Transformation… Week 06


a Moment for Wisdom…



a Moment for…


“Remember that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have.”

Barry Goldwater

“The dinosaur’s eloquent lesson is that if some bigness is good, an overabundance of bigness is not necessarily better.”

 Eric Johnston

“Small is Beautiful.”

E. F. Schumacher



Personal Wisdom:


Are you a supporter of “bigness”?  (That includes big unions, as well as big business, for example.)

Are you a supporter of “enoughness”?  What would that look like for you?


Societal Wisdom:


 How can our societies become more appropriate-sized, smaller?



a Moment with Sharif…




Once upon a time, if I saw something written by someone like Barry Goldwater, I wouldn’t even bother reading it – I would reject it out of hand.  Then… I grew up.  I realized that no one has a lock-grip on the absolute truth.  There is wisdom to be gained from everyone – even someone you think you oppose.


Today’s wisdom theme is on “bigness”.  In America, we are fed a steady diet of “bigger is better”: from the size of a woman’s breasts to the size of our bank accounts.  The tallest buildings attract our attention — even when, like the World Trade Center towers in New York City, they are incredibly ugly.  The most extravagant weddings (or funerals) are the ones that are “good”.  The value of a movie is determined by how much loot it rakes in over a week. 


“Bigness” is a trap, a dead-end from which it will be difficult to emerge.  It’s easy to drive
the school bus into the cul-de-sac… it’s a lot harder to turn it around and drive out.


Since I think almost all of us are on the same page with this, let me stir the pot a little. How about another quote, this one from Daniel Burnham:


“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s
blood… Make big plans, aim high in hope and work.”


So… does this mean I’ve gone completely loopy?  Isn’t this a contradiction of the quotes above?  Well… yes and no.


Turn of the century Burnham, designer of early skyscrapers like the Flatiron Building in New York City, knew what he was talking about by “big”.  I think he was talking about “appropriately big”. Big enough…  (I think Schumacher’s quote should be “Small enough is beautiful.”


This is a very important point.  Many of us who are talking about a transformation of society are NOT THINKING BIG ENOUGH.  For example: I go to the “farmer’s markets” here in Portland, with increasing dismay.  They seem to be getting smaller, not larger.  They seem to be more “gourmet” markets, selling interesting but specialty foods.  (I recently saw a stall selling herbed wines, and another selling cheeses at $8 per quarter-pound.  I left with my bag empty…) 


These small food producers and small markets CANNOT be scaled up to feed a metropolitan area of over one million people.  The numbers just don’t work.  In order to have the cutesy markets, we need Monsanto and Archer-Daniels-Midland to feed the bulk of us.  (I know you don’t like hearing that.  I don’t like saying it.  But it’s the truth.)


In order to NOT rely on corporate, industrialized and highly toxic “agriculture”, we need… A VERY BIG PLAN.  A vision. 


Here’s one: “Within the next ten years, Portland [or, name your city] can feed itself, with local, healthy, sustainable and affordable food.”   This is BIG… but, just big enough.   (Remember: our goal is NOT to create the next “dinosaur”.)


“A City That Feeds Itself” would create whole new systems of production, of distribution, of food-handling.  Such a vision would free the farmers from the tyranny of the dollar, where they grow what the big food processors tell them to grow.  Such a vision would free the consumers from a steady diet of toxic (but delicious!) foods in stores and restaurants.  Such a vision would create hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mid-level food handlers and distributors, new small businesses. Such a vision would break the grip of industrial agriculture.


Notice that I didn’t say that the “region” would feed itself, or our “nation” would feed itself.
That’s where things get inappropriately “big”.  Our goal should be “enough”, not “more”.  And, at the other end of the scale, I’m not saying, “My neighborhood [or family] will feed
itself”.  No magic…


Here’s a sad fact: Portland sits in the Willamette Valley, the third most productive agricultural region in North America.  A large percentage of our rich farmland goes to produce… grass seed.  For China.  From a purely economic view, that makes sense: the farmers get more dollars per acre for grass seed than anything else.


This is an example of how money DISTORTS our values.  What would happen if we went to the grass-seed farmers, looked them in the eye and heart, and said to them, “I want you to feed us, your neighbors.  Yes, you may make a little less money, but you would become part of a system that will make you proud.  You can be part of “A City That Feeds Itself”.”


So, how does a vision like this start?  Well… IT JUST DID!  It went from my head and heart to yours.  Now… what’s going to happen to it?







Transformation Exercises:


This week’s “Transformation” exercise:


  1.  What is the “biggest” plan or vision with which you have been/ are actively
    involved?  (For me, that includes the “Vision Declaration” in Sri Lanka, and the efforts to create an alternative governing structure there.)
    1. Was this your plan/vision, or did you accept the plan/vision of another?
    2. Was/Is it “appropriately big”?
    3. What was the result? (Or, when will there be a result?)


  1. Create five “appropriately big” plans/visions.  (You don’t have to commit to
    them… yet.  Just let this be a practice exercise of your visionary muscles.) I’ll start you out with a couple:
    1. [My City] is the “City That Energizes Itself” (supplies all of its own energy needs) within 10 years.
    2. [My City] is “Poor No More” (there are no homeless, underfed, desperate or begging people) within five years.
    3. ______________
    4. ______________
    5. ______________


  1. When contemplating your plans/visions:
    1. What would it take to scale up this vision, to encompass the entire city?
    2. Would the vision require any new technologies or methods?
    3. Who would oppose it? How would you win them over as allies?
    4. How could you prevent this vision from becoming the next “dinosaur”?


  1. Talk to five different people about each of your five visions/plans:
    1. What was their reaction?  Were they supportive?  Skeptical? Dismissive? Incredulous? Enthusiastic?
    2. Did their reaction surprise you?
    3. How did you feel?


  1. After talking to five different people… are you going to commit to any of your plans/visions?
    1. Which one(s)?
    2. What will you do next?









All photos by Sharif Abdullah, unless otherwise noted.








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2 Responses to Transformation… Week 06

  1. douglas says:

    very interesting, Sharif, if a little different than your normal posts. love having your thoughts to start the morning.

  2. Holly Wells says:

    I just hate it when you start talking about committing to action, Sharif! 🙂 So I am going within to re-discover out that I’m not committing my puny, inconsistent efforts–but Spirit’s all-encompassing, eternal lovingness that is calling me to action.

    Because of this Moment and other reading & praying I’ve done this morning for the first time in months, my firm intention tomorrow is to get up at 5:00 a.m. and do two hours of spiritual work (and I am NOT a morning person!). Pray for me!

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