Saturday, May 30, 2009

Paul Hawken: "You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring"

I have been feeling powerless facing this crazy world and its messes. I hardly read the news any more and fear I am falling into the gutters of complacency. I got stressed at work, draining me, but even in my most energetic times I have felt ill equipped to face, let alone help with the world's problems. I've stopped huffing, partly because I'm not paying as close attention as I did during the presidential campaign last year, and partly because I want to send more positive energy out. Yet I've felt conflicted for just going on, posting about beauty, and joy - as long as there is brokenness, greed, ill will, war, violence, environmental destruction, heartbreak, hunger, death, poverty, anxiety and despair anywhere on earth (including inside me).

So when I ran across environmental activist Paul Hawken's May 3rd commencement address at the University of Portland, something in me melted. He said:

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.

I invite you - I implore you - to read the whole speech. It doesn't take long. I want you to feel the same hope I feel. The problems of the world are being solved by little people like you and me, one by one and in small groups - not in big governments or corporations.

Also if you have time, watch and listen to Paul Hawken's 6 minute video addressing Bioneers 2006 about the unnamed movement on this gorgeous planet of those who are taking it upon themselves to work for social and environmental justice: at Blessed Unrest, or at YouTube below.

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."

"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.

We are connected. We are one. If anyone hurts, I hurt.

You can get involved by exploring your areas of concern and hooking up with a group, via Paul Hawken's site called WiserEarth. You can explore groups and organizations, and areas of focus such as organic farming, peace or poverty alleviation. Or how the arts - writing, visual art, film, music - help address our problems. There is a vast network there at WiserEarth, so it might take some time. I just became a member. You can find out who's working where, raise awareness, and connect with a network.

The Summer Day
x x by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems,
1992 Beacon Press, Boston, MA


shicat said...

Hi Ruth, bless you my blog friend. So much to take in and think and think and think about. What a speech.

amuse me said...

So many wonderful things to ponder and contemplate, and as you said, to remember that small changes can be made by you and me also. :) M

PS Love your new banner. Each week I feature a favorite blog, so, if you don't mind, I am going to grab that banner and feature you on my blog for a week.

Loring Wirbel said...

There's one paradoxical trick to always feeling happy: Keep expectations VERY low. I know, I know, that seems to run in the face of dreaming big dreams, but it you start with the assumption that we are all just glorified monkeys with limited self-awareness, and we've messed our cages up terribly, and that 50 years of huffing might be sufficient to move ten peoples' awareness by a millimeter, then you're never disappointed! I expect racism and jingoism and narcissism, so when I see random acts of kindness, it makes me feel wonderful. And when I see the small-mindedness I halfway expect, it doesn't immobilize me through fear or exhaustion or despair.

Anna said...

Oh Dear Ruth, what a inspirational post, thanks for sharing. I feel like that too, but I always say if we all on the world will feel sad, it isn't good for the planet Earth, we need to stay stron, go on and believe. I will now move on to see the video...Thanks for the reminders...Anna :)

PS I will take tea, lol.

Lover of Life said...

I believe what Eckhart Tolle stated in his book "A New Earth" that things are going to be very bad before they change, and the world enters a new era. I find that I must work on myself right now to bring about that change, which always begins at the micro level - in this case Self. I cannot stay focused on dissolving my ego and read the news all of the time. It sparks anger and fear, so I read it sparingly, and only when I have a good grasp of my ego-driven emotion. Otherwise it's like feeding my ego, which thrives on negativity, a great big sandwich.

Thanks for the information on the networking and for this important post.

Mary Ellen said...

I'm glad Lover of Life mentioned this post. I am also working to find ways to stay hopeful against a barrage of fearmongering. But that's how we're kept docile! (I've also been working in academic advising - howdy do!)

dutchbaby said...

The speech was inspirational and the website is an amazing resource. Thank you for promoting this important work.

Annie said...

I hear you. I'm kind of exhausted too with all the problems and cruelty in the world. But I have to try my best because of my children. And because of this poor planet. If we who care don't try to save it, who will?

*jean* said...

oo ruth, i share your thoughts here...i choose to make the craziest art i can muster, visit with my friend on the front porch and watch my little wild one grow...i decided after this election to hold onto the ones who want to ride with me....

and you know my quote....we are just walking each other home....because aren't we??

the world has always been full of serious problems....

hope you find a grasshopper to watch today...

ds said...

What an interesting man, and what a powerful speech. In addition to what you pointed out, I like: "Do what needs to be done and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done." A message for all of us. I do so love that Mary Oliver poem, and it is sending me back (again) to Mr. Berry. I'm having a tough time with the papers also, these days. Like jean, I hope you find a grasshopper to watch, or Bishop to follow, or a special bird to sing today.

ds said...

P.S. And I did check your photo blog (wow!). It is Trump Tower--who knew?

Oliag said...

As an optimist, I found Paul Hawken's speech encouraging...but we have a long way to go and when our present problems are solved there will always be others for that is human nature too...a wonderful speech...

...and I adore Mary Oliver's poem.

shoreacres said...

Ruth, the richness of your posts makes it difficult to simply "comment", but here are the broadest outlines of some thoughts that come to me.

First, those who dedicate themselves to beauty and joy in today's world are taking on a role that for centuries was filled by religious contemplatives. The apparent uselessness of solitary prayer and intercession always has been a scandal and offense to the more practical of every tradition, even as the "uselessness" of dedicating oneself to beauty and joy today can be scoffed at and ridiculed.

It also occurs to me that much change is invisible because our focus is too narrow, or we're simply too close to events. One of the great benefits of aging is that perspective broadens and hope grows - seeing what has been, we see more clearly what can be. Say "Little Rock Central High", "Orville Faubus" or "Steve Biko" to a twenty-something today and you'll get a blank stare. But there have been changes, and I've seen them and so have you.

Finally, it's clear to me that words make a difference, and the clear, unapologetic speaking of "our word" can shape the world in ways we hardly would expect. I don't speak of it much, but I have a "high" view of language grounded in the logos theology of the prologue to St. John's gospel - a belief that just as the Word became flesh, our words being grounded and embedded into the realities around us can be transformative.

About the second month of my little blogging career I developed a personal rule that's been proven right over and over: "Expect more from your reader than they expect from themselves, and great things will happen." There's no reason that can't hold true in the world as well.

Anonymous said...

Such a moving speech! such an inspiration! I made me feel better about all the small things I try to do to help the environment: now matter how small, they HAVE an impact!

Ruth said...

Dear Cathy, I hope we can find some perspective from these words. I needed that. A way to observe and also participate. Maybe seeking balance isn't always the answer, but if I don't have peace within myself, I don't think I'm much good to anyone.

Ruth said...

Dear Marion, reading your comment I thought of Heather, who helped at your library for a while, and I recognized the truth of your words. We all have a part.

Yes of course, I'd love to be featured at your blog - how nice!

Ruth said...

Loring, my friend, you're one of the few activists I know. You travel the world to huff. Knowing you do so without being attached to the outcome is in my opinion the only way to live. But I don't imagine it's easy, considering the effort you spend. I thank you again for what you do and who you are.

What you wrote helped me a lot.

Ruth said...

The sadness can be a hunger that eats up your joy, Anna. I agree, we have to find ways to persevere.

Ruth said...

Thanks to you in turn for picking up the theme, L o L, in your excellent post. I agree that what we feed, we get hungry for.

Ruth said...

Hi, and welcome, Mary Ellen.

Cool, another academic adviser! You must be a faculty adviser, like the ones I had - I think you teach.

I loved your post about women writers and blogging, you've got me thinking now.

I'm glad to have found you.

Sally's World said...

powerful and moving, and you are doing your bit by just spreading these words, i will pass it on, as i'm sure everyone else will!

Susan said...

That speech should be required reading for every graduate in high school or college, for every human who cares what happens to our planet, and for those who are sitting on the fence or don't know that they should care.

Thank you, dear Ruth, for always, always making us aware.

Ruth said...

I'm glad you thought so too, Dutchbaby.

Ruth said...

Annie, my dear friend rauf says the planet can save itself, and I think he's right. Whether Life as we know it can be sustained is another matter. And I suppose that is what we mean when we say "save the planet."

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Jean, walking each other home is a comfort. We do have each other, and that goes a long way.

My brother who passed away 13 years ago was a grasshopper, and he found one that was his photography symbol. They sit still for a very long time, but wow can they travel quickly when they need to.

Ruth said...

My gosh, DS - how many things do I not do because they're not possible, or they won't make a difference, or I'm just too lazy.

I'm reading Oliver and Berry these days like mantras.

And yeah, even Mr. Trump seems to need nature in the City, eh?

Ruth said...

Oliag, Jesus said the poor you will always have with you. I guess it's true of other messes too.

Ruth said...

Linda, I appreciate that you said that about those dedicated to joy and beauty, because I do feel this blog is like a prayer in a way. It's still important to remember and remind of historic atrocities, as you mentioned, to new generations.

Having spent a lot of time in church thinking about logos myself, I understand what you're saying about the word, and that helps me remember its value. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Kanmuri, I'm glad it was an encouragement to you too!

Ruth said...

Thanks for that, Sally.

Ruth said...

Dear Susie, thank you so much for always being there with your care and support. We are almost always on the same wavelength!

Barry said...

Sounds intriguing, and exactly something I might be interested in.

I'll read the speech, watch the video and visit his website.

By the way your wonderful gift arrived the other day. I was going to write a public thank you on my blog but things got a little crazier than usual around here.

I still need to write a blog that stops bemoaning my fate and focuses on the extraordinary kindnesses I have received. But first I have some videos to watch and some reading to do.

Peter said...

Excellent post - as usual - and excellent contents! There is a film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand that will be spread worldwide June 5 (World Environmental Day) in some 130 countries. It's called "Home". It will shown in cinemas in most countries free of charge, it will be available on Internet, YouTube... This is the official site:

In the meantime (awaiting June 5) you can see a clip on YouTube:

Life on earth is there since 400 billion years, humans since some 200 million years .... and we, superintelligent beings - have destroyed the resources since some 50-100 years... - our generation!

Ruth said...

Barry, no no, don't stop writing about your illness and treatment. We are listening to every word and following because we care about you, and also because we want to learn about the process. What you are doing is an incredibly valuable offering, and I am grateful to you.

I'm glad you got the book, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Ruth said...

Peter, life for 4 billion years and human beings for 200,000 years, and look what we've done. This looks very good, thank you for the tip, I will definitely watch it.

Ruth said...

It can be so discouraging, thinking about the state of the world. My kids give me hope. My son, who at age 6 is already concerned about pollution and endangered species.
Also, strangely, the Internet gives me hope. Sometimes it seems full of garbage, but how else would I ever be encouraged by your words? I'd never have met you! We have new ways of connecting and working together that were never possible in the past.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well as your beautiful pictures.

Ruth said...

Ruth, thank you.

I think you are right - the new generation will think very differently about the planet and our responsibilities - and they'll use the technology they have to help.

Zoysha said...

Thanks for sharing Paul's commencement address.

For those inspired by his hopeful message, Paul Hawken also founded WiserEarth an online global community of people and organizations working for a just and sustainable world.

You can set up a profile on WiserEarth, connect with others, and set up free online Group collaboration spaces.

Here are a few examples of how people are using WiserEarth:

- The Story of Stuff Project

- Open Science Network in Ethnobiology

You can also join WiserEarth on Facebook and Twitter.

With thanks for the work you do.

Ruth said...

Yes, thank you, Zoysha, I mentioned WiserEarth in the post. Thank you for the extra information about it.