Monday, January 12, 2015
What's Better Than Free?
An underlying fact of life is that behavior has consequences. Some consequences are immediate and predictable. Some are delayed for a short time. Others may never arrive, but their probability is greatly enhanced. Examples of each are touching a hot stove, crossing the street without looking and smoking cigarettes. The truth of this statement goes beyond individual behavior and lives. It applies to societies as a whole. If the majority of citizens act wisely, a society will prosper. If they act foolishly, the country will head in the wrong direction.
When ill-advised decisions and actions by 300 million people pile up, one on top of another, individual consequences grow into our societal crises. The news media looks at trends, develops and reports on these crises: the obesity epidemic, the failure of our schools, the retirement crisis, frivolous lawsuits, internet fraud, texting while driving and many others. Then the politicians, thought leaders and advocacy groups arrive to tell us how they will solve the problems for us. There is a strong implication in their message that we are not capable of solving these complex problems, and we should leave it all to them to pass laws, organize protests or initiate legal action. They make reassuring speeches that completely miss the main point, that point being that the problems are not complex and they can only be solved by the very people who caused them.
That the direction of the country is driven by us and is solvable only by us is both reassuring and scary. First it’s scary because we don’t get to sit back and watch someone else struggle, argue and fight to make things right. We must take action. We must take control. Most of our unwanted consequences can be replaced by favorable outcomes simply by changing behavior from foolish to wise in each of the five key dimensions.
Though this is easy to say, it’s very much like a New Year’s resolution. We must be motivated to change and that motivation must be sustained. We cannot allow the January exercise station to become the April clothesline. Moreover one person did not create the situation, so it can’t be solved by one person or even by a handful. It will take a significant majority who care enough about the downward spiral of America to make and maintain the changes necessary and to strongly encourage others to follow along.
This encouragement and reinforcement takes the form of a behavioral conversation, one that recognizes good or poor behavior and addresses that behavior. Name-calling and accusations do not fit this model. They don’t solve anything and are a prime example of behavior that must be strongly discouraged. When our politicians and late night comedians use this tactic, they need to be ignored. We don’t need them anyway. The problems are ours to solve.
There are so many examples of behavior that it would be impossible to list them all. The purpose of this series of almost 400 short essays is not to list all the problems or errors, but to give timely examples of failures in one or more of the key dimensions to help readers identify examples from their own lives or from the news. The skill of identifying and classifying behaviors, leads to the ability to recognize the real problems, those behaviors that have accumulated and led to the conclusion, validated by hundreds of polls over the past 20 years, that America is headed in the wrong direction.
The very best thing about the behavioral approach to changing the direction of America is that it’s free – better than free! No government programs or personal expenses are needed. With enough people on board it’s possible to make many of both go away. The stronger behavior in the key dimensions will lead to less wasted time, energy and money for each participant and a stronger America for everyone.