What We Believe, and What We Care About, Drives What We Do

passions beliefs actions

Recently I’ve been working to develop, with my colleagues on the Group Process Pattern Language project (which I’ll write more about soon), a set of “shared core beliefs of facilitators”. It was interesting to me that these shared beliefs differ significantly from those of most business ‘leaders’ I know, and that these differences profoundly affect what gets done, and how it gets done, by these two diverse groups.

There are of course some business people who do genuinely believe in progressive ideas like the value of consensus and the wisdom of crowds, but they are fighting such an uphill battle that it’s no surprise so many give up and look for more fertile places to do what they do best. There is no conspiracy in business to subject workers to these paternalistic values — it’s more like a co-dependency, since many workers feel that they will never be given the authority that goes with any added responsibility, so they are quite content to be told what to do and how to do it, and to leave their brains and hearts at home when they enter their workplaces. I have found the same belief set prevalent in most government organizations I am familiar with.

By contrast, facilitators (with the notable exception of some high-priced fraudsters who call themselves facilitators but who actually make their living working for dishonest executives convincing workers their collective views are valued, when this ‘consultation’ is just a sham) tend to believe in the value of egalitarianism and transparency, learning and appreciation, and their behaviours and actions are driven accordingly.

In general, what we do is driven, I think, largely by our tacit set of beliefs about how the world really works and how we should act in accordance with that perception. I’ve been trying to assess the core beliefs of a number of the communities I belong to (Transition, Dark Mountain, co-housing etc.) to see if, by making this belief set explicit, I might better understand what motivates members of these communities to do what they do, and what holds them back from doing what I think they could be productively doing.

In the case of the Transition Movement, for example, I think some members have core beliefs that are totally in conflict with the core beliefs of other members, by virtue of the fact that Transition draws membership from across the political spectrum. There are Transition members who believe profoundly that garnering human ingenuity, innovation and “sustainable technology” is critical to making a successful transition to a post-peak-oil world. There are other members who believe just as profoundly that what is critical is increasing personal connection and collaboration in community, each person doing what they do best in concert with others to build resilience through small-scale projects now and to cope in the moment with crises as they occur in the future. There is yet a third group of members who believe that our civilization will not survive the coming crises and that what we need to “transition” to is an utterly different culture, a radically different way of living. No surprise, then, that Transitioners often get disenchanted with the direction (or lack of it) of their local Initiative.

In addition to our beliefs, I think our behaviours and actions are driven by what we care about. The personal imperatives that, beyond the obvious needs of the moment, drive our decisions about what to do with our days and our lives, are informed by our passions, the activities that bring joy, meaning and purpose to our lives.

So if you know what someone (or some group collectively) believes and what they care about, you should have a pretty good idea what they will be driven to do. If you want to affect their actions, then, you need to be able to appeal to what they care about, or change what they believe. That is, if significantly changing people’s beliefs is even possible.

I began wondering if, by analyzing my own core beliefs and passions, I might be able to determine and/or influence what I will do in the future, and perhaps understand my own motivations and the reasons why I have, and have not, taken certain actions.

Here is my personal inventory of core beliefs, and of the things I really care about.

What I believe to be true:

  1. We are alone, a complicity of our body’s ancient organs, and a co-production of their needs and our culture’s. To be nobody-but-ourselves, to rid ourselves of the gunk that our civilization culture has inculcated in us, is incredibly difficult.
  2. We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. We are driven by our own personal imperatives, the needs of the moment, and only act when there is no alternative of inaction or maintaining the status quo. There is never time left over to do what’s merely important, the things we merely “should” do. This behaviour has been an enormous evolutionary success, and not only for our species.
  3. Things are the way they are for a reason. Because most important systems (ecological and social systems) are complex and self-reinforcing, it is often impossible to really understand these reasons, and without understanding them our complexity-loathing species has no hope of changing them.
  4. Industrial civilization is in its final century, and its end will be a cascade of crises, to which we will respond very badly. The evidence of this is everywhere, and there will be no salvation from technology, invention, the Rapture or a sudden global raising of human consciousness.
  5. We are all broken, a species suffering from massive collective and personal grief, trauma and global imaginative poverty, and imprisoned by our cultural inventions, including most notably time, language, money, and technologies such as agriculture, weapons, and equipment powered by non-renewable energy. We are addicted to these cultural inventions, they are a part of the way our brains have formed since childhood, so we can no longer appreciate how we might live without them. Our grief and trauma is brought about by a combination of overpopulation, the desolation of our planet, and our inherent intelligence and ferocity (all unintended consequences of our species’ adaptations that were essential to our survival). And we have so little knowledge or ability to conceive of a different, better way to live, because we no longer have cause to practice imagining (modern entertainments imagine for us) and because with cultural homogenization there is so little remaining diversity of cultures, life forms, knowledge and ideas.
  6. No one is in control and no one knows anything. It is an arrogant and misguided delusion to believe any meaningful change can or will occur in large-scale systems top-down or through centralization or homogenization of processes, cultures or resources. This is not because any elite opposes change; it is because any large complicated system (political/legal, social, economic, technological, educational, health/wellness, or military/regulatory) is inherently unmanageable, and continues inexorably under its own momentum until it crashes. This is a problem of scale, and only when we focus at the community level (real, small community: where everyone knows everyone else) can we hope to bring about meaningful change (and this change is, alas, not scalable). And never have we been so utterly, collectively ignorant of how the world works or what we should do about it.
  7. The keys to being of use to the world lie in self-knowledge and self-acceptance, generosity, appreciation, imagination, nurturing personal and collective capacity, and learning to live naturally and presently. These are also the keys to finding love, and to loving. Specifically, the key to resilience in the coming decades will be our ability, in the moment, to imagine ways around the crises we cannot prevent, predict or plan for. And the key to effective action will be our ability to find work at the intersection of what we are uniquely good at, what we are passionate about, and what is needed in the world.
  8. The most important skills for this century are facilitation, mentoring and demonstration. Top-down hierarchical processes and organizations are efficient but ineffective and unsustainable, and they are collapsing everywhere. The decisions and organizations of the future will be co-developed cooperatively, and very few of us still know how to collaborate with others as peers. Likewise, dysfunctional education systems that stress top-down instruction are failing, and the self-directed learning that replaces them will require skilled mentors who can listen, guide, and demonstrate. Show, don’t tell, and don’t do things alone. The way to make a lifelong impact on others and the world is not to create things (they will all eventually crumble) or to tell people what is right and what should be done, but simply to be a “working model” who shows others a better way to live, to act, to be.

I’ve written about why I believe these things often over the years, so I won’t rehash them now.

There are some significant omissions from this list, that once would have been part of my core beliefs. I have not included “life is beautiful/wonderful” or “we are all inherently good”, because I’ve come to believe that we, and the world, and life, just are what we/they are. That’s nothing I feel bad, or good, about. I just accept this, and let go of my judgements about it, because any such simplistic judgements are I think suspect and can lead to false expectations and disappointments. My new 2011 core belief set is largely existential and morally agnostic.

What i care about:

  1. Self-directed learning
  2. Self-expression
  3. Being in love
  4. Being surrounded by beauty
  5. Creature comforts and hedonistic pleasures
  6. Reducing animal suffering and environmental desolation

This short list is self-explanatory, though I have pondered the reasons why I care about these things (this gets back into the issues of my lack of presence, and should I ever learn to be truly Present it’s possible this list might change).

In the meantime, looking at the list of things I care about (the second list, the Passions shown in the chart above) as the Drivers of my behaviour, and the list of things I believe (the first list, the Beliefs/Worldview shown in the chart above) as the Filters of my behaviour, it’s not hard to understand what I’m now doing with my spare time (the Personal Imperatives shown in the chart above):

  1. Learn to be present.
  2. Write, compose songs, games, and help people imagine possibilities.
  3. Find and converse with bright informed creative people.
  4. Spend time with people I love in gentle natural warm beautiful places.
  5. Fill my day with healthy natural pleasures.
  6. Learn to be a model of resilience and effective mentoring.
  7. Learn to laugh, and to let go.
  8. Find some safe way to effectively stop the Tar Sands and factory farming.

Almost scary, how predictable I am once you understand what I care about and what I believe. How about you? How about the groups and communities you are part of, and are trying to influence?

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