Now I’m only interested in addressing change that moves us from an undesirable state to a better state. And I’m only interested in addressing change that is intentional, requiring the will of people to accept it and successfully make a change. There is this principle at work, that people tend to look to a perfect state, and if they can’t achieve that perfect state, then they won’t even attempt to improve things at all.
I’ll apologize, this article has been delayed because I’ve been bogged down with examples and keep missing the essence of what I’m trying to capture for you. I see the process like a bell curve. At first we are blithely continuing on doing something harmful. Then there is information introduced that leads us to believe that what we are doing may not be all good and perfect. We resist the idea, we like the status quo, some early adopters start shifting away from harmful activity. Following this there is a less harmful activity offered, and it becomes more popular/accessible to do things the new way, but the new way is still causing harm. Eventually the information, the education and the innovation continue, and people are moved from doing lots of harm, to doing less harm, to doing no harm, to actually reversing the process and undoing harm (repairing cumulative damage from prior activity).
We saw this with the hole in the ozone layer. We were using CFCs and other chemicals that actually caused a depletion of high altitude ozone, which showed up most obviously at the South Pole. Through education about what was going on, we as a global community were able to see harm, see the cause of the harm, make changes to reduce the harm, eliminate the harm and even remedy the harm.
Or take smoking. 50 years ago in North America it was passed off as “sophisticated”, healthy, normal, fashionable, and social. Education about the effects of smoking has been difficult to absorb. People didn’t want to give up their sophistication, their habit, the social aspects of smoking, or their FREEDOM!!! Please someone get me a flag. Even the cigarette companies started “reducing harm” they added filters, bigger filters, reduced tar etc in an attempt to make their products less harmful or decrease the perception of their harm. (How could breathing a carcinogen be bad for me? I breathed it through a paper filter.) Now we have people quitting, and their lungs by wonderful design are actually recovering with the risk of nasty diseases cut by as much as half 1 year after quitting. (We aren’t out of the woods with smoking yet are we?)
Education, publication, and dissemination of information come first. These make qualitative judgements on our actions “smoking may cause cancer” -> “smoking causes cancer” -> “Second hand smoke hurts your children you horrible person”. Now Judgement is a loaded word so lets use the relatively neutral word “evaluation”. An evaluation of a course of action is that it is not beneficial. This is judgement or discernment, or discrimination in the classic sense, but in our North American culture where discriminating shoppers sound horrible and where judging someone’s actions sounds intolerant, we are better off with retaining the idea of evaluating something sans baggage. Nobody likes to have their actions evaluated, and find that the evaluation requires them to change how they are living. But Education and evaluation create an opportunity for change. They show us the door, walking through it is up to us. This education and evaluation is not enough to continue on this pattern of change for the better. There needs to be will as well.
By this point in your life, you are familiar with the resistance of people to change how they do things. Big industry didn’t develop a conscience, they were forced to pollute less by legislation. Very few smokers successfully quit the first time they hear about health risks. There are always explanations for why we don’t change including. It can’t be done, it is hard, it is costly, it is inconvenient, it would hurt the economy, the alternatives aren’t much better, I was born this way, this is my right, and I don’t want to.
Will is essential in making a change. Without will the opportunity to change is merely academic. An interesting theory to be tossed around at the dinner table and then forgotten. The will to improve must stand strong in the face of an entrenched status quo, and in the face of active resistance and even counter-information.
e.g. “The link between human activity and global warming has not been proven” says the senator from the United States who received the majority of his campaign contributions from oil companies…
Where there is a will, there is a way. This way can be made easier through innovation (legislation, technology breakthroughs, new mindsets).
Now wanting to do no harm, or receive no harm is worthy, but it takes something more to pull people beyond the point where they stop hurting themselves or their children. There needs to be a real self-lessness, or a real love that takes place in order to move into the healing phase. The accountants won’t push us there because they are terrified of the costs of doing more than is required. The lawyers were satisfied the moment we stopped harming, and are terrified that our attempts to heal could go wrong and cost us dearly. Its the lovers who need to lead this charge. The idealistic dreamers turned world changers who move beyond “hurting others less” to “not hurting others” to “healing others”.
Lets test out this pattern with a real life example that is bound to have some people plugging their ears and singing “lalala I can’t hear you”.
Our cars consume gasoline that is refined from non-renewable fossil fuels. They produce exhaust that is deadly poison. (If you were to fill a room with exhaust and breath it for a short period of time you would die.) It is a scientific fact that there are a finite number of years of fossil fuels left on earth (http://www.energybulletin.net/659.html), and only a fraction of those fuels can be extracted at reasonable expense. So essentially by driving a gasoline powered car, I’m ensuring that humans consume what little fossil fuels the earth has left. Now the ideal state would be that my vehicle is powered by something plentiful (water) and produces no pollution (clean air). Then I could drive my car with impunity knowing I’m doing no harm (in terms of fuel consumption and air pollution). However, GM, Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chrysler, Mazda and others have not started selling cars that don’t consume fossil fuels or pollute the air. So today at reasonable cost I can’t have the perfect car.
My desire to leap to “perfect” is what makes this change impossible. Were I willing to purchase a car that gets gas mileage / kilometerage? that was twice as good, I could effectively cut my pollution in half, and effectively cut in half my consumption of fossil fuels. Were I able to commute to work with 2 other people, I would effectively cut the pollution from my driving by 2/3 for the days we carpooled. Were I to do both, I could cut my pollution to 1/6 of previous levels. That is a hugely significant change.
Sometimes what blinds us to the possibility of improvement is our insistence on having our cake and eating it too. People think of the 2 weeks a year they spend on summer vacation and insist on purchasing an SUV with lots of “cargo capacity”, which they proceed to drive to work the other 50 weeks a year. (effectively a big empty metal balloon). There is an un-willingness to “sacrifice” (drive an efficient subcompact car), so the improvement in gas mileage becomes negative. I don’t want to carpool with people as that would put constraints on my “lifestyle”, versus I can carpool 1 day per week. We tell ourselves stories, that are eerily similar to the stories the marketeers tell us, to justify our reluctance to improve and change.
I see incremental change as the best hope of reaching an ideal state. It is slower in terms of total change, but it is easier in terms of disruption, it is easier in terms of economics (consumer and producer). It is easier in terms of social change and behavioural improvement. It is far easier to plan a trip to the neighbours than it is to plan a trip to Grandma’s house, but if the neighbour’s house is on the way to Grandma’s house, then the journey in the right direction has already begun.
Do you see places where this pattern of better versus perfect emerges?