The Two Most Dangerous Words
Brené Brown and Fat Soul Philosophy
Patricia Adams Farmer
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. We all know the folly of this childhood chant. We know that words can hurt, divide, inflame, shame, and even bring about wars. Dangerous words spill from the mouths of those who want attention, from those who feel threatened, and, these days, from politicians who seek to divide and conquer.
But According to Brené Brown, celebrated researcher on shame and vulnerability, the two most perilous words on the planet are not often spoken aloud. They are our little secret. But they cause a great deal of mischief in our lives and in the world.
“Not enough.” These, according to Brown, are the two most dangerous words in our vocabulary.
Not enough? But what does it mean? Not enough—what? Time? Money? Energy? (We can all instantly relate.) Yes, but it’s more than that. Way more. In fact, from my own work in process theology and what I call “fat soul” philosophy, I would assert that Brown has not only struck gold with her well-researched findings, but that the danger of these two words extends far beyond the individual, threatening the very health of our society and our planet.
I Am Enough
But let’s start where Brown starts, with getting up in the morning: “We wake up in the morning and we say, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ And we hit the pillow saying, ‘I didn’t get enough done.’ We’re never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough–until we decide that we are.”
And it goes on: “If it’s not ‘I’m not safe enough’ or ‘I’m not secure enough,’ it’s ‘I’m not liked enough,’ ‘I’m not promoted enough,’ ‘I’m not loved enough,’” Brown explains. “[It’s] scarcity. ‘I don’t have enough.’ And at the very bottom, ‘I’m not enough.’”
In our scarcity culture (as Brown names it), we live with the constant discontent of not being enough. It haunts us 24/7, and can, if not checked, keep us disengaged, disconnected, and fearful. When “not enough” rules, our courage is lost and we no longer allow ourselves to become vulnerable and take risks—that is, risks which make life meaningful, like love, creativity, faith.
I wish I had possessed Brown’s wisdom when I was young and facing a serious eating disorder that threatened my life. You can actually die from the “not enough” syndrome. But the good news is that transformation is possible.
I am enough. That’s that counter message, according to Brown. Seems almost too simple, but it does work if practiced. I like this affirmation because it’s humble and realistic and full of that spiritual quality we call contentment. I would add to this the spiritual practice of gratitude, my personal favorite remedy for the discontent that comes from the “not enough” syndrome. Gratitude is the balm for all wounds, it seems, as it enlarges our soul—so that we can say to ourselves along with the Psalmist, “My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness” (Psalm 63:5).
The Fatness of Enough
As with marrow and fatness. I love this image, for it plumps up the word “enough” with a lovely feel of fullness and contentment, as in abundance. This image of the “fat soul,” which this Hebrew Bible verse suggests, is part of my own work as a process theologian, along with my colleague Jay McDaniel. While I’ve personally written much about enlarging our souls with kindness, beauty, empathy, art, nature, and faith, which are all food for the soul, I now add this concept of “being enough.” The metaphor “fat soul” is not only about soul-expansion, but can also suggest a sense of fullness, gratitude, contentment, and being enough. As Rabbi Bradly Shavit Artson, one of my fat soul friends, likes to quote, “Contentment is an endless feast” (Proverbs 15:15).
An endless feast of contentment. Oh, yes! This is what “enough” is all about.
The “I am enough” soul—aka, the fat soul—is a contented soul, which knows its own worth. In the world of fat soul, the fear of not being good enough or perfect enough or extraordinary enough—the voice of shame—is constantly being transformed into the joy of being enough. Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says it most elegantly: “There is nothing to prove and nothing to protect. I am who I am and it’s enough.”
Enough Is Enough
While moving beyond Brown’s own field of research, I can’t help but pay heed to the screaming implications of “not enough” on a larger scale—our social, economic life—where actual scarcity exists. For the truth is, masses of people truly do not have enough! If we name the primary cause of extreme economic disparity and injustice, “greed,” which I believe is accurate, then we have to ask ourselves: What is greed, but the insistent, persistent, unrelenting voice of “not enough”?
And herein lies the peril that could swallow us all.
Economic injustice and environmental decimation are, for the most part, created by the “not enough” mindset of many of the rich and powerful in the world. Such soul-impoverishing greed creates havoc with those who already suffer from shame, fear, and economic struggle. In this tense environment dominated by scarcity worries, both rich and poor begin to worry: the poor for good reason, and the rich for fear of losing what they have. In our own country, in the wake of the Great Recession, the “not enough” demons work overtime. “Worrying about scarcity,” says Brown, “is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability) we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”
Desperation, despair, and disconnection set it in, setting up a dangerous scenario for—dare I say it—Trumpism. True to his well-honed Machiavellian style, Trump knows exactly how to manipulate fear, shame, and scarcity worries with time-honored strategies, such as scapegoating, bullying, bigotry, and violence. History has seen it all before, and it never has a happy ending.
But this time, the stakes are higher than ever, because our very planet is in peril.
And so the personal and the political, the spiritual and the social are all of a piece. That’s because we are not just individual souls, but inextricably connected souls, all in process of becoming. Not to see this connection impoverishes the whole world. Our worldview matters. Our spirituality matters.
The common good matters.
Spiritual and Cultural Transformation
But the common good seems lost on the obscenely rich, for they tend to define themselves not by who they are, but by what they have—and it is never enough. Power. Money. Never enough.
For example, we can fantasize that all the CEOs of large corporations might come together and—for the love of God—say “Enough! We. Have. Enough.” Imagine what the world would look like. And the planet, our common home, would be safe for generations.
But this is a fantasy, unless the spiritual, moral, and shame issues of “not enough” are also addressed. As the eminent environmental advocate Gus Seth, says:
“I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy . . . and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”
When history presents itself with such crises, there always appears great public figures to see us through. With slavery, it was Lincoln; in the great depression, it was FDR. With the threat of nuclear annihilation, it was JFK. Who will see us through this time? So far, Pope Francis presents himself as the great candidate of historical significance. It is no wonder that, in this historical moment, which cries out for “spiritual and cultural transformation,” we hear a voice that is larger than our own country. The Pope’s Laudato si' presents the world with a message that crosses religious, international, and cultural borders. He challenges our worldview of greed and disconnection with a new spiritual vision, which sees the earth as “our common home.” But now, the earth, he says, “is burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor . . . .”
And so, as we work together on behalf of our common home and a more just society, we must work on parallel tracks—working for political change, yes, but constantly returning to the personal, the spiritual, the philosophical. We ponder the Big Questions. We question our worldviews. We work on fattening our souls, not just our bank accounts. We discover that, in the land of “of marrow and fatness,” greed and fear of scarcity get crowded out by the ebullient overflow of gratitude, contentment, and generosity of spirit.
We begin to see ourselves and the world differently.
We act differently.
Our culture begins to change, too, maybe not quickly, but in fits and starts.
And, maybe—just maybe—it will be enough.
 Brené Brown, interviewed by Oprah Winfrey
 Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Blackstone Audio, 2012.
 Brené Brown, interviewed by Oprah Winfrey
 Brené Brown, Daring Greatly.
 Quoted by Peter Harris, “Conservation from the Top Down.”
 Pope Francis, Laudato si' (1-2).
Patricia Adams Farmer is a featured writer for Jesus, Jazz, and Buddhism. She is the author of Fat Soul: A Philosophy of S-I-Z-E and several other books which celebrate creativity, progressive theology, and process philosophy. Visit her website: patriciaadamsfarmer.com. and on facebook at the Fat Soul Cafe.