Gael Howell. Canberra Regional Meeting.

Niki Harré’s book “Psychology for a Better World – Strategies to Inspire Sustainability” could have been written for Friends. Most Friends in Australia are well aware of the perilous position our planet is in but we are often unsure about how to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.

For 350 years Quakers have observed testimonies to living simply and with integrity as an expression of our spirituality in action for a just and peaceful world. More recently we have been called to live in right relationship with all Creation, recognizing that the entire world is interconnected and is a manifestation of God and that peace and justice depend upon restoring the earth’s ecological integrity.

Niki says in her introduction ” I wrote this book for people (like me) who believe it is worth trying to make a better world in which our species and the ecological systems we are part of can flourish”. Although Niki is an academic psychologist this book is written for those seeking strategies to inspire others to join them in making a difference. She moves from the safe ground of discussing research findings to the riskier terrain of offering advice for action deduced from the psychological research findings.

She incorporates sustainable living into her daily life as well as being active in her local transition town and draws on many personal examples to illustrate the research findings she cites.

Subsequent chapters help the reader to understand why we behave as we do and how behaviour, including sustainability behaviour, can be influenced. Chapter two is about how positive emotions can inspire the kind of creativity and persistence needed to devise new was of living. Chapter three focuses on copying and how humans find it almost impossible to resist copying the behaviour that they observe. They are also influenced by the stories of what others have done and model themselves on people whose lives they admire. The next chapter is on identity, including who we are, where we fit in and the importance of belonging and supporting each other. It discusses the advantages of nurturing individual and group identities to aid sustainability advocacy.

Finally there is a chapter on morality in which Niki says “ Human moral intuition and reasoning can work for us in promoting a better world if we are able to convincingly frame sustainability issues as moral issues. This will make it possible to create collective rules about how to manage scarce resources fairly”.

The book ends with a useful chapter bringing together the strategies for change discussed in the book, and providing worksheets to enable the reader to analyze what they are doing or would like to do to advance sustainability in the personal group or civic realm.

This is an inspirational and often entertaining read. Niki emphasizes the positive, thus encouraging her readers to envisage a sustainable and pleasurable way of living and finding ways to communicate it to others so that they want to live it too. Caring about the wellbeing of the planet is a whole of life commitment for Niki in which she works to make all her actions consistent with her beliefs. She demonstrates the value of “walking the talk”.

The Quaker Testimony to Integrity is essentially a call for consistency between what a person professes and their actions in “real life.”  We are charged with “being patterns” by George Fox and Niki has given lots of good suggestions about how we can not only be good examples but understand how we can share our message with others and have lots of fun in the process.

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