A couple nights ago, I was fine-tuning some details on our ‘Deliberative IDEAS’ information kiosk in Second Life , and I met one of our neighbors…a woman who directs one of the other non-profit organizations in the Commonwealth Island community. Since she was unfamiliar with deliberation and National Issues Forums, I brought her over to our new kiosk to see the information I’d recently installed, and we had an extended chat. I can’t remember exactly how the conversation led to ‘enough’…but at one stage we talked briefly about this old-fashioned and mostly unused concept. When was it that our desire for ‘more’ almost totally replaced our comfort in ‘enough’?
‘Enough’ is an interesting word…its significance depends highly on the punctuation attached to it and its context. ‘Enough!’ Wow…this carries a powerful finality that shuts down conversations completely. ‘Enough?’ When someone is extending hospitality, this inquiry offers comfort and caring as we are asked if our needs have been met yet. ‘…it would have been enough.’ This refrain in a Jewish lesson communicates a sense of true gratitude and appreciation when we recognize when we have been overwhelmingly blessed. In our conversation last night, we agreed that the concept of ‘enough’ has lost its relevance and importance for many of us…but it’s time for its renewal.
Yesterday was Tax Day! All you early tax filers are missing out…this is a ritual day for me. For years, April 15 has been a day when my careful preparation during the previous 16 months comes to bear…forms completed, copies made, returns filed. I guess I’m one of those really strange people who find a certain satisfaction in fulfilling our national mandate by paying income taxes. I’ve always experienced a sense of peace after depositing my returns at the Post Office. Hey…this is the right thing to do. Who knows? If everyone felt that way about paying taxes, our government would most likely have ‘enough’ to meet our society’s needs. While I don’t want to send more than is our fair share, I do believe this is an important way to actively support our government as it does the public’s work. Tax Day is always about ‘enough.’
The tea-baggers appear to feel that government already has far more than ‘enough’…or they wouldn’t be protesting so vigorously. ‘Enough’ is a totally relative term…it is defined by each individual in each unique situation. In a poll today, it was revealed that a majority of tea-baggers have a pretty comfortable income. This makes me think of the fragile nature of ‘enough’…when we have ‘enough’ it’s easier perhaps to propose that others might have more than ‘enough.’ But…there’s no need to pick on just the tea-baggers, because I don’t see any real interest by conservatives or progressives or independents in describing how much federal spending is ‘enough.’ At some point, we need to get past complaining that there’s ‘too much’, so we can get engaged in the hard work of discovering ‘enough.’
‘Enough’ is also connected to a few other concepts…contentment, satisfaction and fulfillment. These are the concepts that help us decide to stop adding ‘more.’ Unfortunately, our self-regulating tools haven’t served us well. How many things and how much wealth are ‘enough?’ How much security is ‘enough?’ How much education is ‘enough?’ How much health care is ‘enough?’ And…how many taxes are ‘enough?’ The answers to these questions are certainly linked to some deep feelings about how our needs are being met…or not being met.
We need to revive the concept of ‘enough’ so we can use it more effectively to self-regulate more of our consumption decisions. This isn’t government’s responsibility…it’s a public responsibility. It has to be important to each of us before it will reenter our personal or public conversations. But…here’s the problem…I don’t hear anyone, including our President, talking about how we can define ‘enough’ in public terms. I don’t believe we can get beyond ‘more’ without defining ‘enough’ in individual and public terms.
If we can’t to everything, how much is ‘enough?’ This question is at the heart of our toughest choices. It needs to be included in every public policy conversation. When our tendency is to want ‘more’…I believe we need to challenge ourselves and each other by asking, ‘When does more become enough…and when does it become too much?’ We haven’t asked these questions in a long time, so they may seem a bit strange. We’ve been living in a bubble of false prosperity for a long time. But, those days are past. We’d better get used to asking these questions, because they will become very familiar in our immediate future as we try to find a sustainable way forward amid a host of confusing and difficult pending decisions.