Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review: Getting a Grip 2: Clarity, Creativity and Courage for the World We Really Want by Frances Moore Lappé

Up until recently, I had never read any of Frances Moore Lappé’s books, but she had nevertheless had a profound impact on my life: the connection she made between factory farming and world hunger in Diet for a Small Planet was influential in my decision to become a vegetarian nearly 20 years ago. So I was very excited when a publicist at The Small Planet Institute contacted me about reviewing Lappé’s latest book: Getting a Grip 2: Clarity, Creativity and Courage for the World We Really Want.

Getting a Grip 2 opens with a very good question: “Why are we as societies creating a world that we as individuals abhor?” (p. 3). Lappé answers this question by examining the assumptions we make about human nature—assumptions that we use to explain the state of our world. Her basic argument is that the real crisis we are facing today is not hunger or environmental degradation, but rather “our own feelings of powerlessness to manifest the solutions already in front of our noses” (p. 32). These feelings come from a false assumption: that there aren’t enough goods to meet our needs or “goodness” inside us to create something better. Lappé argues that in fact the opposite is true: there are plenty of goods and goodness. Unfortunately, however, we act on our ideas of scarcity and create the very thing we believe in so strongly. (In other words, our belief in scarcity is a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

This idea of scarcity versus abundance is not new to me, although I’ve only ever thought of it at an individual rather than a societal level. I’m aware that my own belief in scarcity—that there isn’t enough to go around, be it food, love, time or good fortune—can make me ungenerous, fearful and untrusting, and that my behaviour as a result reinforces my belief, in a vicious cycle. At the same time, it’s true that I have assumed that in order for the world to change, I, as a person who lives in the West, would have to give things up. I have also held on, at some level, to the idea that our flawed democratic system is still better than the alternatives out there. But Lappé has made me rethink these assumptions by redefining democracy: what we have now is what she calls Thin Democracy—elected government plus a market economy (where profit is the highest good); what we need is Living Democracy, democracy as a way of life, which means “infusing the power of citizens’ voices and values into every part of our public lives” (p. 58). In case you think this is naive or utopian, Lappé presents compelling scientific evidence to back up her claim that humans are “good enough”; she also provides many powerful examples of Living Democracy at work.

One of my favourite chapters in this book is entitled “When Fear Means Go.” As a person who often feels fearful, I found this chapter particularly inspiring. Lappé says:
We can learn to reinterpret fear not as a verdict but as a signal. . . . Maybe [our body’s fear sensations] are not telling us that we’re off track but that we are precisely where we should be—at our growth edge. We can see fear as pure energy, a tool we can work with. (p. 166)
This idea resonated with me: I have been in that place of knowing I must speak because my heart was beating wildly—and the words are there, just waiting to spill out of my mouth. Unfortunately, more often when I’m afraid, I feel blank, without words, too terrified of rejection or ridicule to risk opening my mouth only to have incoherent thoughts pour out. Lappé’s “Seven Ways to Rethink Fear” reminded me that “every time we act, even with fear, we make room for others to do the same. Courage is contagious” (p. 176).

Getting a Grip 2 is an important book, a book that bridges the gap between individual and social change, between living joyfully and changing the world. What Lappé is calling for is a movement, a paradigm shift (although she doesn’t use that term). As she puts it:
No physical obstacle is stopping us. Nothing. The barrier is in our heads. We are creating this world gone mad, not because we’re compelled to by some deep flaws in our nature and not because Nature itself is stingy and unforgiving, but because of ideas we hold. (p. xv)
This book has made me look at the world differently—now the challenge is putting Lappé’s ideas into practice in my own life.

Visit the Getting a Grip website for more information about this book and the Living Democracy movement.

Come back later this week to read a guest post by Frances Moore Lappé and enter a giveaway for a signed copy of this book!

Thank you to The Small Planet Institute for sending me this book to review.

Other reviews: Ethio Quest NewsGreen Book Reviews

Excerpt of the book: The Progressive Reader


  1. This sounds like a book that would have you thinking quite a bit about life and the world we live in.

  2. I've often thought about the whole scarcity mentality in my own life but never how it affects society. This book sounds interesting.

  3. Diet for a Small Planet was the very first vegetarian book I read. I was in 5th grade then, Many moons ago. It really helped me once my parents gave in and let me be vegetarian.

  4. Oh yes, oh yes. This book sounds amazing. I think interpreting the scarcity mentality as a personal problem is also part of the societal problem...when we are pathologized as individuals, we don't view our society critically, and we think it's all our (individual) fault.
    The fear section sounds interesting.
    Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this one...maybe I can convince our library to buy one!

  5. WOW - this is amazing. Thanks for the review.