Sunday, February 12, 2012

Kjemp for Barns Beste

7 year old Mary was accused of causing her younger brother's death. Three men came to her house and beat her. Afterwards they dragged her to the church for an exorcism. The next day, her mother tried to kill her with poisonous berries, and threatened her with a barbed-wire hanging. Then she threw boiling water and caustic soda over her head and body. Her father dumped his screaming daughter in a field. “My mother doesn't love me,” Mary said. A tear streaks down her beautiful face.

Tsunami og jordskjelv. Sykdom og mentale lidelser. Fordommer og diskriminering. Krig og traumer. Overgrep og omsorgssvikt. Fattigdom og sult. Slaveri og ingen skolegang.

Jeg tror at forsvar av barns rettigheter er noe av det viktigste man kan engasjere seg for. Barn er fremtiden. Barn er den største ressurs. Barn er det største potensial.

Jeg ønsker å øke forståelsen av barns rettigheter. Særlig det etiske grunnlaget – hvorfor alle barn i verden bør ha visse rettigheter, og hvorfor alle voksne har et ansvar til å gi, oppretthode og forsvare dem.

Barns rettigheter er et moralsk faktum. Mange tror at vi på et tidspunkt bare oppfant barns rettigheter. I en viss forstand er det korrekt. Men, barns rettigheter er likevel noe vi har oppdaget. Rettighetene er noe som eksisterer, selv om de er abstraksjoner og prinsipper.

Det eksisterer en universell moral. Siden alle mennesker deler den samme grunnleggende psykologi, og alle deler den samme planet, med de samme naturlovene, så er det en begrensing og ramme for hvordan vi kan agere hvis vi ønsker mest av alt å være lykkelig. Og, alle ønsker å være lykkelige. Dette er en konklusjon man vil komme frem til ved seriøs og hard refleksjon.

Les de ”hellige bøker”. Nesten alle religioner snakker til syvende og sist om at lykke er det øverste målet. Monoteistene om en "himmel". Buddhistene om tilstanden "Nirvana". Humanisten om å kultivere dygdene til "helten".

Hvordan kan noen av oss ha et ”minimalt verdig liv” uten retten til liv – altså, uten at alle andre har en moralsk plikt til ikke å drepe oss? Hvordan kan vi ha et lykkelig liv uten likestilling i samfunnet – ikke det at alle alltid skal behandles likt, men at alle skal gis like muligheter og tas like mye hensyn til.

Barn er sårbare og avhengige. Barn er en spesiell kategori, og derfor har de spesielle rettigheter – oppsummert i FNs konvensjon om barns rettigheter (selv om den ikke er helt perfekt).

Rettigheter er knyttet til en moralsk plikt, som alle voksne personer deler. Ingen kan unnslippe dem. Du kan ikke be om rettigheter selv og ikke utføre din moralske plikt, uten å fremstå som en grotesk hykler. Fordi, hvordan skal du kunne be andre om å respektere og tolerere deg, hvis du ikke er villig til å gi, opprettholde og forsvare rettighetene deres?

Det moralske ansvaret for å beskytte barn fra alt ondt, og bidra til at de kan ha et minimalt verdig liv, hviler på både dine og mine skuldre.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Change Habits with Actions Triggers

Changing habits is partly mental. To eliminate a bad habit and cultivate a good habit, you should do some mental groundwork.

Say that you've been putting off going to the gym. So you resolve to yourself: “Tomorrow morning, after my lecture is finished, I'll head straight to the gym.”

This mental plan is called an “action trigger”. You've made the decision to execute a certain action (working out), when you encounter a certain situational trigger (after the lecture).

By pre-loading a decision you create an instant habit. You pass some of the control of your behavior on to the environment. In this way, action triggers can protect goals from other competing goals, distractions or bad habits. They are most useful in the most difficult situations – the ones that are most draining to your self-control.

To trigger a desired action, you should note, in advance, exactly when and where you intend to do it. To be most effective, action triggers have to be specific and visible.

Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Change Habits, Change Environment

One way to eliminate a bad habit and cultivate a good habit is to change your environment, wholly or partly.

People are very sensitive to their environment and its culture – to the norms and expectations of the communities they are living in. We want to say the “right” things and act the “right” way. Because we instinctively try to “fit in” with the groups we identify with, the behaviors of other people are “contagious”.

Our environment acts on us by reinforcing or deterring our habits. So, to change yourself, you can try to change you habits. And since our habits are greatly influenced by our environment, then a change in the environment will often lead to a change in habits.

It's unrealistic to think that most of us can shift our environment drastically. But there are more practical ways to create a good habit. Even small environmental changes can make a significant difference. By changing the environment one can even force a new habit.

For example, many smokers find it easier to quit when they're on vacation, because at home, much of their environment is loaded with smoking associations. It's like trying to quit smoking inside a Camel advertisement – everywhere you look are reminders of the habit.

So, if you have a bad habit you want to eliminate, think of the ways in which your environment influence you, and then proceed to change what you can to reinforce the good habit you want to cultivate.

Heath, C. & Heath. D. (2010). Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Malnutrition & Bright Spots

How do you combat malnutrition in a poor country in six months with minimal staff and almost no money to spend? How do you get people to change their habits and beliefs about feeding their own children? What follows is an inspiring and educational story of success.

The Malnutrition Problem

In 1990, Jerry Sternin, who worked for Save the Children, was asked to open a new office in Vietnam. The government had invited Save the Children into the country to fight malnutrition. But, when Sternin arrived, the foreign minister let him know that not everyone appreciated his presence. The minister told him: “You have six months to make a difference.”

Sternin had minimal staff and meager resources, but he had read as much as he could about the malnutrition problem. At the time, experts thought that malnutrition was the result of an intertwined set of problems: poor sanitation, poverty, clean water not readily available, and ignorance about nutrition.

But, millions of kids can't wait for all these factors to be addressed. If addressing malnutrition requires us to end poverty, purifying water, educating mothers and building sanitations systems, then it would take several years and lots of money.

Sternin had a better idea: he began a search for bright spots – successful efforts worth emulating. If some kids were healthy against the odds, it would mean that malnourishment is not inevitable under these conditions. It would provide hope for a practical and lasting solution.

The Bright Spots

So, Sternin traveled to villages and met with groups of mothers. The mothers then went out to weigh and measure every child in their village. They found very poor kids who were healthier than the average child. This meant that it was possible in that village for a very poor family to have a well-nourished child.

If a handful of kids could be healthy despite their disadvantage, then why could not every child? And, so Sternin now had to find out what was different about these bright spot families, so that other families could learn from them.

In order to recognize what the bright-spot families were doing differently, Sternin and his group had to synthesize the prevailing norms and beliefs about feeding kids in the villages. So they talked to people and discovered that the norms were pretty clear: kids ate twice a day along with the rest of their families, and they ate soft, pure foods like the highest-quality rice.

Finding the Solution

With an understanding of the norms and beliefs, they went into the homes of the bright-spot kids and observed the way the homes were run, looking for any deviations. They found several:

1. Bright-spot mothers were feeding their kids four meals a day. The total amount of food was approximately the same. The larger twice a day meals eaten by most kids was a mistake because their stomachs could not process that much food at one time. Thus, it was better to have four smaller meals each day, than two larger ones.

2. The style of eating was different. Most parents believed that their kids understood their own needs and would feed themselves appropriately. But the healthy kids were fed more actively. They were also encouraged to eat when they were sick.

3. The healthy kids were eating different kinds of food. The bright spot mothers mixed shrimp and crabs with rice. Shrimp and crabs were eaten by adults, but generally considered inappropriate food for kids. The mothers also tossed in sweet-potato greens, which were considered a low-class food. These different kinds of foods added sorely needed protein and vitamins to the children's diet.

How to Change Habits

Now, we had the solution to the problem. Since the solution emerged from the village itself, it was both realistic and sustainable. But, knowing the solution is not enough. For anything to change, lots of mothers had to adopt new habits and beliefs about feeding their children.

How should we teach them? Some would just call the village together and give them information and a set of recommendations. But knowledge does not always produce action or change behavior. Just telling mothers about nutrition and give them recipes, will not bring about as much change. A better approach is to also get them to practice it, and make them implement it in their everyday life.

So, Sternin designed a program in which malnourished families meet at a hut each day and prepare food. The families are required to bring shrimp, crabs, and sweet-potato greens. The mothers wash their hands with soap and then cook the meal together.

The cooking-program engages the mothers to act and they soon realize that they themselves can conquer malnutrition, which create a powerful combination of hope and empowerment.

Notice that the mothers got highly specific instructions. Also, the social aspect of the cooking-program created a strong sense of pressure to go along. Another factor that contributed to make change possible was that the solution came from the “inside”, and was not some message “preached” to the locals from an arrogant outsider.

A Success Story

Six months after Sternin had come to the village, 65 percent of the kids were better nourished and stayed that way. There was a change in the culture which had lasting effect. The cooking-program spread, and reached 2.2 million Vietnamese people in 265 villages.


Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard