This week NWEI’s Executive Director, Mike Mercer, shares his reflections on what it takes to act on what you care about.  Let us know what you think!

“Those who know, care, and those who care, take action.”  I heard this recently from a young woman speaking before an audience of business professionals at a sustainability conference.  A short, sweet and valid point. Perfect! Problem solved– all we have to do to change any intractable problem is to shower people with information. If they would just listen!  However, with this cliche,  like many others, there is a bit more between the words that needs filling in. Let’s talk about “care” for a moment.

Do I care enough to change to more sustainable behaviors when I am crazy with work, or Need to get the kids fed and off to soccer practice, or I’ve got no milk for the morning cereal? For many perfectly sane, intelligent, caring people, the answer is “no”. Not an explicit no, but many people mean to make sustainable choices, but just don’t get around to it, or are too swamped with other responsibilities.

We all live with multiple priorities. I personally care about the atrocities occurring in Sudan and homelessness and the child prostitution occurring right in my home town.  While I don’t perpetuate these actions, do I take any direct steps to ameliorate them or give to these causes? No. And it is not because I am callous, lazy or even lack a few bucks to give. It’s because I am focused on taking action on my other priorities  – like a healthy planet that supports healthy people and helping my kids get through school and adolescence.

Changing behavior is one tough nut to crack, particularly when the existing behaviors feel like the norm. So, how do we get people to care enough to make the change?

  1. We need to feel empowered and that our behaviors do make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Use the power of story!  Stories paint a picture of hope.  I am inspired by the quote of Rainer Maria Rilke, “If I don’t manage to fly, someone else will. The spirit only wants that there be flying.”
  2. Most often, it’s not about doing more, but doing what we already do differently. Disarm the time concern. Most of us have too much on our plates already.  How can we tweak what we already do, without adding too many new “to do” items to our already long list?
  3. Tie changes to values many of us already hold and respond to – health, economic interests and wellbeing of ourselves and those closest to us. When we want to change draw on what most of us care for:  family and health, for starters.
  4. Use the power of social norming and support.  The single most predictable indicator of our behavior? Look and see what others in our network of friends are doing. Most of us don’t want to be outrageous or boring, we just want to fit in. Use messaging that creates a norm, like “75 percent of the employees in Jane’s department copy double-sided.”  Be authentic.  When we can point to what others are already doing, we can create momentum for positive change.
  5. Most of us don’t want to be judged on our current behaviors. If I am going to change, let me figure that out, but do provide me access to a variety of options that might fit my interests. We all start somewhere on the continuum of change. It does us well to be non-judgmental and an open minded!

Knowing and caring are not enough to elicit the change we desperately need to see.  Caring enough is!  What are our priorities?  What can we commit to starting or doing right now that will align our care with our actions?  Let’s do it!

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