How to become constructive with our commons and addictions

The midnight blurred line” questioned why we allow our commons to be destroyed and “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time?” pointed out that maybe it is –addiction- that is blocking us from becoming constructive with our commons. This blogpost will look at what causes addiction and how we can become constructive from our destructive behaviour.

What causes addiction?

Russell Brand, actor, comedian and former heroin addict pointed out in a parliamentary committee interview that drug addiction is an illness. This illness can be caused by psychological difficulties and spiritual malady and are the result from the circumstances someone is faced with. In these difficult circumstances, intoxicants can be seen as an easy solution or escape.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh highlights in this article that the lack of meaning and connection in people’s lives is the source for our addiction to consumerism. People and planet are ultimately one but we often experience it as separate and often fail to build harmonised relationships with each other. We see the planet and our environment only in terms of what it can do for us and can’t find our purpose of caring for each other.

“We all suffer and the way to overcome that pain is to directly confront it, rather than seeking to hide or bypass it through our obsession with shopping, entertainment, work or the beautification of our bodies. The craving for fame, wealth, power and sex serves to create only the illusion of happiness and ends up exacerbating feelings of disconnection and emptiness.”


Simon Sinek, anthropologist and know for his TEDx talk, has an other great presentation where he explains that a lot of our behaviour is driven by chemicals inside our minds and bodies. Endorphins and dopamine are the selfish chemicals. Endorphins mask physical pain, dopamine helps us getting things done. Dopamine helps us focus on goals, but it’s highly addictive. When we ‘feed’ ourselves with dopamine, all we want is more and more and we sacrifice anything to get it. Dopamine is useful in a comfortable and balanced system, but very dangerous if it is out of balance.

In this presentation he also explains how serotonin and oxytocin are the social chemicals. Serotonin is the leadership chemical, it puts yourself at risk in order to look after others, but it can be tricked with ego. The chemical for love, trust and friendship is oxytocin and provides the feeling of safety. You get oxytocin by doing nice things for people. You get it by sacrificing your time and energy, so not when doing just enough like sending email to each other. It is very hard to become addicted when we have a lot of oxytocin in the body. Cortisol, the chemical we produce in times of stress, blocks oxytocin.

To summarise, the selfish chemicals help us perform, but can easily go out of control. The social chemicals enable us to care for each other, but take longer to build up. If we are stressed for too long, we become vulnerable for addiction.


Becoming constructive from destructive behaviour.            

Like Russell Brand said, legislating intoxicants and criminalising addicts is often symbolic and not functioning. Green movements often focus on restricting consumption and stigmatising consumers. But over-consumption, narcotics and even being busy can be intoxicants for deep suffering. And, if the green movements fail to be compassionate with these sufferings, their actions will stay symbolic.

“We should recognise we all suffer and the way to overcome that pain is to directly confront it.”


spikes to nudge homeless
spikes to nudge homeless

To confront ourselves with our suffering and change our behaviour, we have to dive deep. Do we focus on changing individual behaviour, or at changing societal values? The ‘Nudge’, a strategy often used by design thinkers and policy makers, tries to solve problems by following the directions of human behaviour and steer towards more desired behaviour. The main focus is on individual cognitive aspects of changing behaviour. The ‘nudge’ doesn’t take into account the influence of the social and cultural context on behaviours.

When sociologists cluster individual behaviour, you get social practices. Individual behaviour is then just the surface phenomenon of cultural values, which are often influenced by marketing. For example; showering is now less of an activity of removing dirt from the body and more about pleasure of freshening up. Marketing around spa showers and ‘refreshing’ shower gels cultivates this new meaning. If business wants to change the direction of our progress, we have to allow ourselves to question what kind of practices, values and feelings we embed in our work?

So we could say that an individual level it’s key to find a balance between the selfish and social chemicals. If we let selfish chemicals dominate, we’ll become destructive addicts. If we let social chemicals dominate, we won’t get things done. The glorification of being busy is not helping us moving forward. On a social level we have to find a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic values. Intrinsic values provide us with ethical concerns for others, extrinsic values provide us with status and success. It’s a difficult balance where integrity and self-worthiness can clash.

A final thing to become constructive with destructive behaviour is absence-based recovery. China starts to realize it doesn’t want to become the ‘smoking area‘ of our planet. In a recent effort to reduce coal consumption and manufacturing emissions 1,026 chimneys and 734 coal-fired boilers across Handan City were demolished in just 100 days. In the recent revelation of modern slavery in the Thai prawns industry, retailers removed the “blood prawns” off the market. The dead of the unhealthy old pattern makes space the healthy new, full stop.

Nederlandse versie / Dutch version

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