Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance


I decided to go down a rough road (for me anyway) today. One of my classmates at BGI is doing his research project to attempt to explain how people who claim to care about the environment still mange to eat meat, travel, and drive all over creation (image from the situationist). Hence the title of this post.

This is something I have pondered (and pondered, and pondered, to the point of occasional paralysis, similar to how I felt after reading Brave New World) over the past few years as I have learned more about the challenges we face in the social, economic, and environmental realms.
  • How is it that I can purport to have great concern for the environment and work in a job that requires extensive travel both by air and by land?
  • With the recent large-scale betrayal of trust by our financial institutions (and regulatory agencies), is the time ripe for the massive change to localized economies we claim to want?
  • If our trust in the financial system has been threatened (or destroyed) why do we still have assets invested in some of these institutions?
  • How is it that concerned people manage to travel to "green" themed trade shows (I'll be at the Net impact Conference in Philadelphia in a few weeks)?
Are the changes we need to make too big? Perhaps we have not evolved to the point where we can consciously and willingly shift our behaviors in ways that appear to be drastic. We are social creatures and creatures of habit, if our social circle is one that embraces the current status then we run the risk of alienating ourselves from the very people we rely on for support.

Holding two competing worldviews simultaneously is exhausting, and something that may slowly be chipping at my resistance to the calling of my "right livelihood". From an employment perspective, I will be assuming a different role within my company that will allow me to address some of my personal sustainability needs. The conversations leading to this agreement were interesting including my desire to pursue sustainability related activities professionally. This was a non-starter in this organization; at this time and maybe for a good deal of time to come. I was reminded encouragingly by the gentleman that inspired me to start this blog that the number of "official" positions that include sustainability are few and far between. In thirty years, our progress toward a regenerative economy will have depended not upon a few hundred thousand officials working for sustainability, but on the millions who took action independently.

As Peter Senge warned us in The Fifth Discipline, we are NOT our jobs. My functional requirements will not include sustainability; I will be working to influence my coworkers in the dialogue about sustainability, about bringing our values to work, about authenticity, empathy, and compassion by my actions and my daily interactions with them around the water cooler, coffee machine, etc. Perhaps I'll reduce the magnitude of my dissonance with these actions. My first act will be bike commuting, a political, social, & economic act that will have interesting consequences. As I read in Orion Magazine recently (by David J. Perlman),
Becoming attached to anything outside the norm, you run the risk of being ostracized, labeled a flake, for not fitting the social mold....you are expected to commute by car - to be another polluter commuter, as I call them. Driving is considered the most efficient use of time (although not of energy) and if you tolerate wasted time, the general opinion is that you are not committed to your career. You become the perfect target for a critical boss or ambitious colleague."
So perhaps my dissonance is partly brought on by a desire to challenge the status quo, the assumptions about how we live that has yet to be manifested. Or, it could be a desire to bring my values more fully into my work and life. Will bicycling to work help? We shall see.

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