Podcast: Purpose and Fulfillment with Lynne Twist

November 03, 2022
  • Brent Stewart
  • Brent Stewart
    Digital Strategy & Content Leader at Barry-Wehmiller

Our friend Lynne Twist is a global visionary and pro-activist committed to creating a future that is environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just. She is the cofounder of the Pachamama Alliance, the founder of the Soul of Money Institute, and she is also on Conscious Capitalism’s Board of Directors.

You’ve heard Lynne on our podcast before. Over the past forty years, she has worked with more than 100,000 people in fifty countries, as well as with many organizations and companies, inspiring them to expand how they see themselves and empowering them to express their commitment and creativity.

Lynne has written a new book, Living a Committed Life: Finding Freedom and Fulfillment in a Purpose Larger Than Yourself. It came out of a conference she spoke at many years ago, which is where she first met our CEO, Bob Chapman.

Her friend, Jack Canfield, the author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, encouraged her to share her many stories gained from her decades as a global thought leader working to end hunger and poverty, protect the Amazon rainforest, empower women’s leadership, and transform people’s relationships with money.

All put together in this book, these stories demonstrate how a commitment to a purpose larger than yourself can enliven and empower you. It will enable you to see new possibilities, turn breakdowns into breakthroughs, engage in effective action, and draw on resources and capacities you may not know you have.

On this podcast, Lynne and I have a wide-ranging conversation on the nature of purpose, the importance of purpose in business, and how it can help us turn this world from “me-centric” to “we-centric.”

As you’ll read in her book, one of Lynne’s mentors was the noted engineer, architect, inventor, scientist, writer, systems theorist, philosopher and futurist, Buckminster Fuller. We’re going to start out with Lynne talking about what she learned from this great mind. I think it sets the stage for the rest of our conversation.





Lynne Twist:

I knew about Bucky and wanted to hear him speak. Had some wind of his ideas, really. The Geodesic Dome, he invented, and other things. I went to hear him speak. I just was blown away by him. I mean really blown away. Like, I couldn't even function after hearing him speak. I was so moved. I wasn't moved by the content because I didn't even understand it. That's the honest to God truth. It was way over my head.

He had a utility table in front of him where he used to talk about the intellectual integrity of the universe, and he used models. He had a tetrahedron and an icosahedron on a table. I didn't know what he was talking about. That's honestly the truth. But at one point he walked out in front of the table and looked right at the audience. There were 2000 people. Everybody, I think, thought he was looking at them, but I was sure he was looking at me.

He said, "Now I'm going to say the most important thing I've ever said or ever will say." I thought, "Oh, my God, I've got to understand this one. If I don't understand anything in this whole lecture, I'm going to understand this one thing." So, I sat up straight, like you do. Adjusted my posture. Was really ready for him to lay it on us.

He put his hand out like this and he said, "Humanity has crossed a very important threshold, and that threshold changes everything. We won't see the result of it for a long, long time, but it's happened." We've crossed it in the last 50 to 100 years. I want to say that because Bucky always talked about huge swaths of time.

He said, "We now live in a world" – this is 1976 – “where we're doing so much more with so much less, that we live in a world now where there is clearly, without question, enough for everyone, everywhere, to have a healthy and productive life. And we will continue doing so much more with so much less. That is the direction, the trajectory of our science, of our technology, of our genius. That is the direction of the human species, the human family. So, it's absolutely, positively clear that there is enough for everyone, everywhere, to have a healthy and productive life." When he said the word enough, sufficient resources. There is enough.

I had a Kundalini thing go up my spine. I started to cry. I didn't even understand what he was talking about still, but I was like ... My hand started to perspire. I knew something had been said that went right into my heart.

And then he said, "That means we shift the paradigm from a paradigm of lack, or not enough, or insufficiency or scarcity, where you make it at my expense, or I make it at your expense because there's not enough for both of us. That's a you or me paradigm. We shift from a you or me paradigm, to a paradigm of enough or sufficiency, which is a you and me paradigm, where you and I can both make it at no one's expense." So, he said, "We go from a you or me paradigm, to a you and me paradigm."

But he said, here's the really important part, he said, "Enough is not an amount of anything. Sufficiency is not an amount of anything. It's a way of being in the world. It will take 50 years for us to realize a shift in the way of being. That there is enough for everyone, everywhere, to have healthy and productive life. In somewhere around 50 years, we'll start to get it. Because all the institutions of humankind are embedded in a you or me understanding of the world. A scarcity view of the world. A mindset of scarcity. The economy is designed from a you or me understanding of the world. Governance is designed, is rooted in a you or me understanding of the world. Education is rooted in a you or me understanding of the world."

And then he said, "Religion is rooted in a you or me understanding of the world. It will take 50 years for all of our major institutions," and he named many of them, "to become so dysfunctional and start to collapse, and we won't be able to fix them anymore. That we will have to create a whole new set of institutions and contexts, based on a you and me understanding of the world."

He predicted that would happen in about 50 years. He said that in 1976. Guess what time it is now? As the governance dissolves in shambles and divisiveness, as the economy starts to be completely dysfunctional, as education is in dysfunction, the healthcare system, and the climate crisis, in many ways, he prophesied the kind of crises, the epic crises we're living in right now. And said that this breakdown was predictable and will be the source of a total and complete breakthrough.

So, when I say, "What did I learn from Buckminster Fuller?" I learned about sufficiency and enough, which I realize is the radical truth about life. It's different than abundance. It's enough, which is being met with the universe, with what you need and want. Which then can be become abundance, but not from lack, from enough. And I learned about the you or me and the you and me paradigm. It really was the source of the work I did on ending world hunger with The Hunger Project.

Buckminster Fuller and Werner Erhard, who founded the Est work, which is called Landmark now. They met shortly after this, because I helped orchestrate that meeting. Out of that meeting, out of those two geniuses talking to each other, the commitment to end world hunger was born, which became The Hunger Project, which became where I worked and where I gave a huge chunk of my life. That was a long answer to that question, but Bucky was just, and still is, absolutely seminal.

Then the other thing is that he coined the phrase, "A little individual can make a difference that impacts all humanity." He did that because that was his life. He was going to ... He actually contemplated suicide at age 27, when he was a failure in his business and he couldn't feed his family. But then he said to the universe, "If I'm a throwaway human being, maybe rather than throw myself away, I will make myself an experiment, a laboratory. Can one human being, ordinary human being, make a difference that impacts all of humanity in a positive way?"

So, he lived with that commitment. So, he, for a real answer to your question, was the first person I encountered that I realized was living a committed life. That he turned his life over to absolute and total service to see if he could really make a difference. So, he was a huge impact on me.

Brent Stewart:

Your book is a number of stories. People that you've encountered in your life. People that have affected you. Bucky clearly was one person. Everything that you were talking about there, I hear a lot of your work and what you learned from him. But that probably was one of the stepping stones into you finding your purpose, which is a lot of what your book is about. Tell me what it took for you to find your purpose and how important that was for you.


I feel I was very fortunate, actually. Kind of in the right place at the right time. That's not helpful for everybody, so I probably shouldn't even say that, but I really do believe that that's kind of what happened to me. But I also was paying attention. I think you find your purpose ... the universe wants us to find our purpose. Because I think we're here, I think you and I, and the people listening to this, were born now because we have a contribution to make. That there's something unique about you, unique about me, unique about every single person that they're here to contribute.

I believe that life is given to us so that we can give it. Along the way, I've been fortunate to meet people who have encouraged me to realize that I have a unique contribution to make. If I can get in flow with that dharma, my life will flourish, and I will make the difference that's mine to make.

So, the how is sort of hard to answer because it's a lot of recognizing how blessed you are and having that framework to realize that life is not happening to you, you're not the victim of life, it's happening for you. Even events that are tragic. Like the death of my father when I was 14, which is a horrible blow to our family. There was no warning. He had a heart attack, suddenly died at age 50. Very young. My mother was 46. I was 14. I was the third of four kids. We were just like, "Oh, my God." One night, we all went to sleep. Next morning, we all woke up except my dad. Everything revolved around him, so it was a huge shock.

However, when I really looked back at my life, losing my father at that age kind of took me on an inner journey that has served me since in great ways. That's when I really began my inner life. I didn't know where to go but to go within. If you see that life's happening for you, not to you, even the tragic things, even the death of a father, or a bankruptcy or a divorce or an illness, you can see that you're being schooled and you're being led to your committed life. That's what I think is really happening for people. But if we think we're the victim of something, then life is a bummer.

But if we pay attention, the signs, I think they're everywhere. It often is, what breaks your heart is your life's work. What you can't stand or tolerate about the world might be what it's time for you to resolve.

When I think about Bob Chapman and his seeing the pain and suffering in corporations, that he couldn't stand it. He became one of the great heroes and sheroes of our time, to transform the corporate culture to be truly human.

In my case, just knowing that children were hungry, that they didn't have enough to eat, that they couldn't live, that their parents couldn't feed them, it's just like, oh, unbearable. I was also a follower of Mother Teresa, as many people were. Whether you're Catholic or not, you couldn't help but notice there was a living saint walking this earth.

So, there were lots of signs for me. Buckminster Fuller and Werner Erhard meeting and coming up with The Hunger project, a project to end world hunger, was a perfect fit for me. I had three little children. I couldn't imagine not being able to feed them. And also, I was working very deeply in the work of transformation, and the approach of The Hunger Project is not aid or development, but transformation. That was my sweet spot. So, it showed me the path.

And then later in life, after doing that for 25 years, I got a very incredible opportunity, and really, I'll call it a call, by Indigenous peoples of the Amazon, to work with them on preserving the sacred headwaters of that precious ecosystem. That became the next chapter of my life.

But I was paying attention, I think that's what I want to say, to the signs, knowing that my life was here to be given. That context of life is given to us. It's our privilege to give it to that which wants to happen, wants to come through us. Comes from being awake, I think, and being awakened by wonderful people like Buckminster Fuller, like Werner Erhard. The Est training and the Landmark work, also.

Being really deeply influenced by Brother David Steindl-Rast, the great Benedictine monk who is the living icon of gratefulness. Meeting people like Bob Chapman. I'm just aware, and I think everybody can be if they just realize the signs are everywhere. Even the pandemic happened for us, maybe not to us. Showed us ways to reboot, rethink, reimagine, revitalize, renew our lives. Even though it was painful and horrible for so many people. People got sick, I got sick. People lost loved ones. I lost people I knew. At the same time, if we see life as happening for us, not to us, the signs become clear and the path begins to open.


One of the things I know that you have talked about before, and certainly in your interactions with our company and with Bob, is purpose in business. Let's talk a little bit about that for a second. What do you think business role in all this is? And what is the impact of businesses realizing their purpose?


If you look at history, there's different periods where the largest and most important institution rises up and becomes what defines things, like the monarchy way back, and then the church way back. Now, it's business. Business is the largest. And then it was government. But now, business is bigger than government. Business is the largest institution on earth. Therefore, from great privilege and great opportunities and great success becomes great responsibility.

I think that businesses were originally chartered way back in the British Empire, they had to have a purpose or they didn't get incorporated. They had to have a purpose that served the greater good. They had to. You couldn't incorporate unless you had that. That's really the way business was formulated originally, as far as I know. Incorporation, incorporating, embodying a purpose that is for the good of humanity. Once it started to all be about money and profit and shareholders, and all that stuff, and quarterly returns, we lost that central theme, that through line.

Because the world now is demanding that business step up and step out and step into the great challenges of our time, we need to recover that through line, and realize that most people, as Bob ... This is what Bob preaches, and what you preach, too. That most people are living inside of a business institution of some kind. To really nourish their lives, and to have them be nourished, and to have the company be of benefit to the world, it absolutely must have a purpose that's greater than profitability and earnings per share, and all the stuff that gets measured. We need to reboot everything, especially business. I love that Bob and Barry-Wehmiller is doing that in all the programs that you do for companies.

I'm on the board of Conscious Capitalism, which was founded by Raj Sisodia, who wrote the book with Bob. As I see companies become more and more dedicated to a purpose larger themselves, I feel so encouraged. I'm working right now to ... in conversation with big, big, big companies like amazon.com, like Google, like the Walton company, to engage them in the Amazon rainforest. I mean amazon.com, it's their namesake for God's sake. The Amazon rainforest is getting close to absolute collapse. Will be curtains for not just the species that live in the Amazon, the Amazon is the source of our climate system. What better way to save the Amazon than take the power of the largest consumer company on earth and focus a lot of its attention and intention towards preserving the Amazon rainforest. The source of our climate system, the source of life, really. So, that's an example of, and a challenge that I'm making to that company.

But I also see, in real estate companies that have made a fortune on real estate, they should ... should is the wrong word, but I invite them to take on the homeless issue. If you're going to make that kind of money and drive up the real estate prices for your own benefit, and leave all these people out, then you got to take all those profits and reinvest them for the people that can't afford to live, and they're living on the street. You got to do that, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So, every business has its shadow that needs to be addressed, I think by the business itself, so that its soul has integrity. So the integrity of the soul, of the company, is intact. I think we're at a time where business now is conscious enough, and the world is at a consciousness enough, and the crises are big enough for business. I mean, business loves big challenges. Business has big muscle money, power, excellence.

I'm in what I call the social profit sector. I don't call it non-profit because I don't like that name. I don't like to be named by what we're not. I like to be named by what we are. We generate a social profit, a huge one. I challenge business, because business has got the excellence in the rigor that the social profit sector that I'm in doesn't have. It also has the money and the clout. Yet, the social profit sector who doesn't have any of that, or doesn't have enough of that, has taken on the biggest issues in the world.

We need to work together. That's what Bob preaches and teaches. That's what you preach and teach. That's what I'm preaching and teaching. We need to work ... We absolutely have to. Business must be on the playing field in a big way, and derive its central purpose from the challenges we face as a human community. And then wonderful to make a financial profit, but that's not the purpose of business. That's crazy. And that makes us all crazy. It makes us all crazy. It makes business do things that are destroying the very life support system on which we depend, for profit. Not wittingly, not intentionally, but because it's off its original purpose, which is to incorporate a purpose that serves the common good.


You know what? You said something earlier when you were talking about Bucky, and I want to get the phrasing right. It's, "We've gotten to the place where it's you or me." Is that how you phrased it?


Yeah. It's a scarcity mindset, that there's not enough to go around and somebody's going to be left out. A "more is better" mindset. And a "this is just the way that it is" mindset that haunts us, so that we operate in a you or me. Either you make it at my expense, or I make it at your expense. But that's the paradigm we've been living in for a long, long time. It's possible now, he said, and I agree, that you and I can both make it at nobody's expense. There's enough for all of us. There's enough food on this planet. There is enough water. There is enough food. I know these things. I know we're in danger of not having enough food in water. Yes, but that's because of greed, not because of need. Gandhi said there's enough for our need, not for our greed.

So, we are in a position to take care of everyone, everywhere. There's enough food on this planet to feed 12 billion people. We don't have 12 billion, we have 7.6. We're in a time and a space, where if we can reframe, recontextualize, reboot our mindset so we see that there is enough for everyone, and everyone is on our watch, and it's an all hands on deck time, then we'll make it. I mean, not that we won't make it. But I have full faith in the human condition and the human family. I can't remember your question. Am I answering it?


Well, I wanted to get that phrasing straight first. But when you talk about that you or me paradigm that Bucky had spoke about, that's something that could be part of purpose. We talk about it at Barry-Wehmiller on the individual level, that trying to change that paradigm could be part of a business's purpose. Are we seeing that happen? Are we there yet? How is that working out right now in terms of trying to change that paradigm?


Well, I wish I could give you a more positive report. If you look at our political landscape in the United States, it's all you or me. I mean, you're terrible and I'm wonderful, or I'm wonderful and she's terrible. I mean, it's all about you or me. It's all scarcity paradigm. It's all, make the other guy or gal wrong. It's all about positionality.

Unfortunately, it's almost like gossip on steroids. If you look at the political ads, I would call it gossip. I would call it absolute total gossip on steroids. I mean, what is going on here? It's not happening as fast as I would, let me put it that way.

Having said that, at the same time, there's a hunger, a yearning for developing the kind of spiritual soil of our lives, of our country, of our world. And there are people like you, like Bob, like me. There's meditation teachers all over the world. There's yoga. People are doing yoga and meditating. They're not necessarily going to church like they used to. Maybe that's just not the frame people want anymore. Some are going to church and God bless them for it. But there's a longing for, "A care of the soul," as Thomas Moore would say.

This is a little bit maybe not on purpose for your particular podcast, but I do feel like the divine feminine, if I can put it that way, is starting to come through everybody, men and women, in a big way, to sort of tone down the patriarchy, the leftover colonialism, the dominator model, the, "I can do it better than you," competitive edge thing. Which is helpful and useful, and my God, yes. You've watched the Olympics and you're proud of people who win, but you're proud of people who beat their own record, really. That's really what they're doing. Being more excellent and using competition for excellence rather than destroying the other guy or gal.

I have a healthy respect for competition, but I think what we crave is collaboration, co-laboring, which is what Truly Human Leadership is. Co-laboring, laboring together, collaboration, realizing that you and I are ... we're in this together. This is not you get to win and I lose. No, we all win. It's got to be a win-win world now. We just have to go there. There's a lot of people working on that. You're working on that. I'm working on that.

Maybe we're at the margins still, but I know it's the underground waters that are coming up to be the mainstream. The underground waters, in everybody, are longing for a deeper relationship with the soul, a deeper relationship with our humanity. More compassion, more love, more forgiveness, more courage. To not put competition down, it's produced miracles, but now we're kind of on overdrive.

There's a prophecy from the Bahá'í people. They say that, "The bird of humanity has two great wings, a male wing and a female wing." The bird of humanity has had its male wing extended, fully extended and fully expressed for centuries. While the female wing in the bird of humanity has been somewhat folded in, not yet fully expressed.

So, the male wing, in order to keep the bird of humanity afloat has become overdeveloped, over muscular, and in fact, has had to become violent. So, the bird of humanity is flying in circles and has been for several hundred years. And that the first century of the third millennium, that's where we are, first century, third millennium. We're only 22 years into that.

In the first century of the third millennium, the prophecy says, "The feminine wing, the female wing, in all of us, in women and men, will fully express itself in this 100 year cycle. The male wing, in all of us, can relax a little bit. And the bird of humanity, instead of flying in circles, will soar."

I love that prophecy because it doesn't make masculine wrong and feminine right. It doesn't do the stuff that sometimes happens right now. But it lets us all realize that, "Oh, my God. We can relax some of this drive and intensity and franticness to beat the other guy or gal, and collaborate with them." We can relax a little bit on that end of things and then we can let this soulfulness, this hunger for meaning, this intense search for purpose, give it more time, more energy, more love, because that's going to have us fly, have us soar.

I think that's what's happening, and maybe it's going to take 100 years. You're contributing to it. I'm contributing to it. It's an all hands on deck world now. Can we be all hands on deck in a way that we're not trying to defeat each other, but we're looking to work together in ways that have everybody win? It's heartbreaking to watch the political landscape, people trying to destroy each other instead of saying what they're for. They're only what they're against. It's heartbreaking, because I know it's not good for them. They hate it, too. Maybe that's the last throes of this competitive thing that's kind of out of control. But I know that the work that you're doing, the work that I'm doing, the work that many millions and millions of people are doing is the ...

You know the metaphor? The caterpillar, at a certain point in its evolution, the imaginal cells begin to find each other and cluster. And if enough of them cluster, they become the genetic directors of the fuzzy little brown thing. The other cells become the nutritive soup, and the imaginal cells create the absolute miracle of a butterfly.

Maybe Bob, and you and me, and Barry-Wehmiller, and The Hunger Project, and Pachamama Alliance, my organization, The Soul of Money Institute, and my book, it's part of the imaginal cells making the butterfly. Because who could predict a butterfly from a little brown worm, you know? It's incredible. So, I feel we're in an epic, epic, epic time. I'm so glad to be alive and participate, even though it's painful and difficult and challenging.


Well, you said something earlier, there's a couple things you said earlier, but you were talking about thinking about life happening for us, as opposed to life happening to us. You were also talking about that in respect to the pandemic. I think one of the things that we've been seeing over the last couple years, in terms of viewing the pandemic as happening for us, is the way it's starting to reshape how people are thinking about their work lives, and even evaluating their purposes. Instead of going to a company that doesn't care about them, demanding to work for a company that will care about them.

I guess that's part of the hope part of this right now, in this changing the you or me paradigm, that people are realizing that they can have a purpose greater than sustenance. Working to change that from within the structures, and hoping to change the structure because they know what is needed and what can happen.


Well, sometimes it's darkest before the dawn. I like to think that God, maybe it's just all this noise that's in the culture, and all the social media stuff and all the algorithms that make you believe your ideology is the only one. That you keep getting fed your own stuff deeper and deeper and deeper. It kind of makes your brain ... those little rivulets in your brain, those little ski tracks, go deeper and deeper and deeper. We're just caught in all that.

I mean, when I watch either CNN or Fox News, or whoever I watch, I think, "What are they talking about?" It's like a completely different stream of information than the other guy. It just keeps reinforcing itself. If we could broaden our ... We should be able to broaden. Because we've got the internet, it can tell us everything. Except it's oriented now to make us believe our own stuff.

Anyway, I agree that people are just leaving situations that don't serve them and going to places where people care. I love that. I love the migration to companies that make that kind of a difference with their employees, their workers, their team. I love people wanting their companies to have a purpose larger than profit.

I love that we're starting to measure with B Corps and conscious capitalism. Things other than the bottom line. The bottom line starts to include the bottom billion on this planet. The bottom billion people, the earth, the other species. I love that that's happening. I want it to happen faster. I'm doing everything I can to accelerate it, and I know you are too. But I love that it is happening. I think it really is happening.

People who are historians, they say, "We're in the greatest epic transformation after transition. That it might even be an evolutionary leap." That's what I pray for. I think we are in an evolutionary leap.

It's almost like this wonderful phrase I heard, "When the first fish crawled up on land, suddenly elephants and eagles were possible." When you think about that, that's just so cool. What is the fish crawling up on land? Is it Bob and all his beautiful talks, and his success and his awards? Is it starting to create an evolutionary leap for business? I pray that it is.

Is my book and my work creating evolutionary leap in our relationship with money in life? Are we really ready to take that leap? I think we are. I think people are hungry for it. It's all kind of like darkest before the dawn. Things are getting so ugly.

There's another phrase that I really appreciate from Reverend Michael Beckwith. He says, "Pain pushes until vision pulls. Pain pushes till vision pulls." I love that. Because we're in the pain now, but if we can create a vision powerful enough, it'll pull us out of the pain, towards a new vision. I think that's what Bob's work is all about, and your work and my work. Hopefully everybody's work.


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