[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,
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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