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I’m just back from a weekend conference close to home in Cambridge, sponsored by the Global Sufficiency Network. I was invited to participate in a panel moderated by Lynn Twist, author of The Soul of Money. Our panel focused on the connection between sufficiency and sustainability, a very challenging conversation because neither term is well understood. Those in the audience that talk about sufficiency didn’t have a clear idea about sustainability and vice versa, even though we we all concerned abut the same issues and the need for action.
I went in with a view of sufficiency colored by past immersion in the sustainable consumption community. My understanding about it was more or less having enough, but not more than enough, to take care of whatever needs we have as human beings. This places the concept still in the having mode of living and although it would go along way to sharing the planet’s resources equitably, it falls short of transporting us into the being mode.
I left with a much better sense of what this community is doing and a clearer view of the positive connections to sustainability, as I talk about it in terms of flourishing. Lynn Twist opened the Sunday session by recalling an encounter with Bucky Fuller quite a few years ago. I didn’t take notes so am recapping her comments from memory. Fuller said back in 1976 that we have enough of what it takes to enable everyone on the planet to live a healthy (and happy) life, but we can’t see it and won’t for another 50 years. Our culture has lost its way. What we see culturally is a world of scarcity and have created our institutions under that light. Lynn put it into a neat apposition “your or me” rather than “you and me.” Economics starts from the get-go as the study of the allocation of scarce resources, including money as if it were also a real resource.
With not too much effort I can listen to this as another case of having instead of being. You or me is a call to have as much of those scarce resources as possible. You and me is all about relationships and caring, the basis of being and thence flourishing. So, in spite of all the semantic differences, I found myself much at home in the gathering.
Language does matter, however. I have struggled for a long time with sustainability and the critical importance of getting the meaning right because, if we don’t, little power can come from attempts to muster the immense coordination effort to turn the cultural juggernaut around. I think this community has still some work to do on getting their language clear. Here are two statements I took from a new Sufficiency pledge the organizers tried out on the audience.

Sufficiency is the freedom to have enough, to do enough and be enough to care for ourselves and the world we share.

“Sufficiency” is a state of mind of enough where we experience an appreciation of all we have and all that we are.

The first quote is quite a mouthful. I see care as the beginning, not the end. We human beings need nothing at all to care. Caring comes with simply being human. Care comes to us without doing or having anything. Shaping the world around us into the artifacts used in caring is something that came along with the development of civilization and language. I am uncomfortable about the phrase “be enough,” but need more time to think about this. I am not sure that it makes sense to modify “being” by any word that suggests that it can be measured.
The second quote is also a mouthful. It would make more sense to me to define sufficiency something like a way of being such that we speak our experience in terms of satisfaction, appreciation, or similar descriptors of completion. It’s not too big a stretch to see a connection of this way of speaking to authenticity, the mode of being in which one makes one’s own choices, among all the possibilities open at the moment without following the cultural crowd. Like sustainability, sufficiency is used in so many ways that it is critical that this community be very, very clear.

One Reply to “Sufficiency”

  1. Thank you, John, for these clear and thoughtful comments on this aspect of the weekend’s conversations. I so much appreciate your perspectives and the important distinctions you continually pointed out during the conference. I think you’re on to something with your focus on authenticity.

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