Two experiences last summer changed the way I look at the world. I spoke on a panel with the Dalai Lama as part of the Global Compassion Summit in honor of His Holiness' 80th birthday; and, I met and spent time with Claudine Andre, the only person in the world to rehabilitate and release bonobos back to the wild.
Backing-up, five years ago, just before I turned ten, I asked my Mom if I could have a cell phone and watch PG-13 movies. Everyone else had a phone and my friends were watching R-rated movies. After all, ten was double digits. I was practically an adult.
My Mom listened and agreed turning ten was a big deal. I thought I had her. Then she said, "If you are responsible, what will you do to be of service to others?" This was not the response I had hoped for. This was not a religious question or a question of what I would do for work. Instead, it was a question to help me begin the daily practice of compassion for others beyond our family and friends.
In answer to the question of service, I started a non-profit called Kids Eco Club, to inspire kids to care for the planet, its wildlife and each other. And to prepare for the big changes we believe are coming with our weather, our oceans, and our food. Over 100,000 kids now participate in Kids Eco Club Activities and are learning the skills necessary to lead, and to understand the issues facing our world.
As the UN's Ban Ki-moon said at the recent Paris climate conference, there is "no Plan B" for the planet. It is now or never for us to stop global warming and climate change if we are to avoid extreme sea level rise, crazy weather, more storms, and the awful result: food shortages and millions more refugees than are already pouring out of drought stricken North Africa. These are serious issues to adults, but they mean much more to kids my age. This is our future.
When I met Claudine Andre, I was struck by her smile. She radiated kindness. When she smiles, you cannot help but smile too. She was raised in the Congo in Central Africa and has dedicated her life to saving endangered bonobos, which are sort of like chimpanzees.
Claudine told me the story of a female bonobo who was chained in a small village with a torn and broken arm. Claudine sent someone seven hours through the jungle on a motorcycle to rescue her. When the motorcycle driver arrived, he washed the bonobo's arm and placed it in a sling. He fed her and spoke gently. He showed her kindness. He removed her chains and invited the bonobo to ride on the back of his motorcycle. Surprisingly, the bonobo climbed on and chose to ride back through the jungle with him. She could have escaped many times but did not.
I think people like this story because it reminds us that all beings respond to compassion. Claudine thought so too. As a result, she started Kindness Clubs in schools throughout the Congo. What she found was that by teaching kindness, compassion and tolerance for others, children felt empathy and closeness for each other as well as for animals.
Kindness, compassion, tolerance - these are simple concepts but powerful. In a world with over seven billion people, we cannot afford to be selfish. We cannot continue to be divided by race, religion, politics, money or other differences. We are all members of the human family. We breathe the same air. We all want to be happy. We all want the same basic human rights of freedom, peace, equality and fairness. We are more much alike than different. I learned this from the Dalai Lama.
Drought, hunger, pollution, loss of opportunity, loss of hope, and planet-wide climate change, these are conditions that impact humanity as a whole. Actively teaching kindness and compassion along with sustainability education is the key to saving the planet. Children must be taught to care about every corner of the planet, its people, and its animals. And to do this, every child must be taught compassion for the rights of others and to be of service. To do less is to invite disaster.
We, as a global community, are destroying the planet that is meant to sustain us. We are polluting our air. We are depleting our oceans of fish and life. We are clear-cutting our forests. We are poisoning our land and water. We are driving 50,000 species a year to extinction. We are killing each other.
Yet we are all born with kindness in our hearts and compassion for others. On behalf of my generation and the generations to follow, I ask you to nurture the hearts of children as much as our minds. In return, we will become good caretakers of our planet and each other. Children are capable of great things.
Everyone has something they can do to make the world a better place. Therefore, I ask each of you the same question I was asked at age 10. What will you do to be of service to others?
Connect with Max on Twitter and Facebook. Please join Kids Eco Club on Facebook and Twitter too!
Need inspiration? Watch the documentary film Racing Extinction. It is not too late to take action. You can learn more about Claudine Andre by watching her film Bonobos: Back to the Wild. See trailer.