Shared Recognition


While drafting a letter recently I came up with the sentence:
“The hope and enthusiasm needed to create a viable world are only as far away as a shared recognition of the challenge that we face and of the goal that can lead us toward long-term well-being.”

Shared recognition

There is an entire psychology behind this phrase. It is explained in clear and humorous detail in this 11 min. RSAnimate piece titled Language as a Window into Human Nature.

The short story is that until people know something to be different from what had been believed and everyone knows that everyone else knows, the old notion can remain dominant and nothing will change. It is the dynamic illustrated by the story: “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” Until the obvious was stated in a way that everyone knew that everyone had heard, the illusion was maintained. Our future depends on cultivating a shared recognition that the perpetual growth goal, presently dominating public policy, is not appropriate for a civilization that is stretching its planet’s limits. Enough people know this at one level that even large corporations go to lengths to paint themselves “green.” Some times their efforts are sincere, sometimes it is just green-wash. Who is fooled by the ozone friendly cruise missile?

While there is a broad consensus that we need to adapt to our full planet, until the public sentiment is known to be known, we will be unable shift society’s efforts toward the new direction. Hundreds of times I have heard people say that they understand but they doubt that “the public” knows. Once the shared recognition is achieved, however, humankind can take up the new goal with all of our intelligence and creativity. It would then be possible to enable secure and satisfying lives for the generations following us. (I acknowledge that we are late achieving this shared recognition and that the transformation will not take place before some unfortunate repercussions are experienced by many. For those who remain this is reason for more diligence, not less.)

I’ve found this ‘knowing that people know that everyone else knows’ idea hard to explain. That is why the RSAnimate piece is such a delight. Take the time to watch it and then see how the shared recognition needed for transformation might be advanced by offering an outline of sustainability and encouraging people to pick it apart.

The outline [here] can serve this purpose.

Is this what sustainability means to you?
If not, on what point or points do we differ?
For what reasons?
Is there anything missing?

For 20 years we’ve asked these questions. Many people have expressed agreement. One edit was made and a number of people have voiced annoyance that we should be asking them to look closely at what this critical goal requires.

The educational process involved is not complex.

If we are to continue the age old responsibility each generation owes to the generations following them, it is critical that we know the criteria within which a secure future can be found. It will be some time before the mass media helps communicate this, dependent as it is on consumerism. That leaves it up to us to advance the conversation.

Change Begins with a Conversation is the message of the first installment of our free Mini-Course on Shifting Society’s Goals.

We need to have the conversation within our familiar circles, and further, we need to step outside our comfort zones and raise the topic with people in other circles. The sustainability cards mentioned in Seeds for Change make this much easier.

Many of you have projects underway that advance the overall goal in some way. There is much we can learn from each other. Please share your experiences by commenting below. If you’d like to do more, ask for some free samples of the sustainability cards to try out. Just handing one for someone as “food for thought” can be enough to get them thinking about the challenge of our times.

Change begins with conversations. Try to start one every week, if not every day.

Hoping to hear from you.

Yours, Mike Nickerson