Thursday, March 31, 2011

What motivates us? A call for thoughts

I received an e-mail a few weeks ago from Donna LeGrand, a retired lawyer living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She said that she wanted to try to move towards living trash-free! How amazing! She later called me, and we talked for about an hour about her life and her thoughts. I asked her what motivated her to think about doing something like this. She said that she had been doing much to decrease her environmental impact and trash production. But one fine day, just like any other day, she opened her kitchen pantry, and saw this....

She thought to herself, "Look at all of this stuff I have to throw away." I am not going to write more of her story here, because her story is best told by her, and I hope she will write a piece to share with everyone. But I wonder what it was that day that made her say that to herself.

I have tried to think about what motivates and encourages us to make changes in our lives. There are of course incredibly thoughtful people that have thought about these things before, and have made efforts to make other people change their behaviours. This can take the form of little signs or thoughts, as has been done at Georgia Tech. It seems like the motivations or the triggers exist all around us, yet we are sheltered, and we live overloaded lives. Motivation can also come from people we love, people we respect, and people who we don't agree with. What is interesting is that we are surrounded by all of these potential triggers and stimuli all of the time.

One time occurrences, such as weather events, of course at the other end of the spectrum, and are the most vivid cases that may result in behaviour changes, particularly because they can etch themselves in people's minds. Events, such as weddings and birthdays and parties and concerts can do that, too. But with environmental issues, particularly those with large characteristic times for their unfolding, such as climate change, it is hard to point to individual events as outcomes of our behaviour. It would be hard to convince people in the US that they are being oppressed because of climate change, especially because climate change isn't as visceral as an F5 tornado.

But the problems exist, and people need to be motivated to act on issues that they may or may not be affected by. This is a difficult question, and I cannot say I have much to say at this point, or today. (I will think about this and share some more thoughts if I think of anything.) Therefore, I am hoping that you will be willing to share your thoughts with on what motivates you. I will leave this question open ended, and you are encouraged to write about most anything. What would be particularly interesting to share are those key events that impacted you and your beliefs and your behaviour. If it is something environmentally related, that will be awesome. If you have pictures to share, that works, too.

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