Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want
A Conversation with Frances Moore Lappé
by Linda Sechrist
Frances Moore Lappé, author of 18 books including Diet for a Small Planet, is the co-founder of Food First: The Institute for Food and Development Policy, and Small Planet Institute. She also serves on the board of advisors of Grassroots International.
In her most recent release, EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want, Lappé explores the latest in climate studies, anthropology and neuroscience. She aims to dismantle the seven widely held messages, or thought traps, that undermine our responses to current eco-crises.
How can civilization think more like an eco-system to better handle environmental challenges?
Ecology is the science of relationships among organisms and their environment. Seeing life through an ecological lens allows us to see the world and our place in it without managing quantities of limited things. The most stunning implication of this way of seeing is its endless possibilities, as we learn to align with the laws of nature. With an “eco-mind,” we see that ours is not a finished, fixed world, but rather an evolving and relational world. Through an ecological worldview, we realize that everything, including ourselves, is co-created, moment-to-moment, in relation to all else. Separateness is an illusion and notions of “fixed” or “finished” are fanciful.
With eco-mind, we can move from fixing something outside of ourselves to realigning our relationships within our ecological home. Making such leaps of thought can uplift us from disempowerment and despair to empowerment and hope.
How are our culture’s current stories about the causes of environmental crises disempowering us?
Current metaphors pointing to such causes of environmental crises as “insatiable consumers” and this “age of irresponsibility” fix attention on our character failings. They make us feel blameworthy and incite feelings of guilt and fear. Fear doesn’t motivate humans to be more engaged and giving; rather, it too often has the opposite effect, and leads us to objectify and dismiss the “other,” even if the other is nature.
Metaphors of contemporary environmentalism, such as “power down” and “we’ve hit the limits,” keep us locked in quantitative thinking. They don’t encourage us to see the underlying patterns of waste and destruction. They also fail to offer emotionally compelling, alternative ways of seeing current challenges and their rich, positive possibilities. People need to see a new path, a way ahead, in order to leave the old.
Which of your seven “thought traps” do you see as most significant?
I encourage all of us to examine and reshape the stories we tell ourselves and others. “We’ve hit the limits of a finite Earth and greedy consumers that overtax the planet are to blame,” is a thought trap that engenders fear. People then think there isn’t enough to go around, so they have to grab what they can now. This thinking locks our imagination inside an inherited, unecological worldview that focuses on separateness and lack; that’s precisely the thinking that got us into this mess.
Considering the power of frame and language, we can ask ourselves: What is the one piece of my current mental map—my core assumptions about life—that limits me? How could I reframe it to free myself? How do I keep my thinking from being mired in the world of separateness and lack? What are other terms I want to start using?
What “thought leap” can move us forward?
In some ways, my “thought leaps” all reflect a shift from focusing on limits to that of alignment. We’re in the mess we’re in because our economic rules are perversely unaligned with the laws of nature and with human nature itself; they bring out the worst and keep the best in check. We need the opposite.
For example, we now know how to align food production with ecological principles so that there’s enough for all, while regenerating flora and fauna. In this thought leap, we shift from fixating on quantities and focus instead on the quality of ever-changing relationships with all life. We work to replace fear with curiosity—asking why we are together creating a world that none of us as individuals would choose? We see the nature of life as connection and change—realizing, therefore, that it’s just not possible to know what’s possible. How freeing.
When we put our eco-minds into action with the power of connection, we can reach out and spark face-to-face gatherings with others that are also eager to move from feeling overwhelmed to taking rewarding action. Everyone benefits.