Zoe Weil

“The Solutionary Way… we can’t wait!” – Zoe Weil ‪- Sentientism Ep:201

Find our second Sentientism conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism podcast. Our first is here back on episode 34.

Zoe is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). She is considered a pioneer in the comprehensive humane education movement. She has authored eight books both for adults and children, including “The Solutionary Way“ – out now for pre-order! Zoe writes the Becoming a Solutionary blog at Psychology today. She has made numerous TV and radio appearances and has given six TED talks, including “Extending our Circle of Compassion.” 

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “who matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the YouTube video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

00:00 Clips!

01:15 Welcome

Our first conversation

– Most good (MOGO), least harm

– Star Trek as a utopian inspiration

– Mr Spock and Dr Spock “both of them have had a big influence”

03:42 Zoe Introduction

– Co-founder and President of The Institute for Humane Education 

– IHE: “Educate people to create a world where all humans and animals and nature can thrive… huge, huge goal and vision”

– K-12 schools and graduate programmes with Antioch University

– “It’s going to keep my busy my entire life”

04:37 The Solutionary Way

– Subtitle “Transform your life, your community and your world for the better”

– “An antidote to polarisation… actually solving the problems that we face… in a way that is good for everyone”

– “We are not a single issue organisation… justice and compassion needs to be spread for everybody so that the world can be truly humane”

– Solutionary lens “you approach problems as solvable” instead of “us vs. them approaches”

– Critical thinking “what’s true, what’s false… lies at the foundation”

– Systems thinking “see the connections… identify causes… leverage points…”

– Strategic thinking

– Creative thinking

– Solutionary Framework: 4 phases, 12 steps

– Prioritising problems & identifying the one you want to solve “Learn and learn then really dive deep… identify a narrow enough problem that you have the capacity to solve”

– The Solutionary Way in schools… 4th graders have big concerns but might not be able to address them in full… so what can they “feasibly solve”?

– “We have identified a leverage point which is the educational system through which we are working on… all problems”

– “K-12 educational system is fundamentally working at the root cause of every other societal system”

– “What happens in our educational system prepares us to be citizens”

– “A profoundly important core strategy… at the same time many of the problems that we are facing are so immediate… we can’t wait”

– “Sometimes the people who care most… wind up doing work that is counter-productive… they may burn more bridges than they build”

– Dealing with activist burnout and depression

– Polarisation and populism in modern discourse… denial of a shared reality… denial of shared values… blaming instead of solutions

17:52 A Shared Reality?

– “The media [and politicians] drills down on the polarisation”

– “I suspect that we are far less polarised than we think… but… it seems to be getting worse”

– “Polarisation is nothing new”

– Media and social media “aiding and abetting” polarisation

– Solutionary Way “Investigate” phase “who is being harmed… who is being benefitted… critical thinking… really analysing”

– “Very few of us have much first hand knowledge about the problems…”

– Learning about animal oppression by reading Peter Singer (see Peter’s Sentientism episode)

– “How did I know what was happening in laboratories or factory farms?… I went and visited some of them.”

– “With something like #climatechange we are going to have to trust somebody… who are we going to trust?”

– Reputation, fact checking, scientists (watching for ulterior motives / funding / bias), consensus e.g.  @IPCCGeneva 

– Conspiracy theories, mis and disinformation

– #Antivaxx, #covid denial, fake / dangerous cures & supplements

– “Making tens of thousands of dollars on those supplements because he is selling them!”

25:17 Shared Values?

– “We need to have some shared values”… the MOGO principle of “most good and least harm to people animals and the environment”… “I haven’t ever met anybody who has said that’s not a good ethical principle”

– Asking “What are the best qualities of human beings… the lists are always really similar… compassion… courage & integrity & honesty & generosity… nobody ever says… dishonesty… greed… violence… hatred”

– “The idea that we have very fundamental different values… I don’t think by and large it’s true… it’s the interpretation”

– Pro-life and pro-choice advocates as an example. Could agree “it would be great if there are as few girls and women facing an unwanted pregnancy as possible”

– “If you can find some common ground… which most of the time you can find… then you can build on that common ground”

– “You have to obviously agree on the problem… It would be great if there weren’t mass shootings… both sets of people [pro & con gun control] agree”

– “If we really are committed to investigating the causes… the systems… we build on that together with respect for one another… then there is the possibility”

– If we instead just pick a side creative solutions “become invisible to us”

– Moral foundations theory… honour, obedience, compliance, sanctity, purity… fairness, justice, compassion, care

– “There’s so much internal preparation before heading in to that Solutionary Framework”

– Learning from improv comedy classes: 4 foundational rules: Build Relationships; Yes and; Bring the Love; Help Others Shine

– Rural Maine “It’s not the comedy capital of anywhere… however…”

– Hearing someone say they don’t know anyone who voted for Trump “was he subtly saying that Trump supporters weren’t worth knowing?”

– Joining a Crossfit gym “there were lots of Trump supporters at the gym… a couple of them became really close friends…”

– “They have very different values… and they’re really wonderful people”

– “By building these relationships the stereotypes and the generalities had to dissipate

– Another friend “chose to double down on her bubble”… vs. “This is the best opportunity you will ever have to build bridges!”

– “These are some of the most generous people I know… something happens to somebody else in the community – everyone shows up!”

– “When you say yes to something… instead of immediately disagreeing… get on that bridge together…”

– Are there limits to “yes – and” and being too constructive / appeasing? (yes “but that’s not the majority of people”)

– “We don’t have to yes-and fascism… an ideology… it’s in the context of a relationship… how many people who were once in the KKK who left?… how many people were once eating meat who stopped?”

– “This is an approach that has to do with people… not ideologies… and of course there are some people that you’re not going to be ‘yes-and ing’”

– Even in some dangerous situations “they have sought to build a relationship in order to help that assailant see the humanity in them”

– Bring the love: “In improv comedy love trumps hate… the more you bring love to the scene the funnier it tends to be” (apart from Larry David 😊 “maybe the exception who proves the rule” )

– After Putin’s full invasion of Ukraine hearing some Russian speakers “I felt this wave of anger… struck by how easy it was for hate to be the immediate trigger… I don’t even know if they were Russian… there’s plenty of Ukrainians who speak Russian.”

– “It’s not easy to bring the love”… e.g. road rage while taking other considerate road users for granted

– The Solutionary approach as a response to youth anxiety and depression

– Someone being aggressively critical and insulting in response to an article “I decided to bring the love… he wrote back… by the end he was thanking me”

– “Those simple successes… I felt so good…”

– Beginning advocacy in the animal rights movement “I experienced a lot of hate in the movement… directed at other people in the movement who didn’t align perfectly.”

– Hearing an advocate say “vivisectors and animal farmers are ‘bad people’”

– “We all have the potential for goodness and… the potential for evil… how can we nurture the potential for goodness”

– Good vs. bad people “as if things were that simple!”

– Help others shine: “Look for where is goodness happening… how can we elevate them?”

– “Us feeling better enables us to do our work… evidence based optimism.”

– Negative bias in the news media… and how “good news” stories are so often small and trivial

57:29 Thinking About Solutions

– Techno optimism, doomerism, bypassing, denialism

– “Solutionary…  yes it’s a made up word”… JW: “As all words are!”

– “The difference between a solutionary and a problem solver… is this ethical foundation of doing the most good and the least harm”

– Solutionary solutions… “has the fewest unintended negative consequences… thinks about deep root causes & solves them”

– Naïve optimism and doomerism as “great excuses to do nothing… lots of people don’t do anything”

– Margaret Mead: “There’s no doubt that small groups of committed citizens can change the world. In fact it’s the only thing that ever has.”

– “The great majority of us just go along with whatever systems are in our lives… so if the system is meat eating and factory farming then we eat meat… or consumerism… that’s what we’ll do. We go along with systems. That’s why systems thinking is so critical… we have to transform the systems.”

– “Technology will play a really big role in this” e.g. cultivated meat / plant-based analogs to animal products

– “It’s not going to happen by magic…”

– Will cultivated/clean/plant-based animal product analogs cause an ethical bypassing or will they free people up to align with their compassionate ethics?

– “I have no doubt that we’re going to look back one day… as societies… and say ‘I can’t believe we did that!’”

– “These aren’t either/ors”… addressing ethics and practical solutions

01:05:50 Education

– JW: How our worldviews (whether we realise it or not) underpin every human decision

– Life-long learning – education isn’t just about kids

– Are kids or adults best placed to adopt a Solutionary Way? “It’s a both and”

– Teaching the Solutionary Way from pre-school through 4th grade through to post-graduate

– “One place that every classroom could start is in their own school cafeteria… what’s being served there?… addressing a host of problems… systems… political… economic… tax funding… lobbying… it is so profound to learn about these systems.”

– One class learning about climate change… “they wanted their school to adopt Meatless Mondays… it’s a step… paving the way for the next bigger thing they do.”

– Most problem solving in education is solving well-bounded problems that have already been solved vs. open exploration and solving of real-world problems

– A 5-country survey of Solutionary Way kids “96% said that they learned more, developed more compassion… 92% said they liked working on a real world problem…”

– 6-years on kids still say it was “transformational”

– “The World Becomes What We Teach” book for educators whereas “The Solutionary Way is for everybody”

– “When you become a Solutionary… it’s also the community you build.”

– Going global?

– Feeling both more and less optimistic (polarisation) in different ways

– Working with the Maine Dept of Education to train 200 teachers “we’re going to be in every county”

– Interest from a new district in California

– “Having hope is important… but being super optimistic… is not a pre-requisite for being a Solutionary and solving problems”

– “I have to look in the mirror… do I want to have respect for the person who looks back at me?”

– “Whether I have hope that day or not it’s just not as important as having integrity.”

– “The more we do and the more we see the positive impacts the more hopeful we will become… Roll up your sleeves everyday.”

01:17:10 Follow Zoe and buy “The Solutionary Way”!

– June 25th book launch (pre-order now!)

The Solutionary Way


The Institute for Humane Education

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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