Last weekend, I was able to go to the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair in Custer, WI just a few hours east of the Twin Cities. I was immensely impressed, inspired, and invigorated by the energy (literally and figuratively speaking) and information that came out of the 23rd year of this exceptionally well-organized event.
MREA is an organization located in south-central Wisconsin, just outside of Stevens Point and Wausau. In addition to organizing this fair that attracts over 20,000 people from almost every state in the U.S., MREA offers over 250 workshops per year on renewable energy and more.
At this year’s Energy Fair, MREA brought speaker, author, and activist Frances Moore Lappé to share her wisdom with the thirsty crowd. As many that are active in the environmental movement may often experience, there can be a weight of overwhelming proportions brought on by all the problems in our world. This weight often either deters people entirely from becoming involved in any questions posed by “radical environmentalists” or pushes those already immersed further down into a sense of despair, cynicism, or apathy. These are two generalizations, of course, within which not every person fits, but are real results that come from this paradigm of scarcity that runs rampant in our society.
Lappé brought a sense of hopeful passion to myself and the hundreds of others present in the crowd on Saturday. She acknowledged and named this problem of scarcity we are inundated with. We all have mental maps that are aligned with our own nature and our way in the world.
The predominate mental map at this point is one of scarcity, especially when we are talking about environmental/ecological issues. In this mental map, we view that there is not enough goodness or enough goods for all. We are set up to feel that we are trapped within a competitive struggle to get, and thus we spend our days and lives reflecting this mentality in what we do: we work hard to get, to gain, to survive, because we fear that if we do not stay on this path, we will fall off forever and be lost, forgotten about, without.
Certainly, there is truth to this mentality:
❀ People all around are without food, clothing, shelter. It is estimated that half of U.S. children alive today will at some point in their lives be on food stamps–despite the U.S. being the #1 exporter of food
❀ At least 2500 unaccompanied youth are homeless no any given night within the state of MN
❀ Over 1.4 billion people in developing countries live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 per day
❀ There are currently 50% more suicides than homicides
❀ In less than 8 years, depression will be the 2nd greatest health issue
We know there are hard times in this world, this is truth and unavoidable in many ways. But it is the way we choose to see reality that impacts (or doesn’t) how we respond to crises. Our mental map as a society tends to be quite perversely aligned to human nature in a couple of ways. In the most uncertain and horrible conditions, most of us would behave with incredible neglect of others and certain brutality.
But, Lappé’s research makes apparent that we have evolved over time and are now soft-wired to be extremely pro-social and relational. In other words, these perverse assumptions of human nature that we still associate with to this day (protect of self over others, meeting others with neglect and/or brutality in the face of challenge) are no longer relevant to our nature. Through our evolution within tribal communities, we learned over time the importance and reward that comes from relationships with others. We saw power, safety, and comfort in numbers, in tight-knit communities. We recognized that our old ways as humans of simply vying for our own survival were neither sustainable nor practical. And so we developed many qualities relating to positive relational behaviors, such as empathy.
There are a few key situations where this inherent brutal, neglectful nature may still be conjured up within us humans:
1.) When power is concentrated in the hands of few
2.) Culture of Secrecy
3.) Culture of Blame
We see this today in a number of ways. We revert back to our most selfish nature when faced with certain challenges–yet through our evolution, we know that there are other options. We also know that there is abundance, that there is enough. The issue is not scarcity, of there not being enough.
In a country where 50%–HALF–of all energy produced is wasted, on a planet where we are supplied with 15,000 times the energy we utilize daily, we are met with overwhelming abundance. So, our crisis is not ecological ignorance, or even greed–it is the way we are taught to see the world.
Lappé encourages us to meet these three conditions that often bring out the worst in human nature, that feed and prolong our scarcity mentality with opposite, uplifting behavior:
1.) Dispersion of power
3.) No more scape-goating
We must become part of the problems and the solution; we can enliven our communities to democracy. An abundance mentality calls for us not to just accept and be born into the democratic system, but to be part of what Lappé calls a Living Democracy. Since we are now wired for empathy, justice, and fairness, we must build our communities around these components. There have actually been studies conducted to show that our bodies produce more endorphins when we share–when we provide for and cooperate with others.
SO, sharing literally makes us happy! Isn’t this beautiful? We are taught this fundamental rule as children, yet adults are not required to share. We revert back and become protective, obsessed with getting and accumulating rather than creating egalitarian communities of living democracy.
BOLD HUMILITY. This is what Lappé calls for. This is our (simplified) solution to a (false) world view seeped in scarcity.
Bold = Breaking away from mainstream if this “mainstream” is going in the wrong direction. We must challenge the mainstream that is obsessed with addressing every problem from the standpoint of scarcity. In order to do this we must understand fear. Does it mean I am a wimp, to have fear? Perhaps being afraid is a sign I am doing something brave! So, we do not have to get over our fear of going against the crowd; we can walk with fear.
Humility = Having faith in others and their ideas. We are all powerful and valuable. Lappé says, “It is not possible to know what’s possible.” So, let us be open to new ideas and creative concepts. Let us be co-creators of our future — one where there truly is enough for all. What happens when we begin to reconstructive our world view as it really is and can be — full, enough, abundant? In this new ecological world view, there are no parts–only participants.