maize 13545970.0001.001 in

    1. The Reasonable Person Model: Introducing the Framework and the Chapters


    To avoid repetition of the unifying framework across the chapters, this introductory chapter provides an overview of the Reasonable Person Model (RPM) and its unique features. For each of the three domains of informational needs, the chapter explains the key concepts and includes some ways to support those needs. The chapter also offers a road map for the book as a whole, pointing not only to the diverse array of applications but also to their intriguing commonalities with respect to some crosscutting themes.

    We are a difficult animal. We are the source of environmental degradation, the culprits of resource decline. We are reluctant to trust and are easily angered. However, we humans are also the source of inspiration, compassion, and creative solutions. What brings out the reasonable side of our capacity? Answers to this question are essential for solutions that seek to protect resources for the future of all living organisms. It is a daunting challenge.

    The Reasonable Person Model (RPM) attempts to address this challenge by asking how can we bring out the best in people? RPM offers a simple framework for considering essential ingredients in fostering this state, which we call reasonableness. The term refers to the ways in which people, at their best, deal with one another and the resources on which we all rely. Reasonableness describes conduct that is sensible, moderate, and fair and includes myriad behaviors that give us satisfaction and meaning—sharing knowledge, giving and receiving help, earning and showing respect, and working to achieve common goals.

    We admit that the term, as well as its root in the name RPM, comes with some baggage. What constitutes being reasonable can be quite subjective, and there can be great differences between individuals. Our use of the word “reasonable” is intended to provide a contrast to the widely utilized, though academically debunked (Shafir & LeBoeuf, 2002), rationality position. Instead of understanding humans through the lens of financial gain, RPM provides a more appropriate framework by considering behaviors from the perspective of informational needs. People may not have perfect information or the capacity to weigh all possible options, but they have a deep and overriding concern for a wide range of issues, each other, and many aspects of life that lack clear economic implications.

    Reasonableness can seem lofty—it is not hard to see that we regularly fall short of it. What are the reasons for this deficit of reasonableness? Contrary to common beliefs, it is often not due to personality disorders, lack of intelligence, or questionable character. Indeed, our inclination to blame unreasonable behavior on the person is so common that psychologists have labeled it the “fundamental attribution error.” The error is to ignore the pervasive impact that context, conditions, interventions, programs, situations, and surroundings—which we collectively refer to as environment—can have on our way of being.

    Alas, it is not difficult to reflect on environments that hinder reasonableness. People are uncomfortable when they fail to understand their world, are readily frustrated when they lack opportunities to explore options, and are sensitive to having their views respected; they get angry when their path is obstructed and become ornery when their head is spinning. People don’t characteristically thrive in dangerous settings; they are affected by the decibels of their environment. The presence of others in constrained settings can also have negative impacts. All too often the many ways that undermine reasonableness become evident in hindsight rather than as they occur.

    Addressing the multitude of such problems is clearly important. RPM provides a framework for understanding such situations and an approach for forestalling them. However, our aim is not only to avoid negative outcomes but also to consider the many ways to create environments that bring out the best in people. There is no question that food and shelter are essential for this. Our concern, however, is a different set of needs that are equally fundamental but often ignored. These have to do with our informational needs. These are often ignored because they are hard to see. Yet, they are both basic to our functioning and the focus of RPM.

    Our environments—whether a rugged wilderness area or a complex hierarchy of folders on one’s computer—provide us a great deal of information. Some environments and contexts help us meet our informational needs, while others undermine them. The overarching thesis of this book is that environments supporting our informational needs foster reasonableness (Figure 1.1). As the book’s subtitle indicates, it addresses how supportive environments can bring out our best. By paying attention to the environment, not only can we better understand the source of unreasonable behavior, but we can also create supportive environments that help bring out the best in ourselves and others. The purposes of this chapter are to introduce RPM and offer a glimpse of what the rest of the book is about.

    Figure 1.1. The RPM framework: The overarching thesis of the book.
    Figure 1.1. The RPM framework: The overarching thesis of the book.

    To a much greater extent than we probably realize, we are often in the business of creating environments—for example, parents create environments for children, teachers for students, spouses for one another, employers for employees, and employees for employers. The RPM framework can be put to use at the personal level, in the classroom, in running an organization, or in formulating an approach to resource planning. Yet, the relationship between environmental factors and human needs is rarely straightforward. How is one to know how to create more supportive conditions in this complex space? Part of the goal of the RPM framework is to answer some of these very questions, or at least to help us consider the right questions.

    The RPM Domains

    We humans depend on information. We horde it but regret when we have more than we can handle. We are fascinated by puzzles but loathe being confused. Such endemic pains and pleasures suggest that our relation with information has an evolutionary basis. Compared to the many species roaming the African savanna, our ancestors were slow, small, and weak. Survival depended on overcoming one’s physical limitations by using one’s brain (which, by an evolutionary stroke of luck, was relatively large). This meant anticipating possibilities, learning from one’s mistakes, navigating hundreds of square miles of territory, imagining common objects as tools, coordinating team hunts, and speaking and writing in a shared language. These impressive feats required efficient processing of vast amounts of information. Humans who were motivated to seek information and use it effectively were more likely to pass on their genes; those who did not went extinct.

    Through this process of variation and selection, we have evolved to prize gathering and using information effectively. Appetite provides a useful analogy—just as we feel pleasure when we are satiating our appetite, the process of making sense of the world elicits pleasure. On the other hand, just as lacking food leads to hunger pains, being confused can also be painful. These pleasure and pain sensations helped guide our ancestors toward environments they could understand and ones that offered opportunities to explore things that might be useful for dealing with future challenges (Ivancich, Chapter 5).

    It also led them to avoid environments that didn’t make sense or were unpredictable. These inclinations have been genetically handed down over the millennia and continue to guide our behaviors.

    RPM organizes these inclinations, or informational needs, into three domains (Figure 1.2). The first, model building, addresses our need for both understanding and exploration. Life’s many challenges require us to gather the necessary know-how and make sense of it. It also requires exploring uncharted territories to expand our mental models. The second, being effective, speaks to our need to use knowledge competently. Doing so requires having a clear enough head to find the needed information, learn it, share it, and use it. The final domain, meaningful action, stresses the need to use our knowledge to make a difference.

    Figure 1.2. RPM’s three domains of informational needs.
    Figure 1.2. RPM’s three domains of informational needs.

    We next describe each of these three domains of informational needs, the processes involved in fulfilling those needs, and the often inadvertent ways we tend to ignore them. Although the discussion presents each domain separately, they each depend on the other two, as will be evident throughout the examples and applications in other chapters.

    Model Building

    Our mental models guide us. We rely on them constantly, often unaware that we are even doing so. Without them, our world would remain, in the words of William James, a “blooming buzzing confusion” (James, 1890, p. 462). RPM’s first domain addresses our need to create the mental models that help us make sense of the world, solve problems, make decisions, and plan our futures.

    Building and Using Mental Models

    Mental models encode our experiences into neural structures that enable their efficient storage, retrieval, and manipulation. The process entails multiple and varied experiences. Over time, engaging in these repeated yet different experiences filters the salient from the superfluous and connects new information to what we already have in our heads. In Chapter 2, R. Kaplan describes the extensive time and effort such processes take. The resulting mental models enable us to carry out four processes pivotal to information processing: recognizing patterns, making predictions, evaluating them, and taking necessary actions (S. Kaplan, 1973).

    When we see, hear, or otherwise sense something, it is valuable to recognize what that thing is, what it does, and whether it is useful or threatening. Mental models store this kind of information and allow us to retrieve them quickly when necessary. Once stored, they allow us to imagine and manipulate these objects even when they are not physically present. Such recognition is by no means limited to objects; it applies equally to situations, feelings, ideas, and other abstract patterns as well. For example, boredom is a state for which there is no defining symbol, yet we can recognize it when we experience it. We are also remarkably adept at recognizing when we are being treated unfairly. Our capacity for empathy—to recognize the plight of others—is also highly developed. In this way, basic object recognition provides the foundation for higher-level cognition.

    Upon recognizing something, it is often useful to know what might come next. By storing the sequences of objects and events we experience, mental models allow us to make predictions about possible outcomes. Such predictions happen routinely and frequently, often without our realization. They can serve as an early warning system or indicate the need for further exploration. The expression “here we go again” conveys not only a well-worn recognition of a situation but also a clear anticipation of what is about to come.

    Having some sense of where different paths might lead, how do we decide which to take? Listing pros and cons is a popular exercise; however, as our experience suggests and research indicates, we often rely on our feelings to evaluate the possible outcomes (Gigerenzer, 2007). While cognition and emotion are traditionally studied distinctly, mental models combine them by connecting outcomes with the emotions we had when we experienced them. For example, thoughts of working in a cubicle may be associated with feelings of dismay. Similarly, excitement, fear, boredom, and other emotions help us evaluate our predictions to seek out the beneficial and avoid the perilous.

    Thus, mental models structure our past experiences to help us recognize patterns and anticipate both trouble and opportunity. Well-developed mental models give us not only the sense of familiarity but also the confidence necessary to translate knowledge into action. Doing so often involves problem solving, experimentation, teamwork, sharing knowledge, and other experiences that not only make a difference but are the basis for future model building.

    The Needs to Understand and Explore

    Given our dependence on knowledge, we must have an innate need to build and extend our mental models. Our fascination with stories about activities, events, and places is one testament to this desire. Another is that we engage in model building even though the process may be difficult or frustrating (think of a skill or topic you recently started learning). Nevertheless, we puzzle, tinker, and struggle with the expectation of eventually attaining some clarity. Sometimes that requires changing our models when we find that the existing ones fail. However, we also often fight to retain the mental models that have worked for us in the past—even when they may no longer reflect reality.

    Figuring things out—using our mental models effectively—is often satisfying. By contrast, confusion—signifying the failure of our mental models to provide direction—is often troubling. Imagine how it feels when you are lost in a new city, when someone keeps a secret from you, when your doctor is unable to diagnose the reason for your back pain, or when your garden does not produce tomatoes while your neighbor’s does. Even though some of these information voids are not that important, the discomfort of not knowing may persist.

    Extending our models is rooted in an automatic desire to explore. This desire is reflected as much by a child roaming a playground as it is by an adult craving to travel off the beaten path. The hours spent with handheld digital devices represents yet another indication of our unceasing desire to extend and expand what we know. Exploration helps us develop familiarity at our own pace, connect new experiences to past ones, and utilize our new models to guide future exploration.

    The desire to understand and reduce confusion also compels us to find people, places, and contexts that help meet these needs. We are attracted not only to familiar environments but also to those that offer us opportunities to learn. At the same time, we feel uncomfortable in environments where understanding and prediction are undermined. This tension between our desire to stick with the safe and familiar or to take a risk on something that inspires our curiosity is transient. Sometimes we enjoy the comfort of our homes, and other times we get cabin fever. Recognizing this duality has implications for planning and fostering environments that can meet our need for both enhancing our understanding and nurturing our inherent curiosity.

    Supporting Model Building

    Communication is a recurring theme in this book because it is a domain in which model building is frequently undermined. Communication depends on acknowledging differences in the mental models of those providing information and those who receive it. These differences can be particularly daunting in exchanges between experts and laypeople, doctors and patients, bureaucrats and locals, practitioners and citizens, and perhaps even between us the authors and you the readers.

    In an era of increasing specialization, those with deep, richly connected mental models are the ones who are called upon to teach, speak, and write. Yet while experts are facile at using their mental models, they are often bad at sharing them (S. Kaplan, Chapter 3). The communication handicap is due to the quirky way our brains save space—once we learn something, we forget what was hard about it. In our areas of expertise we characteristically forget our innocent understanding before we had acquired the basic concepts and associated vocabularies. Once we have considerably expanded and highly interconnected mental models representing our increased knowledge, we mistakenly take for granted that others have comparable capacity.

    How can we more effectively share information? How can we learn to see from other perspectives, and what contexts facilitate the process? Such challenges can benefit from the following:

    • Less is more. If the goal is to foster model building for the receivers of the information so they can carry it around in their heads and try it out in the real world, then providing too much information is counterproductive.
    • Confusion is detrimental. Anticipating what is likely to be confusing and finding ways to achieve clarity is vital for developing mental models.
    • New information must connect to existing mental models. Association is the glue that holds our models together. If new concepts do not connect in some way to what is already in our heads, they are less likely to stick.
    • Information sharing is a reciprocal relationship. To give information, you need to get information. And to get it, you need to provide it.
    • Changing models may come with resistance. Engaged, self-directed exploration is likely to facilitate the process of revising existing models.

    Being Effective

    We are blessed with a profusion of information that was not conceivable even a few decades ago. We depend on it, crave it, and ceaselessly seek it. But the blessing comes at a cost. An abundance of information can undermine our ability to function effectively and behave reasonably. It is not the mere presence of the information that is debilitating but the demands it can create. We are bombarded by its size, decibels, speed, and constancy. Much of the information is intriguing but often not helpful. A good bit of it is not particularly interesting but requires our response or other follow-up. What is frequently referred to as being “stressed out” is the result of being overwhelmed by these demands, opportunities, and perceived urgencies. Yet in order to function effectively, we need to navigate an information-rich world that readily undermines our mental resources. The second domain of informational needs addresses how to sustain and restore our inherently limited mental capacity.

    Sustaining Effectiveness

    Being effective and the sense of being competent depend on the mental models we acquire through many experiences and as we develop skills. Even equipped with such mental models, however, there are times when we are less effective. We may feel overwrought, mentally cluttered, irritable, and distracted. We lack sufficient clearheadedness to focus on key aspects of the current situation and choose appropriate actions. We could describe this state as being mentally fatigued.

    The experience of mental fatigue is likely to be familiar to most of us. What may be less clear is what exactly fatigues. If it were the mind itself, then we should be incapable of doing just about anything. Yet even when we are fatigued, we readily watch television, hang out with friends, go for a bike ride, or read a novel. In other words, though we may think we could not handle even one more bit of information, some kinds of information might still be enjoyable.

    An explanation for what fatigues is provided by Attention Restoration Theory (ART) (S. Kaplan 1995, 2001), which posits that attention is the key resource that fatigues. ART also offers an approach for restoring the depleted resource. Critical to its analysis is differentiating between two kinds of attention suggested by James (1890). One of these, directed attention, is called on much of the time, such as when intently pursuing a task (often with plenty of irrelevant information surrounding us), juggling concurrent demands (while ignoring what is on our minds), or simultaneously hearing what others are saying and trying to monitor what we do or do not want to let them know. The necessities of acquiring, managing, delivering, and remembering information generally take effort, even when we are doing work we enjoy. Directed attention, however, is a finite resource, and using it fatigues it.

    Recovering from fatigued directed attention calls on the second kind of attention, known as fascination or involuntary attention. This kind is relatively effortless; in fact, it may be difficult to turn off. Consider activities and places that are fascinating and compelling, times when one feels in tune with one’s surroundings and the demands of the moment. Watching a waterfall is distinctly different from watching (paying attention to) the Powerpoint slides of an uninspiring speaker. Exploring things that are intriguing usually feels effortless. ART posits that spending time on such effortless pursuits contributes to recovery from mental fatigue. One of the requisites of restoration thus involves activities and settings that are compelling and allow directed attention to rest.

    Tending to our attentional needs is thus essential for achieving the clearheadedness necessary to address everyday challenges. We can accomplish such goals by avoiding unnecessary costs in terms of expending directed attention (S. Kaplan, 2001) or by incorporating restorative opportunities. Many activities, driven by the capacity of the digital world, are extremely costly from the perspective of directed attention. Constantly tracking e-mail and phone messages, carrying out several conversations simultaneously, and texting a reply while driving all take effort and are ways to drain this finite resource. On the other hand, incorporating restorative opportunities can be achieved in many forms, short or longer, small or larger, close at hand or elsewhere (Sullivan, Chapter 4).

    Attention restoration has additional benefits. The same resource that allows us to focus and block out distractions also allows us to resist temptations, exercise restraint, and have more willpower and better self-control (S. Kaplan & Berman, 2010). It can allow us to have a civilized conversation with a difficult colleague. Or it may help us gather the will to go out for a run. Needless to say, such a capacity for self-regulation is essential for functioning effectively (Basu, Chapter 6).

    Supporting Attentional Needs

    Humans are capable of sustaining a great deal of focus and effort. However, for a species that is so dependent on directed attention, it is inopportune that we have found countless ways to tempt our capacity. Our ingenuity in delivering these tempting informational riches is not matched with an understanding of the costs they incur. Too often the recognition that we have overspent our directed attention capacity comes as hindsight if at all.

    Statistics of the damage done by multitasking, 24/7 lifestyles, and “human error” caused by mental fatigue would suggest that there is a widespread need for raising awareness about the precious attentional resource that we take for granted. How can this be accomplished?

    • The less is more principle applies here too. Impulsivity, distractibility, impatience, and irritability are all manifestations of strained attentional capacity. Productivity may be increased when pressures are reduced.
    • A how-to manual. Mental models are needed for ways to preserve and sustain attentional capacity, just as they are needed for any other skill we perform.
    • Encourage and enforce time-out rather than expect 100% capacity over extended periods of time.
    • Create environments that help replenish directed attention fatigue (such as those suggested in Sullivan, Chapter 4).

    Meaningful Action

    Knowledge and competence enable us to make a difference in the world. RPM’s third domain encompasses the need for opportunities to parti­cipate, to do things that matter, to be part of what is going on in the world around us. To meet the need for meaningful action, we must consider how environments can foster the sense that our contributions are valued and used.

    As with the other RPM domains, meaningful action is driven by information. We use our knowledge to decide which pursuits would best align with our skills and values. Common expressions such as “What’s the point?” and “Why bother?” suggest that we are constantly trying to anticipate the likelihood of our making a difference as well as envision the kind of impact we may have. After taking action, we seek feedback to assess our expectations. If things have not worked out as planned, we make changes; reassess, perhaps with some soul-searching; and decide where to invest our energies.

    Meaningful actions are expressed in a variety of ways and can vary greatly in the demands they place on us. Some are very small and perhaps not even noticed by ourselves or others. Many, however, share in common the characteristic of belonging to and serving a purpose that is bigger than ourselves. Service can range from simple actions, such as helping grow a community garden or donating to a charity, to those requiring a deep commitment, such as teaching in underprivileged neighborhoods or campaigning for social change. While some meaningful actions demand minimal time, many require a great deal of time, energy, and sacrifice; often there is little financial reward. Progress may be slow and frustrating. Furthermore, the relationship between our actions and desired outcomes is rarely obvious. Despite these barriers, we seek and embrace opportunities to make a difference. The satisfaction of having such a meaningful purpose must therefore serve as a powerful motivation.

    Listening, Respect, and Fairness

    Our treatment of fellow humans is a key aspect of meaningful action. To appreciate this, it is helpful to consider how we prefer to be treated. One example is that we abhor speaking to someone who is not listening. Despite this, failures to listen are rampant, leading to many conflicts. On the other hand, being listened to not only permits us to make a difference but also conveys a sense of respect. Indeed, so urgent is the need for respect that anthropologist Goldschmidt (1990) identified it as the single common endeavor that we all pursue. Traditional cultures have long recognized the need for respect, passing down stories of people who are worthy of respect and developing customs that require showing respect toward others.

    Fairness is the intended hallmark of the judicial system. Our sensitivity to fairness, however, expresses itself far more frequently than our encounters with such contexts. Considering a situation as not fair rarely lacks in emotion, and the emotions can lead to outrages far exceeding the apparent cause and continue to fester for prolonged times, even generations.

    Displeasure may be inadequate to describe what we feel when our ideas are ignored, our intelligence is belittled, or our values are disrespected. One does not need to be a psychologist or a historian to recognize that such mistreatment has led to much human strife. However, reversing these trends by listening to and treating others with fairness and respect can be a powerful way to foster reasonableness. In a study of plaintiffs who lost in custody trials, those who felt they had been treated fairly and listened to in the process were much more accepting of outcomes (Miller, 2001). Treating others well may be challenging and may even drain our limited mental resources; however, doing so can be not only satisfying but also self-sustaining. Treating others fairly invites fair treatment in return. Listening to others compels them to listen. Showing respect to others earns us their respect.


    While meaningful actions are by no means limited to social contexts, being helpful to and appreciated by others is an important source of satisfaction. Such activities may even extend to others whom we have never met. This intrinsic motivation for helping guided our ancestors toward behaviors that were essential for dealing with the challenges of the Serengeti. These include nurturing the young, respecting the wisdom of elders, forming partnerships and friendships, and working together to make the future more predictable.

    While these patterns may seem in stark contrast to the self-interested individualism that is valued by modern Western cultures, they are, in fact, very much evident in our daily lives. Helping behaviors do have a selfless quality; however, the benefits flow not only to those being helped but also to those providing it (Grant, 2013). The expectation of reciprocity—that if you help others they will be more likely to help you—may be a contributing factor. For a great deal of meaningful action, however, it is difficult to find such calculating rationales. Consider the many decisions that are made to enable actions that will make a difference in the future. The Brundtland Report’s framing of sustainability in terms of “not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987) provides a far-reaching example.

    Despite the enormous satisfaction that can come from the sense that we have made a difference, there are innumerable examples in which the value of human efforts is demeaned. Movements opposing sweatshop labor, for example, have exposed the dreadful conditions in which people toil like machines with little chance of improving their lot. When our efforts are thwarted, forgotten, or ignored in this way, we can feel helpless to make a difference and hopeless that this condition will ever change.

    Participation is both the antithesis and the antidote to helplessness. It is best seen as a process, one that helps people contribute their unique talents and efforts toward meaningful pursuits. It encompasses many of the notions we have already discussed. It addresses people’s need to be heard and make a difference in their community or life circumstances. Bridging the expertise gap and conveying respect are central to engaging others in the participatory process. Participation is enhanced when people have the opportunity to incrementally explore different approaches and get feedback about the impact they are having.

    While gauging interest in meaningful participation is difficult, one piece of evidence comes from the magnitude of the global nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector (Hawken, 2007). A Wikipedia entry indicates that “The number of NGOs operating in the United States is estimated at 1.5 million. Russia has 277,000 NGOs. India is estimated to have had around 3.3 million NGOs in 2009, just over one NGO per 400 Indians, and many times the number of primary schools and primary health centers in India” (“Non-governmental organization,” 2013). These organizations often work to address local issues where traditional government approaches have failed. With minimal budgets, they often rely on volunteers whose commitment is driven not by a financial motive but rather by a deep belief in the cause. The vast extent of this effort in spite of the challenges that most of these organization confront suggests the persistent need for meaningful participation.

    Supporting the Need for Meaningful Action

    Good intentions are often not enough. The “meaningful” part of meaningful action is imperative to heed. Sham approaches to participation can do harm; similarly, pro forma expressions of gratitude when people feel their input was not heard can cause great resentment. Failures to acknowledge local knowledge (Scott, 1998) not only undermine citizens’ confidence in government but often lead to misguided solutions. Reasonableness and helplessness are clearly antithetical.

    Many such oversights and blunders can be avoided by creating processes that better respect the perspectives of participants and engage their talents. Doing so will be aided by attention to several issues:

    • Respect the participant’s mental models.
    • This requires listening. Active or even interactive listening can help the listener create a mental model of what is being said.
    • Participatory approaches should start early in the process and involve many. Doing so ensures that participants’ ideas are heard while they can still make an impact.
    • Feedback is essential. People who see the impacts of their efforts are more likely to participate.
    • Helping others is a rewarding experience. Contexts that create opportunities for helping can benefit both the helper and those being helped.
    • Foster unique individual talents. People have different talents; some are valued more than others. Creative uses of undervalued and underutilized talent provide opportunities for people who struggle to find meaningful pursuits.


    Our ability to function depends on mental models. The mental models are the results of experience, and experience is driven by motivations to make a difference. Making a difference requires a clear head. The lack of clarity can motivate exploration to achieve understanding. This sequence, however, can just as well be run in reverse order, or in many other orders. In other words, the three components of RPM—model building, being effective, and meaningful action—are interdependent; they are all needed for bringing out the best in ourselves and others.

    Why RPM?

    The Centrality of Informational Needs

    As we’ve discussed, humans have a profound need to know what is going on, to predict, and to consider options. In other words, these are all activities that are deeply tied to emotions. They can motivate action, constructive or otherwise; they can also lead to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

    For the most part, our informational processes are not overt. We do not consciously seek to build a mental model; we are drawn into the process through innate mechanisms. While we do deliberate over some decisions, our assessment of expectations of outcomes is often implicit. And we frequently are not aware of depleting directed attention or of replenishing it. The intuitive, subconscious, and automatic nature of these processes can be both helpful (we automatically extend our mental models) and problematic (we may not know when we are fatigued). RPM provides a model that economically explains both the strengths and weaknesses of human nature.

    The Environment as a Source of Information

    Information is our sustenance. We actively seek it and share it. However, an enormous amount of information on which we depend is not part of our conscious awareness. It is the backdrop of the setting, circumstance, context, or environment. Some of the information can be confusing, overwhelming, threatening, or discouraging. It can also be clear and clarifying, intriguing and guiding. That is not to say that environments only convey information subconsciously—indeed, sharing information more effectively requires shaping both conscious and subconscious elements. Irrespective of our awareness, the environment is a critical source of fuel for our informational needs.

    Creating Environments to Support Informational Needs

    Not always, but to a much greater extent than often occurs, we can create, shape, and/or choose environments that bring out the best in us and others. Creating supportive environments, in turn, is dependent on our mental models and helps us and others be more effective. It exemplifies meaningful action while also enabling further meaningful action.

    Reasonableness and Interdependence

    That the second word of RPM is singular is a regret of the authors—it might have been more appropriate to call it the Reasonable People Model, since we intend to go beyond fostering our own reasonableness. While current approaches often promote individual happiness, RPM focuses on humankind’s mutual dependencies. The notion of reasonableness reflects how we treat others. Doing so requires interacting individuals to be at their best, but it also demands that individuals understand the needs of others. RPM provides both a theory for developing that understanding and tools for meeting them.

    With RPM as the book’s unifying theme, the chapters provide many insights into ways that we can shape the environment—the context, circumstances, situation, or actual setting—to be more responsive to our informational needs. To create more supportive environments, each of the chapters considers the following questions:

    • How can we bring out the best in ourselves and others?
    • How do we empower understanding?
    • How can we foster exploration?
    • How do we enhance effectiveness?
    • How do we create conditions for people to take meaningful action?

    The Road Map: A Multitude of Applications

    The chapters that follow embrace diverse applications and approaches; a great variety of contexts, age groups, and needs; and different ways of telling about RPM’s capacity. They also draw on many themes that bring the whole together. Such diversity poses challenges for how to organize the chapters. Applying RPM to the process, we involved the authors to participate in deciding on the thematic groupings of the chapters and the overarching structure of the book. The authors have also pointed to many ways in which their paricular chapter relates to other chapters.

    In this initial chapter we have offered an overview of RPM to reduce the need to explain the framework in subsequent chapters. Part I, however, provides fuller discussion with respect to the framework. The remainder of the book, by contrast, focuses on areas of application. Each section of the book opens with an orientation to its chapters. Here we offer a brief glimpse.

    Part I—Foundations

    These five chapters form the theoretical foundation that is used in the rest of the book, with each chapter addressing basic principles of RPM. The chapters also provide rich imagery of how much the core RPM issues are invisible to us. While it is understandable that we take our functioning for granted and comprehend it poorly, there are considerable costs to our innocence, as these chapters help us to grasp.

    Part II—Leadership: Leveraging Talent

    As the three chapters in this section show, leveraging talent can lead to remarkable waves of benefits. Not only can it bring out the best in the individuals who discover strengths they had not realized they possessed, it also ramifies to the people whose lives they touch and even the communities that are impacted by their actions. This is true within an organization, for a large region, and even in the case of people who spend many years behind prison walls.

    Part III—Participation in Environmental Stewardship

    The four chapters comprising this section are interesting in their similarities as well as contrasts. For example, expertise plays important, although quite different, roles. The complex connection between stewardship and attachment is another common theme with variations across the chapters. The contexts for stewardship in these chapters differ along a number of dimensions, including one’s own land, inner-city neighborhoods, and community volunteer opportunities. These differences, in turn, lead to different expressions of attachment and meaningful action.

    Part IV—Finding Agreement

    To foster reasonableness and bring out the best in people requires reaching common ground. The three chapters in this section provide different ways of moving toward a shared understanding and seeking resolution across different perspectives. Across very different contexts, using different approaches, and with diverse outcomes as the goals, the chapters in this section address ways to share mental models and find agreement.

    Part V—Engaged Learning

    While the three chapters in this section all explore learning within the formal educational context, they provide diverse ways to engage students in the process. At the same time, they also demonstrate that engagement can happen not only for the students but also for the teachers and even for others who become involved in the process. Not surprisingly, model building is central to the learning process. The projects described in these chapters, however, also show the important role that meaningful action can play in the educational context.

    Part VI—Small Steps, Big Differences

    Engagement and participation are core themes of the first two chapters in this section. These are also important crosscutting themes throughout the book. Here we are offered insights into some reasons why these themes are so important in fostering reasonableness and about ways to approach the topics empirically.

    The final chapter draws on these and many other themes that are central to the applications provided in the preceding chapters. In particular, the chapter emphasizes the pervasive role that supportive environments play. Though often requiring only small steps, supportive environments can make big differences in fostering our common humanity.

    RPM as a Way of Seeing

    Bringing out our best is not a luxury or amenity. The frequent failure to resolve complex problems necessitates a different way of seeing. RPM provides such an alternative by considering the pivotal role that the environment plays in addressing our informational needs. The astounding breadth of challenges tackled by these chapters speaks to RPM’s wide applicability. It also speaks to RPM’s portability—one can easily carry the framework around in one’s head and put it to use when called upon.

    We are all faced with a wealth of challenges; we leave it to the readers’ imagination—and actions—to apply RPM to exploring and solving them. The broad spectrum of topics and contexts covered here is intended to inspire readers to put RPM to use in their own lives, environments, and situations. Our collective hope in putting the book together is to encourage a way of seeing, a way of understanding and examining environments that might lead to more holistic, adaptive, and effective means of addressing the big and little issues that depend on humanity’s reasonableness.


    • Gigerenzer, G. (2007). Gut feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious. New York: Viking Books.
    • Goldschmidt, W. (1990). The human career: The self in the symbolic world. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.
    • Grant, A. M. (2013). Give and take: A revolutionary approach to success. New York: Viking.
    • Hawken, P. (2007). Blessed unrest: How the largest movement in the world came into being, and why no one saw it coming. New York: Viking.
    • James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. New York: Dover.
    • Kaplan, S. (1973). Cognitive maps in perception and thought. In R. M. Downs & D. Stea (Eds.), Image and environment (pp. 63–78). Chicago: Aldine.
    • Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169–182.
    • Kaplan, S. (2001). Meditation, restoration, and the management of mental fatigue. Environment and Behavior, 33(4), 480–506.
    • Kaplan, S., & Berman, M. G. (2010). Directed attention as a common resource for executive functioning and self-regulation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(1), 43–57. doi:10.1177/1745691609356784
    • Miller, D. T. (2001). Disrespect and the experience of injustice. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 527–553.
    • Non-governmental organization. (2013, August 22). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from
    • Scott, J. C. (1998). Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
    • Shafir, E., & LeBoeuf, R. A. (2002). Rationality. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 491–517.
    • World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future. United Nations.