the Fate of Ought-To

two men debating an issue at a table on the sidewalk outside a Paris cafe

   Google “sustainability.” It won’t take you very long to find lengthy lists of things we ought to do. These lists are all but useless. Why is this?

   Real sustainability is something that can only be accomplished when everyone is involved, because we must all make changes. Sustainability is not something that the manufacturers will do for us; it’s something that begins with things we do for ourselves. Others can help, but they cannot do it for us, because the job is simply too huge.

   Why do people make changes in their lives? Theoretically, there are three major reasons for people to make big changes: because they have to, because they ought to, or because they want to.

   The “have to” reason is a place we don’t want to go because it means that there isn’t any other choice. During the summer of 2008 when gas briefly spiked to $5/gallon in most parts of the US, many people realized that they simply couldn’t afford to live where they were living. Had gas stayed that high, they would have been forced to make hard choices that would have been very traumatic for most of them. So “have to” works, but it’s normally quite painful.

   The “ought to” reason is used to frame most of the sustainability solutions intended for the population at large. You ought to recycle. You ought to drive less. You ought to adjust your thermostat. Unfortunately, people almost never do what they ought to do. “Ought to” sounds like a good reason for someone else to do something, but not a good reason for me to do something. So “ought to” simply doesn’t work with most people. In other words, even though we can’t achieve sustainability without everyone doing things differently, the main tool that is being used to persuade people (“you ought to”) simply doesn’t work on enough people to make a real difference.

   That leaves us with the “want to” reason, which is largely unexplored. How does it work? People want to do something because they love to do it or because they’re convinced it will benefit them in some way. In other words, because either their emotion or their intellect is telling them to do so. Wanting to do something is highly effective because it’s positive. Rather than avoiding pain like you do with a “have to” reason, you’re doing something because of the pleasure or other benefit it brings. “Want to” reasons are the foundations of the Living Tradition, which is the operating system of the only proven delivery system for real sustainability: the Original Green.

~ Steve Mouzon

© The Guild Foundation 2013