We know that aspects of our environment, of the context in which we live, can cause direct psychological damage. We also know that other aspects of our environment can cause behavioural harm, promoting and supporting behavioural patterns that have negative health or societal effects in the long term. In a sense, you could say that these contextual factors are psychological toxins. Yet, instead of directly addressing the toxins themselves, we are too often tempted to simply put responsibility and blame onto individuals.
Complex societal and public health problems such as domestic violence, drug addiction, mental illness, poverty, obesity and Type 2 Diabetes and too often understood simplistically to be the responsibility and the fault of particular individuals. Even attempts to tackle these problems at a population level often amount to public campaigns aimed at changing the behaviour of individuals, by simply convincing individuals to change.
Instead, we need to look to the context in which we live if we want change. For example, instead of pushing out another public health campaign to cut back on junk food, we need to take seriously the possibility of actually removing junk food from supermarket shelves. Instead of yet another public health campaign promoting physical activity, we need to find ways to build physical activity back into our everyday lifestyle.
Imagine if we found that there were physical toxins in the water supply that were linked to cancer. Would we respond to this by simply creating a public health campaign for drinking bottled water? No- of course we wouldn’t! We’d get the toxins out of the water supply. We need to take the some approach with psychological toxins; creating a context that allows people to flourish.
Apply it in your life: Do you notice the impact of contextual factors on your behaviour? How would you like to see society change to better support flourishing?