Monday, August 11, 2008


Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet and Food First, has written a book with one of her colleagues from the Center for Living Democracy, Jeffrey Perkins, called You Have the Power. It's based on the idea that fear is what stops us from changing things. Indeed, I believe that most of what attracts people to conservative and right-wing causes is fear. As we act out of fear, we become rigid and lose the ability to see (and play with) possibilities.

But what if fear were a signal that indicated perhaps this was a direction to go in? Jeffrey Perkins, co-author of this book, now leads workshops entitled 'Fear Means Go'. The idea that "Fear means I'm in danger" is what the authors refer to as an 'Old Thought'.

Lappé and Perkins begin each chapter with an 'Old Thought' and end it by contrasting the 'Old Thought' with a 'New Thought'. For example, Old Thought: "I have to figure it all out before I can do anything." New Thought: "We don't have to believe we can do it to do it; the very act of showing up, even with our fear, has power." Old Thought: "Our greatest fears are our worst enemies; they drag us down and hold us back." New Thought: "Our worst fears can be our greatest teachers."

One of the many stories in the book is of Reverend Timothy Njoya from Kenya. He preached against the tyrannies of his government and one night seven men came to his house. They began literally slicing him up, preparing to kill him. His reaction, instead of acting from fear, was to act with generousity. He told them that before he died he wanted to give them his things, his bible, his library, etc. His attackers were so overwhelmed by this they rushed him to the hospital instead of killing him.

Lappé and Perkins label each section they write with one of their names ('Frankie' and 'Jeff') so that it's easy to tell who is speaking. They offer ideas and suggestions to deal with fear as well as lots of stories about people who went beyond their fears to make changes in the world. They write about conflict as a powerful, creative force, and have a lovely section on the power of listening, full of stories about how just listening to people helped create change. They end the book with several small pieces on how to create reading groups and 'Courage Circles' to put the ideas from the book into practice.

I was interested in how theory from complex/emergent/self-organizing systems (a re-occurrent theme in this blog) was incorporated into their thinking. Frances Moore Lappé quotes Notre Dame professor Albert-László Barabási: "We have come to see that we live in a small world, where everything is linked to everything else. ... Small changes ... affecting only a few of the nodes or links can open up hidden doors, allowing new possibilities to emerge." She begins to talk about creating networks and building change from the bottom up. She ends with this wonderful quote: "Putting this all together, we see that rather than inhabiting a top-down, command-and-control world, where those at the bottom have virtually no power, we are living in a highly interconnected world with changes rippling up and through billions of 'nodes'--that's us and our communities." And getting people to see this, is what I call Social Alchemy.

Quote of the day: "Today an anticommunity, corporate-driven culture is going global. It's eroding life's essentials, from clean air and safe water to topsoil and diverse species. It's fostering anonymous, competitive, fear-filled ways of relating to each other that deny the need for human community. While staying with the pack always meant salvation to our species, now a willingness to break with the pack may be our real hope. ...
"But human beings can rise to this challenge. We can acknowledge our deep need for one another and still be able to break connection when it doesn't serve us." - Frances Moore Lappé
Word (or phrase) of the day: Grrl
Hero(es) of the day: Saul Alinsky

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