Thoughts on an amazing commencement speech by Paul Hawken

Paul Hawken is author of a number of remarkable books whose titles alone contribute to our thinking — titles like SEVEN TOMORROWS, THE ECOLOGY OF COMMERCE, NATURAL CAPITALISM and BLESSED UNREST. Several years ago he founded a vast, remarkable, interactive database of, by, and for change agents — WISER Earth He has a uniquely potent clarity about what is happening in the world, what is needed, and who can do the job (surprise: It’s us!). His passionate clarity was called forth recently in a commencement address he gave in Portland, Oregon

 I sometimes suggest that things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster. Paul mirrors these thoughts: “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 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.”

 He identifies a biological fact that provides perhaps the most important guidance for our individual lives and the conscious evolution of civilization: “Life creates the conditions that are conducive to life.”

 Wait a minute… “Life creates the conditions that are conducive to life.” That’s a Really Big Idea. It goes by really fast, but it covers a LOT of ground.

 Someday take this idea for a walk and see how many ways you can think of that we do (or don’t) “create conditions that are conducive to life”. Then ponder all the ways we COULD create such conditions more wisely, for more of life. Then perhaps reflect on what this biological reality tells us about who and how we are in the world: To the extent we “create conditions that are conducive to life”, we are alive, we are serving life, we are part of Life and the way Life is unfolding on this planet — a newly conscious part of the way Life has been evolving here for four billion years…

 That takes me to the importance of system-level change — initiatives that seek to transform our cultural stories, institutions and practices… that create wiser measures of success, health and value… that develop forms of power, organization, and decision-making that tap into the best of who we are when we are most alive and connected, individually and collectively. Think about how profoundly such changes impact the conditions that are conducive to life — in our own lives and in the natural world. System conditions are the cultural equivalent of climate: They influence everything at once.

 Hawken goes on to say that “Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.” He wonders, “What we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years.” And imagines that “No one would sleep that night.” Then he suggests we are living in the midst of such a miraculous moment: “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.”

 And he suggests that we — embodied in the hundreds of new college graduates sitting before him — wake up to “the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation.” He invites all of us to grab this most amazing opportunity and run with it.

 He invites a new “generation” to generate what’s needed to create the world anew.

 Blessings on the Journey.


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