By Phil Polizatto,WWH/CJE – The other day as I climbed into the passenger seat of our trusty truck, lovingly known as The Ashtray, I reached for the buckle of the seatbelt, but couldn’t find it. My friend and I were already deep into a laughing fit and righteously stoned, as we struggled to pry the stubborn buckle from between the seats.
I fingered out old caramel popcorn, fast food French fries of yore, and roaches I thought were worth saving (though my friend did not,) all in search of something looking like it had jaws of steel with a leather top, when it dawned on me that not too long ago, we would have never taken the time to wrestle a buckle from between the seats, let alone have the audacity to write a sentence this long. We would have said, “The hell with it,” and driven off, leaving the rest of the world in the dust.
Do you remember those days? When seatbelts were merely ‘recommended?’ When most men were too macho to use them? When it became law that some men were so irate they actually protested and said it violated their constitutional rights?
Now we think of it as silly. We put our seatbelts on almost instinctively. And if my friend had had to put the car in Park, pull up the
emergency brake, push the driver’s seat forward, get on his hands and knees and rummage through the junk on the floor to get at that damned buckle, he would have done it. We would have taken the time to do it. That’s how highly we regard seatbelts.
At first, we did it at because it was the law. Regardless of your politics, most people were law-abiding citizens. We teenagers rebelled as
usual until the cops started actually enforcing the law, or until a bunch of our buddies got killed in horrifying crashes. That’s what it took back then.
Then we realized the seatbelt really did save lives. It was validated time and time again. So we adapted. We no longer made fun of the strap, but had a good brotherly attitude toward it. We valued its existence. And putting on a seatbelt became habitual, instinctive. We do this ritual every time we get in a car because what used to be just a behavior has now been
transformed into a belief!
This is not how most behaviors happen. Most often, a person believes
something is true and that determines what they value, their attitude, and
ultimately their behaviors. A woman believes using pesticides on food is bad. Her attitude toward pesticides is negative. She therefore values
organic food. Her behavior is that she only patronizes markets that sell
organic produce. Her behavior is a result of her beliefs. Naturally, if the
consequences of her behaviors are always beneficial, they will reinforce her
beliefs, which reinforce the behavior.
But sometimes, the process works in reverse. If, for some reason,
you behave in a certain way, and if the behavior is validated and reinforced repeatedly, the behavior may change your underlying attitudes, values and even your beliefs! We have just seen how this happened with seatbelts. There was huge shift, across the nation, from dislike of the law as an intrusion into personal freedom, to an embracement of it as a wise and
practical behavior that everyone agrees is in the citizens’ best interests and benefits everyone.
Take the abolishment of segregation. Oh, how many years that
struggle lasted! But even the most hardened against it eventually accepted it.
They recognized the moral authority of it as well as the legal one. The Civil
Rights Act eventually was regarded as something long overdue. And the
people adapted, as if that is the way it always was, and always should have
been. This is just another example of how behaving in a certain way actually
has the capacity to change hearts and minds. Continue reading Worldwide Hippies Phil Polizatto: As If