carrying capacity…

The exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s goal is health – his land’s health, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s. Whereas the exploiter asks of a piece of land only how much and how quickly it can be made to produce, the nurturer asks a question that is much more complex and difficult: What is its carrying capacity? (That is: How much can be taken from it without diminishing it?)…The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, “hard facts”; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind. – Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Why not take a moment or two on this Wednesday in November and ask yourself the more complex and difficult question: What is my carrying capacity? How much can be taken or given without diminishing me? We can exploit or nurture the land just as we can exploit or nurture our very selves, or allow others to. This question has nothing to do with settling for less or doing something half-assed or being selfish. Those are quick, shallow reactions ill-suited for a question of complexity and difficulty (usually the reactions of an exploiter). No, the question has everything to do with, as Berry says, character, condition, quality, kind…in other words, the kind of person you were created to be in this world, the character you are meant to play in this grand drama called life.

I wrote recently of the brave people I see all around me. I also see just as many diminished lives, marriages, friendships, organizations, churches, schools, neighborhoods, and yes, even our nation (this is what the occupy movement, in my opinion, is all about). A complex and difficult question takes time to answer, maybe even a lifetime. Someone asked this particular question a few years before Wendell Berry wrote his masterpiece…you may have heard it –

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,060 other subscribers


  1. Kevin Barr on November 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Our society is too focused on “Getting Things Done” that we forget to live. We’re fixated with productivity, evaluating the quality of our day based on how much we were able to accomplish. Seems to me our focus needs to be redirected to engaging in those activities that are most important, most valuable–like Mary, who “chose what is better.” Jesus calls us to a value based time management system in which personal relationships, rest and personal development take precedent over phone calls, emails, and task lists. The Holy Spirit doesn’t push us to do one more thing, but instead woos us to the most important thing.

    I pray for the mercy to be attentive to the nurturing Spirit and reject the exploitative urgings of the world.

    • thebeautifuldue on November 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm

      I pray for that same mercy, Kevin…thanks for stopping by.

  2. Lindsay on November 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Considering carrying capacity resulted in my choosing to retire in May 2012. Exploring post retirement options that will “cause my heart to sing”.

  3. Mike Ruman on November 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    That’s good John. I needed that kick in the behind today.

  4. kendall on November 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Great Berry quote. I am currently reading “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian” by Wallace Stegner, his account of John Wesley Powell’s work here in CO and down the Colorado. Stegner’s short essays constantly ask the questions this Berry quote digs into. And of course, Berry was taught by Stegner at Stanford under the Stegner Fellowship. Like-minded souls.

    More and more I don’t think you can ask the question, What is my carrying capacity? How much can be taken or given without diminishing me?” without also asking it the way Berry does. The external and the internal need to be explored together.

    Maybe the short answer is, Buy less, sell more:)

    • thebeautifuldue on November 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      Kendall, good eye on the Berry/Stegner connection…that theme permeates everything Stegner wrote…if you get a chance, Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose are brilliant works by WS.

      Yes, I agree w/you…the question cannot be asked in some vacuum but rather in the many connections our lives hold.

  5. nance marie on November 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    lost souls…not a good option.

  6. Skip Cadorette on November 9, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    Been reading you off and on for a few months now. And you seem to live in my head. I’ve been living the last few days with the awareness of everything I’m not doing (for the church, for the Lord). And I’m familiar with those ideas from Wendell Berry from an article in Christian Century a few years back. Thanks for connecting the two for me today.

  7. Bill Gillin on November 13, 2011 at 4:33 am

    Hi John, you may not remember me from IAC, but we miss you. Thanks for this blog; it helps fill in some gaps. Love these thoughts in this article. As the son of a Montana rancher, I understand carrying capacity because a nurturer doesn’t want to overgraze and damage the land. What a great analogy to our lives.
    I look forward to reading more of your beautiful due!

    • thebeautifuldue on November 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

      Bill, yes, I do remember you…thanks for stopping in.

Leave a Comment