A listener asked this question:
Where do you think your concern and consideration for others comes from? Is it mostly nature or nurture? (E.g. influence from up bringing). I’m thinking about your social conscience about how your pollution or lack of it has an impact on those you’ve never met. I like to think I care about others but the truth is I continue to do things like drive to modern jive because it suits me even though it contributes to damage for others.
Here is my spoken answer followed by the text:
People often suggest people don’t care about the environment or poverty, peace, or things they wish we had more of, but I don’t think the issue is caring. It’s acting. Especially the political left and environmentalists look at people on the right or not speaking about the environment and they say “they don’t care.” I talk to conservatives, businesspeople, libertarians, evangelicals, and people who aren’t marching in protest or calling for carbon taxes and I hear them care just as much. They may act on the caring differently, but I hear them caring as much. While I’m mentioning it, I don’t see many liberals or even environmentalists, at least in this country, acting much either.
So I don’t think my concern and consideration for others is any different than anyone else’s. I think we all want to relieve suffering. I’m sure there are psychopaths out there who don’t, but I think they’re the minority. Everyone shows it differently.
I think I act more because of how I’ve come to understand the problem and solution. I see the problem as much greater and immediate than anyone else I talk to and I see the solution as more attainable and more rewarding than anyone either. The huge problems of people dying by the tens of millions annually is already happening and there’s no mystery the cause. i think others have found effective ways to deny and suppress accountability and responsibility in favor of comfort and convenience. I believe they know they know their responsibility because they say they feel guilty when pointed out how their activities contribute. Why feel guilty if what they do isn’t related?
But I see the problem as more personal than most others do. Therefore the solution is more immediately beneficial. An Abraham Lincoln quote summarizes what I see as the problem and therefore pointing to an immediately beneficial solution. He said, “Nothing is more damaging to you than to do something that you believe is wrong.”
We know we’re hurting others and we don’t need to fly, bottled water, or big houses that cause electric and heating bills in the hundreds of dollars a month. When we do something we know is wrong, we create an internal conflict that we will do anything to avoid facing. We will deny, suppress, lie to ourselves, lie to others, make up stories, anything to avoid facing our own consciences.
I think at the root of it, I discovered that switching to what I considered right instead of wrong, which is to behave by my values even when it’s hard, brings me joy, fun, freedom, meaning, purpose, community, and connection, among other rewarding emotions. Because I found the hard parts of acting sustainably weren’t the deprivation or sacrifices I expected — for a couple examples, learning to cook from scratch didn’t take time so much as relieved me from social media addiction and let me eat as much as I wanted without worrying about putting on unwanted fat and that not flying connected me more with people and nature, not less—I learned the friction came more from people trying to tell me what I did didn’t matter or other protections from them facing the lies they told themselves to avoid facing their experience of Lincoln’s observation. Note he didn’t say it’s bad. He said it’s the most damaging thing you can do. He saw people willing to kill others and risk being killed themselves before facing their own consciences.
It happens at the individual level and cultural. We’ve created an implicit agreement: “I’ll say I’m powerless, you say you’re powerless, and we’ll support each other. There, now we can both keep doing what we were doing.”
Seeing the problem is driven by this internal misery, I see and experience the solution not as losing flying such as gaining inner peace that no one seems to have when you bring up the environment. I talk about litter and pollution a lot, but because it drives me to action, to relieving my suffering and misery as well as everyone else’s. They care, they just believe their own lies that they can’t make a difference. Or they don’t understand systems and how to change them. Conservatives or other groups may believe in market mechanisms that I believe exacerbate the problem. I have to be open to learning from them that I might misunderstand something too. I think my science, business, entrepreneurship, and leadership backgrounds put me in a Venn diagram rare overlap of many relevant circles.
But most of all, I don’t need to solve everything for me to feel success, just to be doing my best. I believe a system can only move so fast and trying to change it faster will cause it to push back, so I’m finding all the ways to change our global polluting culture optimally, which I see as changing our goals and values, mainly restoring ones we’ve abdicated: Do Unto Others, Live and Let Live, and Leave It Better Than You Found It. I see trading Big Macs and big SUVs for those values worth the trade. Actually its a double win since those material things detract from direct human connection.
After saying all that explanation, I think the final answer to your question of where the motivation comes from is my personal experience acting even when it felt challenging or pointless and finding the results rewarding. When I did my equivalent of stopping driving to jive dance, I found the alternative wasn’t staring at the wall and crying over the loss. I found other things or other ways of achieving what it achieved and found they improved my life more. I still pollute. I’m no saint. If your issue is driving to dance, in my style of experimenting avoiding packaged food for a week, flying for a year, unplugging my fridge and then apartment to see how long I could go, I would try going without driving for a week, maybe allowing for some reasons like your job or whatever works in your life, and seeing what happens. Maybe it will be the worst experience of your life, as I expected avoiding flying to become. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself, as resulted from my experiments.
I learned that living by my values always improves my life. That’s what value means, like in “evaluate”: what’s better or worse. I had come to believe the values society had taught me, but I see them based on those implicit agreements that we’d all agree what we did didn’t matter, the plane was going to fly anyway, only governments and corporations can act on the scale we need, that if we don’t grow we’ll revert to the Stone Age or descend into dystopia, or that some smart person or the market will solve our problems. They’re all lies we agree to support each other on.
I’d rather live in an unpolluted world with a culture that didn’t pollute and lie about the pollution, but given that I do, the most rewarding, fulfilling, meaningful, and purposeful life I can imagine is the work on the greatest cause of suffering and misery of our time, which we’re on track to making the greatest sources of suffering and misery of all of human history. The alternative is internal honesty, facing that guilt and lies, and then reaching thriving. Humans lived for 300,000 years without polluting and evidence shows they thrived compared to our past couple centuries. We discovered and created anesthesia, antibiotics, democracy, soap, hygiene, arts, culture, sports, how to live in the arctic and deserts, and so on. We produced cultures that created Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Laozi, Confucius, Shakespeare, Newton, and Bach. We don’t have to lose any of those things.
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