In quantum physics there is a theory known as the observer effect. In short, the idea is that by simply observing something, in this case a subatomic particle, you change the thing being observed. From a physics perspective, this might be troubling. How can one be sure one is observing the “real” nature of a phenomenon if every time you look at it, it’s different just because you looked at it? How would you ever know its real nature?
There are probably very good answers to these questions, but for my purposes regarding this post, I don’t care.
It’s not that I don’t care about science. I love science. Heck, I even donate to the National Public Radio program Science Friday—go Ira! What I do care about is this idea that things change when we pay attention to them. It’s not just a phenomenon of physical science, it is often true in the social science realm as well.
There have been studies that show more people will wash their hands after using the restroom if others are in there to see their behavior, opposed to when no one is around to see them. Once again, I am not so concerned with the details of spying on people in restrooms and the bodily functions involved that lead to the need to wash their hands. The point is, people’s behaviors change when we are paying attention to them, or they think we are. In the business realm, this effect was demonstrated in a famous study done at the Hawthorne Works telephone equipment company. Bottom line, the workers who received attention produced differently (better) than their fellow workers who weren’t observed or studied.
Be it the physical or social realms, observation can be a powerful influence for change. It’s time (long overdue actually) to start paying a better attention to what is going on in our environment. By environment, I mean both our natural environment which would include ecosystems, climate, habitats, etc., as well as our social environments such as our workplace, our communities, and so on. In my way of thinking, and a few others as well, these environments are parts of one big whole. Each affects the other.
Did you know that the thing you look at or pay attention to isn’t the only thing that changes? The observer also changes. I am not suggesting that simply by looking at something (i.e. becoming aware of it) will alone cause change—unless it’s a subatomic particle apparently—but that coming more aware and informed about an issue will change the way you think about it. Though precedes action. It also informs and guides it.
Do you want to see some good lookers to model? No, I didn’t say see good-looking models. Rather, I am suggesting you take a few clues from people who can really teach us about looking at things with a fresh perspective. Kids. They are a curious bunch and often not afraid to look at things we adults have chosen to ignore.
We have plenty of environmental problems to look at, be it the frightening increase in species extinctions or the distressing increase in loneliness in our society. Regardless of our political, religious, or philosophical inclinations, we are all in this together and no one is getting out. Well, there is that death thing, but I am talking about life. Not just life, but quality of life physically and mentally. We should not accept the current states of our environments, nor do we have to. There is so much that can be done.
I suggest that for many of us, myself included, our first step will be is to look. Look at what is taking place in nature, in society, and in our own homes. Do we like what we see? Does it concern us? Let what you see change the way you think, and then the way you act.
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
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