“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
Albert Einstein, who was once “labeled dull, dyslexic, even autistic or schizophrenic”, has a valid point about world destruction. We have this mentality that there is nothing we can do about it because there’s just too many people and you can’t control everything. In regards to the environment, I can’t tell you how many people label themselves as “environmentally friendly” and then don’t own a single reusable water bottle or grocery bag. I hate to break it to you guys, but Americans are a bit behind in taking action against global warming and the climate crisis.
I knew that coming to another country would be a big change. I knew they would have different stores, quirky pet peeves, and strange rules to follow. It wasn’t long before I realized just how seriously the Kiwi’s take their environment. On the plane leaving LAX, we watched the safety video for the airline. It had multiple facts about global warming and glacier melt, and was set in Antarctica to prove the point further.
At dinner time I heard a strange comment. The gentleman behind me asked for a drink and handed his used cup to the flight attendant. The flight attendant said “Thank you sir, we greatly appreciate your effort to reuse and recycle.” That one simple thank you changed my perspective. I had just asked for a beverage but took a new cup, because US food laws state you cannot reuse a single use cup when there is no lid. My ignorance to their ways made me feel foolish for not reusing my cup.
This is not the first instance that I have heard someone say “thank you” for being environmentally conscious. My airbnb host thanked me for recycling what I could, and stated his appreciation towards me using a reusable bag. The grocery store clerks have thanked me for bringing my own bag, and in one case when I didn’t, I had to pay for plastic bags.
This is called “positive reinforcement“. Positive reinforcement is the supplying of a reward after a favorable behavior is performed. In this case, I receive a thank you and a smile every time that I reuse a bag or recycle. Well, why the hell would I not continue! I love smiles and being appreciated! Don’t we all?
On the contrary, the way I have previously been taught these lessons is through negative reinforcement. Many times when you don’t reuse or recycle, friends and family may mention what a drag that is on the environment and how you should really do your part. You start to feel down on yourself because you aren’t trying as hard as you should be, but then you never get the motivation to try because no one ever notices that. Does this sound familiar?
Your boss doesn’t recognize the 100 days of work that you did well and didn’t screw up, but the one day that you do something wrong, you never hear the end of it?
This is negative reinforcement. Instead of rewarding favorable behaviors, we have a tendency to punish unfavorable behavior. How would you like it if your boss did the opposite? Every day you do a good job, they smile and tell you that you did well. The one day you don’t do well, your boss doesn’t say anything. No “thank you” for a job well done, but also no punishment for a small slip up.
I don’t know about you, but I am well aware of when I screw something up, and I get disappointed in myself enough knowing that I let myself down. The last thing I need is someone else bringing it to my attention that they are also disappointed and that I also let them down.
This small subject has been floating around my brain since I left the airport. How do I do my part in trying to reduce the amount of waste I am creating? How do I reuse things as much as I can while camping so I am not being wasteful? What in the world is okay to recycle here, and where can I recycle them? It didn’t take long to answer all of these questions as everyone is more than willing to share their views on waste in New Zealand.
Shopping local is a big one here. Many people don’t understand why shopping local is going to save the environment, and many do not want to participate because of the added cost to the consumer for these products. Shopping local does two things: it reduces the transportation of the product so less fuel is used for shipping and it cycles money back into the local economy. Some may say “well yeah, but the plane was going to fly here anyways, what’s one more box of goods?” Each added pound of cargo on a plane or ship adds to the amount of fuel used to transport it. The precise reason why airlines started charging for carry-on bags in the last few years.
This week, I chose to shop at a local market before heading to the big name grocery store. I was able to get most of my produce and some other goods, and was able to supplement local goods with imported goods due to availability. I chose to walk to the local supermarket with a reusable bag to get the rest of my goods for the week.
I am telling you, this positive reinforcement stuff works. I invite you to try it for a week. Instead of punishing bad behavior, try rewarding good behavior. For example: your kid gets a good grade on a test, acknowledge they did well and thank them for their efforts. On the other hand, when that same kid starts acting up, don’t acknowledge it. Don’t say anything to punish the behavior and simply move on with your day.
The same example works in the workplace. Say you have a coworker that bothers the crap out of you. Next time they say something positive or tell an uplifting story, thank them with a simple “thanks for telling me that story, I really appreciate a positive and uplifting conversation in the morning.” Then when they start being a you-know-what and complaining about everything under the sun, ignore them. Don’t acknowledge that they said anything, don’t nod your head and say “mhmm”, and certainly don’t tell them to be more positive.
As for me, I will be continuing my environmental efforts, and plan to clean up some of the beaches when I go walking, taking after my Mom. She routinely takes a spare garbage bag with her and picks up trash on her walk. It doesn’t take much time or effort, and you get good exercise while you’re doing it. Thank you, Mom, for being a great role model in cleaning up the litter on the beach. We appreciate you!