Moving From Lack to Hope

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Born in 1944, Frances Moore Lappé is a humorous, energetic dynamo. This one-woman hope machine exudes optimism and is my new hero.

I am still amazed such an internationally famous woman graced our small burg with her presence. Lappé's talk was part of the 29th Annual Western Colorado Congress meeting in Grand Junction early in October. Apparently, both Lappé and WCC Executive Director Heather Tischbein graduated from Earlham College, a small Quaker school in Indiana.

For those of you living in a cave, Lappé is a democracy advocate, as well as a world food and hunger expert. She has written or co-authored 16 books starting with the iconic Diet for a Small Planet published in 1971. Her most recent book is Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad. Lappé and her daughter, Anna, run the Small Planet Institute.

The Grand Junction speech was titled, "Getting a Grip on Democracy." Lappé explained her theory about how we all see the world through filters or "mental maps," as she calls them. She feels, "The dominant mental map is fundamentally life destroying." As humans, we are "mal-aligned" with nature.

Right now the mental map most of us use is based on the premise of "lack." There is not enough food and stuff to go around and people do not possess enough goodness to be decent to each other. This view of scarcity creates fear of being without and a general miasma of fear.

The current economic situation concentrates wealth which infects and takes over the political arena. According to Lappé, "Growth is really waste and destruction."

Certain conditions can bring out the worst in people and these include extreme concentration of power, anonymity and scapegoating. When we fall into these behaviors we will stray far from our positive potential.

We are hardwired with many positive traits and can tap into them to improve life on our planet. We are cooperators with innate empathy. We are very intimately connected as demonstrated by mirror neurons, when neurons fire in both the actor and observer in humans and other primates.

Lappé explained, "We are doers with incredibly profound pro-social needs." To move into a positive space people need a life-enhancing understanding of "living democracy." With inclusion, fairness and mutual accountability we can create democracy as a way of life and a "set of system values."

Education plays a big role in this shift to vibrant democracy, promoting apprenticeship citizenship for students through community action projects with real world effectiveness. Mediation skills are also essential.

Restorative justice, also known as reparative justice, is a good example of a new approach to an old problem.

The economic system can be revamped using existing knowledge of how to keep wealth circulating. Around the world, members of co-operatives outnumber people who own stock in corporations.

In the political arena, the "mother of all issues" is removing wealth from government. Lappé stated this can be done through "voluntary public financing" and "clean elections." There is already a movement afoot to remove money from the election process and she recommended Web site as a good example. Maine, Connecticut and Arizona have already enacted clean election legislation and, "Consequences are stunning," Lappé added.

Another illustration of the new wave of responsive government is Maine's producer responsibility law which requires electronic manufacturers to take back their products for proper disposal or recycling.

Lappé closed her talk by proposing going forward with "bold humility" to discover our own power and develop the capacity to act. "We can walk with fear" to get beyond the premise of lack and into the realm of possibilities.

Her latest adventure is an interactive book project with the working title Liberation Ecology: Reframing Six Disempowering Messages That Keep Us from Aligning with Nature - Even Our Own.

Western Colorado Congress, a part of Western Organization of Resource Councils, held its business meeting earlier the same afternoon. After surviving an extremely challenging year, including streamlining its staff due to financial difficulties, WCC should finish the year in the black.

WCC members hope a complex strategic planning process will set the grassroots, democratic organization on the right path. The group, 2,700-members strong, bills itself as "an alliance for community action that empowers people to protect our communities and environment."

A version of this piece originally appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and on at