Strategy 1. Control your exposure

When I argued about global warning, I was often confronted with the argument that there had always been phenomena that caused global warning such as volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and other natural disasters and nature had always managed to deal with them. Yes, all natural systems have mechanisms to deal with extraordinary or pathological phenomena. Similarly, on a physiological level, we have an organ – liver, that is responsible for detoxicating our blood and organism. Scientists discover, for instance, that it is not healthy to eat roasted or smoked meat. But we have eaten this kind of meat all throughout our history since the taming of fire. But in the context of healthy air, healthy water,  and healthy food, our liver could easily deal with this as well as many other toxins we were threatened with.

The problem with natural protection against global warming, similarly to the liver, is that the pollution and toxicity of the environment are so significant that these systems do not suffice. The number of unnecessary deaths is a very good proof of that fact. 90% of cases of cancer are results of our lifestyle habits. [1] We observe a relatively new expansion of the illness, which had already been known in ancient times. But now, we have to help the systems to deal with the extraordinary burden of toxins that is overloading our organisms. The question is how do we know whether our lifestyle and accordingly food and environment are below the norm. I propose to use the methodology used by occupational medicine to evaluate the risk associated with a given place of life or work. A simple equation is used to measure the risk.

Risk Assessment Factor = Consequence x Exposure x Probability.

The consequence is scaled from 10 (death) to 2 (first aid injury such as cuts, sprains, headaches). Exposure is scaled from 10 (every hour of the day), 8 (every day), 6 (every week), 4 (every month), to 3 (once a year). The probability represents the chance that exposure to the hazard would result in injury or illness.

Occupational doctors then calculate the risk and evaluate it on the following scale:

  • 801 to 1000 – the highest risk,
  • 601-800 – higher risk,
  • 401-600 – high risk,
  • 201-400 – lower risk, and finally
  • 8 – 200 the lowest risk (Reese 2003).
You are what you read

cc by Rahel at flickr

Although there are no data available to make such detailed calculations for most walks of our lives, we can still use the logic to help us make some decisions. Let us take a few examples. For instance, we want to know whether we should be jogging in the morning or not. In most large cities you can find the level of pollution. For instance, Halifax Air Quality Health Index can be found for each day at this website. All we have to do is to look not only at the weather but also the air quality at a given time. But what if we are considering moving to a new city[2]? We can use a web page that compares general parameters of pollution of water and air in a city. Unfortunately there are no small towns and villages there, but on the other hand, these are places that are usually less risky. It should be noted that also records other data such as prices, salaries, crime, health care, etc.

While using this method we can also take into account possible consequences of commuting from the suburbs (healthier) to the jobs in the city centres (less healthy). This may influence our decision about the choice of workplace.

Strategy 2. Benchmark your risks to the good old times

Old good times

cc by Susie’s Farm at flickr

I propose to use the natural, simple, traditional, healthy diet and lifestyle as a reference point. About 120 years ago, natural lifestyle meant a lot of physical activity, local organic food, living in the country and engagement in the lives of the community from early childhood to old age. Our organism has evolved and is adjusted to live this lifestyle and the traditions of processing food for centuries have been tested and the best healthy recipes remained. There is a radical version of this diet called Palaeolithic diet, which recommends using the food from Palaeolithic times, which practically means no processed food, even traditionally processed food.

The problem is that in the “good old times” residents of Norway lived different healthy styles than those of Italy. Some dieticians claim that we should correct our habits by blood type, as blood type reflects the preferences of our ancestors and shows where we came from. Yes, when we see the maps of blood type distribution we can see its regional, racial or ethnic spread. Examples of such maps can be found here. The problem is that the research is conducted on the cell level and does not take into account adaptive possibilities of the organism. Similarly, our body type reflects some truth about what kind of life we should live. There are many references to linking body type with exercise, diet, and general lifestyle. Here is an example of this approach. We may only hope that this knowledge will become more decisive in the future.

The next step in using this strategy would be finding differences between your Good Old Times ideal lifestyle and our own lifestyle. If your body and blood suggest that you should be physically active, you should make up for the office work by appropriate physical exercises.

The final step would be making appropriate corrections and implementing them. This may mean change of place of living, switching from the car to the bicycle, or even such small change as changing a desk for a tall table at which you can stand.

Strategy 3. Money – escape from community

A popular quote says: “We buy things, we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.” But does money bring happiness? The general population data show that the increase of population wealth does not translate to the level of happiness, which stays on the same level over the years. Money brings happiness to the poorest. It is related with the first two levels of happiness. However, further increase of income has highly negative influence on people. Paul Piff in his TED talk:

In his talk he quotes his several studies showing how money may become detrimental to our behaviours. What is most dangerous is that the sense making process [3] of entitlement to comfort not only justifies the meanness of the rich, but, on a large scale, influences the position of the rich, which may indirectly influence the jurisdiction regarding participative companies.

Becoming rich may become a way of escaping the truth about oneself that is given by community. This is what Vanier [4] writes about this process:

When we begin to live full-time with others, we discover our poverty and our weaknesses, our inability to get on with people, our mental and emotional blocks, our affective or sexual disturbances, our seemingly insatiable desires, our frustrations and jealousies, our hatred and our wish to destroy. While we were alone, we could believe we loved everyone. (…)

So community life brings a painful revelation of our limitations, weaknesses and darkness; the unexpected discovery of the monsters within us is hard to accept. (…) we try to flee from community life and relationships with others or try to find that the monsters are theirs, not ours.

The participative company difficulties to form real communities are probably caused by such fears. And our meanness caused by higher income is rooted in the escape from the truth about ourselves. No wonder, we thoughtlessly choose to reduce our time with others to earn money. And those gains, which are ungrounded or random, make us increase our self-esteem. As a result we unnecessarily spend money and use unnecessary space, which does not make us happier. Michael Norton, a social science researcher, confirmed in an interesting way, what we said before about the third level of happiness. In his research in many countries and cultures, he confirmed many times that if we spend money on others, we are happier than if we spend money on ourselves. Here you can see his lecture [5]:

All the research quoted so far, should lead us sooner or later to the conclusion that we should try to live financially the most modest life possible to save and give as much time as possible to others, but if we happen to be well off, we should share our wealth with others as much as possible; in this way we reach the third level of happiness.

This advice is so radical, that I can hardly imagine anyone using it and not be considered a freak. Such strategies require communities that help to support people. Participative companies with their values and principles could be such communities.

Strategy 4. Information diet


cc by dave at flickr

With the strategy 3 in mind we should be looking for the most time-consumers apart from work. We should also try to find a lot of information relevant to our life that is not readily available. Analogically to food we experience something like information obesity. It means we have a lot of information we do not need, and at the same time lack information crucial to our lives. We can find more in-depth reflections on information diet in the book by Clay A. Johnson [6] who uses the analogy between food and information to its very end. Although the author tries to analyse the causes, and offers simple solutions on both a personal and social level, he realizes that what he is writing about is close to the theme of culture in general.

Here are some hints on how to deal with information. Some, but not all of them, overlap with the Johnson’s:

  1. Media show not what is important, but what is interesting, and what we want to watch. So to get what is important we have to actively look for information we are interested in. Curiosity is a powerful force, which may take us to areas of knowledge that are completely useless for our lives. Then we will not have enough time to look for information that is crucial for our lives.

  2. Try to be as close to the source of the information as possible. Instead of reading comments about a document, read the document, instead of watching footage of an event go and see the event with your own eyes. Instead of reading about research, go to a meeting with a researcher or watch longer lectures or comments of the researchers. Whenever possible try to get information directly from the experts.

  3. Do not believe any simplifying statements. Any phenomenon is complex and whoever says they have simple and quick solutions is probably a crook. Try to understand the complexities most important in your life by multidisciplinary perspective. As problems are usually transdisciplinary, while experts are usually mono-disciplinary, always check what other disciplines have to say about your problem. A dramatic example comes from the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy in 2009 that was predicted by a geology technician Giampaolo Giuliani, but nobody believed him because he was not a seismologist; as a result 309 people died and 1500 were injured. Later seven scientists and experts were convicted of manslaughter.

  4. Distinguish between what people say and how they behave and try to follow and listen to those whom you admire for their lifestyles and attitude to others. Philosophy of many modern and past philosophers seems to justify their weaknesses. The same may be true about scientists, politicians and any other celebrities that influence our life.

  5. Distinguish between knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. Wisdom is reflected first of all in the lifestyle of a person and not in her convictions. It is based on faith, our own experience, experience of others, scientific knowledge and practical skills which we may not be aware of.

  6. Experts often disagree. Their disagreement may be rooted in their anthropological assumptions, experience, education, and financial institutions. Try to find alternative opinions and be sensitive to hidden assumptions of the experts.

  7. When presented with a piece of information, pay special attention to who sponsors the delivery and particularly what are the interests of the institution which delivers the information. This applies particularly to advertisers. Remember that they serve their businesses’ interests not necessarily you. It is also worthwhile to look into real values of the institutions. If they are for-profit institutions remember that profit is their cardinal value.

  8. When looking for information on your own, pay attention to the date the information was published, and try to find the newest information. This is particularly important with any research results, which are continuously updated by even more recent research.

  9. Emotional and informational messages are often put in opposition to one another. But it is not possible to generate any emotionally clean piece of information. What we should rather look for, especially in difficult situations when we have time to think, is how the emotions and feelings related to a piece of information and what they do with us. Such reflection may reveal common ways we are manipulated by referring to our emotions.

We should judge the information similarly when we are judging the workplace.     Am I, by watching or reading this, becoming a better person?

Lifestyle myths

Are you a co-operative expert?



[2]  Some of the important consequences of living in a city can be found in this article from the magazine Science:

[3] Sensemaking: is the process by which people give meaning to experience. While this process has been studied by other disciplines under other names for centuries, the term “sensemaking” has been introduced by Karl Weick in 1969.

[4] Venier, J. (1979). Community and growth: Our pilgrimage together. Toronto: Griffin House. p. 1.


[6] Johnson, C. A. (2015). Information diet. O’Reilly