to that cucumber. Even the genetic material of humans is of the same process and components of plants. Life on two very different mediums, sharing the same building blocks of life. In fact, Iowa State University states that humans share 50% of the same DNA with bananas.
Unfortunately, like in human life, weeds are a part of this beautiful garden of mine. As they annoy me and the surrounding plants, I tend to think about the human weeds in this world. Whoever made the decision to put the Boston Bomber on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine is a weed, infecting the world around him/her. But like all weeds, even after they are chopped down, they come back, naturally. The nature of annoyance, or evil if you may, is ingrained in our lives, and we have to deal with it, just like the plants that grow stronger to deal with the presence of weeds in their soil. There will be another weed in the future that will try to celebrify evil, and some will be consumed, yet others will be happy to cut them down, only for another to come shortly after.
Yes, I did just create a new word...Celebrify: the process of turning something into celebrity status, and in affect, gaining the perks that come with it.
I love photos and their ability to capture a moment in time. Since we are bound by the laws of the space-time matrix, we are unable to go back, to review the day, and see a play by play. Unless we have a reality TV show, our lives are not videotaped for us to rewind and watch. Instead we have pictures, that help tell our story, present the environment, gather emotion, and capture that exact moment that is so unique, nothing will ever be exactly that same way again. I do think, however, that we take the power photos give us for granted.
Studies show that what we remember about our past really is only 37% true - the rest is made up. Its only how we perceived all the associated sensory information is what is true. This is done in order to understand it. On average, we humans are bombarded by 1,600 commercial messages a day, 80 we consciously notice, and only 12 provoke a positive or negative response. We filter stimuli around us to not induce overload in our brains. We never evolved to handle information at the capacity we experience it today… or at least not yet. This is called selective attention. What we hear, we process against our belief systems, which is called selective distortion. This is because as humans we have an urge to explain things, it’s a part of our physiology of our brain - this is how Greek mythology was born. We distort in order to understand. And because of selective retention, only a small fraction of any of the stimuli we process is actually retained. It is due to this selectiveness that perceiving is just as powerful as awareness. I call this percivision: the act of perceiving and gaining understanding into the nature of reality.
To make matters even more complicated, other studies have shown that we alter our memories, every time we recall them. In fact, our memory is an elaborate party of protein, enzymes, electrical and chemical signals between neurons in the brain. This scaffolding can be interfered with other processes going on in our brain, such as emotional and physical reactions to the world around us. Thus, making it possible to alter these paths, depending on what’s going on with us when it’s recalled. MRI scans done in these studies have determined that both the amygdala and hippocampus work together to create our false memories. The hippocampus is related to long-term memory formation whereas the amygdala deals with emotions and social situations. Memories of our reality can then be altered based on where are, who we are with, and how we are feeling at the time of recollection.
Therefore, when we think about what our 5th grade teacher was like, or how our first date really went, what we recall may be incorrect. Almost makes reality a word that has no meaning, since it is possible we are unable to physiologically recall it 100%. This is one of many reasons why I am fan of pictures. Looking back at a snapshot of our lives, is the closest thing we have to reality, if it does exist.
In the header photo, my niece and brother are surfing. I remember that I sat out and left my husband and daughter with them, since I kept wiping out. I simply just could not get on that board and surf. Or, maybe I saw a shark and got scared? Or, maybe I never got in the water and met up with them later? Who knows that my reality was that day. What this picture does prove about reality is that my brother and niece were surfing and they both were able to get on the boards! There is no evidence that I was able to.
“Together, we’ll work toward a world where everything you buy could have a new kind of
‘Made In …’ tag.” - www.slaveryfootprint.org
I never really thought too much about how the things I buy are manufactured. I have went on living life worrying about other things, that getting to the molecular level of my purchases was an afterthought. I am very encouraged however to find that someone was thinking about the supply chains of what we consume and had planted the seed into what is now the Made In The Free World organization.
In taking the organization’s Slavery Footprint exercise, I learned more about the term Modern Day Slavery and was presented statistics I never seen before of the slavery that goes on in the manufacturing of things I loved. The fact that there are people who are attempting to escape 20 hour days from hard work and sexual assaults to make the things that I eat and enjoy, really hit my heart. I thought about how these types of issues are not on the news and that the concept of awareness here is tremendous. I wanted part in spreading this awareness, as the results of my Slavery Footprint exercise found that it’s estimated that 88 slaves work for me! Next time I see a “Made In…” tag I will think very differently.
I wanted to learn more, as I was very intrigued by what can be done to rid this issue of supply chain slavery. Do we consumers have a demand issue; do we want and need too much? Or should we point the finger at businesses? These were immediate thoughts as I looked at the map of my slaves and learned more about them. I had the pleasant opportunity to discuss this with Ashley Sholer who is a Grassroots Marketing Associate at the Made In A Free World organization. Ashley helps manages social media campaigns and projects, helps create and maintain partnerships, coordinate events and runs the Campus Chapter program.
I learned from the organization’s website that there are 27 million people enslaved around the world. How is slavery defined in the sense of modern-day supply chain slavery?
The terms most commonly used to represent modern-day supply chain slavery is forced labor or slave labor (interchangeable). A victim of forced labor is; anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited, and who is unable to walk away.
What type of items do we consume where the slavery is most prevalent?
Unfortunately, the use of forced labor is prevalent in most industries at any point in the supply chain. However, research indicates slavery most commonly happens at the raw materials level. Meaning, in the mining, farming, aquafarming industries. Those raw materials, such as tantalum, cotton, and produce then go into our technology, clothes, and food.
The mission of Made In a Free World is to empower individuals, groups and businesses with innovative solutions as a means to end slavery. What type of innovative solutions have been found?
Good question, which has a long answer. Our most well known innovation is Slavery Footprint, this is an interactive platform we created with the U.S. State Department to help people answer the question; “How many slaves work for me?” In addition to Slavery Footprint, people can visit our Action Center or download the Free World app and send letters for businesses asking them to become ‘Made In A Free World’. We also have on the ground projects aimed to free slaves from different industries, our first of which was freeing 6 kids from the fishing industry on the shores of Lake Volta, Ghana. We are in the midst of our #IChooseFreedom campaign and are planning another awareness campaign scheduled to launch before the end of this year. Also, this is our very first year having Made In A Free World Campus Chapters. These are a way for students from all over the nation to work with their schools to spread awareness and introduce slave free products.
Your organization believes in changing the systems in which slavery thrives. What can be done to eradicate the conditions that are being found in the slavery? What are some sustainable changes businesses are making?
Slavery is perpetuated in places where consumers and companies have little or no visibility. Companies can implement a supplier code of conduct (many of which are available to the public on the company’s website), they can achieve 3rd party certification for fair labor practices, and they can partner with industry organizations or NGOs to implement better supply chain transparency.
There has been an overwhelming response to the cause and the number of supporters continues to grow every day. What type of influence does this demand for freedom have in the overall current economic market?
Over the last 10 years, we have seen a dramatic increase in consumers’ desires for ethically sourced products. Looking ahead, we expect to see this desire expand from ethically sourced products, to products sourced from ethical companies. In other words, it is no longer sufficient for companies to provide one product that is ethically sourced while using exploitative practices in the rest of their operation. Whereas in the past companies could have a ‘green’ product but mistreat their workers or treat their workers well but destroy the environment, we now see consumer pressure for a holistic approach to business and an emphasis on the Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet, Profits).
What types of tools are given to businesses to understand their supply chains and implement changes?
The primary hindrance to transparency in supply chains is cost. If a company buys a component for their product at the right price and with consistent quality, they do not have a strong incentive to dig deeper. Consumers can provide this incentive. Once a company has the desire to better understand their supply chain and where their products are sourced, there are many tools available to them. The most commonly used is a supplier code of conduct, whereby a company sets minimum operating standards as a condition for winning/retaining their business. The company can then conduct internal reviews (audits) of their suppliers to ensure that these companies are upholding their commitment to operate in compliance with the code of conduct. This practice typically ladders up to third party auditing such as Fair Trade, or SA 8000 whereby a company pays an external party to visit the facility, farm, etc., and verify first hand that workers and/or the environment are being respected. As a matter of efficiency, many companies join trade organizations such as BIFMA or create their own industry organizations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to develop standards and share best practices.
What is the biggest challenge when discussing supply chain slavery with businesses?
The word slavery carries very heavy connotations and because of that businesses actively try to avoid being associated with that word entirely. No company wants to be the first mover and publically admit that there may (we know there is) slavery in their supply chain. One of Made In A Free World’s primary objectives is to create a circle of trust whereby companies feel comfortable opening a conversation about slavery in the first place. This is not yet the case, which is why we are working to inform consumers through Slavery Footprint that each and every one of us has a connection to slavery and can do something to help end it.
The organization believes that the only way to change the world is to “work together,” a term found often on the website. Tell us more about this guiding principle?
Slavery isn’t merely a government or business issue. Nor is it an “us vs. them” issue. It’s an “all of us” issue. Its individuals, nonprofits, academics, governments, community groups and businesses working together. It will take a global movement to end this global and ancient injustice.
Made In A Free World is a place where all of us can leverage our unique strengths and global influence. We make it possible to work together in order to achieve more than we possibly can do alone. We’ve brought together millions of committed consumers from all corners of the world ready to support businesses who demonstrate their shared value of freedom.
What types of activities are non-profits, academics, governments, community groups, and businesses working together and doing to contribute to freedom?
This answer is similar to the one about our innovative solutions. We have people from every single one of these groups working together by learning their Slavery Footprint, taking action in our Action Center, supporting our campaigns and on the ground projects, as well as hosting awareness or fundraising events. In addition to participating in those efforts, people have shown our film ‘Call+Response’ to their companies, community groups, academic institutions and non-profits. In the near future, there will be many other ways these groups will overlap and work together to bring about a time when everyone and everything is ‘Made In A Free World.’
What can we consumers do? Describe what a ‘modern day freedom chooser’ is?
As consumers, you can discover your Slavery Footprint and take action by sending letters for businesses tell them you want products without slave labor and ask them to become Made In A Free World. In addition, keep the conversation going. Let people know that slavery exists and there is something each and every one of us can do to end this injustice. That is exactly what a freedom chooser is. It is someone who uses their freedom of choice to say “I choose freedom for everyone” and then acts upon their declaration.
In Ghana, the organization rescued 6 kids in the fishing industry. How are slaves being rescued and how are the local governments responding?
Unfortunately, for the security of our partner organization, Challenging Heights, we cannot provide details of the rescuing process. However, our project did put 6 kids on a path to freedom. The includes the rescue process, provides one year of schooling and medical treatment, as well as counseling and micro business training for the child and his or her family.
You have a campaign called #ichoosefreedom where people pledge to be a part of the movement. What is the main message of the pledge? What kind of response have you had in this regard?
The main message of #IChooseFreedom is: Whether or not we realize it, the majority, if not all of us, indirectly benefit from slave labor. We all have a responsibility to take action and use our freedom of choice to create freedom for all. We have gotten a positive response from supporters all over the world.
Freedom is one of many Universal Rights that apply to human beings. What other Universal Rights does the organization feel is important to humanity?
Freedom is honestly the most essential, universal right. Without freedom, no one has access to any other universal right. Freedom over oneself cannot be taken lightly, it includes way more than we may realize. Many people who are trapped in slavery are stripped of everything, including their name.
What do you think is the root cause of forcing fellow humans to live and thrive in slavery conditions?
This is a very complicated question, and I do not think there is one right answer. Many people who are guilty of enslaving others do not think of it as a human rights violation. It is a business decision to increase profits and decrease overhead. Also, as consumers we inadvertently allow businesses to continue using slave labor. Does that make slavery any less contemptible? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Does framing it that way put into a solvable solution? We believe so. Actually, we built an entire organization around the belief that slavery can and will end in our lifetime. When people know about the issue and will not stand for it any longer, businesses will not be able to get away with using slave labor and will provide livable wages and safe work environments.
Consider a donation to Made In A Free World at www.madeinafreeworld.com/support_us