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By Frances Moore Lappé:

"Fortunately, an evidence-based way of seeing is emerging worldwide that draws on ancient wisdom and disciplines from anthropology to neuroscience. I believe it can free us from the self-reinforcing destructiveness of scarcity-mind.

For some time science has confirmed what great seers have told us for eons, that the nature of reality is not the above three S’s but rather three C’s:

  • Connection. In the web of life, all exists in relationship with all else. As German physicist Hans Peter Dürr once told me, in natural systems, “there are no parts, only participants.”
  • Continuous change. In other words, change is the one constant we can count on.
  • Co-creation. If connection and change are both givens, then all is both shaped by and shaping all that emerges in ongoing co-creation.

This evidence-based mental map I call the eco-mind, hoping to suggest “thinking like an ecosystem.” Its most obvious and helpful lesson is that we humans are, in one most critical way, like every other organism in the ecosystem: what we express is largely shaped by our context, the stimuli around us. With this realization in our bones, we know where to start: We start with a hypothesis about human nature—identifying what useful human traits are there to be tapped by our social environment for meeting the goal of planetary transition to life-serving cultures, and what tendencies need to be minimized by social rules and conditions, if we are to thrive.

I’ve already noted the proven potential for the vast majority of us to behave callously or even brutally in the wrong context. Now we ask, what about positive qualities? Unlike the assumption of a generalized “lack of goodness” within scarcity-mind, anthropology, neuroscience, and psychology converge to now tell us that human beings are in fact “soft-wired” for profoundly social capacities: empathy, a sense of fairness, and cooperation (importantly, including what development psychologist Michael Tomasello calls “shared intentionality,” a uniquely human aspect of co-creation), among others.7 And, from this strong social nature, we have, as well, needs beyond the physical.

I condense them to three essentials:

  • Power (efficacy, agency)
  • Meaning (purpose beyond survival)
  • Connection (both to each other and wider nature)

Note that these needs are pro-social, but are also amoral. Each can express positively, of course, but also negatively. One need only think of the street-gang member holding a weapon (power), defending his territory (meaning), and deeply bonded to his buddies (connection). Equally true, these deep needs can be met through thriving, life-serving communities.

If there is truth here, then the next question is urgent and obvious: what conditions elicit the best in us—the qualities we need now more than ever—and what conditions keep the worst in check? Answering this question for me means growing up as a species, and foregoing the notion that our crisis is the fault of “the greedy, profligate ones,” or simply inevitable because of incorrigible, fixed, selfish human nature.

With eyes wide open, and thinking like an ecosystem, we can see that our task right now is taking the three social conditions above that have proven to bring forth the worst and striving with laser focus to flip each of them to its opposite.

Doing so, we arrive at three conditions that are essential for human, and, thus, for ecological thriving that flows from the assumptions above:

  • The continuous dispersion of power
  • Transparency in human relations
  • Cultures of mutual accountability

We now have a compass. These three social conditions, I believe, make it possible for each of us to meet, in positive ways, our three core needs—for meaning, power, and connection. We can then imagine societies in which we each enjoy dignity (perhaps the ultimate human need) because no one is a mere instrument of another. In such societies, trust—the foundation of social well-being—spreads, and fear recedes.

The great news is that to get there, and to harmonize our relationship with the earth, we don’t have to transform human nature. A big relief! With this reframe, both our compassion and motivation can grow." (

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