Take a few moments to imagine what you would like our world to look like in 20 years’ time. Look at your neighbourhood, your town, your school and your work. What would be different in the healthy, sustainable world we are working towards? What would it sound and smell like? What would people be talking about?
Then make a list of the values we’d have to encourage if we want our new world to look like that. Go ahead….
In a Values workshop hosted by Robert Zipplies from www.bendingthecurve.co.za we came up with: creativity, curiosity, responsibility, social awareness, benevolence, wisdom, honouring elders, protecting the environment, treasuring all children, peace, justice, honesty, loyalty, unity with nature, broadmindedness, spirituality, etc.
These are called intrinsic values – they are bigger than a person’s self-interests and take into account the community, the country, the planet and the ecosystems we depend on. I would say these values are more transcendent than the more individualist drives that fuelled our extreme capitalist system behind our fast developing western economies over the past hundred years.
We were in Skype contact with experts in this field at the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) in Wales. Of course values are not per se good or bad – everyone holds all values, also self-indulgence, ambition, success, wealth, authority, social power, status, security, etc. These values appeal to people’s fear, greed and ego and are called extrinsic values. Research shows that they tend to undermine social and environmental concern. How you behave depends on how you prioritise your values.
Extrinsic values are centred on external approval whilst intrinsic values are inherently rewarding pursuits.
How do we make it fun?
How do we engage with those for whom the environment is a switch off? That was the crucial question of the day. All of us present were working in the green field and clearly passionate about building a more equitable and fair future, but to do this we need to motivate more of those who don’t really hold these values in such high esteem.
In fact our western world does not reward such values; rather it promotes ambition, status, intelligence, success, wealth and national security. Also the more narcissistic values of immediate gratification – the push-button immediate responses the world has become impatient for. No wonder we are sitting with widespread problems – poverty, climate change, isolation and loneliness, human rights abuses, inequality, biodiversity loss, depletion of natural resources.
“How do we persuade international trade agreements to support more sustainable practices? What underpins public appetite for change?” asked Tom Crompton, Change Strategist with WWF-UK in Wales. “The values that are neglected in this debate, according to social psychologists, is the link between cultural values and environmental concerns.”
How do we strengthen intrinsic values and weaken extrinsic values by
a) What we’re doing and
b) What we could be doing?
What values are elicited by participation in our campaigns?
Drawing on The Common Cause Handbook, published by the PIRC, we explored some characteristics of values:
- Values are guiding principles of what people think are important.
- Humans use values to guide themselves as to how to behave, but there are external forces and habits which influence which values a person will draw on during any particular time.
- Values change during the course of our lives. They are changed according to what we are exposed to, like watching TV, the films we see and the books we read. Yes, the media play a big role, like the newspapers we read …now we are touching on why we started the Green Times. There are also larger societal changes which make us more concerned about certain things.
- Values can be ‘engaged’ or brought to mind according to communication and experiences – as this affects attitudes and behaviour. So when we are reminded of benevolence values we are more likely to donate money. Likewise an extrinsic appeal can crowd out any benefits of intrinsic values.
- Similar values occur right across the world in all cultures and they are indeed related to each other. So values are universal.
- They can be bunched together. Those who hold universalism (equality, social justice, unity with nature etc), benevolence and tradition dearly are less likely to emphasise the more hedonistic values of self-expression, achievement, power, self-direction and stimulation as they occur on opposite sides of the values continuum. But those on the same side ‘bleed over’ to the neighbouring values. So people reminded of family, generosity and self-direction are more likely to support pro-environmental policies that those reminded of financial success and status.
- There is evidence that artists motivated by their own creativity, rather than by their desire for fame or status, deliver better work. So achievement as motivation can hinder an outcome.
- Repeated engagement leads to stronger values – just the way in which a muscle gets stronger the more you use it. So the more altruism and generosity you express, the more you will have to give.
Focus on self-enhancement or transcendence
There are two major axes:
- Self-enhancement as opposed to self-transcendence and
- Openness to change as opposed to conservation values.
This work draws on the research of industrial phsychologists like Daniel Pink, who wrote a bestseller The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us, in which I found some more surprises. He confirmed what was discovered in science already in the 1960’s – that external rewards (like money) can spoil the internal motivation, creativity and drive of people! This is of course the opposite of what the business world still believes today. Do read this book for more proof. It speaks to what is called the feel-good factor of volunteering. During many experiments people had stopped or reduced their altruistic work once money was offered as a reward to do this work.
Perhaps it also confirms to me how we at the Green Times manage to passionately run a social enterprise drawing mostly on volunteers, and even though nobody earns more than stipends here. No matter what the personal sacrifices made, we are inspired to spread the information which we know inspires the change we need in our society. We are focused on our strong intrinsic motivation – creating a more equitable and just society. And tapping into that source leads us to unlimited energy. This way you move right out of the scarcity of energy and monetary rewards, which so many people complain about incessantly. Doing good is indeed a sustainable driver with which you can transcend all sorts of limitations.
Engage the right part of the brain
According to the values theories, if we want our society to express more intrinsic values of caring for the earth, etc, then those are the concerns we should be talking about. In fact mentioning money as a driver for greener living could shift the focus in the person’s brain towards the values of self-enhancement and away from self-transcendence. Many of us have made this mistake often, so this was quite an eye opener to me. You think if you show understanding for financial concerns, you will get the buy in from a person more easily, but this way we are ‘engaging’ the wrong part of the person’s brain!
Values are not characteristics, but the motivation that drives behaviour. So you could be focused on the financial security of your family – an extrinsic value – driven by your intrinsic family value.
It seems if you want to motivate a company to car share, you need to appeal to their other intrinsic values – what is important to them? This will lead to other environmental values too. Gone are the motivations now for all the return on investments (ROI) calculations we were taught during the Domestic Eco Auditing course I did during the year. Phew, what a relief – that was the part that simply did not inspire me. And I tried it at home. I calculated till the cows came home to inspire my family to take shorter showers, purchase a solar water heater, transform the pool to a natural one this year. But in the end it is only really caring that helps us to make the changes we need to make.
And it was also proven that those who perform an environmental action, let’s say recycle their waste, are also less likely to persist with the behaviour into the future, if they were externally motivated with rewards offered. The internal drivers are simply the strongest and most lasting, as they are not dependent on external rewards or conditions.
Neuroscientists can map regions of the brain associated with values. The common constellation of values that underpin the environmental and social issues help us answer the big questions:
How do you widen, deepen and maintain public commitment to bigger-than-self issues?
Richard Hawkins, PIRC Director, had studied law and discovered that we value people based on time and money. So a businessman’s value is higher, based on the GDP of the country doing things faster. Values indicate barriers in the way policies are drawn up. So policies and institutions embody values.
“Economics are the method. The object is to change the heart and soul,” said Margaret Thatcher.
On a national level the values were tested in the 20 different wealthiest nations. The higher a country’s CO2 emissions, the less policies there are for the well-being of children, maternal leave, care of the aged, etc.
The deliberate use of certain types of language can frame an action in a way that leans towards certain values. So this determines the response of the listener. If we talk about ‘consumers,’ we wake up extrinsic material values, but if we talk about ‘citizens,’ we elicit the caring community person inside. Clearly how we use language is critically important.
Caring people are happy people
Associations between intrinsic values and personal wellbeing were drawn by another famous author called Kassler, leading to the coincidence between environmental concerns and higher levels of wellbeing. A stronger sense of community and social wellbeing are intrinsic values which lead to satisfaction and a lower incidence of personality disorders like anxiety etc.
Now you will understand why I often invite those who lack meaning in their lives to join the green cause and work for something bigger than themselves. I call constructive eco work the best anti-depressant around – depending of course on your focus. We are feeding intrinsic values all the time and this leads to a deeply satisfying life.
In the end we were talking about Corporate Social Responsibility and someone said “CSR must be re-evaluated to not only include carbon cuts, rainforests etc, but to respond to the question… What values do we communicate in our business?” Until business demands this from government and themselves it won’t happen.
How do we create a groundswell of popular demand for more proportional commitments from business and government?
This is the question with which I close this year’s explorations into the crafting of a future that feeds everyone on all levels and treasures this planet who looks after us and whom we endeavour to look after.
By Elma Pollard