Scarcity Vs. Abundance

Many days, there’s a boxing match going on in my head between the attitudes of scarcity and abundance.

Scarcity throws her punches at all sorts of moments, big and small. Scarcity has told me that my children’s friends can’t share our snacks because we don’t have enough to go around. She has eaten away at my confidence when I listen to amazing musicians or read profound writers, because (by scarcity’s logic) with so much good stuff out there, no one will be interested in what I’m doing. Before I had children, scarcity told me that the world is a dark and crowded place, so I shouldn’t bring more children into it.

These days, scarcity reminds me that my life may already be half-over. She sighs wistfully at my growing children, squinting gloomily into the future, which scarcity assures me is filled with (more) wrinkles, aches and pains, loneliness, failure, and finally, death.

In the other corner, weighing in at immeasurable hope, is abundance. Abundance tells me that there is always room for more, and not only is there always room, but there is always more.

At which scarcity simply scoffs, reminding abundance that we live in a material world, with fixed physical laws.

To which abundance answers, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

And scarcity sneers and makes some joke about fairy tales and fraudulent miracle workers.

Then abundance offers to share her lunch with scarcity, and scarcity turns up her nose at the simple bread and wine she is offered.

I see the problem here. Scarcity and abundance have two different lifestyles in mind.

Scarcity needs the latest and greatest, and she needs it now. She needs fame and immortality, a perfect body, an adoring family, and absolute comfort at all times. She’s right to think that it’s not possible for everyone to have what she “needs.”

Abundance needs food, water, rest, love, shelter, fresh air, and fulfilling work to do. And she is right to think that there is enough of these things to go around.

In fact, the things on abundance’s list of needs almost make a perpetual-motion machine. For example, in the field of “fulfilling work to do,” I would include lifelong learning. An understanding of the same physical laws that scarcity holds as her trump card, held in the context of all the other items on abundance’s needs list, is exactly what we need to build a sustainable global economy.

And never, never let us forget love. Like the apostle Paul, I still think that “the greatest of these is love.” Call me a hippie, call me a commie, but I need love, and I think you do too.

A few years ago, I read Walter Brueggemann’s article “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” and I was reminded of it again when I watched two TED talks last week. The first, by Peter Diamandis, is entitled “Abundance is Our Future.” The second, by Paul Gilding, is called “The Earth is Full.”  All of these are provocative thinking about scarcity and abundance, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

7 Comments

  1. Jules – just a brief note to tell you this came at a perfect time for me. Thanks for the encouragement! (…and, as usual – awesome writing!)
    Love, Dad

  2. Though I haven’t yet read the article or watch the TED videos, here are a couple ideas that popped into my head while reading this post:

    I thought of the often-quoted statistic in which the entire world population could fit inside the city of Jacksonville, FL, or, to translate Le Petit Prince (which I’m loving for French class right now), “One could stack humanity on the smallest little island of the Pacific.”

    I also remembered a couple years ago when I commented on Pascal’s Wager, saying that there’s a whole lot I would do if I thought there wasn’t a God. And you, very wisely, asked me what things I was wishing to do and commented that you try to live as if there’s no heaven, even though you believe there is (my paraphrase). In other words, enjoy this life to the fullest of your ability just in case you don’t get a perfect next life.

    From there I wondered if I might formulate a proverb perfect for embroidering on a sampler: The one who thinks there is abundance should live as if there is scarcity and the one who thinks there is scarcity should live as if there is abundance.

    Still trying to decide what I think of that, though.

    • I just watched the TED talks, and WOW what different tones to the two speakers. But complimentary messages.

  3. Almost forgot to say that I sure can relate to this voice:

    “She has eaten away at my confidence when I listen to amazing musicians or read profound writers, because (by scarcity’s logic) with so much good stuff out there, no one will be interested in what I’m doing.”

    But for me it’s more the thought that all the good stuff’s already been written.

    • I know what you mean! It’s not easy to keep writing – some days are especially hard. And you can’t always even judge whether your work is good right away. I think that writing takes a fair amount of faith – though I can’t see how this is good today, I’ll just go ahead and do it anyway. Plodding along. . .

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