A Behavioral View of Life

It’s not what you think it is…

  • If you think it worthwhile to understand the circumstances of someone’s situation, then you have a behavioral view of life.
  • If you think it meaningful to flexibly pursue your chosen values, then you have a behavioral view of life.
  • If you think it beneficial to base our public policies on research, then you have a behavioral view of life.

Views like these hark back to the likes of John Dewey and B.F. Skinner. Dewey for the inquiry-based public policy and Skinner for the circumstances and practices that have survival value. But circumstances change. And they have certainly changed since Dewey and Skinner left their marks on society. For that reason, there are new names burgeoning a contemporary and behavioral view of life.

The Circumstances View

Patrick C. Friman has a behavioral view of life that he calls The Circumstances View of Problem Behavior. For him, “there is no such thing as a bad boy” or girl. When you look to their circumstances, something very human and behavioral happens:

  • We immediately become more compassionate.

When we see a high school student’s playing truant for what it actually is—a product of their circumstances—then we can begin to understand and help. It’s not that the student is “bad,” it’s that the student is lacking a richly reinforcing environment. There is no “lost cause,” just circumstances we can change for the better.

Don’t take my word for it though. Listen to the expert himself:

The Values Driven View

Steven C. Hayes has a behavioral view of life that I’m calling the values driven view. This behavioral view of life is deeply personal. It asks us to identify our values for what they mean to us now and in the long-term. Can you pursue that which you value—whether it be for the love of family, friends, or work—while experiencing the painful thoughts and feelings that beseech us all?

When my heart starts fluttering at the dining table, as that panic is about to fly right in, I ask myself: Can I hear what my family has to say while having this fear of panic? Can I feel that I’m not just scared for “god knows what” but that I am here, in the now, and surrounded by good company? I think I can, and I do. But I couldn’t have done it without the values driven view in Steven C. Hayes’ A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters. His book is chock-full of strategies for continuing to do what we value, even in moments when we are fearful, anxious, or just plain stuck.

Again though, don’t just take it from me. Listen to the expert:

The Policy as a Branch of Biology View

This last view of life is David Sloan Wilson’s, and it comes from his book titled This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution. Darwin said, “There is grandeur in this view of life” when speaking of evolution by natural selection. He marveled at life’s variety from simple beginnings. David Sloan Wilson expands that view of life to include policy as a branch of biology—a not so simple product of natural selection that Darwin would have marveled at as well. Why a branch of biology though? Because the rules, codes, and laws we adopt as individuals or governing bodies affect our biopsychosocial development!

If we are going to implement a universal pre-k program, for example, then we should consider the consequences of time spent indoors. More time spent indoors correlates with myopia, which may also correlate with children spending more time on screens. In addition to the need for glasses, exposure to screens like iPads or TVs is associated with irritability and impulsivity. Worse still, the lack of exposure to bacteria and other worldly things outside can result in a compromised immune system—one that can’t tell the good bacteria from the bad. David Sloan Wilson reviews this research, and more, with the implication that policy is very much a branch of biology.

Policy is a branch of biology in that it affects us as organisms and as people with values. David Sloan Wilson is not alone in this view of life, as Tony Biglan has also lamented the effects of bad policy. Tony Biglan is Rebooting Capitalism so that society can work for everyone instead of a select few. Like Dewey and Skinner, Wilson and Biglan argue for the pragmatic and behavioral thinking that makes a meaningful difference in peoples’ lives.

Here’s one last video to drive all three of these behavioral views home.