This continues our lessons, or patterns, on how to remain mindful to the task of sustainable development through personal action and change.  Our second Pattern, again developed in conjunction with a group of people who tried it and learnt from their experience, is on how to deal with the wealth of information, known and unknown, that confronts us in the field of sustainability. Again, it includes direct quotes from those practitioners.

WE DON’T KNOW IT ALL:  MAKE BEST GUESSES AND THEN REVIEW

PROBLEM

In our positivist view of the world, the desire for more evidence, even conclusive proof, before acting can become a paralysis – both an impediment to, and an excuse for, limited action and change. What would it take to convince you? “… it would have to be scientific, obviously… evidence of a real change …the evidence to base purchasing decisions is not there…I haven’t got the answer… confused-searching…guilt if not acting on knowledge.”

The common call for more education and knowledge as away of resolving environmental issues through personal change reflects this need for proof, just as much as it reflects a desire to generate an initial awareness of issues: “Not understanding the real problem.”

However, this can often only add to the seeming complexity faced by any contemporary individual and household when making decisions: the more you find out, the more you often have to choose from. The conversation becomes one of both too little choice (“The way society is structured you haven’t got a whole lot of choices”), and too much (“I would find it very difficult to go about my daily business if I thought about every single item”).

Further, the answers (and the questions) are fluid: the playing field is not fixed in time or space and thus awareness and education has to be about the limits of knowledge and the need to accept that some things “will always be somewhat unresolved.”

Here, a more accurate understanding of positivism is useful – that knowledge is progressed through action, not inaction, via the testing of hypotheses. In the psychology of motherhood, there is the notion of a ”good enough” mother that might be useful here: “a coping model rather than a perfect model.”  Or in other terms, accepting issues at “face-value” and “parrot fashion” for the time being when making an assessment of environmental impact upon which to act – and then reflecting on the outcome with a view to learning from that experience and changing your actions if you have to.

Connections again are important: “If there is a community, you don’t have to know everything [because there are others who can assist with their knowledge]. You can start small…”

SOLUTION

Base the small, incremental steps on a “good enough” and “face value” approach, rather than a “perfect’” approach to knowledge by making best guesses and seeing each decision as a test which is then reviewed. “Best-ness” will change over time as knowledge and awareness increases through review and reflective feedback-loops.