What’s Empowerment Got to Do With It?
(How my rediscovery of Frances Moore Lappe’s book, Diet for a Small Planet inspired me to start this blog)
I fully believe that each person has a one-of-a-kind contribution to share with others. Each person has a unique perspective, and if guided by a constructive intent, is capable of positively impacting the lives of those in their sphere of connection. This blog will join the legions of people and organizations of like mind seeking to redirect humanity’s path toward empowerment, hope, personal transformation and fulfillment, respect for the inherent dignity of life, and peace.
I chose today, January 26, to start my blog because since 1983, Daisaku Ikeda, whom I respect as an important role model, issues a peace proposal annually coinciding with Soka Gakkai International’s (SGI) founding, a lay organization of “engaged Buddhists …aim[ing] to create value in any circumstances and contribute to the well-being of others” based on the teachings of Nichiren, a Japanese priest who lived in 13th century Japan, with a primary focus on promoting peace, education and culture. Based on the foundational belief that everyone has unlimited potential waiting to be tapped, it is an empowering life philosophy.
While contemplating this launch, I decided that, as I prepare my upcoming posts, I would make remain open and responsive to new things I encounter relevant to that topic. Yesterday (1/25), I turned to one of my favorite programs, Book TV on CSpan 2; Brad Meltzer was introducing his new series of children’s books, which he desires to publish hundreds of, on the theme “I am….” They are biographies about historical people who inspired him, and feature anecdotes from their childhoods. In the presentation, he shared his belief that “ordinary people can change the world.” Going to his website, I followed a link to a TedTalk Meltzer had given on this very theme. Curiously, only a few days ago, someone had mentioned to me that she loves TedTalks, describing it as people inspiring other people about the things that inspire them. Serendipitously, he mentions the inspirational story of the only person confirmed to have survived both nuclear bombs, whom only a few weeks ago I had learned of on the website of an SGI exhibition — “Everything You Treasure –For a World Free from Nuclear Weapons.” (page 4 of the pdf)
One example in Meltzer’s TedTalk is of a teacher that told him he should be a writer. Years later, he presented his first novel to her and moved her to tears, as she had been on the verge of retiring based on doubts as to what impact she was having on her students! He also urges people to thank others for words that encouraged them. Does it bring anyone to mind for you? It brings immediately to mind that I have, for some time, thought of contacting the person whose playing inspired me 46 years ago to want violin lessons, Edith Peinemann. I also fondly recall how my first-grade teacher, Mrs. McAllister, suggested I tutor a classmate in reading, providing such an early opportunity to try my hand at teaching, something I enjoy to this day.
My immediate motivation for exploring empowerment came from an unexpected source. Pulling Frances Moore Lappes’ book Diet for a Small Planet, 20th Ann. Ed, out of the stacks, I had intended to search for ways to expand my dietary repertoire (a favorite word of mine being a musician!) with more plant-based whole foods, based on Colin Campbell’s China Study. Campbell was a lecturer in a program I completed to gain certification as a holistic health counselor. Before getting a chance to review the Lappe book, a friend (Hi, Ken!) knowing of my nutritional interests, asked me what my current dietary focus was. That conversation motivated me to bring the book with me on a weekend trip to Georgia to support my wife at her dog agility competition. Much to my surprise, the opening chapters of the book had little to do with nutrition, and much to do with empowerment. (I had originally planned to post this blog on my companion website whose focus will be more narrowly on nutrition and music for healing and inspiration, but this discovery inspired so many thoughts that I chose to place it here.)
Lappe’s by then two-decade (the original was published in 1971) immersion into understanding and reversing world hunger had led her to the conclusion that there was not a scarcity of food, but rather a scarcity of awareness of the impact our food choices make on the world, and a lack of emphasis on empowering citizens to be wise and discriminating consumers. She writes:
First we acknowledge that anyone searching for real democracy must start with an admission: There exists no functioning model. No current concept of the social order legitimates the central role of citizens—their responsibility, their capacities for common problem solving.
Lappe, Frances Moore (2011-05-18). Diet for a Small Planet (20th Anniversary Edition) (Kindle Locations 430-432). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
While people tragically continue to die daily from hunger, she still has cause for optimism, noting that in the 20 years since her book was first published:
[T]he pace of technological change has been breathtaking, but our change of consciousness has been yet more dramatic. We who were born in this century are the first generations to experience a perceptible quickening of historical time. The change you or I witness in a lifetime now exceeds what in previous centuries transpired over many, many generations. And we who were born after World II are the first to know that our choices count: They count on a global scale….
And with this awareness of humanity’s power to remake, to unmake, our living environment, has come a radical awakening across many disciplines. We thus live in an era of conscious searching, of profound rethinking. It is, I’m convinced, a time of opportunity that may come only once in many centuries. And so, while fear may grip me often, I also feel incredibly privileged to be alive now: a time of exploring fundamental questions about who we are and what the role of our species is to be on this lovely planet.
Lappe, Frances Moore (2011-05-18). Diet for a Small Planet (20th Anniversary Edition) (Kindle Locations 134-137, 157-60). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
She explains that the root meaning of “power” is “to be able,” suggesting to me that the word “empower” means “to enable,” or perhaps “to encourage”(give courage) . In an interesting parallel, I read very recently in the book America Will Be!, a dialogue between Vincent Harding and Daisaku Ikeda published on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Harding sees the idea of expanding democracy as a more accurate way of defining the movement Martin Luther King, Jr.’s established:
I believe that the term civil rights movement is an inadequate description for the movement in which we were involved….If, instead of referring to the civil rights movement we spoke in terms of the expansion of democracy, then each new generation would recognize that they have a responsibility to expand democracy beyond the way they found it. This duty is an ongoing task that each generation must accept. The question is how to engage the next generation and convey this important message to them. (p. 91)
It is encouraging to learn that Ms. Lappe is still going strong, with the involvement of her daughter as well. I’m intrigued by her Ecomind Workshop, which strives to enable participants to transform “the core assumptions of separateness, statis and scarcity [in which] we see ourselves in perpetual competition with other selfish creatures” to newly chosen assumptions “of connection, continuous change, and co-creation.” She asserts that by doing so, “we can move away from this toward Living Democracy, which is positively aligned with our nature via the continuous dispersion of power, transparency in human relations, and cultures of mutual accountability.” (the above quotes are taken from her article, “Scarcity Mind or Eco-Mind: Where Do They Lead?”)
I conclude by expressing my appreciation to Frances Moore Lappe for sustaining her hope for so many years, and playing an important role in my decision to write this blog, a new outlet for creativity and, hopefully, engagement with others, namely my readers.