Part of a series, Walking with the Elephant, on mindfulness

Acting alone to improve behaviours can be discomforting if you appear too different: “Almost no-one in society doing it”; and can lead to frustration if you think others are not as equally caring. Further, nagging and lecturing may not be positive models to encourage change: “When I started preaching his sort of thing … she got fed up … I was pricking her conscience. Which was difficult.”

In response, there is now growing acknowledgment of the importance of the self as example. It can have a number of self-reinforcing outcomes:

  • consistent with the idea of small steps (Pattern 1), seeing each individual action as important to the greater, cumulative whole increases its value and promotes a sense of personal empowerment – that personal choices can make a difference, and may be an antidote to “society apathy/disinterest/ disengagement”. “Don’t view it as a burden, focus on the incremental good.” “Its the everyday activities … if you choose where your money is spent, you are making a more sustainable choice.”
  • making such actions visible can influence others in an approachable way: “By setting an example I’m educating others. … And that gives me hope. … I don’t lecture people – it makes them defensive and inactive. I just try and do it. Gentle persuasion.” “It’s … all based on how you communicate … Personable persuasion.” “Young people with little or no contact with nature, but rather human artifacts. Adults as role models.”
  • elevation of thought and action to the level of personal exemplar generates a personal ethic. A caring about choice, and an accountability – a responsibility for actions and behaviour: “do it with a conscience”. In this way, the self, or ‘I’ becomes the measure of success. And in turn, positions ourselves as integral with the “more-than-human” world: “Playing your part by taking the world to your heart.”

Yes, you can make a difference. See individual actions as achieving multiple functions: change through exercising choice; personal exemplar; and the establishment of a personal ethics of sincerity and empathy with both the human and the wider “more-than-human” community.

Greg Paine is an urban planner interested in sustainable development.  These articles draw on his research work in the field.