By Bob Kenny
Sometimes I am amazed by the gap
between knowing something intellectually
and knowing it well enough to
act on it.
Take my current nutrition and fitness
campaign. I "know" that if I watch my calories, eat the right food, get enough sleep and exercise regularly, I'll live healthier-and longer. But knowing doesn't make it easy to change years of habits. I intend to exercise and to eat a healthier diet, but, as a motivator, research is not quite enough.
To change, I need the support and motivation of others. When I visit my father-in-law, who maintains his good health at age 82, the first thing he says in the morning is, "Well, what are we doing for exercise today?" He helps me act on what I know. It's great to do something together.
That's probably why people who are trying to make changes in their lives belong to clubs, groups or organizations like Weight Watchers, AA, health spas, support groups, and running clubs, to name a few. Thinking, reflecting, being and doing with others can make a huge difference to us.
Turning to Ourselves
Can I use this technique when dealing with money? I "know" from studies in economics and psychology that after a certain fairly modest point, having more money does not necessarily produce more happiness for people. But do I act like I believe that? If not, what beliefs do my actions reflect?
The success of our economic system has generated endless questions and choices. One of the more important ones is whether or not we will continue to move toward more materialism or toward that which is deeper in our life. Now it seems logical that we would choose the course of action that would make us happier. But how do we know? Study the research? Listen to the commercials? Read Aristotle?
Although capitalism has increased our choices, it has not automatically brought us wisdom. Our economic system gives more choice but no guidance. For this we must turn to other resources, such as morality, philosophy-and to ourselves. We must also help the next generation find the guidance it will need. While listening to my son's hopes for the future, I sometimes wonder what his world will be like. I also fret sometimes that I have not done a good enough job teaching him what is really important.
I want him to know that value of a home is more about the presence of love than about how many square feet it is. Or that who rides with him in a vehicle is more important than the make and model of that vehicle. I want him to realize that picking a college where he will be happy and thrive is more important than its "prestige."
And I want him to know, and myself to remember, that living in a community where we are cared for and where there is mutual trust and respect is more important than living in the right zip code.
I know I should be guided by these truths, but keeping things in perspective can be difficult and a little lonely.
So I look for empathic company. Listening to what inspires other people, hearing about their dreams and concerns and learning about the consequences of their choices is a gentle nudge reinforcing these truths. I have been to quite a few of the MTM discussion groups since we started them some years ago. I am often motivated, even inspired, by what I hear people say.
As a result of participants sharing of their struggles and victories, choices and actions, I get the push I need to remember how important it is to help my son develop his own philosophy and sense of morality in this great capitalistic system of ours. Talking with others helps me stay in touch with my values, philosophy and concerns so that I can continue to do my work at home and in the world.
Bob Kenny is the executive director of the More Than Money Institute. For more than 20 years he has worked with individuals, communities, and organizations to identify and address the gaps between their stated values and the realities of their lives.
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