Tag Archives: change

Positive Media, Positive Reinforcement

Conventional environmentalism relies on persuading people not to do things, or to do things so other things don’t happen.

People don’t seem to be responding to this “we need to do this quickly to avoid disaster” approach, at least not with the scale and speed required. Of course it’s ridiculous, and we really should, but we’re not. And we don’t have time to fit society to a solution that doesn’t work; it’d be way more effective to use a solution that is right for our society and the challenges we face.

The disciplines of sociology and psychology are key here.

Of course it IS necessary to educate and inform people about current and pressing problems. Problems need attention so that appropriate solutions can be designed. I’m not saying  that a positive-only approach is a good idea – we need balance. If problems are not known then there’s no supposed reason to change.

What I’m saying is, once problems have been studied and solutions designed, those solutions need to be promoted using positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement.

We need dreams to strive towards. In modern culture, we need the Arts to paint pictures of sustainable, happy and beautiful futures… It’s much easier to get to the right place if your map tells you where to go, as opposed to where not to go.

Apocalyptic future scenarios presented in films such as 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow show a sensationalised glimpse of what we could be facing if we don’t change our ways. However, they don’t actually help us to change our ways. We require some positive imagery to inspire us.

Modern global challenges like climate change, peaking resources and species extinction are big and scary, and thus inspire apathy rather than action. Many people simply don’t know a lot about these issues, and of the people that do, many more are overwhelmed. We need to collectively inspire each other, not tell each other off.

So we need ideas to strive towards. Imagining desirable futures is a key concept of the Transition Movement, and I think it is a crucial tool for our times. Truly thinking about what you want your future to look like, and then thinking about what steps need to be taken to move closer to that future, is a very empowering exercise. This is not the science of sustainability – which is of course equally important – but the art.

For this task we don’t need to be rational, we need to be idealistic. “Idealistic” seems to have got rather a bad name, but how are you supposed to know if you’ve done well if you don’t know what you’re aiming for? Imagine attempting a jig-saw where the picture on the box is unrelated to the puzzle-pieces, with the apologetic caption: “This is the wrong picture, do not create it”.

Now imagine a film that’s set say, 20 or 30 years into a more sustainable and desirable (but not perfect) future. The plot line could be sustainability based, or it could be an unrelated tale of romance or etc, but with a sustainable setting  presented as if it’s the norm. Such a film would attract mixed responses for sure, with plenty of people having complaints as well as compliments to voice. But the very discussion generated would itself be a helpful effect. It would sow seeds of thought in people’s minds. Most viewers probably wouldn’t ring up a solar installation company the minute they left the cinema, but they would at least have an alternative mental vision of the future to mull over, discuss with friends, and keep in their sub-conscious.

Art and media are hugely powerful, and its time they’re properly put to the task of transforming our society to one of sustainability, happiness and beauty.

The Psychology of Change

Since the ‘70s, a growing body of people around the world have been sensing and observing that the way we treat our home planet is wrong. Unethical, unworkable, unfair, unsustainable… At first a trickle, then a stream, now a fairly hefty current of “alternative” or “ecologically minded” people are pushing against the mainstream.

What I’m thinking about is, when and how will the balance be tipped?

When will it be normal to live your life within its natural limits, taking the other people, animals and ecosystems around you into careful consideration? When will it be weird to fly to another country for a business meeting? When will coal-fired power stations be the stuff of history lessons? When will it be unusual for a family to have two cars? When will it be weird to cover your garden with gravel instead of raised beds? When will consumerism peak? When will it be seen as uncivilised to waste food? When will it be uncool to wear clothes made by five year olds?

And how will all this come about?

Well, let’s think about human psychology. People copy each other. We copy our friends, and we copy people whom we admire. We admire people who live their lives in a way we would like to, which is of course personal, but in general it’s safe to say we admire people who are successful, beautiful and happy.

We gravitate towards happy people like bees towards flowers. Happy people are more popular, because people enjoy their company. Happiness is contagious.

We also have the mysterious but highly valuable “cool”. Coolness can’t be measured… It’s a slippery notion that can easily slide away if you try to pin it down and study it. However, there’s not much need as what’s cool and what isn’t is generally easily understood by your social circle.

Sustainable lifestyles will become normal lifestyles when people believe that living in this manner will make them look cool and be happy.

Look how happy this nice lady is, doing her gardening...

That’s really what people want. We just want to be happy. Being cool and popular is really just one part of that, because humans are highly social and positive interaction with others helps to make us happy.

So perhaps the way forward is to promote “green” activities not as acts of charity, or righteous self-deprivation, as they often are shown to be in the media, but as normal, positive lifestyle choices that are seen to improve people’s lives.

I’ll admit I’m no wiser as to how to accomplish this, other than that the media has a large role to play as it wields such an influence over society.

The collective ingenuity of the human race is surely sufficient for the challenges we face… It’s just harnessing that ingenuity that’s the problem. Team work, people, team work!

More thoughts on this at a later point…