How are you at doing things you know are good for you?
Things like eating five fruits and vegetables a day, flossing, putting money into savings, and working out?
Or how are you at not doing things that are not good for you?
Things like eating too much junk food, hanging out on social media for hours at a time, procrastinating, and watching too much TV?
Give yourself an honest assessment. How do you do?
Being a human being is funny. We like to think that we’re rational creatures, but our behavior says otherwise.
We know what is good for us, but we don’t do it--at least not consistently and often enough.
We know what is bad for us, but we persist in doing it (all while we tell ourselves we’ll get around to stopping the bad behavior tomorrow).
A group of luminary scientists recently gathered at the University of Pennsylvania to begin looking for a way to solve this problem. They ask the question: Why are human beings so bad at doing the things that are good for them? And why are we so good at doing the things that are bad for us?
These scientists are looking at the obvious stuff: The things that, if we do them, will make us happier (getting enough sleep and spending time with family and friends), healthier (eating right and exercising), and wealthier (saving more and spending less). The length and quality of our lives depends on doing things like these--and we know it!--yet we don’t do them or we keep putting them off.
If that’s how we are with the very simple life habits that most affect our personal happiness, health, and wealth, how will we be with something that seems more abstract and impersonal? Something like climate change?
I recently read an article about how Americans overwhelmingly believe in climate change.
It’s just that we Americans--human beings that we are--never get around to actually doing anything about it.
Why should we expect ourselves to do anything? We can’t even order a salad, save a dollar, or stop looking cat videos on Facebook!
The real challenge of a mission like ours at Voices for Earth Justice is not ecological; it’s human. We don’t have to get people to agree with climate change, environmental responsibility, or social justice in theory. Most of them already do. Most of them already believe that something needs to be done.
How does believing or knowing something turn into changing personal behavior? That is the real challenge of our mission. How do we make it so people are more likely to choose to act differently?
Let’s be honest: The odds are against us. Human behavior is what it is and if the brightest scientists and great religions of the world can’t seem to change it, let’s not presume we can do much better here.
If we’re serious about this mission, we need to be deliberate, gracious, kind, patient, and thoughtful about it. At all times, we need to keep in mind that we’re dealing with human beings--and human beings are highly irrational creatures.
So what about change? What kind of change can we hope to make against such human irrationality?
We can change ourselves. Each one of us can work hard to change the way we see each other, see our environment, and see ourselves in the world. This takes a lot of energy, but I believe it is the only way to change our behavior toward each other, our environment, and ourselves. Small changes in our personal behavior, taken together with changes our neighbors are making in their own behaviors, may be exactly what adds up to the global change we all seek.
That last statement is the reason Voices for Earth Justice could never be anything other than a faith-based mission. When we focus on changing ourselves, we take it on faith that those personal changes can and will become global change farther downstream than we can see.
Educating, equipping, and empowering more people to change themselves. That’s the big challenge before Voices for Earth Justice. It is a very big challenge.
As primus inter pares of the Voices for Earth Justice community, I take it as my personal challenge.
I’m ready and willing to take on the challenge. Will you, too?
Please join a conversation about this subject at the Voices for Earth Justice Facebook page. I posted a question there with this blog post and I’m eager to read your answer. Please take a few minutes to share your perspectives with the Voices for Earth Justice community. Thank-you!
Onward and upward!
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice