Behavior Modification for Social Justice?

By Christian Piatt 11-21-2013
Blazej Lyjak / Shutterstock

Fitness bands help monitor your daily fitness progress. Blazej Lyjak / Shutterstock

The busier life gets, the more corners we cut. One of the first things to go for me is self-care. My wife, Amy, and I both work full time and we have two kids, so it’s fairly easy to get to the end of the day and realize we haven’t exercised, had enough water, eaten a balanced diet or even taken time to stretch. So we recently picked up a pair of these new “fitness bands” that so many people are fans of.

The thing is, they don’t work out for you. They don’t make meals for you or force-feed you water. They really just help you stay aware of your progress in a day, on everything from steps taken to ounces of water taken in and calories consumed. There are even little “rewards” like buzzes and blinking lights when you reach your daily goals. It’s silly, I guess, but when I have it, I do a lot better for myself.

Sometimes we need a little extra incentive to change our behavior for the better. It’s not that we don’t want to exercise or eat well, for the most part; we just get distracted and busy. And when we do, we make small compromises that add up to pretty significant negative effects if we’re not careful.

We also drive a Prius, which is a godsend, given the price of gas these days. And although it does have the fancy schmancy hybrid engine system, a lot of the efficiency comes from how it changes the user experience. There are little bar graphs and icons to let you know what a gas hog or fuel miser you’re being, and it even puts up little green leaves on the screen whenever you regenerate extra power in the battery. Like the fitness band, it’s all about positive behavior modification.

Companies do this kind of thing all the time. They’ll remind you that, by buying their product, you’re actually donating a nickel to rainforest conservation or supporting cancer research in naked mole rats. But these companies have a vested interest in giving you a good enough feeling to purchase their product, so we have to take their claims with a grain of salt.

So maybe what we need is a Sojo band that will track the humanity of your daily life. It can set goals for you, like consuming less (of everything), buying socially responsible items when you do make a purchase, and even give you some bonus credit for volunteer work. We can have competitions with our friends on social media to see who the true Social Justice Warriors are in our midst.

I know, it’s kind of an out-there idea, but it doesn’t really take too much to shake us from our patterns of self-neglect or social neglect. Sometimes all it requires is a little nudge, an occasional pat on the back, or a few “atta boys” once in a while, even if it comes from a computer, apparently.

There’s something that social justice advocacy groups can learn from this phenomenon. I’m not saying this is the panacea for radical cultural change, but we do talk a lot about how real reform is a local phenomenon, changing one life and one heart at a time.

I don’t know about you, but I’d wear a Sojo band. Especially if, when I did something really good for humanity, a picture of Jim Wallis popped up and told me I was awesome. You know, I might be on to something here…  

Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bibleand Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

Photo: Blazej Lyjak / Shutterstock

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