Knowledge and Belief

Written by contributing author, Peter Rudd

It has been said that belief has a much greater influence on behavior than knowledge.  With regard to sustainability, whether it be self-sufficient food or energy production, choosing to consume local products and services, driving less or trading in a gas-guzzler for a more efficient ride, or simply turning off unneeded lights and using less water, we have a hard time changing our habits. I am no exception to this reality.  I live in a constant state of conflict, aware that my “knowledge” of the fragility of economic and environmental affairs has not resulted in the behavioral changes that I “want to make.”  How can this be?

The concept of  “belief” offers some explanation.  Like many of us, on some level I believe that things will improve, that technology and government or some really smart people will save our declining civilization and economy.  I am unwilling to believe that drastic change is just around the corner and that the improving stock market and unemployment figures are just one small step forward before another two big steps back.   Further, nobody around me seems to believe we are in for big social, economic and environmental changes, or their behavior would change too, right?  So it goes that even bringing up the topic of change, of sustainability is seen as awkward or down right threatening.

The dominant conversation therefore moves away from “how can we align knowledge with practice” and toward anything that does not require us to conclude that action must be taken.   We know people like fun, socializing, entertainment, feeling secure, being accepted by peers and don’t like change, being threatened, being uncomfortable or feeling out of control.  So how can I make it easier for myself and family to align my knowledge with my actions?  I suspect that this will be a long-term project, and I am glad that for now, there are at-least a couple of folks asking themselves the same questions.

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