The Time to Evolve Our Consciousness is Now: Kathleen Lowson’s Groundbreaking Film Cry of the Innocent Makes Us Think Before We Buy

It has been said that all art seeks to explore and understand the human condition. What distinguishes us as humans? How do we differ from our fellow animal companions? Is it our proclivity for self-reflexivity, our ability to acknowledge our place in the universe, and our endless desire to expand our knowledge? Perhaps. Yet, it is my firm conviction that it is our inherent drive for empathy that is what renders us truly humane. It is this aspect of our consciousness that director Kathleen Lowson wants us to explore, and her film Cry of the Innocent: The Voices That Can’t Speak is a call to action, urging us to ask and answer the question: who are you wearing?

Taking a unique soul perspective, the film is a psychological and spiritual study of the human condition focusing on the cruelty, absurdity, and frivolity of the modern fur trade. This unnecessary practice is a symptom, a sign that as a species, we are in need of elevating our consciousness, expanding it such that all life forms are treated with the dignity, love, and respect they deserve. Lowson impresses upon the viewer that “when we disconnect from the suffering of sentient beings, we disconnect from our own suffering.” This is a statement that merits deep reflection, as her words could not ring more true.

What makes this film so accessible and unique in its approach is that it does not employ shocking and gruesome imagery to communicate its message; rather, it unveils the reality of these innocent animals while providing empowering quotes from evolutionary leaders such as the Dalai Lama. It asks the viewer difficult questions, inspiring us to delve beyond our egos and into the deeper aspects of our psyches, to demand why it is that we as a species have tolerated the abuse and slaughter of animals in the name of fashion and temporary economic gain. It illuminates the reality that we have little to gain from such deplorable acts, and so, so much to lose. Namely, if we cannot recognize the pain and irreparable damage that occurs when we so callously end the life of an innocent, not only to the animal, but to our own humanity, how can we hope to bring about true peace and change in this world?

Lowson delivers this message with a conscious, gentle, and philosophical touch. She presents the viewer with the disturbing reality that countless animals must endure at the hands of certain humans. The film begins with the Canadian seal “hunt,” the largest mass slaughter of marine mammals in the world. Appallingly, it is subsidized by the Canadian government, bringing Lowson to encourage us to boycott the Canadian seafood industry. By empowering an industry that profits from death and cruelty to animals, we are only perpetuating a stagnation of the human spirit, rather than stimulating its growth and evolution.

 She also brings to light the deplorable and unspeakably repugnant conditions in China, where dogs and cats are killed for their fur to create trinkets and trim on clothing. It may come as surprising to some readers, but Lowson stresses that even items labelled as “faux fur” or “synthetic fur” may actually be dog and cat fur. Depicting these beautiful creatures crammed by the dozen into stifling cages, these images are heartbreaking and difficult to watch, but it is crucial that we open our eyes to the horrific crimes that take place in these fur factories. Lowson calls on each of us to question why we invest in China, and to demand that laws be put in place to protect these vulnerable and defenceless animals who are unable to speak for themselves.

Over 50 million animals, from baby seals, dogs, cats, foxes, minks, rabbits, raccoons, and other innocent creatures are killed in the name of profit and fashion. And due to the globalization of the fur trade, it is virtually impossible to know the countries in which fur products are made. Even if a fur garment’s label says it was made in a European country, it is likely that the animals were raised and slaughtered elsewhere; in a majority of the cases, on an unregulated Chinese fur farm. These facts make clear the urgency of establishing laws that will put an end to these acts of cruelty, abuse, and murder. The time to evolve our consciousness is now, and Cry of the Innocent: The Voices that Can’t Speak is a monumental film and call to action that is a magnificent contribution to the animal rights movement.


We find it so easy to call others to action over what are really menial, inconsequential things. For instance, how many people take to Twitter to pour out their outcry over the cancellation of television programs on major cable networks? How many people will start an Internet petition to bring back a certain flavor or brand of soda? How many people out there frothed at the mouth and ‘literally could not even’ over the disbranding and discontinuation of Twinkies just a few years ago? Our passion as a people runs high, yes, but are we not focusing on entirely the wrong things?

Can we not find something that actually matters to be upset about, because, I assure you, there are almost no limits, sadly, to the awful things that actually matter, yet are widely ignored. Yes, we should be upset, but not about TV shows or cola.

How disconnected and divided as a world society do we need to be in order to focus on petty instances of our own differences and mundane, trivial matters like voting for a new flavor of potato chip? As disconnected and divided as it takes to ignore the facilitated violence against women, children, and animals everywhere one can look. This is not new information. We know that women and children are sold and trafficked. We know that children go hungry each night. We know that the elderly and mentally infirm are often abused and neglected. We know that animals are tortured for fun, literally, are beaten, are abandoned to the cold and elements. What does it say about us that we find time for frivolities such as those listed above (and more), but cannot seem to come together against abuse?
Partly, it says that we’ve lost some of our soul. We used to know what it was to stand up for the underdog and fight for those that could not fight for themselves, but part of that has fled away, anesthetized by the static and comforting sounds of our television screens and the voices of those who cleverly instruct us on how to think, feel, and act. Isn’t it time to empower others by empowering ourselves? Isn’t it about time that we refocus, reconnect, and once again become the people that give a damn? If we don’t, then who will? If we don’t, then what next, or, more likely who is next? When the world runs out of victims as it currently stands, who becomes the next victim? Is it you?

Hopefully, it will never come to that. Hopefully, we’ve now come far enough to reflect on what we have allowed ourselves to become and put our metaphorical foot down. Why should another young girl miss out on the happiness of youth just to be taken as a child bride far away from her home? Where is the outrage for that?

Some people excuse their apathy as defeatism, disguising their silence into learned passivity, because, according to them, it’s hopeless. According to some people, there’s nothing we can actually do to improve the station of those that suffer. If these international slavery rings exist, what can an individual do to stop them? If animals die every day at the hands of abusers and neglect, what can I do to ease their pain?

What individuals do, what they have always done, in times such as these, to respond to the call of action that each of us should inherently feel at the knowledge of suffering and injustice, is to collect. This is our time to come together, rather than split apart, or continue hiding behind our television screens and smart phones because it’s too hard to support causes that matter. We need to stop making excuses. The suffering of others is real, and, no matter which country the victim comes from, no matter what color their skin may be, no matter if they have hands or paws, their pain is significant. It matters.

The children sold by their own parents matter. The dog kept in a filthy kennel for its entire existence matters. What flavor of potato chip reins king in 2014 seems a little trite in the face of real suffering, does it not?

Animal Rights

Animals are sentient and conscious creatures that demonstrate striking similarities to humans. Although they may not express them identically to humans, any pet owner can easily tell that each animal is unique, precious in its own identity, and its life should be cherished and protected. Many people believe that certain animals cannot feel pain, or because humans express higher intelligence than certain animals they should not be concerned about animal welfare, but these notions are easily refuted when we consider the cognitive and paradigmatic biases from which they arise.
Speciesism is the discriminatory practice of giving certain rights and privileges to individuals based solely on the species group to which they belong. Like sexism, racism, or ageism, it is a flawed system of belief that does not take into account the basic rights to life that all animals deserve. Anthropocentrism is a similar term that denotes a set of beliefs that places humans above all other animals; again, it makes a moral distinction between humans and animals. Finally, sentiocentrism is the belief that if an animal cannot feel, sense, or experience the same things that a human can, then that animal should not be awarded the same status as a human. All of these belief systems are borne of a false sense of righteousness and entitlement. Once these cognitive biases are overcome, the reality that all animals do have rights becomes salient.
Another right of animals that must be respected is the right to thrive in a clean, safe, and sustainable environment. It has grown increasingly clear that human behaviour has wreaked unprecedented havoc on some of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world, turning what used to be lush rainforests into flat plains, and bustling coral reefs into ocean wastelands. By destroying the environment for human gain, we are also destroying some of the only places our animal relatives can call home. Thus, the environmental or ‘green’ movement is also closely linked with the animal rights movement. Because the two are inextricably connected, it is clear that in order to protect and ensure animal rights, we also have to become stewards of the earth and fight for environmental sustainability.
The use of animals for products is perhaps one of the most disconcerting displays of human greed that has grown in popularity. When there is an economic incentive, many people disregard morality altogether. For example, poachers, shark finners, and black market participants often view animals solely as commodities. Quite disturbingly, the basic rights of a life are discarded and replaced with a dollar sign. Given that animals have the right to live free of suffering at the hands of humans, it is crucial that we consider the many viable alternatives to animal products. By voting with our dollars, so to speak, we can make an impact on the global animal trade. We must also hold those who manufacture animal products or conduct animal testing publicly accountable.
Ultimately, animal rights activists have a strong sense of core beliefs guided by an unwavering morality. Some of the primary things that animal rights advocates believe are:
  • non-human animals are conscious beings, not machines or objects
  • non-human animals have interests of their own
  • human beings should respect the interests of non-human animals
  • human beings should not exploit non-human animals
  • human beings should not treat non-human animals as objects
  • human beings should not kill non-human animals
Although the topic of animal rights is one that could span volumes, it is my sincere wish that this article has sparked some interest and will generate discussion about the basis of the animal rights movement and why it is important. I firmly believe that it is up to each of us to be courageous enough to stand up for animal rights, as it is a progressive movement that will ultimately result in a more compassionate and equitable world.

I Am the Voice of the Voiceless

In this world full of disintegration, disease, war, scam, betrayal and turmoil, Humanity should be our most prominent pursuit in life. If we don’t have one another, if we don’t share the bond of humanity and if we are not vaulted in this beautiful bond of humanity, we are nothing. Without humanity, this prolific bond and the prolific nature of the earth will be brought to a vicious end. Without humanity, so to speak, the Earth and the Mother Nature will be brought to their own demise. We need to procure and sustain the intricate and beguiling circle of life on this planet. That means protecting humans and animals both, and not only standing in the favor of one, because both of us come from the same place. We are all flesh and blood and we all need to give a supporting shoulder to the one standing by us to create the ongoing and incombustible circle of life. We need to pursue the notion of trust, happiness and sustenance.

Every day in this huge world, thousands of people are bombed, shot, terrorized and killed. The ordinary man becomes the casualty of a quarrel between two forces of tremendous proportions, as compared to the ordinary man himself. But the ordinary man is not so ordinary; every creature with a beating heart, flesh and blood is an active pillar in sustaining this earth, and the importance of even a single soul is too important to be neglected or to let it go to profligacy. So to procure this bond of humanity there is a lot we can do, all we need to do is plant the seed of positivity. 

One might think that as an individual, it is a task of humongous proportions to help the entire world but once one brings change to self, the rest happens. If we change the environment around us, we will be affecting the minds and hearts of many people we interact with, thus inspiring them to do the same and perpetuating this endless cycle of helping one another. There is no such thing as a single person being too little for a huge task. It takes lots of small figures to make a huge difference, and every figure plays its own part. As individuals, we can indulge in small acts of charity. We can put a smile on someone’s face and manifest our humanity in a small gesture of humanity and devotion.

Businesses and corporations can also play a vital part in this integral cause. First by bringing change within the corporation, by utilizing green ad nature-friendly means of working, by being friendly and just to each and every worker and by donating. Businesses can also start campaigns, urging people to do charitable work, help others, protect animals and take part in essential and effective activities that boost the ideas of positivity, love and humanity. To make a mass impact, everything has to be started by bringing positivity to each and every soul. That can be done by adapting these things yourself; urge the people around you to do the same and later those people will urge the ones around them.

A very famous quote of Henri Nouwen goes something like this: “Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let's not be afraid to receive each day's surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy it will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.” This quote gives us an excellent perspective about how we need to look at life. We need to look up to every new day and make it better.

If we do not take a stand for another person or animal then we can’t expect to have someone stand up for us. Empowerment and bravery should be our pursuits, but we should not forget about acceptance. Everyone has a flaw and everyone is different from one another. Instead of making fun or letting these people become outcasts, it is our moral obligation to accept each other despite of the differences in race, color, looks or personality and perpetuate positivity for everyone to become a good member of the community. Negativity is rooted in the scarcity of acceptance.

If we ignore negativity, we are allowing it to spread. Instead of letting immoral and negative things dwell and transpire around us, we need to accept one another, be civil to others’ identities and realize our purpose on this planet other than just following our basic instincts.

Animals are also a big part of our world. In fact they play a more important role in sustaining the eco-system of this planet than humans do, in this era. Animals help keep certain things under control. Animals help spread forests and lend a very vital hand in further developing  nature. In this food chain, each and every animal holds its own importance and helps keep control over the eco-system. If one animal is less in number, then the prey will increase in number, causing things to become unbalanced. Many examples of such incidents are present in human history when the killing of one animal has led to superfluous numbers of the other, thus bringing about utter destruction.

The main point here is to pursue and perpetuate positivity, integrity and humanity, after that the possibilities are endless and ever profiting. There is nothing beyond the most basic bond of humanity we share. We are all made of the same things and placed in the same system.

We can only really bring about a change if we realize the importance of each and every living thing and make our voice heard by becoming the voice of the voiceless.

Child Trafficking

12 Billion Dollars every year, with over 1.2 Million.

What do these numbers mean to you? Let’s try another set:
2.8 million, 12 years, 300,000,
What do all of these numbers have in common? Well, if you read the name of the article you’d have figured it out by now that we’re not discussing the rising rates of lollypops, or the numbers of gallons sold in gas.

Actually these numbers are far more tragic in that we could willingly allow for something like this to happen; 12 Billion Dollars is a lot of money isn’t it? Almost makes you think twice… until you find out that those proceeds come from 1.2 million child victims who are bought, sold, and used for sex.
Do you know where your children go?

Reportedly, there are as many as 2.8 million children running away from home every single year, and those children are on the streets within 48 hours. What makes that statistic scary is that the average age of victimized children is 12 years old, and 300,000 American children are at risk for commercial sex exploitation according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

So where do these kids go? That is the million dollar question… where does someone go when they are bought, sold, and used for molestation, abuse, rape, drug abuse, and even death? Well… they go in a dark alley somewhere eventually, or left in front of a hospital (if they’re lucky), or taken somewhere and killed for their silence. We don’t know… that’s the point.
Have you read enough, or do you need more convincing that awareness on child trafficking needs to come to an end? Because the next numbers you find on this article isn’t going to be as open to interpretation as the first set:
Try this one… 600,000 to 800,000 people every day are bought and sold across international borders; of those numbers, more than half of the amount are children, and more than that are female who will inevitably, eventually be forced into sex trade on a commercial level, this, according to reports from the U.S. Department of State on Human Trafficking.

Who is the most ghastly to profit from this? According to the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Study; an average serial child molester may have as many as 400 victims in his lifetime… 400 victims… that’s 400 children who will have that innocence stripped away, never to return, and they would never know why they were picked for such a ruthless, brutal and emotionally traumatic experience such as this either. See we’re not talking full-fledged adults here right now, we’re talking about children; children who have no idea yet about the real world, or any concept other than what they’ve seen on television.

I know these numbers, these statistics are brutal to look at… but it’s obvious from the figures that this kind of market isn’t going to go away on its own, it will take awareness on such a high level, and with over 200,000 people trafficked within the United States alone, it gives us a good place to start with the rise of missing children.

12 billion dollars, and 1.2 million missing children… it’s like a scandal straight out from a suspenseful movie, but the reality is far more terrifying, because deep down inside it’s not only about the child gone missing, but the family that has no idea what really happened to their precious daughter or son.

Bring an end to this; become aware of what’s happening right in front of you…

Narcissistic Abusers

The residual effects of any abuse can be devastating, however, when most people think about abuse — be it spousal, parental, etc. — they tend to focus on physical abuse. Mental and emotional abuse can be just as if not more damaging, especially when the abuser is someone close to the abused.

Perhaps the worst type of abuse comes from the hands of those who are so preoccupied with themselves that they fail to see or care about the results of their actions. This type of narcissistic abuse can be found in many different types of relationships including parent-child, spouse/significant other, and even friendships. Emotional abuse by a narcissistic parent can be especially insidious as it may damage the child’s ability to form stable relationships in the future. It has been proposed that due to a lack of an appropriate model of a healthy relationship, those who suffered emotional abuse as children tend to end up in similar abusive relationships as adults.

In the United States, the 1980s were viewed as a time when self-centeredness and egocentrism was not only acceptable, it was expected. The “Me Generation” had created new extremes of narcissism. Many were willing to disregard the well-being of others for their own sake.

Despite this inward focus, most of the individuals we think of when we think of this period in time were not true narcissists in the strictest sense. The term narcissism is derived from the Greek story of a Naissus, a hunter who was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. He possessed such beauty that even he himself could not be free of the attraction. The god Nemesis tricked him into gazing into a pool whereupon he saw and fell in love with his own reflection, only to die there contemplating his own fair features.

Narcissism is defined as “inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity” or in psychoanalytic terms as “erotic gratification derived from admiration of one's own physical or mental attributes, being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.” This term is used for common self-absorption. In 1968, an extreme form was added to the psychological literature as a definable diagnosis.

The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM- V) of the American Psychiatric Association defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as:

 A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high- status people (or institutions).
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
In addition, the following criteria must be met to justify a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:
1. Impairments in self functioning (a or b):
a. Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated, or vacillate between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.
b. Self-direction: Goal-setting is based on gaining approval from others; personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.
2. Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):
a. Empathy: Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the
feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self; over- or underestimate of own effect on others.
b. Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others‟ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain
Pathological personality traits in the following domain:
1. Antagonism, characterized by:
a. Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert;
self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.
b. Attention seeking: Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.
C. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.
D. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual‟s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment.
E. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).

While all of this may seem overwhelming, by focusing on a few key portions of the diagnosis we can see how a relationship with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder could easily become a living Hell. As stated in the first quote, individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder fell that they are more important than other people. Not only do they place themselves on a pedestal, they think that others do the same. A healthy relationship is not one in which one person lords over the other, but these narcissists can not form healthy relationships.

As we see in the second quote, there exists an inability to form proper attachments due to a lack of empathy for others or form intimate relationships. The fact that is especially telling “Relationships [are] largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation.” (emphasis added).

A relationship with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a one way street. All of the attention and emotional support flow from the individual to the narcissist. These relationships are characterized by verbal and mental abuse, belittling, complaining, and even physical abuse. Narcissists believe that they can do no wrong, so any problems with the relationship — and even problems which arise in day to day living — are the fault of the other partner. If a mistake is made, the partner is somehow the one to blame.

The narcissists’ need for attention and admiration lead them to constantly seek out those who will reinforce their inflated sense of self-worth. This translates to a series of short relationships and a long stream of discarded partners. If the narcissist is married, there is a high probability that he or she will not be faithful. Naturally, if infidelity is discovered, the partner will be to blame for not being pretty enough, caring enough, etc.

Victims of a narcissistic abuser often display similar characteristics. The most common is a poor sense of self-worth, often accompanied by an inability to make decisions for themselves. They spend years of being told that they are not good enough, not smart enough, not something enough. Over time they come to internalize these negative statements. They doubt their own abilities. This makes them more reliant upon the narcissistic abuser, creating a cycle of co-dependency.

This is one of the most troubling aspects of narcissistic abuse in terms of parental care. When children are constantly belittled, they grow up believing that they are not capable. When they are finally out from beneath the control of their narcissistic parent, they lack the coping skills required to survive on their own. Doubting their own decision making abilities and crippled by poor self-esteem, they gravitate towards someone who will accept them despite their self-perceived flaws and make decisions for them. In short, they enter into relationships with narcissistic abusers. They leave their parents only to end up with someone exactly like the very people who abused them in the first place.

Those who have suffered at the hands of a narcissist may display any number of emotional and physical symptoms which may be difficult to attribute to the relationship as they are a result of the stress they face daily. These include confusion, disassociation, poor eating and sleeping habits, and even signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

It is especially difficult for those in a relationship with a narcissist to get help as they have become conditioned to looking to their abuser for most if not all decision making activities. Their poor sense of self worth makes it easy for them to ignore the idea that they deserve better. Obviously, in their minds, no one else would have them. They should be happy with the relationship they have, despite the fact that they are unhappy. This is a theme which the abuser will reinforce as well.

While difficult, it is possible to escape the cycle of narcissistic abuse. The first step must be accepting that no one deserves the constant humiliation and demands of the narcissist. As the self image is restored to a healthy level, it becomes easier to make decisions without the abuser’s input. Naturally, this is an extremely difficult process which may require the help of outsiders including professionals. Unfortunately, it is common for narcissistic abusers to restrict their partners’ access to others, especially those who would express opinions which run contrary to their grandiose sense of self.

Bullying and Toxic Relationships

Do any of the following situations sound familiar to you?

Your friend, coworker, or partner uses threats of violence to manipulate your behavior.

Your friend, coworker, or partner constantly belittles you and your choices, insists that your decisions are wrong, or uses other emotional tactics to influence your actions.

You have a friend who constantly gets her way, who makes all of the decisions, and refuses to participate if her demands are not met.

Someone only calls you when she is in need of something: a favor, money, etc.No matter how many times you help her or what you have given her, she never reciprocates.

You find yourself reacting to demands by engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, going along with the other person despite not wanting to do so, because it is easier than the confrontation which would ensue if you stood up for yourself.

Dealing with this person leaves you feeling drained, physically and emotionally, and doubting your own self-worth.
If you identify with any of the scenarios listed above, you may be part of a toxic relationship.

Is Your Relationship Toxic?

A toxic relationship is one in which one partner controls the other via physical, mental, or emotional manipulation. Instead of exhibiting the equality, caring, and mutual self-respect of a healthy relationship, these dysfunctional relationships are characterized by an imbalance of power in which one partner uses a variety of methods to insure that her needs are always met, often at the detriment of the other.

When one speaks of abusive relationships, many immediately think of romantic partnerships. While this is certainly a problem in modern society, toxic relationships are not limited to those who are romantically entwined.  They also include friendships and working relationships. Any situation in which one individual abuses the bonds with others has the potential to be toxic.

As illustrated by the situations listed above, there are a number of characteristics which are common in a toxic relationship.  While not all of these symptoms need be present, many will be.

One partner is in control of the relationship.  She decides where they will go, when they will get there, and what they will do upon arrival.

This individual makes sure that her demands are met using a number of techniques ranging from physical abuse and the threat of physical abuse to verbal bullying, from mental and emotional manipulation.

The individual not in control feels powerless to confront or contradict the one in power.  She will acquiesce to the demands of her friend, despite a lack of interest in the proposed activity.

The relationship is a “One Way Street,” with the person in control receiving all of the benefits of the relationship.

The powerless individual may find herself acting out in uncharacteristic ways as a result of feelings of helplessness and lack of control.  She may participate in activities in a minimal way, performing poorly because her heart is not in it.  She may agree to activities, but then complain throughout the time together in an unconscious attempt to shorten the activity.  She may engage in passive-aggressive behavior in an attempt to make the person in control uncomfortable.

Interactions of this sort often leave the powerless partner feeling emotionally and physically drained.  During the activity there may be a component of fear as she tries to avoid angering the person in control.  Fear of retribution, once it has dissipated, leaves one exhausted.

The Toxic Friend — Recognizing Bullying

The most obvious type of bullying, the one which is most identifiable, is one which carries with it the implied or overt threat of physical violence. This has become a well-recognized topic, often associated with romantic relationships as well as other interactions. Physical bullying, however, is by no means limited to these areas.There are many instances of friendships which carry with them the threat of violence.

It is important to note, however, that there are other, more subtle, types of bullying.  These may be more prevalent in friendships which meet the definition of a toxic relationship.  As with romantic relationships, bullying in a toxic friendship can, and often does, include an element of emotional manipulation.  The techniques of  mental and emotional manipulation can vary widely.

There is the friend who belittles someone, constantly pointing out her flaws and shortcomings, be they physical, emotional, or a lack of other companions.  This person makes her friends feel like she is doing them a favor by participating in activities with them.  Without the bully, they insist, you would have no one.  “Your choice is to be with me or be alone.”

There is the friend who guilts others into being with her and doing what she wants to do. She may insist that “We always do what you want to do.”Even though this is not correct, it implies a give and take which does not exist.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking “If we do what she wants to do this time, we can do something I want to do next time.” Unfortunately, there is no “next time” that fulfills this wish.

There is the friend who may acquiesce to other’s wishes, only to make their lives miserable.  She may allow someone else to choose the restaurant, but will complain about the service, the food, the atmosphere, the parking, the other diners, and anything else which comes to mind.  One learns quickly that there is no point in trying to do anything other than what she wants to do.  Anything else will simply be a miserable experience.

Why are these toxic individuals the way they are?  Why are they self-centered, unreliable, and manipulative?  It should come as no surprise that there are a number of answers to this question as well.  Bear in mind that the following descriptions do not seek to excuse toxic behavior, only explain it.

Some individuals are reacting to stressors in their own lives.  When one feels out of control in one aspect of life, due to other relationships, occupational demands, poor physical health, or any one of a number of other reasons, she may seek to exert control in another aspect of her life.  This may be a temporary solution to a personal feeling of powerless and could be easily redressed.

Others may show the lack of empathy and awareness of others that are traits of true sociopathy.  There is no changing these individuals.  In fact, any attempt to do so may result in an escalation of toxic behavior.

Finally, there are those who bully, manipulate, and engage in other negative behavior for the simple reason that they have learned that these actions are rewarding.  If they push hard enough, they will get what they want.  Why bother to enter into a reciprocal exchange when one can act in such a way that they achieve their goals without having to give anything up?

Does It Take Two To Tango?

Those who are on the receiving end of this type of toxic behavior may end each interaction with their bullying friend with the same question: Why do I put up with this?

I deserve it. Low self-esteem may be part of the answer.  If one is told throughout her life that she does not deserve good things, it is only natural that she will come to internalize this idea.  The toxic bully reinforces this self-image with every interaction.  The first thing that you must realize is that no one deserves to be treated poorly.

In one sense, being part of a toxic relationship is actually easy.  There is no need to plan for oneself when you know someone else is going to tell you what to do.  The rules of the relationship are spelled out quite clearly.  You do what the other person says and you avoid negative consequences.
What else is there?  If one has been constantly manipulated, whether it is physically or emotionally, one comes to question the reality of any other kind of relationship.  If you convince yourself that there is some aspect of bullying and manipulation in every relationship, it becomes easy to convince yourself that there is no reason to look for a different friendship.  You are already familiar with the devil you know, after all.

Stop The Music

If you found yourself nodding as you read the previous section, there are some important things which you must know.  First off, none of the negative things which you have endured are your fault.  The bully is to blame, not you.  Secondly, there are different types of friendships out there.  It is possible to bond with people because of mutual shared interests.  There are people who will engage in mutually beneficial relationships.  There are people who will want to be with you because of who you are, not because of what you can do for them.  Finally, and most importantly, you deserve better treatment.  This may mean confronting the other half of your current toxic friendship or looking for new relationships.

There are a number of different tactics for dealing with bullying behavior and changing toxic relationships into healthy ones.  Before we address those, we should reinforce two ideas.

Know that you deserve better.  This is the key to any potential change.  Everything discussed below hinges upon the knowledge that you are worth more than you have been getting.

Bullying, physical abuse, emotional manipulation, and other aspects of toxic relationships are unacceptable behaviors.  These are things which the bully does and they are not OK.

If you are ready for a better relationship, there are some things which you may want to try:

The simplest answer but potentially the most difficult is to end the relationship altogether.  This means not receiving phone calls, not answering texts, ignoring any of the manipulative behavior which will restart the cycle of toxicity.  It seems like an easy fix, but when one has invested time and energy into a friendship, even one which is not beneficial to one’s own well-being, it can be difficult to end.  This is even more difficult if the relationship has an element of physical abuse.  If this is the case, make sure that you are safe and there is no chance of physical repercussion.  This may involve outside assistance from family, other friends, or the authorities.  There are many programs and shelters which may also provide assistance.  Above all, be careful and act in such a way to protect yourself.

If you do not wish to end the relationship, it will be necessary to address the bully. Point out the behaviors that are unacceptable.  Again, if there is an aspect of physical abuse, take extreme care when doing so.  It is likely that the other person will become agitated, angry, or upset during this conversation.  Remain firm in your stance that the toxic behavior will not be tolerated.  It is also important to remain calm during this discussion.  The conversation may start to escalate into an argument.  Do not engage the bully in name calling, threats, or similar behavior. Simply reiterate what needs to change and why.

It is extremely important to not back-slide. If, after a few weeks of better behavior, the old methods of manipulation begin to creep up again, point them out in a calm, non-aggressive manner. Restate that these are the actions which will not be tolerated.

Regardless of how you choose to deal with the toxic person in your life, it is beneficial to find other friends with whom you can relate to.  Not only will these people provide companionship should the toxic friend exit the picture, they will also provide examples of how a friendship should work.  Moreover, they will reinforce the idea that you can be part of a healthy relationship and deserve to have good friends.

Being an Author

These days, it’s growing harder and harder to be taken seriously as an author. It’s becoming a hassle, even to be thought of as a writer. Plenty of us know about that One Little Moment. Know what I’m talking about? You’re at a bookstore, grabbing the hottest new how-to book or supporting your writing community by purchasing a copy of your friend’s newly-published novel. That One Little Moment comes when you’re checking out with the cashier, or talking to the in-house barista. That One Little Question always pops up, and that One Little Moment can be defined as the moment of hesitation and trepidation, that shake in your heartstrings, whenever he or she or whoever asks, “What do you do?”
I’ve spoken with too many talented people who have told me first hand that they immediately default to their day jobs when confronted with this question.
“I’m a loan officer.”
“I work at the local food bank.”
“My husband and I have a small gardening business.”
My persistent question is, where does all of this fear come from? Why are we so afraid to identify ourselves with this part of who we are?

Let’s be honest, not everyone is receptive and kind whenever we’re brave enough to respond proudly that we are, in fact, writers, or in other cases, authors. The truth is, we’ve all seen the light go out of a stranger’s smile, and most of us have gotten a little verbal, condescending pat on the back for our proclamation. Far too often, we’re met with a patronizing “good for you”, and even more egregious are the times when we’re met with hostility.

I have a friend who has published short stories in multiple magazines across Australia and has even won prizes for her hard work and creativity. Recently, we were having tea and catching up at a retreat we both attended and she, a sweet individual with a kind disposition, regaled me with the tale of how a gentleman about her own age became downright disparaging when she told him with pride that she is a writer of non-fiction short stories. “You mean to tell me you flip burgers and write little stories in your free time, right?”

Perhaps there is a trend here, stemming from how afraid we all are of following our dreams. Perhaps individuals who respond with such hostility and rude natures are simply regretful that they, themselves, did not follow their own dreams, be it writing or painting, dancing or sculpting, or perhaps just not following in their parents’ footsteps. While there’s no shame in any of this, just as there isn’t any shame in being a loan officer or being a business owner, there should be no shame in our hearts or minds of something so intimate to our being. I am a writer. You are a writer, too.

I hope the next time you find yourself faced with that One Little Question, you feel the pride in your accomplishments, no matter how big or small, and proudly let the person (and the world) know that you’re a writer.

Whether to write ‘organically’ or to plan meticulously is deeply guarded personal preference for most writers. This is the difference between going forth and writing as it comes to you, basically, and planning as simple as a barebones outline or character charts, chapter synopses, etc. Of course, there’s no right way to write, so to speak. There is, however, I believe, a right way to write for the individual, and even if there’s no formula, some people do have an algorithm.

For a long time, I was an avid organic writer. I am a notoriously (let’s just say it) lazy person, and even though I was still willing to pour everything I had (or everything I thought I had) into my writing, I balked at the idea of not jumping in to every project feet first. Why on Earth should I try to work out the details of a project before the project revealed itself to me?

Little did I know that I was a yet undiscovered planner.

For a long time, it was actually uncommon for me to completely finish a long term project. I was able to churn out flash fiction and usually short stories a well, but for me, even a novella was a serious struggle. Nonetheless, I was determined, and my passion for writing never allowed me to give up. I did my best not to be discouraged when friends would ask me to read over a completed two hundred and fifty page manuscript for them, I remained happy for them with their successes, but I just couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t capable of the same longevity of my projects.

A few years ago I came under the tutelage of an older, more experienced writer with an absolutely unbelievable (to me, then) prolific streak. He had more novel publications (and does to this day) than he had years in the craft. One of his very first insistences was that I follow a procedure that he developed for planning and writing a novel.
To say that I kicked and screamed would be a dramatic reference and falsehood, but I must say that I did in the metaphorical sense. Not to him, of course.

It took me perhaps six to eight weeks to completely finish his prescribed course of short outline, character outline, plot outline, chapter outline, etc. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done, when it came to writing, and it was a grueling process. I stayed in touch with him via the Internet during this time, feeling guilty for not showing him more in less time.

Wouldn’t you know it, once I finished the pre-writing, the writing came much more quickly? I finished my first novel within six months after that, and that was including a few edits of the entire manuscript, as well.
The point you should take away is not to always plan, plan, plan, of course. There’s no right or wrong way to write. You should, however, try new things. It may just change the way you write forever.

I once met the daughter of an author who lived in huge fame and success several decades ago. She used to talk about her father and many other big names in literature (I don’t want to divulge and break confidence) like they were to her, just regular people she knew and loved, while I listened with awe in my widened eyes. One of the most fascinating things she ever told me was that, when she was a little girl, these famous authors would visit her father and sit down on the family couch, head in their hands, talking about what troubles someone was giving them. It wasn’t until she was older, she told me, that she realized they were talking about characters in their novels.

Isn’t that amazing? It certainly rings true for most of us. I’ve called writer friends in a tizzy, more than once, over how frustrated I was with such-and-such or so-and-so, knowing damn well they were not even “real” people. I used to be a little embarrassed for any non-writer to hear me talk about my characters, because I find it utterly impossible not to speak of them as anything but real. Can a character be anything but real to us, however?

Hearing my friend talk about these heavyweights of literature behave the same way as me, and many others that I’ve known, has been an assurance. I’m sure I’m not alone in appreciating a little validation that I’m not, in fact, insane, every now and then. We’re writers, after all, and one look at our internet search histories could make someone think we’re barmy. We’ve all spent countless hours researching for minute details to be added to an aspect of our characters or plot, and that’s dedication. Is it crazy, however, to speak and even think of our characters as “real”?

Of course, we know that these people are creations of our own minds. We take pride in their individuality and achievements, we smile at their kindnesses and cry at their hurts. Think about it, though: When you read the work of others, do you not feel an intimate connection with the characters? Do they feel anything less than real to you?

A thought-provoking character that readers can make an emotional connection with become real, in that reader’s mind. It’s not with shame that we should face our own feelings for our characters. That’s what they’re supposed to do, it’s how our readers are supposed to feel! I once heard, as you have too, I’m sure, that if you don’t feel anything about something you’ve written, a sentence, a scene, the entire work, the reader won’t feel anything, either. In regards to the “realness” of characters, that’s certainly food for thought. I know I’m not the only one who imagines inconsequentials such as their favorite cereals, stores at the mall, and how they would make a sandwich.
Being the only writer in your family, especially growing up, can be difficult to deal with. In the same way it’s difficult to explain exactly what you’re thinking, especially about a project, with a non-writer, it’s difficult for those that do not write to completely wrap their heads around or understand some of the things that we say.

Writing has been an important cornerstone of who I am for as long as I can remember, but it was not something that my relatives easily understood, which lead to hurt feelings for me, and a sort of isolated feeling.

It is generally understood that the arts are important, and that it is crucial to encourage creativity in young people. Everyone has their own voice, and some can only feel truly heard through artistic, creative media. If they are too ashamed or anxious to share their work with their own family members and friends, how can they feel heard, or find the courage to share their work with the world?

Tragically, creative writing and other forms of the arts are fleeing public school curriculums left and right. They are increasingly seen as “unnecessary” elective classes that are pushed out and ill-encouraged in the face of an educational system slavishly devoted to test scores and alienating students, parents, and even teachers, who are flocking from the profession at dangerously high rates. After school programs, too, have a lack of creative options as they feel the heat and demand to be more of an “enrichment/remediation” device for children. Never minding the risks and dangers of pressuring children to the max with tests (an average of one standardized test every week and a half is common in a lot of areas), what are we to say or do about our children’s spirits when all they have are academics, no play, and no art?

Recently it was shared with me by a friend who is a teacher that she is not allowed to teach any plays to her students for the first time in her career. That’s right: An English teacher at a public high school will not be teaching any sort of drama, not even a Shakespeare play. The reason? In the wake of the PARCC disaster, many states have flocked to the ACT Aspire test, and since there is apparently no room on the test for anything associated with plays, there’s “no reason” for my friend to teach any, let alone for there to be a theater department (heaven forbid!)

Where will the new generation of writers come from if they are not even taught many creative works, now? The state tests given to students are increasingly driven toward scientific and technical texts, even shifting away from non-fiction historical documents. These things are vital to a rounded education, yes, that is undeniable. So is learning to write, however, and so is finding one’s voice to becoming a rounded individual.

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of self-publishing as a way for writers to get their works out there for others to read. Some people have found great success this way, and possibly never would have been discovered otherwise. Let’s face it, it’s easy to get burnt out on sending query letters and manuscripts only to receive rejection letters.

A lot of the time, it does not even matter how interesting or well-written your manuscript is. It is simply a point of fact that publishers are becoming increasingly more choosy, take fewer manuscripts per year, and have less money to spend on buying new manuscripts.

Some would blame this on the rise of self-publishing, in fact, and while this has likely lent to the problem in recent years, it’s also true that people had to have some reason for giving up on traditional publishing routes. There’s a certain disenchantment with a growing number of writers with even trying to send short stories to magazines and online publications. Meanwhile, the atmosphere has become deeply divided between those for and against self-publishing.

The situation with certain major corporations offering self-publishing options that are hard to say no to has lead to dire changes in the publishing industry itself. It’s affected book stores like Barnes & Noble the way that such huge retailers affected small, local book stores, forcing some straight out of business and into oblivion. It’s left a terrible taste in the mouths of a lot of people whenever the topic of self-publishing, especially those involved with the industry. My agent practically uses mouthwash after he deigns to discuss the topic.

It’s touchy, yes. It’s uncomfortable. Perhaps some of the things that I’ve said in have offended, but there are lots of things to consider and discuss about this issue. For instance, I have known people whose next rent payment depend on their work with publishers, either small shop agents or authors, and I have known authors whose ability to feed their kids rely on the huge cuts they get on their own book sales because they self-published. I don’t think that the entire issue of right or wrong rests in such polarity. I think there’s a lot beneath the surface. I think I don’t have the right to tell someone what not to do with their own work.

Self-publishing means the chance to be recognized for some, the way to earn income for others, and autonomy for even more. Publishers are notorious for taking important choices out of a writer’s work, which can often lead to further disenchantment. Still, people look at self-publishing sometimes as though it’s ‘watered down’ literature. Self-publishing is often associated with bad books hardly worth the $.99 cents they’re charged for.

The whole truth and the ramifications of this shift in the world of authors and publishing are, as of yet, unfelt, unseen, and unknown. Maybe it’s the end of an era and an adaptation we’ll have no choice to make, better or worse.

I know it’s hard, but put down that rejection letter and step away from the ice cream: It’s going to be okay.

Well, you don’t actually have to stop eating the ice cream because it’s fabulous, but wallowing in your own puddle of disappointment is not. You’re fabulous. Your writing is fabulous. These are facts.

This is a pep talk for every writer who has ever cheerfully opened an envelop just to receive a regrettable message from a publisher, I.e., all of us.

Really. The most successful woman I’ve ever met says that for every single acceptance she’s ever gotten, there’s been an average of fifteen rejections. An average, folks, and she’s just as fabulous as we are.

So really, it’s ooooh-kaaaaaaay.
You know how many times F. Scott Fitzgerald tried to get The Great Gatsby published? And then Ernest Hemingway helped his buddy out and it got published. Have you consulted with friends, gotten it looked over for notes and edits? A lot of people out there will copyedit your work for a fee. Some are quite reasonable. Isn’t your baby worth the cost of perfection?

Know what? Your manuscript could be completely perfect and some publishers would still turn it down. There are tons of possible reasons, too. I’ve spoken to many people that work through publishers, and most will tell you that they decide within the first page or so if they’re going to take a book. Someone could have just been in a bad mood when they read the first page or so of yours. Maybe the budget got cut. Maybe the budget was never big to begin with.

Point is, there are all kinds of reasons for rejections, and it doesn’t always equal, and doesn’t even usually, that your work isn’t good enough.

Keep up the good work, keep fighting the good fight. What we do is important and touches a lot of people out there.

Vegan Diet For Health, the Environment and Animal Rights

With obesity still a widespread concern, many overweight individuals are feeling the heat when it comes to their own personal health. Many people look at their waistlines and read the scary headlines on the news and wonder how their lifestyle will affect their longevity, and how it will also affect their quality of life, and what sorts of activities they'll be able to do with their loved ones.

One of the healthiest diets this world has ever seen is the low fat vegan diet. Many people have managed to go from morbidly obese to a healthy weight just from eliminating animal foods and animal byproducts from their diet. This alone takes care of much of the average American fat intake, but going a step further to limit fat intake from plant sources such as oils also contributes to an overall healthier lifestyle.

People who follow low fat vegan lifestyles not only are much less likely to be obese or overweight, but they are also much less likely to suffer from many conditions the average American dreads. For instance, people who follow a low fat vegan diet typically do not run the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, are at a severely lower risk for diabetes, and lower their risk of heart and kidney diseases exponentially.

It can be quite an intimidating process to begin with, that much is almost for certain. Switching from hamburgers and processed cheesy foods to a wealth of fruits and vegetables does not to many people sound appealing. Some may even face it initially as almost like a punishment! Those who follow through, however, often remark that they cannot believe the diet they used to keep, and cannot imagine living life a different way, now.

Low fat vegan diets are rich in leafy green vegetables, which are not only cheap and plentiful, but a wonderful source of minerals like iron and vital protein. Multiple fruits are not only flavorful, but provide much needed vitamins and carbohydrates. These diets should be based around plants, with vegan breads and other foods at a smaller focus, and oils and vegan sweet treats used sparingly, for special occasions.

With such a delicious and healthy lifestyle and adequate exercise, one can shed the pounds and reverse health problems one is already experiencing, as well as lower one's chances of things like kidney disease or certain cancers. Having a healthier, more active lifestyle not only shrinks the waistline and gets rid of the spare tire around the middle, but also gives our life better quality. Less weight on the joints means lessened joint pain, and the ability to chase after those crazy kids and grandkids. A low fat vegan lifestyle can open doorways you never thought imaginable before.

Introduction to Animal Activism 101

So, you've heard about them before. The crazy people who allegedly throw paint on women in nice fur coats and picket and riot for the rights of animals who are used to test things like cosmetics. What's so wrong with smearing a little lipstick on a monkey, right?

This is the exact type of attitude that animal rights activists want to educate people against and change. The truth is that the monkey being experimented on with cosmetics is still a living, breathing creature. He feels pain and fear, and most certainly does in the unspeakable conditions that he lives in. Every day, he is subjected to tests that confuse and frighten him, and his human handlers likely leave very much to be wanted. While our monkey friend likely needs comforting and soothing, he is simply shoved into a numbered cage to await his next hour of torture and fright.

This is the dirty truth behind why it is wrong to test on animals, even something as seemingly innocuous as lipstick. The animal, while being a sentient creature, cannot consent to such treatment, and protests it by acting out and crying for help. The fact that we are larger and capable of caging our monkey friend does not make it right to do so.

This is the world of animal activism, the noble fight to end the suffering of animals such as the sweet monkey at the cosmetics factory. This is why people take time out of their day to strive for better treatment for animals.
If you're interested in helping animals, but do not know exactly where to start, there are tons of small steps you can take in your everyday life to ensure a better world for our fellow earthlings. For instance, something as small and easy as recycling plastics and other resources has huge impact not only on the environment, but on animal welfare. Litter destroys the natural habitats of animals and endangers their lives.

Another way that you can help animals is to simply refuse to patronize product lines that use animals in their creation or test on animals. More and more companies are going cruelty-free, and such products are labeled. 

Supporting companies that don't use animal products or test on animals encourages other companies to cease their inhumane experimentation and testing on animals. If you are a college or high school student, you can write a letter and perhaps start a petition with your peers to have vegan or vegetarian options added to the school menus.

You don't necessarily have to be on the front lines to fight for the rights of animals, you simply have to be a conscious, caring individual. Call your local animal shelter and see if they take donations of food for the animals that live there. See about adopting a pet from the shelter for you and your family to love and enjoy. Every little bit helps.