Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Intelligent Optimism

The slogan on the cover of Ode magazine caught my eye the other day: "for intelligent optimists". That's what I'd like to be! I find inspiration - and even optimism - in the elegance of simple solutions to complex problems and in knowing that people are making life-affirming decisions each day. In the face of the seemingly intractable despair that I could fall prey to if I let myself wallow in the worst of what is happening today, I turn to books, film, and media sources that tell the other side of the story. For example, I'd rather learn about the social factors inside a prison that contribute to a revolving door from a story that tells about someone who is trying to change those factors. It renews my faith in humanity and gets me excited to do my part too. It makes me hopeful, which is no small task sometimes. But my optimism is a hungry beast that constantly needs to be fed. Without a daily dose of inspiration, it withers under the scary stories of the status quo that are trumpeted by the media bullies. So I am always on the lookout for new sources of hope, inspiration, and optimism (suggestions appreciated!).

A few years ago I found the work of
Frances Moore Lappe. Lappe is best-known for her 1970s bestseller, Diet for a Small Planet, about the root causes of hunger in a world of plenty. Having never read that book, I wasn't familiar with Lappe when I stumbled across her 2002 book, co-written with her daughter Anna, called Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet. It was a revelation to me! My passion for food as a means to connect all sorts of complicated issues through a medium that is essential to life itself was stoked by the stories of individuals and groups challenging our notions about the industrial food system and chemically-dependent agribusiness. I learned more about the systemic problems that our communities face (the prevailing food system is just one connecting thread to a host of social, environmental, and spiritual problems) in the context of optimism and hope. Later, I heard Lappe speak at an urban agriculture conference sponsored by the industrious and inspired teens of The Food Project, and I was hooked on her brand of intelligent optimism.

Yesterday I finished reading Lappe's latest book,
Democracy's Edge: Choosing to Save Our Country by Bringing Democracy to Life. In it, Lappe expands upon the framework that she explored in her earlier works. She writes about how the lack of an informed, engaged citizenry leads to the social and environmental conditions in our society that none of us, as individuals, would want. She argues that we need to live democracy each day. We can do this by creating connections and community rather than accepting "thin democracy rooted in a narrowly individualistic, material view of life." In essence, we can create the world that we want by feeding the intelligent optimist within. It's a daily task that requires deliberate attention to seek out the life-giving examples in our midst and then to create our own path. Lappe's books have given me much-needed fuel to keep my fire going.

Frances Moore Lappe is appearing on PBS's
NOW this evening. I'll share my thoughts tomorrow, but I'd also love to hear yours. Let's expand the community of intelligent optimists!


  • At 7:19 PM, Blogger spiral said…

    I will have to put Lappe on my reading list for the break, and I need to add you to my blogroll so I'm better about reading your thoughts--I identify so much with what you say about how easy it is to get pulled down by the world around us.

  • At 9:35 AM, Blogger lauren said…

    Thanks spiral! I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about the Lappe books. I'll add you to my blogroll too.


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