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Individual Inability to Initiate Personal Lifestyle Change

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Report of Group 8 on the occasion of the European Workshop on Lifestyles and Social Change (Arc-et-Senans, France, September 1977)
organized by the Association Internationale Futuribles. Version française This report is divided into two parts. The first provides an indication of the context within which the group defined its concerns and formulated its conclusion. The second part contains those conclusions


The group emerged from the confusion faced by some participants at the Workshop in attempting to amputate and distort their interests in order to fit into the preoccupations of one of the other groups. Members shared a perception that the conceptual and strategic implications of the conventional process of group formation tended to conceal certain problems fundamental to the question of lifestyle change.

The preoccupation of the group is well illustrated by a story reported by one of the members:

In a little Welsh village the preacher would tell the villagers every Sunday about the bad impact of alcohol and drunkenness on their lifestyle and its implications for their society. However the preacher himself was known to drink a lot and was occasionally seen to be drunk. The adults said nothing about this. One day a little boy found the courage to ask him about this apparent inconsistency in his behaviour. The preacher replied: "My boy, it is very simple, you must realize that I am a signpost and not the road"

The group agreed that the conventional academic and official approaches in which they tended to participate resulted in the production of many signposts but very few roads. In fact there is, in other terms, a collective inability to put legs on the signposts.

The group was pleased to be somewhat innovative in its own activities by holding its discussions out in the sun on the grass.

The procedure quickly adopted by the group in the morning session was a form of in-depth interview of one of its members and his relation to his children. The interview amounted at some stages to an interrogation and we wish to record our appreciation of his collaboration in providing illustrative material as a basis for our discussions. During this discussion it was agreed whilst collective insight of participants at the Workshop provided much understanding about macro-social change, we were incapable of going into the neighbouring village and demonstrating the desirability of such change by our own behaviour.

Curing the afternoon session, some members of the group undertook an investigative expedition into the village. In retrospect we have to report that with the tacit consent of the group, one of our members threw rocks at signposts. Two of our members ignored a villager who expressed willingness to chat with us. We obstructed the traffic. One of our members barked back at the dogs we disturbed during the siesta period. There is also some probability that he would have interfered with the railway crossing mechanism had it not been sealed.

We believe that these observations constitute further support for our conclusions.


Whilst those concerned with recommending social change and especially change in personal lifestyles are viable to produce many practical and imaginative proposals, it is very apparent that the individuals making such proposals are unable to make any major change in their own personal lifestyles and frequently do not recognize the need to do so. Even in the case when individuals recognize the desirability of making such changes in their own lifestyles and are motivated to do so, they still experience an inability to make any basic changes. Even when this inability is recognized consciously, such individuals find themselves incapable of re-educating themselves to facilitate any such change. They can analyze the matter, formulate the desirable options, but are unable to act upon them for themselves. Obvious examples could be cited in connection with: public littering, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, excessive consumption of energy and material resources.

Whilst it is normal practice to ignore this basic difficulty and to disassociate it from our our collective concerns for micro-social change in lifestyles, the group considered a solution to this basic question as fundamental

The group was, by definition, unable to do more than clarify the need for confronting this issue and its implications for social change and the process of formulating relevant recommendations.

In considering what action could be taken, four possibilities appear to merit further consideration:

  1. Whilst the individual acting alone may be unable to re-educate himself or to change his or her personal lifestyle, it would appear that small groups or networks of people may be able to do so together. Despite the information available, it is not yet clear how any such group would take steps to change their lifestyles.
  2. Recognizing that it avoids the basic issue, there appears to be a strong case for producing one or more books for children showing them how to avoid adopting the lifestyles in which their parents are trapped. This is particularly important since the parents tend to teach the children the spurious arguments to justify their own inadequacies.
  3. Care should be taken in organizing meetings that the conceptual/intellectual focus during a meeting session is not emphasized at the expense of the affective component.
  4. Whilst we have learnt to bring the country into the city in the form of parks, we have not yet learnt how to take the city into the country. In other words, the quality of life which attracts people to the city -- what might be called the "critical communication mass" of ideas and cultural diversity -- is difficult for an individual to develop in the country. A collective approach to the innovative solution To this difficulty is required in order to avoid a lifestyle "monoculture".

In conclusion, every individual is co-determined by his social environment. The degree to which the individual succeeds in

of course varies. The individual can become a victim consciously or unconsciously. Changing the environment or escaping from it require insight and decisions. Decision, or rather the capability and joy of taking decisions; determine the individuals style and joy in life.

It is appropriate to record that the members of the group felt that they had acted in a manner consistent with their own insights, that they found the process personally and professionally beneficial, and enjoyed the experience. They would like to thank the organizers for this opportunity.

Members of the group included: Hans Buchholz (Zentrum Berlin für Zukunftsforschung), Tatjana Globokar, Anthony Judge (Mankind 2000), Peter Mettler

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