Nostalgia, Denial, and Children

One thing that worries me is that so many people are primarily nostalgic. They resist change and want to stay as close as possible to the past. I understand, of course, how we all are afraid of changes and an uncertain future. But consider the following:

Imagine yourself shipwrecked with your family on a distant, uninhabited island. Luckily, there is a rescue shelter on the island with enough food for an entire year. But the radio in the shelter, meant to call in help, is broken. All is relatively well for the time being, and you hope for the best. You lead a good life, your children like to play and swim all day, while you try to fix the radio. However, after six months of trying, you realize it will not work. Slowly, you realize that the situation is quite different than you thought. What do you do? Of course, you would love to continue your good life and are tempted to ignore the situation. But you probably realize that, although much time has been lost, you need to act as quickly and determinedly as possible. Without hard work and an all-out effort including your entire family, everyone may soon die. You need to use the time the remaining food provides you to start some form of agriculture. Although it may fail, there is a chance to have a hard but quality life, once your inherited stores have run out.

Some important factors determining the outcome are, e.g.:

  1. Do we realize our situation and our prospects?
  2. In cases where we cannot assess the situation ourselves: Did we get a clear message, in unambiguous language, from a trustworthy source?
  3. Do we accept that realization or do we deny it, ignore it, postpone action?
  4. Do we have a plan for action?
  5. Does the planned action matches the magnitude of the problem, i.e., do we believe it has a chance?
  6. Did we experience a similar situation before (past experience)?
  7. Are we motivated to postpone present needs in favor of a good life in the future?

Austrich putting his head into the sand – a German symbolism for denial

Austrich putting his head into the sand – a German symbolism for denial
(Adolf Oberländer 1877, Commons)

My intuition is that children may play an important role here. In the case of the shipwreck situation, I find denial and inaction reasonably likely for a shipwrecked person without children. But I believe (hope?) that this is much rarer wherever an adult has an intimate and emotional relationship with a child. I believe the presence of children can help to overcome impulses of nostalgia and denial, face hard realities, and act on them.

Many studies exist on the relationship between environmental concerns (nuclear power, pollution, climate change) and various factors (gender, employment, parenthood, religion, political affiliation, etc.). I am not a sociologist and read only a couple studies that I readily found (Note 1). Very coarsely: Most studies focus on gender rather than parenthood. McCright (2010) did not find parenthood (nor the parenthood*gender interaction) a significant predictor. So, it is possible that my intuition is wrong. But then, I have read only a small part of the literature. I also note that: (1) Clearly the factors I speculated above are difficult to separate. I know from own experience, how hard it can be to realize and admit to yourself being wrong or in a bad situation in time. Maintaining hope in the face of better knowledge is part of the human condition. In the studies the questions, center around knowledge, perceived risk, and concern or worries. (2) I find it interesting that the studies do not seem to ask for action taken. There is a big difference between worry and action. I may prefer not to know if this would have to result in inconvenient action. But I may admit knowledge and worry if all the inconvenience is putting a cross in a checkbox. (3) The questions being asked in the surveys do not seem to differentiate between present and future concerns. I would find it interesting if a present-threat scenario (within 5-10 years) and a future-threat scenario (within 20-50 years) were studied in parallel and compared.

So: Do relations with children change the likelihood whether you have long-term view and fight for intergenerational justice and a sustainable future?

I would like to learn more about this!

Note 1: Documentation of articles I read on sociology of environmental concern (not a comprehensive literature study!)
Blocker, T. J., & Eckberg, D. L. (1997). Gender and environmentalism. Social Science Quarterly, 78, 841–858.
Freudenburg, W. R., & Davidson, D. J. (2007). Nuclear families and nuclear risks. Rural Sociology, 72(2), 215–243.
Greenbaum, A. (1995). Taking stock of two decades of research on the social bases of environmental concern. In D. M. Michael & O. Eric (Eds.), Environmental sociology (pp. 125–152). North York, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press. Google Books
McCright, Aaron M. 2010. The effects of gender on climate change knowledge and concern in the American public. Popul Environ (2010) 32:66–87, DOI 10.1007/s11111-010-0113-1. Author’s pers. copy at:
Sundblad, Eva-Lotta; Biel, Anders; Gärling, Tommy 2007. Cognitive and affective risk judgments related to climate change. (Note: includes parenthood as a predictor).
van der Linden, Sander 2015. The social-psychological determinants of climate change risk perceptions: Towards a comprehensive model. (Note: parenthood?)

(© Gregor Hagedorn 2017, CC BY-SA 4.0, publ. 2017-09-23, updated 2018-02-04, Image by Adolf Oberländer in the Public Domain)

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