Psychosocial Enticements to Sustainability and Environmental Learning and Action

Psychosocial enticements are those aimed at individuals (outside of an educational context). When enticements help people "sidestep the psychological obstacles that block them from sustainable behavior" [37], their actions can quickly become consistent with their beliefs.

I divide these psychosocial enticements into six categories.

(Numbers in square brackets refer to the References page. Feel free to contact me if you need exact page references.)

1. The Power of One

The "I'm-not-an-expert" barrier to environmental action loses its hold when people realize the impact or influence that one person can have. Suzuki and McConnell note that thousands of positive stories from around the world show "just how much power each one of us has over the Earth's future" [88].

Several authors write about the cumulative importance of individual actions. Conn suggests that people find their own niche "in cooperative, collective action" rather than think in terms of individualistic solutions [24].

By the way, if you're an educator and you've never seen the movie The Power of One, please track it down and watch it ... over and over. It's an evocative example of Paulo Freire's contention that "Education is an act of love, thus an act of courage.”

2. Asking for Commitment, Sacrifice and Dedication

Research shows that the act of making a commitment can entice people from good intentions to action. McKenzie-Mohr and Smith explain that commitment works because people want to be seen as consistent [59]. According to Gardner, "so strong is our need to be true to our word that small commitments have been shown to make people more receptive to larger commitments" [37]. Public, written, and group commitments are even more likely to be honoured.

Although sacrifice seems to be considered a barrier by some authors [13], others see in it a potential enticement to environmental action. Sunderlal Bahuguna from the Chipko Movement in India [cited in Devall] observes that social activists who are willing and happy to make what others would consider sacrifices will "touch the hearts of the people" [27].

Van Matre calls for a renewed love for the planet, "because when you love something you will give things up for it, and that is what we must do for the earth. We must sacrifice our appetites on behalf of the future" [91].

Knudtson and Suzuki explain that the Native way emphasizes the need for humans "to express gratitude and make sacrifices routinely" to reciprocate for gifts received from the Earth [51]. Bingham changes the focus of sacrifice ("doing what you don't want to do") to dedication. "To make any lifestyle change last a lifetime, you need dedication," he suggests [7].

3. Crisis

A common belief among both lay people and experts is that crisis leads to change. Aslanian and Brickell (cited in Cross) refer to trigger events as potent motivating forces [25], and Wlodkowski refers to change events that affect people's previous goals, attitudes, and behaviours [96]. Gould describes this psychological process as an adaptational response to a transition, challenge, or crisis, calling these stress situations "new sets of facts" [40].

In other words, crisis is a pretty powerful psychosocial enticement to learning, action and change.

4. A Sense of Belonging

One of the cornerstones of good mental and psychosocial health, individually and societally, is a sense of belonging and connection to other people and the Earth [19].

When humans feel that they are part of a community, they are enticed to action that benefits the common good. The local community, according to Suzuki and McConnell, provides individuals and families with "a sense of place and belonging, fellowship and support, purpose and meaning" [88].

(Remember our GreenHeart promise that if you ever get lonely on the path to greening your teaching, we're here for you. Please contact us if you want to feel that sense of belonging to a group of like-minded and like-hearted educators.)

5. New Norms

People often look to the behaviour of those around them to determine how they will act. Professor Carolyn Merchant explains that we form our concepts about Nature and our relationship to it by drawing on "the ideas and norms of the society into which [we] are born, socialized, and educated" [61].

Community-based social marketers, McKenzie-Mohr and Smith, contend that social norms can build community support for environmental changes through compliance or conformity. They therefore suggest that our society "develop a new set of societal norms that support sustainable lifestyles" for individuals [59].

You're probably starting to see how psychosocial enticements start to reinforce each other. A sense of belonging makes us want to follow social norms, and guilt (coming up next) can bring us back to social norms when we stray. New environmentally benevolent norms are vital if we're going to change a whole society!

6. Guilt as a Signal of Ecological Conscience

Back in 1949, Aldo Leopold called the extension of social conscience from people to land an "ecological conscience" [54]. Brower and Leon give permission to "strike a balance that suits [one's] conscience and [one's] needs" [13].

Although many authors see guilt as a barrier to environmental action, others see guilt as the first step to a renaissance of conscience. According to O'Connor, "Guilt is a warning that there is an incongruity in our value system, a schism in our sense of self that needs to be investigated" [66].

What do you think about this? How do you feel about it? What's your view on it? (Note the teacher in me trying to respect different learning styles!) Is it about time we started encouraging some guilt-tripping — say, in our school board meetings, staffrooms or parent newsletters — in order to get green things happening in our schools? Or do you hear "guilt" as counterproductive? Please let us know and we'll share your ideas here.

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