Book Review: Most Good, Least Harm
Review by Lisa Rimmert
Millions of people throughout the world have no access to clean water. Forests are being cleared at staggering rates. Billions of animals are killed for food every year. In the face of these seemingly insurmountable problems, what can one person do?
In Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and a Meaningful Life (Atria Books, 2009), author and humane educator, Zoe Weil (who can be heard on Our Hen House’s 30th podcast episode), offers a simple principle called MOGO, or “most good,” in an attempt to answer this question. Fully aware that the world and its inhabitants face many dire problems that are both overwhelming and complex, Weil nevertheless sets forth a guiding principle for each person to use in searching for solutions that are anything but complicated. MOGO means that when people make decisions based on what will do the most good and least harm — to other people, to animals, and to the environment — we make positive impacts on the world around us, and, as an added bonus, on our own spirits. In just over 200 easy-to-digest pages, Weil explains this simple principle, citing compelling examples and insightful ideas for MOGO activities that can change the world for the environment, animals, and, I suspect, for everyone who reads it.
The first section of the book, “Looking Inward,” provides an in-depth look at what it means to live a MOGO life. Respecting the differing priorities and lifestyles of her readers, Weil offers a broad definition of MOGO and seven key actions that one can take to find it. Then, she encourages readers to decide for ourselves which issues we find most important, and what specific changes we wish to make.
The first key, “Live Your Epitaph,” was the one I personally found most valuable. Weil suggests that we imagine our ideal epitaph — what we want said and remembered about us when we’re gone, and, fundamentally, what we wish to leave behind. This exercise is incredibly valuable because it can help guide each of us, in a very individual way, to the best version of MOGO-living geared to our unique personalities and talents.
The book’s second section, “Choosing Outward,” gives readers some general information they need to get started, including four areas for considering change, and 10 principles for MOGO life. Perhaps most notably, that includes the need to “eat for life,” calling for readers to “as much as possible, choose plant-based foods. . . .” Certainly, when it comes to doing the most good and least harm, that one should be a no-brainer. Too often it’s not, though, and it’s refreshing that Weil includes that message.
It is in the third and final part that Weil gets down to the nitty-gritty, offering very hands-on tools and resources to help us begin our own MOGO journey. Here, we find a questionnaire to assist us in our brainstorming MOGO ideas, an action plan where we can record specific goals, as well as facts, statistics, and recommended resources relevant to living a MOGO life.These resources are broken into categories based on the social justice, environmental, or other ethical issues.
There are, of course, many suggested websites and books for further investigation into animal rights, including The HSUS and PETA, GoVeg.com, and the book, Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer. This section also includes well-known resources dealing with other issues relevant to living more consciously, including Freecycle.org, HumaneEducation.org, and Meetup. These tools are incredibly valuable for the MOGO beginner who is just starting to figure out how and why her or his individual choices make such a profound impact, and what she or he can do to change the the shape of things.
The majority of the websites and books listed are ones many of us may not have heard of yet, but are definitely worthy of our attention. Some of my favorites include Newdream.org, which belongs to the Center for a New American Dream, and focuses on helping people to change the world by reducing and shifting their consumption; and Yes! Magazine, which contains uplifting stories that center around solutions to the world’s environmental and social justice issues. Whether you’re a MOGO beginner or an already-committed activist, you’ll find a variety of very useful resources in Weil’s extensive list.
While presenting an abundance of sometimes disturbing information, the book manages to inspire without setting unreasonable goals or pressuring novice advocates. Moreover, while written for the average person, Most Good, Least Harm is equally valuable for the more seasoned advocate. While vegans and animal rights activists may already be aware of many problems and injustices, there are always issues about which we are relatively naïve. For example, when it comes to buying humane and ethical products, I admit that my knowledge has been somewhat limited. I know, of course, about brands like Seventh Generation and Dr. Bronner’s, but when it comes to items like toothbrushes, an example from the book’s chapter on products, I wasn’t sure which product created the least harm. Most Good, Least Harm provided resources for me — and will do the same for you — to make better and more informed decisions. In this case, Weil offers the website Responsibleshopper.org, which enables people to enter the name or brand of a product and find out if the company that produces it is good, bad, or somewhere in between.
While many of us are already doing our part to create positive change, Most Good, Least Harm might help us see that, in our quest to change the world, there’s always a new way in that might be worthy of exploring.
If you’re in NYC, don’t miss an all-day MOGO workshop that Zoe herself will be leading on October 29. The very next day, join Zoe and the Institute for Humane Education for Envisioning the Future Crystal Ball NYC.