I’m trying to learn statistics. Although I’m generally good with logic problems, math was never really my strongest subject. Then I took Social Network Analysis, and on the first day the professor told us a story. She said had been an English major, who then discovered a love of math, and made sense of the switch like this: that English and math are essentially the same thing, except one uses words to describe things, and the other uses numbers.

Linguists would think of this as a broad example of re-framing. In conversations, we try to figure out the frame of what’s happening and how best to respond. Sometimes the frame is clear (like being asked questions while on camera=interview frame). But sometimes frames aren’t that obvious. Anyone who’s ever wondered if they’re really on a date when they’re meeting someone for coffee or a drink has experienced this. And often, frames shift a lot throughout the conversation. A post-work drink with colleagues can shift from personal topics to work topics and back, and you’ll talk about work in a different way to your colleagues than you would to your non-work friends.

Framing is one of my favorite topics, so it’s maybe not surprising that I’m always looking for them. Lately, I’ve been wondering if the frames for two seemingly unrelated topics can affect one another. Specifically, can the increased focus on “living in the moment,” a concept that keeps popping up in magazines, quotes on Pinterest boards, etc, frame the way we’ve been looking at our environmental impact?

The other day on my Facebook feed, I saw an article discussing how some scientific research expects the collapse of modern society in the very near future. Add this to the many articles about climate change, population increases, rising sea levels and decreasing fresh water reserves, and the warnings become deafening. And yet, there isn’t a giant uprising calling for change. Yes, yes, some of it is politics, and it most definitely has to do with money. But it’s not about a lack of awareness, and it’s not about a lack of better choices.

Take water bottles. There are commercials out there talking about how many plastic bottles get tossed out every day. Why? Why are we not taking advantage of the myriad of other options? Like reusable water bottles? Can it all be explained as laziness? Or is it the way we choose to frame today’s choices, focusing on the now and not the future, because that’s how we’ve been told to live our best lives–by not worrying about the future?

And it’s not just environmental concerns that could be affected. What about financial decisions? Housing bubble anyone? Or even just overusing credit cards? Whether it’s Scarlet O’Hara saying, “I’ll think about that tomorrow,” or How I Met Your Mother’s phrase, “that’s a problem for future Ted,” we’ve been repeatedly exposed to the idea of living only for today.

Would re-framing our life choices, from living in the moment to living for the future, make a difference? If you were told to consider the fact that you might be drinking water that was once part of someone’s load of laundry encourage you to buy a more environmentally friendly detergent?

Has anyone read any research on that? Because I’d love to study those statistics…


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