Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity & Courage in a World Gone Mad is a little book with a big message. Frances Moore Lappe — author of fifteen books, including the three-million-copy bestseller Diet for a Small Planet — distills her world-spanning experience and wisdom in a conversational, yet hard-hitting style to create a rare “aha” book.
She challenges us on the power of “frame,” our core assumptions about how the world works. And she maintains that ordinary people can empower a new “frame” through which livable solutions can emerge worldwide. She writes, “My book’s intent is to enable us to see what is happening all around us but is still invisible to most of us. It is about people in all walks of life who are penetrating the spiral of despair and reversing it with new ideas, ingenious innovation — and courage.”
As small as this book is, it packs a huge “yes we can” punch. I was struck by the brilliance of the simple common sense of her theories and simultaneously lifted by her hope and idea of courage. The thought of taking “Living Democracy” to a place that engages us all makes me wonder how we allowed ourselves to be lulled into our conundrum of apathetic non-doing. Each page gave me so much food for thought (not to mention sad pangs of angina) that I could not read the book continually. It is a volume that needs to be taught more as Sociology 101.
Getting a Grip becomes a source of thought about everyday living intertwined with amazing anecdotes. Did you know, for instance, that Lizzie Maggie, creator of Monopoly, designed the game to highlight the point for children that the winner gets all the property? When we were so triumphant in winning the game as children, did we also take a moment to realize what it means to leave others with nothing?
Lappe notes that the idea of a decent federal minimum wage has attracted an appalling lack of concern. Yet if the minimum wage had kept up with CEO compensation over the years, it would now be $22.61 an hour … need we say more? Talk about lifting people out of homelessness and powerlessness.
“I learned that we create the scarcity we fear,” Lappe writes. But “getting a grip doesn’t have to be a sober struggle,” she says. “From this more complete view of our own nature and of what nature offers, could it instead be an exhilarating adventure?”
“Living Democracy” — a term she coins — is a work in progress that all of us participate in. For her, “Living Democracy” is based on power — meaning being able — rather than the power of might that we have all grown accustomed to. “Relational power is not only fun but suggests that power can expand for many people simultaneously,” she writes. “It is no longer a harsh, zero-sum concept — the more for you the less for me. The growth in one person’s power can enhance the power of others.”
Lappe goes on to say that “the choice we make sends out ripples, even if we are not consciously choosing. So the choice we have is not whether, but only how, we change the world.”
Culture, not fixed aspects of human nature, “largely determines the prevalence of cooperation or brutality, honesty or deceit,” she writes. “And since we create culture through our daily choices, then we do, each of us, wield enormous power.”
Isn’t that tea for thought? Or, as Lappe puts it, ”The challenge is not our level of engagement but whether our choices fire our passions and reverse the spiral of powerlessness.”
A Gandhi quotation — to paraphrase, we must be the change we are seeking — has become a glib bumper sticker. But in all reality, change does start with each one of us.
Lappe argues that there is not a scarcity of food in our world, but there is a scarcity of who gets what. In other words, we have been literally “fed” that one can eat only if one has power. Instead, we can all take responsibility and everyone eats.
Where is our sense of courage? How did this power we give to wealth convolute to an epidemic of allowing people, including millions of children, to die of hunger daily?
Lappe believes there is no reason why we can’t create a values-guided, empowered democracy where everyday individuals and communities take charge of public life by engaging in listening, mediation, dialogue and judgment. In other words, although U.S. culture is grounded in a worldview of scarcity dependent on a society of competition in a market economy that ensures wealth is returned to wealth, that does not mean we are not able to overturn popular misconceptions. But — and this seems to be a huge but — change does take heart … the heart of everyone who can understand that hunger has become a socio-political-economic commodity.
Lappe asks why are we creating a society that we as individuals abhor? The question haunts me. Why indeed? How did we allow the upside down over the top corporate greed types to determine who are the ones that are allowed to eat or have water or equal justice?
Although the book provides great insight and gives readers hope, I must admit it is somewhat thin on specifics about how to bring about this change exactly. On the other hand, this is a book that I think needs to be on everyone’s reading list.
I think it would be worthwhile to start table-talk conversations on this book beginning with youngsters in early childhood to establish the ideal that eating is a need not a privilege. Starving to death is not even an option where scarcity is only a mirage.
Take a moment, read this book. Then share it. Living democracy starts this moment.
Info on Lappe
Lappe first gained prominence in the early 1970s with the publication of Diet for a Small Planet. In 1975, with Joseph Collins, she launched the California-based Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) to educate Americans about the causes of world hunger. In 1990, Lappe co-founded the Center for Living Democracy, a 10-year initiative to accelerate the spread of democratic innovations in which regular citizens contribute to problem solving. She served as founding editor of the Center’s American News Service (1995-2000), which placed stories on citizen problem-solving in nearly half the nation’s largest newspapers. In 2000, she was a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2002, Lappe and her daughter Anna established the Small Planet Institute based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a collaborative network for research and popular education to bring democracy to life. With her daughter, she is also co-founder of the Small Planet Fund, channeling resources to democratic social movements worldwide.
Lappe has received 17 honorary doctorates from distinguished institutions, including the University of Michigan, Kenyon College, Allegheny College, Lewis and Clark College and Grinell College. In 1987 in Sweden, she became the fourth American to receive the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the Alternative Nobel. In 2003, she received the Rachel Carson Award from the National Nutritional Foods Association. She is one of twelve living “women whose words have changed the world” selected by the Women’s National Book Association. In 2008, she was honored by the James Beard Foundation as the Humanitarian of the Year.
Historian Howard Zinn writes: “A small number of people in every generation are forerunners, in thought, action, spirit, who swerve past the barriers of greed and power to hold a torch high for the rest of us. Lappe is one of those.”
The Washington Post says: “Some of the twentieth century’s most vibrant activist thinkers have been American women – Margaret Mead, Jeanette Rankin, Barbara Ward, Dorothy Day – who took it upon themselves to pump life into basic truths. Frances Moore Lappe is among them.”