Doing the right thing in a world that doesn't can feel like shouting into an empty canyon. Some people feel helpless to change because they feel like all that effort spent swimming against the current will never change the current. Eliminating my annual 20 puny tons of carbon dioxide emissions won't cause the ocean levels to rise one inch less. Or so the reasoning goes.
But did you know that an avalanche can be started by one little pebble? Did you know, that according to chaos theory, a hurricane can begin with the flapping of the wings of a butterfly?
The research proves it. Anna, a No Impact Man reader from Australia, left a comment, slightly modified here by me, about a study to do with the effect of one person's picking up street litter on the behavior of strangers:
One of its findings was that when people are presented with someone who is actively doing the right thing, by picking up litter, this provides a 'positive injunctive norm'--an example of what should be done--to counter the 'descriptive norm' that is provided by the presence of street litter in the first place (people picking up litter so I should too versus everyone else is littering so I may as well too). And this injunctive norm (having someone pick up litter) was effective in getting people to not litter (when compared to another condition where there was no one picking up litter).
This is known, in common parlance, as the ripple effect. If people see you picking up litter, they are more likely to pick up litter too. If people see you trying to help the planet and the people who live on it , they are more likely to try to help too.
Every positive action each one of us takes (whether it's individual, political or corporate) brings us that much closer to being the pebble that starts the avalanche or the butterfly that starts the hurricane.
To see a cool, inspiring video illustrating the avalanche idea, go to my post The power of one.
And in case you're interested, the study Anna discussed: Cialdini, R.B., Raymond, R.R., Calrgen, K.A. (1990), A focus theory of normative conduct; Recycling the concept of norms to reduce littering in public places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 58 (6).
Image courtesy of Gazette Out There