This title of this piece is taken from the book I already wrote about last week by Thomas Bruhn and Jessica Böhme. I’m still really enjoying the book. I even bought a copy for my father-in-law, with whom I often discuss questions like ‘what can I do as an individual to tackle climate change?‘ The point my father-in-law made recently is that changing our inner perception of the world, as recommended by Bruhn and Böhme, just seems to take too long, given the crises we are facing - especially if we think that all 7 billion people would have to go through such a transformation. He said that as we know what is happening and how we could tackle it, we should be able to just do that.
As a response to that, I found this piece of advice in Bruhn and Böhme’s book, in which they make the point that knowing alone isn’t enough to change our behaviour. We really have to want something, from the bottom of our hearts. The following quote makes the point well (translated using DeepL and slightly edited, the original is shared below in the Paper Museum):
If we know what needs to be done but don’t care about it, ultimately nothing happens. (…) There needs to be a coherent coexistence of relevant information and emotional significance, so that real change in our behaviour can happen.
We all know this from our own lives: When something is truly meaningful to us, we are able to make amazing changes. The consequence of these considerations is of central importance: Our inner state is part of the change. Our subjectivity, that is, the condition of our own mind and emotional world, which we call our Being in this book, is both the object and the source of systemic change. It is a matter of creating conditions that make a new being possible. But we must not forget that a new being at the same time also makes these conditions possible.
We are part of a living, cognitively complex system, in which we as subjects are always affected and co-creators at the same time. We refrain here from deepening this insight on a philosophical level. What is important above all is that we take seriously the consequence for us personally:
The nature of our own being is part of the change we are talking about. The world cannot change without our own world changing with it.
(Bruhn and Böhme 2021, 69-71)
In a way that sounds almost obvious. Firstly there will be no change if we don’t really care about it, from the bottom of our hearts. At the same time, what makes us care, is how we see the world, how we perceive it being in relation to us. If we see ourselves apart from the world and nature, as individuals that are disconnected and can take individual measures to survive we will care about different things than if we perceive ourselves as deeply interconnected and interdependent of what is happening out there. If we see that we are defined by our relationships and our being part of the complex systems of society and nature, we should not just care about our survival, but see that the survival of society and nature is inextricably linked to our own survival. With that, taking measures to mitigate climate change is not seen as sacrifice, but rather as an act of caring for ourselves and the greater whole we are part of. Or as Bruhn and Böhme put it:
A sustainable lifestyle is in the best case effortless. (Bruhn and Böhme 2021, 23)
Here’s the original of the translated text shared above.
Wenn wir wissen, was zu tun ist, es uns aber nicht am Herzen liegt, passiert letztlich nichts. (…) Es braucht ein stimmiges Miteinander von relevanter Information und _emotionaler Bedeutsamkeit, damit echter Wandel in unserem Verhalten geschehen kann. _
Wir alle kennen das aus unserem eigenen Leben: Wenn etwas für uns wirklich bedeutsam ist, sind wir in der Lage, erstaunliche Veränderungen zu vollziehen. Die Konsequenz aus diesen Überlegungen ist von zentraler Bedeutung: Unser innerer Zustand ist Teil des Wandels. Unsere Subjektivität, also die Beschaffenheit unseres eigenen Geistes und unserer Gefühlswelt, die wir in diesem Buch als Sein bezeichnen, ist zugleich Gegenstand und Quelle des systemischen Wandels. Es geht darum, Bedingungen zu schaffen, die ein neues Sein ermöglichen. Wir dürfen dabei aber nicht vergessen, dass ein neues Sein gleichzeitig auch diese Bedingungen ermöglicht.
Wir sind Teil eines lebendingen, kognitiv komplexen Systems, in dem wir als Subjekte stets Betroffene und Mitgestalter zugleich sind. Wir verzichten an dieser Stelle darauf, diese Erkenntnis auf philosophischer Ebene zu vertiefen. Wichtig ist vor allem, dass wir die Konsequenz für uns persönlich ernst nehmen:
Die Beschaffenheit unseres eigenen Seins ist Teil des Wandels, über den wir sprechen. Die Welt kann sich nicht verändern, ohne dass unsere eigene Welt sich mitverändert.
(Bruhn and Böhme 2021, 69-71)
Why have I added this to my Paper Museum? It confirms my own insight that we cannot just work on the outer complexity of the world without at the same time work on the inner complexity of ourselves. As Nora Bateson likes to say: the complexity of our approaches need to meet the complexity of the problem we are trying to tackle.
Reference: Bruhn, Thomas, and Jessica Böhme. 2021. Mehr sein, weniger brauchen: Was Nachhaltigkeit mit unseren Beziehungen zu tun hat. Beltz GmbH, Julius.
Meet me at the Berlin Change Days 2021! I will be facilitating a workshop together with my friend Bhav Patel. Registration is now open (the event is planned to be both online and offline).
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash