An epiphany about change

I had a small epiphany yesterday. It wasn’t particularly positive however. Here it is:

People only change
when shit gets real. *

The issue of change (particularly in relation to sustainable living and climate change) is not a new topic – there are many books, articles, and thoughts out there about the best way to influence others or how to be an effective “change agent” and so on. It’s something I often think about and this little epiphany came to me when I was thinking about the pervasive resistance to change that is prevalent in most us.

Here’s the thing: in general, I believe that the average person has to be directly affected by something in order to make a change in their current thinking or behaviour.

  • Think about the people who only start going to gym after they’ve put on 10 kilos.
  • Or those that start a new healthier diet after their doctor tells them they’re about to have a heart attack.
  • The person who signs up for hospital insurance after being in a car accident.
  • Or those who start wearing sunscreen only after they’ve had a pre-cancerous mole removed.
  • And the people who stop drinking and driving only after they end up sending a night in jail.

You can see where I’m going with this…


People have to be forced into change. It’s a do or die (sometimes) situation. The shit has to hit the fan before we notice it and start to do anything about it.

This is why, I believe, that living a more sustainable life, making different choices about what you consume (food & products), using fewer resources etc is not mainstream. There is no immediate impending threat to most people. And so, the pressure is not on to make any change.

This little epiphany isn’t rocket science – most of us know this fact already – but I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of sustainable living before. I have always thought that it was about people not thinking, not knowing or not questioning their choices and actions, and that if they were just ‘enlightened’ they’d automatically change their minds and thereafter, their behaviours.

Maybe I’m just slow to come to this realisation, and probably because it’s a super depressing one – well, for me anyway. Because it means that the average Joe is not going to do anything anytime soon to lessen his impact on the world.

And where’s the hope in that?

* To qualify this, by “people” I mean the everyday person who happily continues in their little bubble of life, not thinking or worrying about anything other than their immediate concerns. The ‘average’ Joe. The majority of society (in my opinion, anyway).
When I refer to “change”, I am talking about behavioural change in terms of being aware of your impact on society at large and the planet in general.