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What do you do with new knowledge?

Every day I learn new things. I learn them by talking to other people. I learn them by reading newspapers, books, blogs and journals. I learn them through experimentation and observation.  Sometimes when I learn something new, it serves to confirm my choices or my beliefs. Those moments are certainly satisfying and comforting. I did the right thing. I believed the right thing.

But there are also times when I learn something new and it goes against what I formerly believed to be true. I thought that was safe, now it isn't. I thought it was a good parenting practice, but there is now evidence that suggests otherwise. I thought it was vitally important, and now it has been found to be useless or even dangerous. I thought that was a good company, and now I realize how unethical they are. I thought it didn't matter, but it did. Those moments can be disconcerting. What if I have been damaging my child or myself? What if I have been unknowingly contributing to environmental degradation or practices that discriminate against or harm others?

We all have a number of options when faced with knowledge that challenges our current understanding of the world (after confirming that it is in fact true, that is):

  • Ignore it

  • Grasp at straws trying to defend what we believe to be true

  • Make changes to our lives

  • Share the information with others

Some of these are easier than others. I think humans sometimes have a natural tendency to try to pretend new information away when they know they cannot live up to the ideal. I can understand that. No one wants to believe that they are doing something harmful, especially when they know better. But there is more to it than that. Human beings are not perfect and there is only so much that can realistically be expected from each of us.  Society is full of barriers that make it difficult for people to live up to the ideal, whether that is pervasive advertising of the less than ideal products, out of reach pricing of better alternatives, lacking government regulations and enforcement, labels that cannot be understood by someone with an advanced education and more. Privilege means that some people can access and make changes with new information, and others cannot.

Personally, when faced with new information I try to make changes to my life and try to share that information with others. But I also recognize that I am not perfect and cannot do it all. That said, I do feel I am better off and more in control of my own life if I have knowledge than if I don't.

Making changes, and making our world a safer and cleaner place to live, involves making changes ourselves, convincing other individuals to make changes, and getting society to change. I often use this blog as a platform to speak both to individuals, as well as to companies, the media, and governments about things that I think need to change.

That is why I was thrilled to be asked to be a Parent Ambassador for Healthy Child Healthy World. This non-profit organization has a mission that is a great match with my own:
We are leading a movement that educates parents, supports protective policies, and engages communities to make responsible decisions, simple everyday choices, and well-informed lifestyle improvements to create healthy environments where children and families can flourish.

Healthy Child Healthy World exists because tens of millions of American children now face chronic diseases and illnesses including cancer, autism, asthma, birth defects, ADD/ADHD, allergies, learning and developmental disabilities, as well as a host of lesser but disruptive ailments. And the growing research points to much of the increases on unseen threats wrought by exposure to chemicals in everyday products like cleaning supplies, beauty care and cosmetics, home furnishings, plastics, some foods and toys as contributing to these ailments.

For the past two decades Healthy Child Healthy World has been the nation's leading organization of its kind. We help millions of parents, educators, health professionals, and the general public take action to create healthy environments and embrace green, non-toxic steps.

The Healthy Child Healthy World initiative puts out excellent information that helps me to be better informed on issues that are important to my family. To learn more, check out:

I want to learn, even when it is hard. I want to be empowered to make better choices for my family, even if I can't make them all immediately or all the time. I want to be part of a movement that gets our governments and our corporations to make important changes, even if that means facing hurdles along the way. How about you? Will you join me in learning, sharing and advocating?
« Tell Nestlé that formula doesn't PROTECT babies | Main | The kind of day it has been »

Reader Comments (6)

You write: "We all have a number of options when faced with knowledge that challenges our current understanding of the world (after confirming that it is in fact true, that is):..."
I think the "after confirming that it is in fact true" is of utmost importance. In fact, in a lot of these issues - particularly relating to health - there is no ultimate truth but human beings are continuously gaining more and more information and are trying to analyse this and interpret it. The "truths" of one generation often seem quaint or mad to the next - not to mention to those 100 years later. I agree that we should try to inform ourselves as much as possible of different issues which people are working on at present. But we should always remember these are not "truths". Often renowned people with arguments which sound logically consistent are basing their views as much on their prejudices as on the evidence which they observe. I think your bit in brackets "after confirming that it's true" must be a continuous process that we subject all of our ideas to - what is this idea really based on?, why do I believe it? who developed this idea? what did they base their idea on? where did their evidence come from? does it tie in with my feelings as to what is "right"?
So that's the abstract bit!
Regarding the website, looks as if it could give us a lot of food for thought and some useful ideas to start investigating! Thanks :-)

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Sorry, just to add to that, I should have said that hopefully this website (as well as yours) can help us in questioning our own previously held beliefs! And of course the more different ideas and opinions (hopefully from people working in the scientific field) we hear, the better.

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine


Yes - that part in brackets is important.

I also agree that there is no ultimate truth on a lot of these things. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution. So if there is an indication that something is unsafe and I can reasonably avoid it, then I do.

With regards to where evidence comes from, it is always worth checking the trail of money. There are often very specific motives behind funding certain types of research in hopes of very specific outcomes. The source of that money can impact them methodology, which can in turn impact the results and the way they are presented and communicated.

You might also be interested on my most called http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/11/29/safe-or-unsafe/" rel="nofollow">Safe or unsafe?

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth. I am in complete understanding and agreement with your post and your response to Catherine's comment (err on the side of caution and follow the money trail).
What I try to teach - don't get overwhelmed, just take the first small step toward change.
Every little step counts.
Every little step counts!
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step"

Thanks again for another awesome post and congrats on the HealthyChild Ambassador!!

Staying open to new information -- ideas that make us uncomfortable, threaten, or even feel shaming because they conflict with our previous actions, is extremely challenging and most admirable. I strive for this mentality daily, admittedly struggle with it, and am especially in awe of the moms and dads I know who seem egoless in their embrace of learning and change in regard to their parenting.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

June 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjanetlansbury

I have a large concern with where 'information' comes from or who it is passed through for general consumption. Unless you are taught how to read research reports, you are vulnerable to agenda-laden interpretation. See my post: http://www.therextras.com/therextras/reading-research.html

I also highly recommend: http://mommadata.blogspot.com/

June 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Boucher, PhD

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