Monday, March 5, 2012

Future vs. present tense

My blogging has dropped off tremendously... partly due to the busyness of life, but also partly due to my increased attention to current politics. I still do most of the same green things I've been doing (or have begun doing) since starting this blog, from making or buying natural health, beauty and cleaning products (except toothpaste!); to using reusables as much as possible (cloth napkins and towels, reusable menstrual products, water bottles, straws, sandwich bags, etc); to buying second-hand; to keeping the heat turned down, conserving water, and so on. But I haven't done much to seek out new or better ways to live green.

I have thought about why, and one big issue is that current political issues seem so pressing (folks are questioning whether insurance should cover birth control? Really?!), that environmental issues seem less important, or at least less urgent. Of course, that's nonsense: climate change and other environmental issues have global consequences that could potentially overshadow all other concerns.

I learned recently about the research of Dr. M. Keith Chen of Yale University. He has been examining the impact of language on cultural norms, and he has discovered something interesting: nations whose primary language has a future tense (such as English) do a poorer job of preparing for the future than nations whose primary language uses the same verb form to communicate present and future actions (such as Mandarin or German). People in countries with strong future-time-reference (FTR) languages, such as the U.S., are less likely to save for the future, eat healthily, or engage in a whole host of other behaviors that require delayed gratification in order to achieve a future payoff.

Of course, the caveat, "correlation does not equal causation" always applies. That said, the researcher is speculating about reasons for this trend. His idea is that when you use different words to communicate about the future, it's easier to see that future as separate from the present and therefore to put off future payoff actions in favor of what feels good now. Thus, when you say in English, "I will start my diet tomorrow," it's easier to put off the start of that diet than when you say in another language, "I start my diet." The latter feels more immediate, and you might thus be more likely to take action today.

I have been learning about affirmations, and the same concept applies. When you say an affirmation, you are supposed to say it in the present rather than future tense; for example, instead of saying, "I will become more patient with my child," you might say, "I am more and more patient with my child." The idea is that right now you are becoming that which you desire, even if you haven't fully arrived.

I wonder if this can apply to how we think about the environment? I have shared before that my green journey began when my daughter was a baby, because I wanted to ensure that the world would be a healthy place for her future. But maybe I should be thinking more about the here and now, and perhaps that will stimulate my urgency. In other words, today I am living in a way that makes the world a better, more healthy place right now.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. That is so interesting, and I totally see the wisdom in using present-tense affirmations.