Why should we change our minds?

We’ve been exploring human nature from the angles of anthropology, zoology and psychology and recently came upon Joseph Henrich’s WEIRD concept which is helping us to understand the relatively narrow perspective we all grow up with. WEIRD is an acronym for Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic, and delves into the religious convictions, beliefs, practices, technologies and social norms (culture) that shape our brains, physiology and psychology, including our motivations and decision making biases.

It’s tricky to let go of long held beliefs, as I (and I’m sure you too) have experienced. It’s like a thread you pull – all sorts of other things give, and you end up dealing with multiple changes, not just one change you’d subscribed to. When we left the financial industry and urban life behind and moved to the countryside – admittedly a double whammy for a city girl with corporate career aspirations – the related changes were enormous. For example, simply being in a rural spot meant driving to do absolutely everything, and going for a walk on narrow farm lanes with two toddlers and a baby was unnerving. Time itself changed from fixed boxes to a meandering day that melted into weeks once the structured work days were gone.

Change is now urgent for all of us, on a global scale – in fact, data suggests we’re too late to “save” the planet and continue to enjoy what we always thought was infinite abundance and a relatively comfortable way of life.

“Our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world, but to change ourselves.”

Mahatma Gandhi

In the last few decades, scientists have been ringing alarm bells that have been largely ignored until quite recently. Environmental policies are now being implemented by governments, companies are trying to be, or pretending to be, more “sustainable”, activists are making headlines as they object to the status quo that got us into this hot water. But even in the face of dire threats to life (as individuals, and collectively as societies), we hold on to our established ideas, sometimes stubbornly even if we know we’re wrong, and even in light of new information.

One highly effective approach to gaining some level of comfort with change is big picture thinking, which naturally leads to positive change. Big picture thinking means stepping way back, out of our usual mindset, far back from day to day concerns, so that we can safely pause any personal beliefs which can blur or colour reality and keep us tethered to our fixed pattern of thinking. From this safe distance, we can see our situation afresh, observe ourselves as a species, see our existence in geological or “deep” time and cosmic or “deep” space. We can envision our ancestors, and envision ourselves as ancestors. This freedom can bring us back to our current reality with shifted priorities, a more open mind, greater clarity and the motivation to make changes that address issues in our local and wider community.

Our installation Feast Upon The Earth was developed to help people get a very big picture. It is a large timescape that gives a reasoned understanding of our current global situation. It starts from the beginning of existence, moves through the emergence of humans, and asks, “What future will we choose?” Visitors to the installation at various venues have been deeply affected by it because of the visually impactful story of human emergence and disconnection from nature.

Research has found that facts don’t help us change (1). That we accept change much more easily once it’s in place (2) (that’s why government policies work well). That “sticking to our guns” (or “belief perseverance”) even if we know or suspect we’re wrong gives us a dopamine hit (3). Neuroscience explains how our brains need to work harder to learn new ways of doing things, which can also increase anxiety and fear, reducing our ability to think clearly (4).

Climate change and biodiversity loss are global, man-made problems that need a deep shift in priorities. This level of change is terrifying, and people are grappling with ideas on what will work – technology? Virtual reality? GMO? Consuming less, consuming more wisely, is seen as a return to “the old days” of not having enough, struggling for the basic comforts. But this is not accurate either; we can’t abandon what we know, we just have to apply our innate adaptability wisely, with compassion and a long term view. What are the answers? If you are interested in exploring big picture thinking, we have a few summer projects upcoming.

big picture thinking for positive change
Tom leads a big picture thinking module in the Garden Field.

Mary Robinson Climate Conference sponsors, June 5 – 7, Ballina

CPD course for Primary School Teachers (EPV approved) – Rooted in Nature, July 1 – 5

DLR Lexicon: Feast Upon the Earth timescape installed from July 26 – August 30. Join our introductory talk and family friendly workshop. Dates TBA! Sign up to our community newsletter to stay in touch.

Check out the book version of Feast Upon The Earth.

1 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds
2 https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180622-the-surprising-reason-people-change-their-minds
3 “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us” (Oxford), Jack Gorman, Sara Gorman.
4 https://welldoing.org/article/the-neuroscience-change-why-changing-course-painful-for-brain


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