[Sust-mar] You are Brilliant and the Earth is Hiring

GoodWork Green Jobs p2 at planetfriendly.net
Fri Nov 6 11:08:14 EST 2009

[from Canada's Green Job Site, http://www.GoodWorkCanada.ca ]

You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring

The Unforgettable Commencement Address to the

Class of 2009, University of Portland, by Paul Hawken

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I

could give a simple short talk that was "direct, naked,

taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and

graceful." No pressure there.

Let's begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are

going to have to figure out what it means to be a human

being on earth at a time when every living system is

declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of

a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper

published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. 

Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you 

are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to

have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the

water, soil, or air, don't let the earth get overcrowded,

and don't touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster

Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed

that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through

the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for

seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food ---

but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you

will receive, and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to

decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant,

and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn't afford to send

recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain,

sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that

unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And

here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is

not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by

people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to 

be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after 

you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the

future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the

science about what is happening on earth and aren't

pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet

the people who are working to restore this earth and the

lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't

got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary

people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable

odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice,

and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, 

"So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those 

who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power,

reconstitute the world."

There could be no better description. Humanity is

coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action

is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages,

campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, 

and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many

groups and organizations are working on the most salient

issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation,

peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more.

This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather

than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it

strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy

Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done.

Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement.

It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people

in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is

made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople,

rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers,

fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers,

weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without

borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the

President of the United States of America, and as the writer

David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who 

loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is

ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then

see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from

the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity's

willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover,

reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what

you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept

shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of

moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of

connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even

if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers.

This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic

origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots.

Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and

global movement to defend the rights of those they did not

know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except

on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were

largely unknown -- Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah

Wedgwood -- and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it:

at that time three out of four people in the world were

enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had

done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted

with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the

abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders,

meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the

economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first

time in history a group of people organized themselves to

help people they would never know, from whom they would

never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of

millions of people do this every day. It is called the world

of non-profits, civil society, schools, social

entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and

companies who place social and environmental justice at 

the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of 

this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your

heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist

Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive 

to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. 

We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without 

people and tens of thousands of abandoned people

without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed

regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only

species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We

have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy

earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain

it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can't

print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing

the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross

domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that

is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We

can either create assets for the future or take the assets

of the future. One is called restoration and the other

exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit

people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth 

is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million

centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our

bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this

very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, 

and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are

inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is

to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you

are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human

cells. Your body is a community, and without those other

microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell

has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes

between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in

one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any

one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a

millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes

than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what

Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover

that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of

a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute

and as numerous as the stars of heaven."

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel

your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion

activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this

so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when

this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life.

This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of

your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not 

a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are

conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our

innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive

to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively

humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming 

together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars

only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep

that night, of course. The world would create new religions

overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous

by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night

and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each

other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization

has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten

thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as

all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and

we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation.

You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge

ever bequeathed to any generation. The generations before

you failed. They didn't stay up all night. They got

distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle

every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be 

on her side. You couldn't ask for a better boss. The most

unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the

dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn't make sense 

to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if 

your life depends on it.


Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary

environmental activist, and author of many books, most

recently Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the

World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. He was

presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by

University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., in May,

when he delivered this superb speech. Our thanks especially

to Erica Linson for her help making that moment possible.



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