Not a Hippy – April 1, 2010

One of the things people often say is that if you just change the way people think, what they do will fall into place. Some research in the environmental psychology field have been discovering ‘feedback loops.’ They’ve found that it’s actually the other way around, but also a continuous cycle. What I mean is, when you change your habits, your ideas start to change, then habits change again, and so on.

A discussion that happened at this year’s Boost Your Eco focused on how to get people to change their attitudes. How do we get people to think about things in a different way?

One solution that came up, related to these feedback loops, is changing the context or culture. Are you still following me? If you are constantly acting and experiencing a certain way, you will eventually start to integrate that into your understanding of the world.

Education and understanding is definitely important, but more important are habits and social context.

Take, for example, smoking.

It used to be thought that smoking was good for you, cool, everyone did it. Then they started increasing the price, the taxes, people were getting cancer, there was education about how bad it is for you, and eventually you find it’s socially unacceptable to blow smoke in someone’s face.

OK maybe not the best example, but you can see what I’m getting at, right?

So I have two major points here.

If we really want to see changing attitudes, more consideration for environmental concerns, and more critical thinking, we need to go beyond just education. It needs to be a habit before it can be understood.

Our discussion, one which has been happening for a while, was about how we can genuinely make the world and STU a better place; a better place in terms of social justice and the environment.

One path to this betterment that we see is teaching what we want, and practicing what we teach. I’m sure you’ve heard “You must be the change you want to be in the world.” So in very practical terms, ask your professor to talk about social justice, gender, human rights, and the environment, from the point of view of your discipline. Ask your professor to try experiential learning. Learning shouldn’t just be in the classroom – it can be in lecture halls, outside, in hands-on activities.

Once we start doing, it’s very likely that we’ll start understanding.

Marylynn can be reached at

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