Culture CAN Change

March 19, 2010 at 4:06 am Leave a comment

So I heard a statistic on NPR yesterday that gave me hope — and that tells me two things: 1) we can consciously change culture, and 2) our culture is having some success in moving things in the right direction.

Here’s the news:

University of Michigan social psychologist Lloyd Johnston runs an ongoing study that tracks the behavior of children between the ages of 13 and 18. He says that in 1996, 21 percent of eighth-graders were smoking. By 2009, that had dropped by nearly 70 percent, down to 6.5 percent currently smoking.

Johnston says the change was driven in part by prices and taxes on cigarettes. But he also points to successful public health messages that convinced kids that smoking was dangerous, not glamorous. “Today, we see three-quarters of teens say that they would prefer to date somebody that doesn’t smoke. So, what used to be suggested as increasing your attractiveness to the opposite gender, today does exactly the opposite.”

The story discussed how they could use this knowledge to fight childhood obesity.  Absolutely.  I say that cultural change is completely possible if enough people put their true intentions behind making it happen.  Now, if you know the academic theories of mass communication (such as “two-step flow”), you could argue that the change did not come directly from the public health messages per se, but from people agreeing with the messages and convincing other people to believe them as well.  It was more than a marketing campaign or a tax that got that many kids believing that smoking is not a habit worth having.  It was a combination of factors for sure, but the upshot is that a true shift in consciousness has occurred among our nation’s youth.

When I hear about shifts in consciousness like this, I get energized.  I get excited.  Because it validates what I believe — we can create a better world for future generations.  We can recover from our mistakes of the past.  We can go forward and create a world as we believe it can be, and not just sit back and say the world just is as it is and we can’t do a thing about it.

Some may call it unreasonable to think we can change the mighty tides pulling us into the messy swamps of consumerism, materialism, ultra-competitiveness, entitlement, ignorance, pessimism…  I think we can — so call me unreasonable.  As George Bernard Shaw said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  Or woman, right?

There’s a lot of depressing news out there these days.  But today I’m focusing on this kernel of good news.  Our kids are getting smarter, healthier, wiser.  Our future is getting brighter.  One shift at a time…

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You are visiting "Having Enough (In a Have-It-All World)"...

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To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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