Courage is contagious and we need heroes right now. We need to break from the lion pack and side with truth. It can just take one or two people to affect change.
Frances Moore Lappé is an eco/political Rock Star, world changer, world traveler, long-time celebrated author of dozens of books, and sprightly hot mama. She is a passionate and pioneering thinker and activist in many movements, from vegetarianism and the fight to end hunger and poverty, to the struggle for social and democratic reform. She has been writing and acting on her beliefs for more than thirty years, and has inspired millions of people through the sixteen books that she has authored or co-authored. In order to make her beliefs turn into benefits for the world, Frankie, as her close friends affectionately call her, founded organizations like Food First, The Center for Living Democracy, The American News Service, and The Small Planet Institute to spread innovative ideas and lead the way in creating solutions to some of the world's biggest problems.
Frances Moore Lappe receiving humanitarian awardKent Miller [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Raised in Texas, Frankie was trained to think of herself more as a "cheerleader" than a "challenger" (You Have the Power, p. 46). To this day, Frankie can always be seen wearing dark rose-red lipstick and eye shadow, like she is ready to cheer at the big game. I asked her why, even while sitting in my mother's living room in the middle of nowhere, she still felt the need to wear lipstick at all times. She responded, "Well, you can take the girl out of Texas, but you can't take the Texas out of the girl." Aside from the lipstick, Frankie's actions and accomplishments have a way of challenging the norms and expectations of her upbringing. I have always looked up to Frankie because she has managed to follow her heart at every turn, not allowing anyone to stand in her way. She sees clearly what's wrong in the world, but focuses on finding solutions rather than dwelling on all the bad things. When searching for these solutions, she manages to ask the questions behind the questions, always coming from a place of compassion.
Frankie's questioning really began in 1969, when she found herself newly married, living in Northern California, and attending graduate school. In the library one day, she suddenly felt as though there was something wrong in her life. And when she began to listen to herself, she found that there were many questions she had to answer. Frankie decided to make a pact with herself: "I wouldn’t do anything else to 'save the world' until I understood how what I was doing got at the underlying causes of deepening suffering" (You Have the Power, p. 43). She dropped out of graduate school and decided that it was okay to admit to herself, "I don’t know."
Frankie started picking up books in bookstores and libraries that piqued her interest. "My questions ultimately led me from the most universal and global to the most personal of all: what we put into our bodies, that is, the food we eat" (You Have the Power, p. 47). After researching food for hours upon hours, her notes eventually turned into a book, entitled Diet for a Small Planet, which sold over three million copies. The book and her research led to the founding of Food First, an organization that deals with economic democracy. Frankie later started the American News Service and the Center for Living Democracy, both of which worked to educate the public to get what we want out of life, and to put political power into the hands of worthy, authentic individuals with clean intentions.
Frankie has received a great deal of recognition for her work, including the honor of the Right Livelihood Award, known by many as the alternative Nobel Prize. This has enabled her to have a powerful voice in the world, and to collaborate with and form friendships with other public figures having a positive impact on the world. In many cases this type of scenario could go to one’s head, but anyone who comes into contact with Frankie will recognize that she's stayed centered, focused, and untarnished by fame.
However, Frankie doesn't see herself as humble, and points to the fact that as a child she was aware that she wasn't "the smartest person, or the cleverest, or bravest." In her mind, what changed her was the epiphany that led to her inception of Diet For a Small Planet, which was that she had big questions that she felt compelled to answer. She sees this as a gift. She explains, "That kept me pushing forward to keep learning and picking myself up when I crashed."
The only thing she has to be proud of, in her opinion, is a sense of deep curiosity and caring "about the roots of suffering in the world." Perhaps most importantly, she attributes these qualities to the fact that she was able to experience unconditional love when she was growing up. "I can only be deeply grateful, not proud, of that." A real pioneer challenges the way things are done, which Frankie has done in America and around the world. Such a path has taken great resilience and daring. But these things were not enough. It also took great confidence and belief in herself. This enabled her to follow through on the big dreams that most of us would feel daunted by. This is the stuff of true heroes.
Later in life, after experiencing some hardship and being acutely aware of the human condition, Frankie found herself wanting to look into the heart of fear. The norm in our culture is often to let fear stop us from taking our future into our own hands and following through on our goals, or even getting out of a negative situation. This led her to co-write You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear, which gets to the root of all of our hearts. Frankie shows how we, too, can get past our fears and do something different. She and her co-author, Jeffrey Perkins, use examples from average Americans and people throughout the world, some of whom she encountered on her travels while writing Hope's Edge with her daughter Anna. Frankie and Jeff list seven "old thoughts" that trigger fear, and then present seven "new thoughts" that can help transform these fears. They offer the idea that with fear, though it tends to cause us to freeze and stop what we're doing in order to try to escape, "it can really mean go!" Instead of letting our fears take over, keeping us from the life we want, sometimes it just means we need "to do something differently." In many cases, including in the lives of both authors, this shift can cause positive changes in a big way, affecting society as a whole. How else could we change the world, creating the life we want for ourselves, our loved ones, and everyone else?
Many people find themselves standing at a crossroads in their lives in which they could continue on their current trajectory and with the same people, rather than break from the herd. We humans are a herd animal and are hard-wired to fear separation from others. This can be an important survival instinct. However, many people have had the courage to break from the pack and follow their true interests. Though they often go through a rough patch, they can find themselves more fulfilled and surrounded by more like-minded people than would have been possible otherwise. Frankie's book shares stories from a list of everyday people who have done this and come successfully through the eye of the needle. Much to their surprise, they ended up far happier than before and, in the end, they often were able to have a notable positive impact on the world. It's the difficult things in life that help us come into the fullest expression of ourselves.
As a child, Frankie's heroes were her parents, who started a liberal church in the Bible Belt during early 1950s. This was a very brave, courageous thing to do in such a time, and their church was one of the first to be integrated, thus allowing people of different races to enter into the sanctuary as equals. Frankie wrote about many of her current heroes in You Have the Power, including the inspiring stories of Judy Wicks, Diane Wilson, and others who have bravely lived true to their beliefs and created the worlds they desired. When I asked her who her heroes are, Frankie said that she is inspired moment-to-moment by so many people, including Al Gore and Michael Moore. They have bravely taken stands for things that need to change in our world, and believe that we have the power to cause such a change. Many inspiring ideas and examples of how to bring this change and create the world we want can be found in You Have the Power.
Frankie says, "Courage is contagious and we need heroes right now. We need to break from the lion pack and side with truth. It can just take one or two people to affect change." Frankie thinks that a hundred years from now, of the people alive today, some of the ones who will be remembered as the real heroes of today are Nelson Mandela and Wangari Maathai. She thinks this is because of their "courage to persevere in face of brutality, their persistent and centered confidence without needing to control. They do spend time attacking enemies. They are builders. They are also humble and have continued to learn and to change through experience. They are the model of leadership that takes us beyond the power-hungry, ego-centered stereotype of leaders. Ultimately, it is their capacity (because of all of these qualities) to empower other people to see leadership in themselves and to take action."
Continuing in a similar vein as her other works, Frankie's latest book, Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity and Courage in a World Gone Mad, takes a close look at how we've created our culture and how we can step back to reshape it. How do we create a more authentic and alive world that takes care of its inhabitants? The book is already getting glowing reviews as being revolutionary and insightful, from places like O Magazine. Its message is timely, innovative and radical. Every morsel of this delectable credo-meets-blueprint is fluid and human yet scrupulously well thought out and honest. After all these years, Frances has finally written a book that condenses the most weighty and sensible points from her previous works, reshaping them into one cohesive lens for viewing our current situation.
Her message is hopeful but realistic, and she never falls into being another talking head. Not many books on democracy have such a high level of authenticity. Her ability to bypass the normal, worn-out political arguments is refreshing and out of the box. The time has come for the American people, and the citizens of the world, to take our futures and our governments into our own hands to create the world we want, one in which we can all thrive together. A better world is possible, and Frances Moore Lappe is one of a handful of authors whose vision points the way.
Having been a vegetarian since her first book in the 1970s, Diet for a Small Planet, Frankie has always walked her talk more than just about anyone I know. And, in addition to all that, she's just plain fun! Though she has seen sorrow and poverty all over the world, and experienced pain in her own life, Frankie usually has a smile on her face, and really knows how to have a good time. She surrounds herself with beauty in her home and in the people she spends her time with, which only reflects her own inner and outer beauty. I admire her and want to be like her in many ways. When I reach her age, I hope I can look back and feel that I have made a difference in the world and lived an authentic and joyous life like Frankie has. Throughout the years, despite her recognition and accomplishments, she has remained humble, sincere, and playful. She has a collection of really close friends, each of whom she praises for their unique gifts to the world. Her loyalty and warmth are a balm for the heavy-hearted who see the state of the world. It's important to have the ballast of humor and solid relationships anchored by support in the stormy seas of this world gone mad.