Changing people's habits

Updated: 2012-02-27 08:04

(China Daily)

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More and more administrative restrictions are popping up in people's daily lives - for instance, the ban on free plastic bags, the ban on smoking in public areas, and the requirement for real-name registration when buying a cell phone or kitchen knife - unfortunately, human nature means such measures seldom achieve their intended purpose.

For example, on June 1, 2008, China introduced a ban on free plastic bags and also ordered producers to stop making bags that are thinner than 0.025 millimeters in a bid to reduce energy consumption and pollution.

Immediately after the ban was introduced there was a significant drop in both the use and production of plastic bags. However, demand soon surged again.

Many of these measures were introduced to protect the environment or cultivate a healthy lifestyle. But they are set against people's diehard habits.

The government has limited means to enforce these bans and thus must count on people's cooperation.

But people's behavior is hard to change unless they see some benefit in doing so.

This is true even of those who devised, implemented and supervise the bans.

As for measures such as the real-name registration when buying a cell phone or kitchen knife, people may not see the need for such seemingly innocuous items. Raising people's awareness of what can be gained by changing their habits will prove a much greater incentive than administrative restrictions in the long run.

The government should reflect on its approach to social management that relies on power, since it always fails to produce the desired results.

It would be better if it concentrated its efforts on sowing the seeds of responsible citizenship, such as highlighting the danger to others of secondhand smoke, and then let such seeds sprout and flourish on their own.

(China Daily 02/27/2012 page8)