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A Box-Shaped Thought Bubble

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200px-Thought_bubble.svg.pngWhy does "think outside the box" both scare and excite us? Maybe we like overcoming challenges. Maybe we're scared our creativity will not stretch far enough. But what if today's long-held ideas became what is outside the box, and the inside was filled with new norms and ways of thought?

For Frances Moore Lappé, this new box seems a reachable reality. Her newest book, EcoMind, brings to life a world that replaces negative mindsets often found in the modern environmental movement with positive alternatives conducive to meaningful progress. The greatest part: This positively progressing world already exists in many places; we just need help seeing it.

In EcoMind, Lappé explores seven "Thought Traps" we fall into. Oftentimes it is understandable that we should think in such a way. But when Lappé shows us what a great, solution-based world these Thought Traps impede us from reaching, the Thought Leaps become worth pursuing.

For example, Thought Trap 4 says, "Humans are greedy, selfish, competitive materialists. We have to overcome these aspects of ourselves if we hope to survive." Lappé responds to this with ample evidence for the following premises:

  • Humans have six hardwired traits: cooperation, empathy, fairness, efficacy, meaning, imagination and creativity.
  • We have to "get real" in order to use these traits for good. We must admit that these traits come with the capability to be tremendously cruel.
  • When we accept that we are both good and bad, this question emerges: "Which social rules and norms have proven to bring out the worst in humans, and which have shown to bring forth the best while protecting us from the worst?"
  • Three conditions jump out that historically deprive us of our best and bring out our worst: extreme power inequalities, secrecy and scapegoating.
  • We can move away from the aforementioned conditions by moving to dispersed power, transparency and mutual accountability.
From these follow Thought Leap 4: "Sure, we can be selfish, fixated on material gain, and narrowly competitive... We've also evolved deep capacities for cooperation, empathy, fairness, efficacy, meaning, and creativity. We can't change human nature, but that's OK. We can change the norms and rules of our societies to keep negative human potential in check and to elicit these power, positive qualities we most need now."

The six other Thought Leaps (presented by Lappé in a similar manner as Thought Leap 4) are also gateways to positive ecological change. To paraphrase:

  • Call growth what it is: wasteful and destructive. Focus on genuine progress and eliminate "growth vs. no growth" from the ideas of resilience, ecological vitality and happiness.
  • Consumerism is actually a symptom of being denied choice. The association between shopping and enjoying luxury is not always necessary. We can instead have stimulating lives that align with nature.
  • Planetary limits don't need to limit us in every way. An effective, environmentally sound goal does not focus on more or less. Focus on quality (such as health, ease or creativity) so our real needs are satisfied.
  • Humans like rules that develop our sense of belonging and structure. We work best when everyone feels involved in the rule-making process.
  • Humans, like all life, evolved in nature. The connection with nature isn't lost, it just needs rediscovery.
  • No, it's not too late. "It is not too late for life." Centralized power does not lead to the good of the whole. We can help life thrive by ensuring everyone's voice is empowered because many want to be involved in helping the planet.

Embracing the Thought Leaps as the new norm changes the box - switching the outside for the inside - leaving us and nature as aligned, coexisting partners.

To learn more about Lappé and her work or to order EcoMind, visit this website.

Thought bubble image courtesy of MithrandirMage via Wikimedia Commons


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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.