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Alternatives For Healing

Excerpt From: "Enough is Plenty"

by Anne Ryan

Excerpt: Chapter One

This chapter reflects further on enough as a philosophy, accessible

to all, which can dramatically and permanently alter how we

understand and live in the modern world. Enough can help us to

think in ways that are useful for our time about what is good for

human and planetary flourishing, how should we live as

individuals and with other people and communities, and what

constitutes progress for the human race. And the nature of enough

is such that it opens up liberating and exciting responses to those

questions, without being dogmatic.

Enough does not inspire news headlines. Excessive behavior

makes the news and sometimes stories of misery do too. For the

most part, however, we deny suffering and misery and put them

from our thoughts. We don’t dwell on how the world could be rearranged

so that everyone could have sufficiency. We tend to

concentrate on excess in others: their spending, their behavior, or

their drug habits. And many of us like to carefully tread excessive

paths ourselves.

Courage is generally associated with dramatic or traumatic

events; we forget that the ordinary also requires courage. We are

not in the habit of exploring or valuing sufficiency – it lacks

drama, it is too quiet or everyday. A life of enough is not usually

thought to be successful. Many concede that enough is virtuous,

but few see it as attractive. It does not draw attention to itself or

to people who follow its path. We tend to view enough as a way

of life devoid of challenge, engagement, adventure or

achievement. This leads many to dismiss it as a philosophy for

losers, for those who cannot “make it”, who cannot read the

markets and participate productively and successfully with


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everybody else. I have conducted public workshops about

enough, and participants have told me that if they embrace the

concept, they fear being seen as penny-pinching, lacking in

ambition, anti-money, dull, even mad or irresponsible.

In the modern world, we tend to equate happiness with

success, and in turn we define success as material possessions

and external achievement. We emphasize constant activity and

visible, measurable wealth over experience and reflection. We

lack sensitivity to the inherent elegance and beauty of restraint

and limits. However, many languages have proverbs or sayings

that reflect the insight that enough is as good as a feast. In Irish,

for example, the same phrase – go leor – means “enough” and

“plenty”. Enough is about optimum, having exactly the right

amount and using it gracefully. It is about being economical with

what we have, without waste of resources or effort, but without

being stingy either. But this knowledge is becoming increasingly


Generational differences affect how people understand

enough. For those generations brought up in the early part of the

twentieth century, enough was a way of life. They tried to instill a

sense of enough into their own children. Unfortunately, many of

those children, now middle-aged, rejected enough, seeing it as

stingy and associating it with depressed times of rationing and

scrimping. And many in their teens and twenties, children of

those middle-aged, say that their parents’ rejection of enough has

caused the waste and ecological destruction that is now so


Whatever our generational experiences, whatever way of life

enough or excess – our parents modeled, we all, including

children, have the capacity for enough. It is part of human nature.

We may have to work at developing the capacity, but we all

know enough when we see or feel it. All of us have had some

experience of enough – when we had everything we needed at a

particular moment. Then, we have known contentment, which is



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another underrated aspect of human experience in modern times.

To appreciate and cultivate contentment is to be open to the value

of enough.

Many individuals and families are currently bucking the

current trend towards accumulation and quantity, and are living

rewarding lives based on the principle of enough. Some are

choosing to do this in community with others, in thousands of

eco-villages all over the world.1 Large numbers of people are

unobtrusively living according to a philosophy of enough,

regardless of whether the world or their national economy is

booming or in recession. In towns, suburbs and in rural areas,

people are quietly getting the most out of life, cultivating joie de

vivre without the trappings the advertisers tell us are essential for

success and happiness.2

Enough does have a presence and a vocabulary amidst the

modern emphasis on growth no matter what. Even so, it is a

whispered presence: media, education and public debate ignore

our collective wisdom concerning human potential for achieving

well being by means of restraint and observation of limits. TV

soaps don’t celebrate enough and there are very few novels about

it.3 It is difficult to think of anybody who ever became a celebrity

by embracing the concept of enough, although Satish Kumar,

editor of Resurgence, a magazine that promotes the philosophy of

enough,4 was a castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

Mahatma Gandhi was famous for a time, for promoting the idea

of enough as a basis for developing the Indian economy.

Embracing enough does not mean that we never experience

excess again. There are so many facets to our lives, we probably

won’t ever be excessive or sufficient in all of them. So it would be

a pity to understand excess and sufficiency as having nothing to

say to each other. We appreciate enough with a special clarity,

when we have experienced excess. Excess is sometimes appropriate,

although not in the long term. Someone who embraces the

harmony of enough for the most part of their life will not close off


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the possibility of excess at certain times and places. Similarly, if

we have lacked something such as time or money, we appreciate

with great relish having a sufficient amount of it. The trick is for

us to know when to stop, so that we do not exceed the optimum

point of whatever it is we are doing.

Ideas concerning the beauty of enough are not alien or

distasteful, although embracing them fully is not a well

developed option either because they are so countercultural.5

Many of us recognize the value of enough, yet we receive strong

messages to keep growing. In the contradiction between two

different messages there lies the potential for wisdom. Striving

for enough in the midst of a world of more is a way to cope with

the demands of the modern world. It can help us to balance the

different roles we hold and the worlds we inhabit, and to make

sound decisions and choices.

Enough and ecology

The words “ecology” and “economics” have the same root; “eco”

means “home” or “household”. Enough takes economics back

into the scale of the household, makes it focus on the needs of the

systems that sustain us, insists that economics recognize that

everything is connected in the wider household of being.6

Enough treats markets, money, trade, science, technology, competition

and profit – all the elements of modern growth economies

– as good, creative activities in themselves, which can be

harnessed for the good of people and the planet if they are kept

within moral and ecological boundaries. It distinguishes vibrant

economic activity from unregulated economic growth.

Ecology differs from environmentalism, which is a modern

way of trying to manage and limit the destructive effects of

growth-related activities on the natural world. Ecology is a way

of looking at the big picture, including the whole person and the

place of humans in the systems of the earth. We need to know

more about our home planet, in order to overcome the ways that



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the modern world separates us off from eco-systems and from

diversity. An ecological outlook encourages a sense of belonging,

which in turn helps us to create meaning: a meaning that is

lacking for many in the cultures that grow up in tandem with

growth economies.7

Scientific insights into the natural world have made the

marvels of healthy ecological systems available to us. They do not

waste; they are economical in the original sense of the word; they

elegantly and spontaneously observe limits.8 They are, in other

words, truly sustainable. We could take our cues from these

organic systems and encourage human, social and economic

systems modeled on them.

We should not idealize nature; it can just as easily be co-opted

for fascist ends at it can for justice. Everyone wants their ideas to

be seen as “natural”; it is a very powerful concept, because it

suggests that what is natural is right and unstoppable; it provides

a moral justification of sorts. For instance, nature can be

employed to suggest that there is a natural hierarchical order of

relationships in human society, among different races or ethnic

groups, or between the sexes. Proponents of unrestrained global

markets and growth economies say that such systems are a

natural progression for humans and that there is no alternative to

them, even if they sometimes have considerable downsides.

We can use insights from the study of nature as a way to

examine the kinds of systems that support life. We know that

healthy ecosystems are rich in diversity and that they can provide

more for their “inhabitants” – human, plant or animal – than

impoverished systems, even if both kinds of system have the

same nutrient resources to start with. For example, an ecologically

run garden has a closed nutrient cycle; nothing leaves it in

the form of waste; it uses everything it produces to provide

nourishment for the soil and the plants. We also know that

healthy systems accommodate growth, but of a cyclical rather

than an unlimited kind. Nature favors cycles because they come


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to an organic end after a suitable period of growth.9 They do not

go on growing because in nature, that is a cancer.

Humans today need to consciously self-regulate. Other

species and systems, which have not developed cultures that

devalue limits, know spontaneously when enough is enough;

humans have to choose it. For economic development to be

beneficial, it has to conform to very strict ecological and moral

limits. Of course, we will never reach perfect agreement on the

question of what the limits should be. But rather than try to set

absolute rules for them, the important thing is that we start and

maintain a widespread conversation about limits. The full

potential of enough cannot be seen from where we currently

stand in growth-oriented countries; it can only be imagined. Its

potential becomes clear only as we travel along its path and put

it into practice.

It would also be marvelous if “developing” countries

consciously fostered the idea of enough as they seek progress for

their economies and societies, rather than copying the type of

over-development that has happened in affluent countries. It

would be a disaster if such over-development were the only

definition of progress available. The way of enough explores how

economic activities can be the servant of humans and of the

planet, because inherent in enough – along with the principle of

sufficiency – are the principles of sharing and fairness – the

maximum benefit from what is available from the earth going to

the greatest numbers of people.

Enough and aesthetics

To appreciate enough, we need an aesthetic sense that recognizes

the elegance of sufficiency. Enough has a beauty that is

completely appropriate for our time. What if the cutting edge

came to mean, rather than the ever-expanding of boundaries, the

art of walking that edge between less and more, sometimes

balancing, sometimes slipping? It would be beautiful and



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challenging at the same time.10 Wealth could consist in achieving

balance and wholeness, including humor, fun, laughter and


It is difficult to embrace enough and its recognition of limits if

we consider them to be about mediocrity or deprivation. The

notion of limits has taken on negative meanings within our

modern way of seeing the world. Enough can put us back in touch

with the parts of ourselves that understand the beauty of scale

and sufficiency, the parts that empathize with the rest of creation.

The arts – the record in music, painting, writing or dancing of

what we have found beautiful or meaningful –11work with a

notion of limits also. The artist has to prevent the work from

exceeding itself, from becoming unwieldy or going on for too

long. Otherwise the finished product becomes meaningless.

Enough and Morality

Cultural and personal appreciations of the beauty of enough are

also the start of a moral practice. A conversation about morality –

the principles and values that underpin our actions – is essential

for a different kind of long-term public culture that does not rest

on the idea that we are fundamentally economic beings. The

terms “ethics” and “morality” are often used interchangeably; in

this book, I distinguish between them, by thinking of “ethics” as

the behaviors that result from moral values.12 Morality, like

ecology, examines how all things can flourish in relation to each

other. Both are concerned with connection and the effect that

different parts of any system have on each other.

A moral quest asks us to consider things we would often

rather ignore. It asks us to reflect on the place that each one of us

has in this world, the extent of the damage that humans have

done in the world and the responsibility that each one of us has

for creating a just world: what, in short, are our obligations to

other people and to the earth itself? We often don’t do enough of

this, so enough requires that we do more of what we neglect right


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now. And it requires more than asking what is wrong; it involves

going on to ask, how we can behave in ways that are right.

Morality and ethics require that we examine the consequences of

our beliefs and actions in areas beyond ourselves and our

immediate environment, and in the long term.

A lack of moral development is distinct from a breakdown in

organized religion. Institutional religions have traditionally held

a monopoly on moral pronouncements, and indeed have tended

to emphasize the guilt and shame aspects of our private lives.

Progressive religious leaders are thankfully recognizing the need

to broaden moral understanding, and that is to be welcomed. But

we must not leave morality to religions – it is something we all

need to concern ourselves with, whether we take a religious view

of the world or not. Morality can be thought of as another way of

naming politics, since politics too is concerned with human and

planetary well being.13

World economics needs to be subjected to moral and

ecological scrutiny. There is a moral dilemma involved in the

way that economics, narrowly understood, has taken away our

capacity to live good lives. We produce and consume to “keep

the economy going” but in the process, we also destroy many of

the less tangible features of life that support and sustain us.

“Maximum individual choice” is the big mantra within growth

economics: we are promised enormous numbers of choices,

which are supposed to make us happy. We often talk about

equality as if it means having the right to shop on an equal

footing with other people. But many of the choices available are

meaningless and cause unwanted and unnecessary complexity in

our lives; they are not actually available to all and they often

come at a price of ecological destruction and social injustice.

Enough recasts choice as moral decisions that strive for the

common good. That means taking into account all other humans,

community systems, the earth, and ourselves as individuals or

small family groups. This may mean setting limits on certain



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kinds of expansion and accumulation, because they themselves

limit the choices for others. Taking a moral stance forces us to

enquire into what is really going on in the world around us, not

just in our own private or family sphere. So the moral dimension

of enough is also concerned with justice and fairness.

Enough and Spirituality

Spirituality involves full and constant attention to and awareness

of what is happening, even if this is painful. Full attention is

spiritual in a sense that has nothing to do with institutional

religion. If we truly pay attention to the present, then we cannot

ignore what is going on around us, the social and environmental

realities that we are part of. And if we stop denying and ignoring,

then we will not be prepared to live with some of the things we


A part of spirituality is about gaining peace of mind, and to

this end, many contemporary interpretations of spirituality

would have us simply acknowledge and accept what we see. But

only to acknowledge the world’s wrongs is more likely to bring

despair, when we realize the extent of the wrongs. The only way

to find peace is to resist what is wrong and attempt to do right.15

The public side of the spiritual path – attention to social and

economic systems – cannot be ignored in favor of the personal.

Spiritual searching today must be infused with a political flavor

if it is to be relevant to the contemporary scene.

Many of us are already searching for peace of mind in the

private realm with activities like yoga, tai chi, reiki, meditation,

psychotherapy and poetry. Unfortunately, many spiritual activities,

as taught or practiced in the west, emphasize the pleasant

and the personal and do not refer to a social or cultural search, or

offer a sense of the bigger picture. It is not enough to embrace

spirituality, if it is only to escape one’s own pain. For example, a

spiritual celebration of nature, uplifting and healing as it is, is not

complete if it ignores the ways that nature is being violated by


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economic growth, and if the spirituality does not try to defend

nature. Spirituality can all too easily become the pursuit of the

pleasant, a sort of tranquillizer. It can be used as an excuse for

ignoring or denying what is going on in the world.16 However,

ecology teaches us that one part of a system cannot be truly

healthy if other parts are in trouble.

Morality and spirituality appropriate to our times bridge the

gap between public and private. They are political matters,

because both are relevant to the world around us and to our

inner lives. An ecological outlook enables us to look at context,

that is, the bigger picture or web, in which our private lives are

lived. The search for enough enables us to broaden our horizons

and critique the systems that set the scene for our lives. It brings

together resistance to what is wrong in the public domain as well

as in the personal; it helps us to see the need for life-giving

systems and gives us a desire to work towards them. Spirituality,

like morality and ecology, is a recognizing of deeper levels

within ourselves and between ourselves and the world.17 All

three are concerned with an awareness that everything in the

world relates to everything else.

We cannot know all the aspects of enough without actually

doing it. It is a way of being in the world, not a simple set of rules

for living. It is like a path whose end point we cannot see before

we start out. This is part of its spiritual dimension: although we

can understand it cognitively in minutes, it can take a lifetime of

practice to come to truly know it. But the more we walk on the

road or practice the philosophy, the more we become aware of

the nuances and value of the practice. So enough can be a slow

realization along the way, and it can entail dramatic insights or

transformations. It can also take the form of new knowledge that

nobody has yet envisaged. There are difficult sides to any

spiritual way, such as doubt, fear, failure, uncertainty and

struggle. These are to be accepted for what we can learn from

them; pushing them aside is another form of denial.



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Enough has a good history; it is rooted in past generations and

has been valued and practiced by several great wisdom traditions,

including religions, especially those traditions that have an

ecological outlook, and which view humans as part of the great

natural systems. Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Hinduism,

Christianity, and the Ancient Greeks – to name just some traditions

— have for thousands of years promoted the virtues of


Although enough does not rely on religious doctrine, it is not

rigidly secular either; its spiritual and ecological dimensions take

it beyond any view of life and the world that values only material

things, or the strictly rational. Spirituality is about who we are

when all inessential trappings are stripped away; it also concerns

the most important connections we have in the world.

Making progress

Enough is not about trying to retrieve a supposedly better past.

While it is in contrast with the dominant materialist-expansionist

mentality of our times, it is not about going back. Enough is a

living concept, in the sense that it looks to how we can make the

future positive and actually construct progress, while drawing on

insights and understanding that have served well in the past. But

it is based on the premise that we cannot undo what we have

done. The present world in which enough could be valuable is

quite different from other times when enough was valued, such as

the medieval era. To-day many forces separate us from our innate

sense of belonging to the world, and from our understanding of

limits. We have wrought terrible ecological and social destruction

but, perhaps paradoxically, the destruction we have caused is the

very thing that makes our re-invigoration possible. In some ways,

the earth itself, troubled by the damage we have caused, is

forcing us to look anew and recognize the need to re-evaluate

economic growth.18

Humans today differ from previous generations who recog-


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nized the value of enough. We have developed and evolved; we

have marvelous scientific insights and knowledge, which help us

understand many aspects of the intuitive knowledge of earlier

times; we have also come through a mechanistic era. We are now

at a higher turn of the spiral than earlier societies and worldviews

that valued enough.19 Like pre-modern peoples, we

recognize connection; unlike them, we understand that we are

part of an open system that is unfolding, not determined, and in

which we can participate.20

Some of the issues of our times are completely new and very

complex. But we have a number of new “tools” at our disposal.

We have a truly global civilization for the first time in human

history; we can see for ourselves that events in one place on earth

affect other parts of the earth. We understand that citizenship is

not confined to humans in nation-states, but that we are all

citizens of the globe, and, moreover, that we share citizenship

with all the living systems of the planet. We have well developed

notions of rights and fairness. Enough for our times is about who

we are and what we are capable of at this time. In responding to

the questions raised by enough, we can create new stories about

what it means to be human, and what true progress and

advancement might mean for us. In the process, we acquire new

understandings of self, others and the world.

What enough is not

Hypercapitalism is the latest, turbo-charged stage of capitalist

culture and economics and it is the dominant framework for

global economic growth today. But enough, although it is about

critiquing and resisting what is wrong, is not a rant against

capitalism, nor is it an argument for a more humane capitalism,

or for socialism or communism. To be fair, the philosophies

underpinning communism and socialism (generally regarded as

a route to communism) have more in common with enough,

because they are based on the idea of equality and sharing of



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resources. But the communist and socialist regimes we have

known (including China to-day) depend and depended on

economic growth and exploitation of the earth, just as much as

capitalist ones do.

Capitalism, socialism and communism are economic forms

that belong within a modernist worldview. One of the characteristics

of modernity is that it tries to quantify everything. So it

values only the kinds of wealth that can be counted, such as

possessions or money. All three approaches continue to put

economic growth centre-stage, because growth has quantifiable

indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that is, increases

in traded goods and services. They ignore the more qualitative

aspects of wealth, such as human health and well-being, healthy

earth systems and thriving community systems. In their best

forms socialist or communist manifestos put morality concerning

human beings centre-stage, but they are rarely strong on ecology

and human dependence on ecosystems.

If we get stuck in arguing about communism or capitalism, or

about the differences in approach that exist within capitalism

today, we are prevented from finding better ways to live. We

need ways of thinking and behaving that are outside a mindset of

unregulated growth and therefore outside modernity itself.

Within a postmodern worldview of enough, all the arguments

concerning hypercapitalism, centralized socialist economies, or a

more humane and welfare-based capitalism are part of an

outdated modernist model. Those arguments rely on the notion

that any kind of growth is good. While certain kinds of growth

have brought some benefits, past results are no guide to future

performance. In its unregulated forms growth has now become a

weapon of mass destruction. Enough is neither capitalist nor

communist, but sane, humane, local with a global awareness,

durable, flexible, creative and participative.

Enough, while it is moral, is not about moralizing. To moralize

is to over-simplify, to see things in black and white terms, and to


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preach to others about what they should do. Moralizers (secular

and religious) are often fundamentalists who crave certainty and

want to establish fixed rules by which everyone must live.

Enough insists that we stick with questions and principles, which

push us into a higher level of thinking about meaning and

purpose. Living with the uncertainty provoked by questions can

be very hard to do in contemporary modern culture, which likes

us to rely on factual information. But reliance on “just the facts”

precludes the kind of discernment that we need in order to

promote justice and well-being.

Enough can allow us to create new social forms that nourish

human and planetary well-being. It is not, however, a form of

knowledge that will act like a magic wand to solve all problems.

It is not about certainty or prediction; it is not a moral theory in

the sense of a closed set of ideas and rules for practice. It is more

a principle, which revolves around a question (what if we put

human and planetary well being at the centre of all our decisionmaking?)

and a considered response.

Cope, critique, resist and create

There is a sense of urgency about all that needs to be done, but it

is impossible to have an overnight revolution and make things

instantly different. We have to cope or survive in the present as

well as critiquing and resisting what is wrong. And all the time

we have to keep an eye to the future and what we could create.21

We need spiritual and intellectual courage for these activities, as

well as persistence and patience, in uncertain circumstances over

a prolonged period. To simultaneously engage in coping,

critiquing, resisting and creating may seem impossible, because

they involve contradictory actions of involvement and transcendence,

continuity and change.22

But attending always to these four “ingredients” ensures that

the means and the ends are complementary; such attention

works on the principle that how we act is as important as what



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our goals are. There is no real separation between means and

ends; means are ends. Each theme or ingredient affects our

personal and social lives at the same time. They are attitudes or

ways of thinking that can simultaneously permeate all we do. The

personal and the social cannot be cut off from each other. The

path of enough is integrative; it promotes progressive personal

change and progressive social change as mutually constitutive of

each other and focuses equally on both.23

For social activists, publicly concerned with morality, ecology

and global justice, there is a need to sustain the tension of having

a vision, yet living in a world that is so wrong.24 We need

ecological and moral sensitivity; but one of the penalties of such

sensitivity is that one must be the doctor who sees the marks of

death in a community that believes itself well and does not want

to be told otherwise.25 Even if you are already critical of growth

economics and actively engaged in social movements to construct

different ways to live, you may find that your personal life is

stressful because it is busy and harried. A personal practice of

enough can help you maintain and renew your energy for the

public struggle.

For those who use enough solely as a means to cope with

stressful lifestyles, there is a need to broaden horizons and

understand that we also need different systems in place, which

will facilitate vibrant, ecologically and socially sound economic

activity. Ideally, we would have top-down initiatives for systemchange

so that several interdependent factors could change all at

once. Individuals cannot bring about these kinds of system

changes but we can create a political climate where they will be

welcomed and legislated for (see Chapters 4, 5 and 6). People and

the culture we create can also bring about significant social


Enough is about possibility, which is different from prediction.

The future is not knowable and predictable, despite the claims of

futurists.26 But possibility remains open to us because when large


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numbers of people, working and communicating with each

other, develop in their daily lives new ways of formulating

problems and responses to those problems, then social change

takes place and it can influence decision-making at high levels.

The vision of unregulated growth has until recently been very

coherent and convincing: greater spending power for everyone,

money trickling down from the top where it is generated. I have

even heard it said that we need continued growth, in order to

create the money to deal with the harmful effects of growth.

The vision of growth has gone sour; it has turned out to be a

suicidal practice rather than an intelligent one. A better world is

possible only if greater numbers of people ask hard questions

such as how much is too much, who decides, who wins and loses

in the process?27 Ecologists, philosophers, educators, business

leaders, politicized religious leaders, scientists and ordinary

citizens need to come together to promote enough and new

visions surrounding it. Global warming is one chance to do this

and the recent financial crisis is another. Both, of course, are

connected to each other and it would be a shame if the crisis of

global warming were ignored in the effort to stimulate the kinds

of unregulated growth that have caused many of the global

warming problems in the first place. Solutions based purely on

technology or piecemeal interventions are not the answer; we

must repair a sense of morality in the world if we are to truly rise

above these crises.

Enough is neither cynical nor utopian, but hopeful. It is based

on our potential for good; it is simple but not simplistic,28 a

principled way of understanding and being. We can think about

the future in a hopeful way, grounded in the belief that humans

can live up to their potential for good and for moral action. The

problems facing us are very serious, but if we look only at the

extremely hard realities and avoid the language of possibility,

then the realities seem just too much, and we slip into cynicism,

denial or despair. We need to lay claim to the notion that human



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beings have the capacity to intervene in, influence and shape the

forces that structure our lives.

You may think that I make very big claims for enough and

related ecological and moral ways of looking at the world. Of

course, there is no perfect worldview; anything taken to an

extreme will show its shadow side or become dogma. But a

reflexive attitude can prevent the way of enough from becoming

rigid. This means sticking with the questions and not flinching

from the challenges inherent in them. Enough is a key concept for

the 21st century.


Anne B. Ryan is currently a university lecturer in adult and community education in Ireland. She has been researching and writing about the philosophy of enough for many years and regularly conducts workshops and seminars on sustainable living, positive futures and balanced living.

Available from all good bookshops in the high street or online or from NBN (National Book Network)
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Book details $24.95 ISBN 978-1-84694-239-6

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