I have recently re-read the fantastic book “How to be Free” by Tom Hodgkinson.
A wonderfully poignant book that actually feels more like a collection of essays wherein which the author explores an idiosyncratic philosophy of part Medieval, part anarchist-utopian, part Therouian transcendentalism with a chummy sort of wit and easy-to-read writing style.
I’m not a book reviewer so I wouldn’t know where to start when writing about this book but I thoroughly enjoyed this easy reader, not to mention his other book “How to be Idle” and the thematically similar “In Praise of Slow” by Carl Honore all of which espouse a philosophy – although that’s perhaps too grand a name for this, it’s more a point of view or sense of life.
All these books – and many more – describe a way of living where we “unplug” from the mainstream, consumerist society we inhabit and pay closer attention to the things that are more important like family, laughter, good food, ale etc… It’s an appealing image, utopian really since it’s probably impossible to 100% achieve.
I won’t criticise the problems with this outlook, you can work them out for yourselves. For example where would medicine be without consumerism? Instead I want to look at how the rise of this way of thinking in the 21st century parallels our hyper-consumerist society and how behavioural psychologists have been talking about this stuff for years.
21st Century Breakdown
“You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world.”
– Morpheus, The Matrix
I don’t want to get too hippy dippy here but it’s clear to everyone who’s even half plugged in to the world around them that something is rotten in the state of Denmark – and pretty much everywhere else. The seismic shock of Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump, these things are not random occurrences. The incessant desire for a globalist world, coupled with a breakdown of traditional family structure, social institutions, and practices have left a lot of people feeling…well…forgotten.
We spend our days working hard to earn money which we can spend on things we are told we need by the people we work for who give us money to go out and buy the things we make. It’s all a bit cyclical. People know it’s cyclical. This leads us to what I call the punishment society, a way of living that is characterised by a relentless focus on avoiding negatives.
Avoidance vs. Achieving
We avoid negatives. Relentlessly. We avoid poverty. We avoid bad fashion. We avoid the horror of having a smart phone that isn’t the latest model. We avoid looking stupid. We avoid looking poor. We avoid being judged by our bosses and co-workers.
We avoid it. Constantly. We spend all day keeping the proverbial wolf from the door. We exhaust ourselves and look toward to that brief glimmer of two weeks in the summer we get off before we do it all over again. And again. Our activities, such as they are, are meant to distract us from this. 5 hours of TV a day makes for a good sedative. It keeps us calm, plus, added bonus, it lets us be influenced by hypnotic-like adverts selling us more things to spend our hard earned money on.
It’s a bleak picture, isn’t it? But of course we avoid thinking about that as well. We tell ourselves over and over “If I can just get X” where X is the new promotion, new house, new car, new watch, new fridge etc…
“How to Be Free” and the others I mentioned, are a reaction to this pattern. They offer a solution in the form of achieving not avoiding.
The Central Idea
Imagine if you can a world where you jump out of bed, happy to greet the day. You go about your business purposefully because you want to. You don’t feel cheated or swindled. You aren’t exhausted at the very thought of having to spend another day trying to stop people thinking badly of you.
This is the world behavioural psychology can help you achieve.
The work we do at Change Design Co. is in fact founded on this idea. We help people in businesses realise that you encourage people to positively engage with their work when you reward them and allow them the freedom to flourish. If you crack down. If you try and control. If you try and punish your way to a better workforce you’ll only drive people further and further away.