The Paris climate talks have come and gone and the weary but proud delegates are home. The world acknowledged that the only way to preserve our way of life is, paradoxically, by changing our way of life.
We proclaimed that we can no longer build a world of prosperity for tomorrow by burning the stored sunlight of the past. Paris 2015 may indeed be celebrated by history as the moment the world saved itself.
Or not. For, some have argued, despite all of the valuable rhetoric and goal-setting of keeping global temperature rise less than 2 degrees, the accord has no teeth.
No matter, if we do our share. Legal sanctions are but one way for society to express and enforce its commitment to uphold its values. Social sanctions, though less formal, can be even more powerful. And that is where we, the people, come in. More precisely, we, the people of privilege.
Fate has placed us on planet during the most advanced period of this idyllic Holocene era, which has graced the Earth for the last 10,000 years and enabled the flourishing of all civilization. It is the delicate Holocene, along with the burning of fossil fuels, that has created our world of privilege.
Now that we know the price, we dare not use the one to destroy the other.
Which is why it is proper for those of us who are history’s greatest beneficiaries to seek a conversion of values and begin to ask, “How much do we need? How much should we consume?” This is not a question of sacrifice or altruism. There is a lot of fluff in our consumer habits. Forty percent of our food goes to waste; we spend more than $6 billion dollars storing stuff away from home yet our houses are twice as big as they were in the 1950s; we drop $2.6 billion on wrapping paper alone!
It is rather about knowing, marking and celebrating when we are truly happy, truly satisfied. Our homes, our wardrobes, our storage units, our appetites are obese. They get that
way because we are full but never satisfied. That is a malady of the spirit, not the body.
It is also a malady fed by society, and hard to fight alone. When society continually and loudly proclaims that having less is being less, it is hard to stand firm and say, “No, I have enough. I am happy.” So we must together recalibrate what we need for happiness; and see enough as plenty.
How to do this has been a conundrum since civilization began, so it shouldn’t surprise us that the Bible addresses this issue. It has crafted a method to measure personal enoughness, not by setting some arbitrary or external standard, but by asking each of us to assess our own behaviors to discover our own markers of fullness.
The Bible, speaking in the idiom of the privileged of the day, says that when we are harvesting our fields, we are not to retrieve what we have let drop (leket); nor go back and pick up from the field what we have cut but forgotten (shikhekhah). Rather, the produce that fell or was forgotten must be left for the poor.
Leket and shikhekhah reveal to us two ways we can measure “enoughness.” Shoving too much too fast into our arms is an indication that we are too greedy, too hasty or failing to accurately assess our capacity or our need. Leaving goods in the field after we have labored over them most likely means that we have enough, else we would not readily forget to collect them all. We are to leave both the dropped and forgotten for the poor to come and glean.
These are not minor or discretionary laws. Leviticus 19 places them right between keeping the Sabbath and not lying, stealing or deceiving one another.
Such practical evidence of excess can serve as metaphoric markers of enoughness for us today. They can translate into questions such as: When was the last time I wore that dress? Didn’t I have meat yesterday? Given the empty space in our congregation, why don’t we explore joint occupancy? How much profit is too much?
Enoughness is good for the soul, good for business, good for society and good for Earth. It encourages a collective conversion of values releasing us from the grip of greed and consumerism, gifting us with a greater sense of fullness and offering us a real chance at happiness.
And, as a worldwide movement, it will give encouragement and cover to our business and political leaders to make the hard decisions necessary for the world to match the promises of Paris to political and practical actions at home, even if there are no legal sanctions.