I hear a lot of people’s reasons for not flying, for using single-use plastic, for leaving the air conditioner on when they’re not home. I know them not just because people told them to me. I know them because I’m human and we all think similarly. When I want something that pollutes, I feel my mind justifying why getting it should be okay.
It took years of training my mind to resist that knee-jerk thinking and to consider not just what I get from, say, flying or using the air conditioner, but how my actions affect others—also known as the golden rule.
We believe we use logic to come up with reasons for doing things. We don’t. Our ancestors made choices before we evolved reason. We choose and then back-rationalize those choices to feel better.
In other words, the “reasons” we claim to use to justify our behavior, to fly or own slaves knowing we’re causing helpless, innocent people to suffer, aren’t reasons. They’re rationalizations. The motivation comes from I feel like it, usually to preserve ourselves from feeling bad, like facing how much we’re violating the golden rule, or not working hard to change the system that we claim victimizes us, lying that we have no choice but to fly or continue owning and beating slaves.
The upside to all this is that we can change these feelings. Not only, can we. Doing so is the greatest skill to improve our lives. It’s what Viktor Frankl did to feel bliss and love amid Nazis torturing him. It’s what leads us to prefer broccoli to Doritos. It’s how I feel closer to nature while picking up other people’s garbage than passing it by, despite my actually touching plastic.