Are you at a feast or a famine?

Teaching is a practice where people often adopt one of two mindsets: feast thinking or famine thinking.  Instead of food, the commodity is ideas, resources, or even time.

In feast thinking, there is abundance.  There is the perception that there are plenty of ideas and resources for me to have, and there are plenty for you to have, too.  If I share with you and the neighbors, I’ll be happier because you’re happier. We’re all better off with shared abundance.  We’ll keep more of what we prefer; we’ll share or discard what we don’t like. There’s no felt need to keep what we don’t like, and there is motivation to share what we have with others.  Because of the abundance, we might get overwhelmed by all there is to choose from, but we learn to share, use discretion, and develop tastes.  Those we trust make suggestions and act as curators. We all end up happy and fulfilled.

In famine thinking, there is scarcity and rivalry.  There is the perception that things can turn bad at any moment. There are not enough ideas or resources, so I perceive mine as more valuable. I also want to keep mine to myself, or even pretend that I don’t have anything, because I’m worried that you might come steal.  I might try and spy on others in order to figure out what ideas and resources they have. I wouldn’t dare to ask outright about what others have, because they might become suspicious of my intent.  There is constant worry that I’ll leave my door unlocked or leave something laying out, and someone else will come by and swipe it.  Except for cases where physical resources are severely limited, the famine situation is almost always imagined or at least perceived as worse than reality. Famine thinkers believe they’re playing it safe by avoiding risk, but often the riskiest decision is to take no risk at all.

I find it interesting that people with feast and famine thinking can co-exist in the same environment. To me, this shows that it is not the environment, i.e. the actual amount of ideas and resources, that dictates feast or famine thinking, but it is the mindset that individuals bring to the situation. Those who believe they’re coming to a feast will share, take what they need and be merry. Those who believe they’re existing in a famine will hoard, close doors and look over their shoulder.  When the feasters try to share with the faminers, the faminers will be suspicious at the motives, and they’ll likely reject the offering.  Often both groups maintain their behaviors regardless of what their peer group is like.

Much of this involves ego. Opening up and sharing involves a destruction of the ego, a willing vulnerability. I need to admit the following: some of my ideas are good for me, some are only good for others, and some might even be universally good (they’ll work for most people). Some of my ideas are bad for me, some of my ideas are bad for me but work for others and some are just bad. It is likely that a famine thinker can realize this on his or her own.  There’s a third category, though, that describes the majority of ideas: the ideas that are OK, but become much better when they’re shared, discussed and reflected upon with a group of others who have different perspectives.

This is where growth happens in teaching or in any other field. Notice that this growth is nearly impossible in a famine mindset, where the only reflection happens on the individual level. And when you believe you’re in a famine, who wants to stop and think about the circumstances?


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