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The Choices We Make.

There's a new trend in town. It's called 'nudging' and it aims to push us towards making the right choices. Wouldn't response-ability be a much more attractive alternative?

I was invited to a party of 20-year-olds a little while ago. And I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when I found out that half of them were studying behavioural economics. “In recent years, behavioral science has become a voguish field”, writes The New Yorker.

N like nudging

Behavioural scientists have coined a new trend: “nudging” – an approach where we aim to set the desired outcome as the default. For example, canteen owners place healthy food at eye level so that people choose it. Government officials frame non-tax-payment as an active choice in order to make more people pay their taxes. This smart approach of creating an active choice context is booming, both in the corporate and public sectors, where CEOs try to change people’s behaviour by offering them easy, social, and timely choices.

K like karma

Yesterday I asked a friend if there is anything that fully satisfies his mind and makes him forget about his worries and daily pressures. “It's when I manage to involve people and they start taking responsibility”, he answered. The other week I asked my students how they cope with too much pressure at the university. “Simply by participating in the activities we do in class”, one girl said. “Doing makes me forget about my daily stress at least for a moment.” When I shared these stories with my mentor, he smiled at me: “Doing is the direct translation of karma.” According to karma, we can stack the odds in our own favour by taking responsibility for our actions, words, and reactions. "Response-ability is a choice we make.”

R like response-ability

So I am wondering – do approaches like nudging support people's general reluctance to take action and show response-able behaviour out of their own free will? Is nudging simply another smart way of pushing people in the right direction? And BTW, who decides what the right direction is – consumers, a democratically elected government, CEOs?

The Indian author and manager Gurcharan Das provides a most inspiring answer to my question:

(Capable managers, coaches, governments) “empower people with the confidence they need to become responsible, innovative, and self-reliant. It seems to come down to commitment. In committing to our work we commit to a here and now, to a particular place and time. The meaning in our lives comes from absorbing ourselves so deeply in the microcosm of our work that we forget ourselves, especially our egos. (...) The Sanskrit phrase nishkama karma describes this state of utter absorption, in which people act for the sake of the action, not for the sake of the reward from the action. This is also the meaning of happiness.“ (from Harvard Business Review)

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