Could Humanity Be the Last to Know We’re Living in a Universal “Enough Story?”

At least five thousand years ago, human culture made a radical cultural shift. The spread of agriculture, irrigation, and animal husbandry made it possible for us to control the means for providing enough. Until very recently, the prevailing impression has been that this shift resulted in abundance and an increased quality of life for everyone. However, authors Toby Hemenway, Elisabet Sahtouris, Yuval Noah Harari, and others have painted an updated picture of extended work hours, poor diet, slavery, the rise of sexism and an elitist class, the spread of disease, and the desertification of previously fertile land. How could achieving the means to produce more than enough leave so many with so much less than enough? Is humanity fundamentally selfish and cruel?

I’ve learned that the problem is not one of our true nature but one of social conditioning. By the age of seven, humanity’s cultural story is ingested by virtually all of us as “I am not enough. I am not worthy of enough. I don’t have enough. There isn’t enough.” This makes us habitually comply with behaviors, norms, and structures that perpetuate scarcity and suffering. Add the daily fear-producing messages from the media and advertising and we are plunged into “fight or flight” and “survival of the fittest” conditioning again and again.

To understand how this culture was created and why, a tool from Systems Theory called General Periodicity helps us achieve a birds-eye view. Developed by August T. Jaccaci, it articulates that everything that exists grows through a predictable four-stage process akin to infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. When applied to human culture, hunter-gatherers expressed ‘infancy’ (total dependence on nature to provide enough). The agricultural revolution represented ‘childhood’—increasing independence by repeating what the parent (nature) used to do for us. Our current age is expressing ‘adolescence,’ as evidenced by the primacy of the individual, lack of concern for long-term impacts, and the see-me pop culture. All three phases have been about mastering independence and individuality. It is not until the ‘adult’ phase that the focus for mastery shifts to long-term, collective impacts and responsibility for the wellbeing of others.

It makes sense that when achieving the ability to produce enough when immersed in any of the me-first cultural phases, abundance would be squandered by the powerful as greed, violence, and exploitation. Ironically, the so-called “culture of the individual” has actually disempowered most individuals. What has been lacking is not human resourcefulness or natural resources but the spiritual maturity to choose “enough for all” as humanity’s collective reality.

In contrast, all of nature has always told an Enough Story. Ecosystems are resilient systems whose purpose is to provide enough for a diverse set of interdependent species. Our bodies are ecosystems comprising 37.2 trillion cooperating cells, the result of 3.5 billion years of successful evolution stemming from the very first single-celled organism. When we realize what cells have achieved, we can begin to imagine that it could be possible for the much smaller number of humans (currently 7.3 billion) to learn to cooperate for the good of our shared ecosystem, Earth.

Somewhat quietly, we’ve recently reached a truly exciting and unprecedented breakthrough moment in history—the ability of human consciousness to move beyond the Never Enough Story. A new ethic of “enough for everyone” is rising organically from the fertile fringes as the Greenbelt Movement, human, indigenous, women’s, and animal rights movements; the sharing economy; alternative currencies; the global commons; renewable energy; permaculture; localization; and millions more. Paul Hawken refers to these movements as “humanity’s natural immune response” to a sick culture. What I believe is that these are consistent with humanity’s growth trajectory, marking the inevitable arrival of adult consciousness. Ahead is humanity’s reunion with nature’s enduring 13.8 billion year old Enough Story, for the first time a conscious co-responsible partnership with nature!

Many of the calculations we’ve made about running out of time to fix what’s broken on Earth do not account for unforeseen synchronicities, synergy, sudden awakenings, realization of the deep sacredness of nature and one another, and the acceleration of breakthrough technologies. We must remember that changes made out of shame, guilt, or fear are very different from what is possible when guided by a more expansive consciousness of love, optimism, and community. The universe has been nudging us to remember that we exist in a resilient Enough Story. That is why I believe there is nothing more important right now than to claim the Enough Story as our own. To claim that story is the foundational step in seeding a culture where there is enough for all, including Earth and future generations.

While I was finishing the research for my book about enough, I received an unexpected nudge. I discovered the word enough had a very old secret. Enough is from the Old English ge– and –nah, meaning none other than “Together, we rise!”

Wow. Clear enough.