Changing the World Isn’t Easy. Unless You Make it Easy

By Jason Menard

Here are two statements that, through my experience, I’ve found to be true: “There are many things we can do to make the world better”; and “People (substitute the word society if you want to be kind) are lazy.”

Because of the latter, many things that comprise the former don’t get done. And until society’s advocates wrap their heads around the reality of the latter, they’re doomed to frustration and failure.

Some may take offense to the word lazy. And that’s OK – feel free to substitute the word of your choice in that sentence. You can use complacent, set-in-their-ways, apathetic… it all comes down to the fact that people don’t want to change – even if that change is good for them.

Earlier today, I made a comment on Twitter in response to an old friend asking about why we don’t just drop the garbage container limit to two instead of four. My response was simply that you can’t make that change unless you’re willing to complement it with a more robust green and blue bin program.

And then came the expected responses, “We only use two…” “Four bags is a lot…” All of which may be true. But you can feel good about your individual efforts, or you can work to bring the masses on board – and the best way to do that is to make it easy.

I respect the hell out of people who support various causes. But what I find is that the conversation quickly devolves into rhetoric and condescension – and that’s the worst way to market your cause.

People know what they should do. People also hate to be told what to do – especially if it comes across as a judgment on their values. On the other side, there are those who embrace martyrdom for their cause. While their dedication is admirable, their zeal can often turn off the average person away from the cause.

Joe or Jill Average doesn’t like to be reminded how Captain Environment is off the grid and powers his home using hamsters, an exercise bike, and solar panels. Nor do they want to feel judged because they put out three garbage bags, but someone else is boasting about only using one a month.

The goal of anyone promoting a cause should be to affect change. I ask you, what’s better? Impacing five people to make wholesale changes in their lives, or convincing 5,000 people to make a small adjustment to their lives? Personally, I’d go with the latter.

So how do you do that? You minimize the effort and the inconvenience. And not only do you make it easy, you don’t punish people for their choices.

The garbage-bag reductionists are quick to say, “Just cut the number!” or “Charge ‘em more for each and every bag out there.” And those may be valid suggestions, but they’re hardly the best way to go about endearing people to your cause. Which would you rather have, a group of people who are frustrated or angry about being forced to comply (and, people who will then often look for ways around the system), or finding a way to make everyone a part of the process in a mutually beneficial way?

Not everyone has built a composter in their back yard. Not everyone’s diligent about sorting food waste from recyclables. But I would think most people wouldn’t have a problem tossing food scraps in a table-top green bin. Then make it easy to dispose: local collection, community green bins, or backyard options are available. Sell it for its benefits (less garbage bags to buy AND better for the environment).

In the end, you get what you want – you divert waste going to landfill – but you do it in a way that’s positive, inclusive, and sustainable.

People want to do the right thing. They just don’t want to be inconvenienced. Now, you can argue against that all you want – rage against the lackadaisical attitudes and vehemently insist that people should be more concerned. You could do that, but it won’t get you anywhere.

Or you could embrace the fact that people are lazy and try to figure out ways to use it to your advantage. People want to do good – they just don’t want to have to go out of their way to do it. The groups and causes that understand this part of human nature – and find ways to embrace it – will be the ones to succeed. Personally, I’d rather work with Joe or Jill Average and make some incremental changes for the better than getting frustrated about what they should be doing.

Any effort that one makes should be lauded, no matter how small. Yet the trend is to criticize people for not doing enough – or not keeping up with the cause’s respective Joneses. Yet what those most zealously supportive of their ideals tend to miss is this one simple truth: doing something is better than nothing.

It’s not an easy thing to change the world – but it’s something that can be done over time simply by making change easy.

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