Relationships and Action (Part 3): Belief to Action


The factors in Part 2 could be said to rise to the level of a belief, e.g. patterning around the way something has been done in the past – “that’s the way it’s always been done”. Most of them are preferences or behavior patterns with which there’s more flexibility.  People are complex, and that complexity requires that advocates work as many of these levers as possible to drive behavior change.

Before diving into how to address the factors by which decisions are made, let’s discuss for a moment the psychological barriers we raise, which  block us from any decision-making

Glaze Over\Don’t Engage

On the issues which threaten the integrity of our living systems, the level of negativity can be overwhelming when we try to absorb it all, as if we are responsible for hundreds of millions of tons of emissions or acres of land.  Particularly when we’ve been exposed to similar information multiple times.  It’s easier to just not even engage with new information on the latest crisis.  It’s an understandable mechanism for psychic protection.  Yet, it doesn’t help us move forward on action on the issues about which we care.

Fear Change

Taking responsibility means that we might just have to change our behavior. That can be threatening to one’s psyche, in feeling a change forced from the outside. Better just to deny (e.g. climate change) rather than accept and have to, apparently, get a more efficient car or insulate a home. This is what lurks in the background of climate denial, if you really drill down as to why people aren’t accepting what very blatantly seems to be in our common interest. Climate deniers shouldn’t need proof — simply a relatively decent probability that ill effects will happen — to organize and mitigate against the problem (assuming that they want to work together in our common interest in the first place). But, the psyche kicks in, saying climate change can’t possibly be happening, I can’t possibly have to change my ways, and so I’m going to deny it unless I have absolute proof. The irony is that you can indeed internalize the reality of climate change and perceive your action as voluntary, as so many of us have done, rather than perceive the change being imposed, if only you can get past the psyche’s reactions.

This is not to ignore campaigns of misinformation, or political contributions that skew politicians from what they might otherwise do, in puzzling through why comprehensive environmental action has been so elusive, particularly on the federal level.  But even outside of those forces and deceptions, there is real psychology to work against.

Future Discounting

Future discounting also could have been listed as a factor by which we make decisions. It’s well documented that rather than take action for benefit or reducing costs in the future, we instead tend to act on the more immediate, and there’s no need to state more there.  I would assert there are real evolutionary reasons for this pattern.  Since we’re living in the moment, and not in the future, it is sensible to take those actions in the moment that ensure we make it to the future.   Also, it’s striking how indigenous traditions stress thinking for future generations, whether explicitly the seventh generation, or just expressing deep gratitude for the ancestors who provided for their future generations (e.g. those currently living). That’s one mechanism to counteract future discounting.   It also foreshadows the value of feedback on actions.