Frances Moore Lappé: Believe in the Possible


"Why are we living in a world none of us would choose to live in?" asked social and environmental activist Frances Moore Lappé, posing the question in her October 27 lecture on how to change our thought processes. Lappé, returning for the third time as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Suffolk University, focused on the difference between initial negative thinking and initial positive thinking. Her answer to "why?" was clear: we believe we are powerless to change the world, so we give up without even trying.

Lappé is the co-founder of, a website devoted to encouraging what she calls "living democracy," or the ideal of a functioning democracy that rewards "inclusion, fairness, and mutual accountability." She is also the author of many books, including her latest, Getting a Grip 2: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage for the World We Really Want.

During her lecture, Lappé explained her hypothesis: In order to achieve a living democracy and rid ourselves of our communal depression, human beings must believe in a "premise of possibility" rather than a "premise of lack."

"We create the world according to the ideas we have," believes Lappé. The scholar put her argument in the context of democracy and world hunger. There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, she said, but our initial expectation that people are selfish leads us to conclude that people who have access to food are not concerned with the people who do not; this perpetuates further selfish and individualistic thinking, leads to corporate monopolies and insatiable consumption, and feeds our initial belief that people are selfish creatures.

She noted that many people feel depressed and powerless to fix problems that we already have solutions to because of this premise of lack. Our expectations frame our world, and most people expect that the world is lacking in every way: "there is not enough food, there is not enough love," is the mind set—and misconception—that leaves us feeling powerless.

Lappé pushes for the acceptance of a Spiral of Possibility and the rejection of the Spiral of Powerlessness. "We are in a moment of human history where a lot of people are saying, 'Wait, this isn’t working for us,'" she said.

The Spiral of Possibility starts with the idea that people are inherently good people and that there is "more than enough" in the world—"enough food, enough love, enough parking spaces." This leads to believing that people can work together without selfish ulterior motives; this further leads to actual cooperation among people, and eventually leads to finding solutions to the problems we face, like world hunger.

"Stop being victims and blamers and start becoming part of the solution," Lappé said, advocating for what she calls "bold humility."

"What has been most meaningful to me is recognizing that we are good enough. The key, to me, is not becoming a better person, but becoming a more courageous person. Courage becomes contagious."

For more information on Frances Moore Lappé and the Small Planet Institute, visit

By Tiffany Hassin

Back to News »