Photo: Change begins in conversation

The David Suzuki Foundation Book Club are talking about Less is More. (Credit: Aryne Sheppard)

Why discuss Less is More?

By Cecile Andrews

John Dewey, an influential American psychologist in the 19th century, said something important: democracy begins in conversation. In other words, talking together is a radical act. Democracy is participation and deliberation. It's about people learning to think together, take action, and coming back together to evaluate their actions.

The United States' most significant experience of social change, the civil rights movement, was born in conversation. Most people know about Rosa Parks and her historic refusal to move to the back of the bus. But few people know that she credited the Highlander Center for her act. Highlander was the hidden source for much of the civil rights movement, involving people like Martin Luther King and Eleanor Roosevelt. Its basic idea was (and still is) the radical proposition that when you bring people together, they will find the answers. The wisdom is in the people.

Democracy begins in conversation because it is in conversation that we learn to care about the other. It is in conversation that we experience being an equal. It is in conversation that we learn to cooperate and question and create new ideas — all ingredients of democracy.

Berkeley linguist George Lakoff argues that social change comes when we evoke empathy in others — when people feel cared for, when people feel connected. Facts don't change many people. Further, researcher Tim Kasser says that when people hear too much bad news, they tend to go shopping — one of the things we need to reduce!

So haranguing people about changing their ways rarely works.

Talking about simplicity is perfect for conversation because no one can really be an expert. There is no Ph.D. in Voluntary Simplicity. Simplicity is about living deliberately, making conscious decisions about the well-being of people and the planet. We learn from our own lives — no need for second-hand ideas. When you are present as an equal in a conversation, you learn to think for yourself and resist the manipulation of the corporate consumer society.

Conversation always encourages good nature and conviviality, giving us hope and optimism to keep on working for change in the world. Everyone wants to make a difference and have a good time — talking about voluntary simplicity helps us do this.

When you read Less is More, talk about the ideas that really grab you — that enliven as well as enlighten. But go further: commit to specific acts of change. Ultimately, community deliberation not only encourages people to think and explore the idea that 'less is more', it changes people at their very core. When you talk with your fellow citizens, you experience caring, and you begin to value people more than things. When you talk with people in a convivial and congenial environment, you begin to truly believe that we're all in this together. You begin to truly understand that less is more.

Watch a lecture by Cecile Andrews

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