Retune your self-interest

Part of a continuing series related to ideas in my book, “Sustainable You/8 First Steps to Lasting Change in Business and in Life.”

In far earlier times, humans had far fewer choices: Eat when you find food, find safety before dark, run or be eaten.

Today, of course, we can choose from 31 flavors, a dozen expressions of rice cake, and triple-grande decaf extra-hot no-foam skinny vanilla lattes. Oh, the riches of modern life!

But I’d argue that with our endless choices, our ability to choose has gone kerflooey. Simultaneously, we can think that the right choice will make all the difference, and that our choices won’t make any difference in the world.

In 2012, President Obama was re-elected with a margin of about 5 million votes, while 92 million eligible voters chose not to, presumably because they didn’t think their vote would make a difference. People’s votes are the *only* things that make a difference in an election!

We vote every day in the supermarket, too. It’s not possible to choose only a product, without also saying we’re willing to pay for every process that went into making it. They are a package, indivisible.

That means, for example, that when we buy products of Industrial agriculture, we’re also buying the rampant application of fertilizers and pesticides that threaten soil fertility; the fertilizer runoff that creates state-sized dead zones in the seas where they empty; the CAFOs that make noxious animal-waste lagoons; and so on.

And yet, what are the usual reasons for consumer choice? “Hey, it tastes good” or “great deal!” or “that guy with the mustache in the commercials is so funny.” I’m as price-sensitive as anyone, but I find it easier to pay a little more when I’m willing to remember that I’m part of a whole, and what I feed contributes to what grows.

Acting in our own self-interest is only natural — literally. In nature, it’s known as the survival instinct, and we’d be dead without it. But refining what our self-interest is — from a perspective broader than what we feel like — is definitely in our self-interest.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
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