The inspirational power of Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest resides in the book’s content, outlined on the cover as “How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World.” Hawken also identifies why doing so is essential. This book is a must-read for anyone who seeks deeper and broader understanding about humanity’s condition and the ways we can remake our world.
What is so refreshing is a book that not only identifies the peril confronting us if we continue on the dominant, economically and socially unjust, and environmentally destructive, trajectory of an outdated industrial capitalism. But, importantly, Blessed Unrest also acknowledges, and promotes, the phenomenon of under-recognized accomplishments and brave pursuits by organizations and groups globally.
Paul Hawken has earned an excellent reputation through many years, wearing the unconventional double mantle of entrepreneur and environmentalist, as well as consultant to businesses and writer. He has produced a number of books similarly worth reading, as a practitioner and messenger, such as The Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism.
Always heartening for me to discover is how my own holistic quest and soulful concerns are shared by highly esteemed thought leaders such as Hawken, who writes:
“Healing the wounds of the earth and its people does not require saintliness or a political party, only gumption and persistence. It is not a liberal or conservative activity; it is a sacred act. It is a massive enterprise undertaken by ordinary citizens everywhere, not by self-appointed governments or oligarchies” [Hawken, 2007, p. 5].
Indeed, Blessed Unrest points out the fact that it is the bravery and advocacy of thousands of ordinary folks where the hope resides to remake a healthier and more equitable world worth living in. Hawken emphasizes the extraordinary power when human beings come together to take a stand: “this unnamed movement… has been capable of bringing down governments, companies and leaders through witnessing, informing, and massing…
“The movement has three basic roots: environmental activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous cultures’ resistance to globalization, all of which are intertwined. Collectively, it expresses the needs of the majority of people on earth to sustain the environment, wage peace, democratize decision making and policy, reinvent public governance piece by piece from the bottom up, and improve their lives – women, children and the poor.” Note how Hawken highlights who represent the majority, our fellow human beings who conventionally “in our upside-down world we consider to be minorities” [p. 12].
What is most unique of all, writes Hawken, about this movement is that it is the first time in history that a large social movement is not bound together by an “ism.” “What unifies it is ideas, not ideologies… ideas question and liberate, while ideologies justify and dictate” [p. 16]. Hawken cautions about the present day ideologies most evident in terrorism and economic and religious fundamentalism.
In his critique of the dilemma facing us, Hawken particularly focuses on “market fundamentalism.” He provides superb, detailed examples of it in various chapters to illuminate the longstanding destructive consequences of the market economy of the West in recent centuries that continue unabated today – with the difference of the current, and growing, movement of global citizens who challenge it.
Again, this book’s well-researched evidence and ethical position warms my heart, because of my own many years of journalism and teaching in which I spoke to the abysmal treatment of Indigenous peoples, and the flaws in Western institutions including the mainstream media. Most insidious has been the widespread, often unconscious bias, even cultural racism, which weaves its dark, invisible threads into the consciousness of each school generation that, in turn, perpetuates misinformation.
That is why I argue, relentlessly, for more media literacy to be taught in schools, not only in Language Arts, yet, as well, in several other curricula, to develop critical thinking skills in all students. Furthermore, ecological literacy also is imperative as a second life skill today. It is high time that Western education bears witness to those voices that for too long have been marginalized if not silenced.
All students in a properly functioning democracy, moreover, ought to be encouraged to critique and debate the strengths and imperfections of the current economic model, and explore alternatives. Indeed, media and ecological literacies are life skills for all ages, and workshops ought to be created in various community settings outside of schools too.
The good news in Blessed Unrest is the evidence presented how thousands of grassroots people of every culture and nation are proactively taking the responsibility to be better informed and take a stand against forces destroying their very survival. These folks are the true champions of a world worth living in. In the most repressive and violent regimes, they are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the larger good – namely, the cause of protecting and restoring the planetary life that sustains all of us.
To illustrate cultural racism, I refer to Hawken’s description of being interviewed by one American reporter who asked him who were the leaders behind the protest against the World Trade Organization conference, in Seattle, Washington, on November 30. 1999. Hawken patiently explained there were no leaders other than “thought leaders” globally, whom he began to name. She replied that she could not use these names. Hawken asked why not. “Because Americans have never heard of them.” [p. 126].
Among these eminent “thought leaders” was the late Wangari Maathai, who received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, and whose life and contributions were honoured in a wonderful documentary film Taking Root. My April 2nd blog post, titled “The Environmental Legacy of Wangari Maathai,” focuses on the example she sets for us all.
As for the Seattle news reporting, Hawken next outlines how it was distorted and reduced to focus on the violence of a few anarchists and characterized as a riot. The truth, Hawken argues, is otherwise: “the protesters were hardly anarchic, but organized, well-educated and determined. The vast majority were human rights activists, labor activists, nuns, indigenous people, people of faith, steelworkers, and farmers… They were citizens” [p. 123].
Constructing images of people to look ridiculous is nothing new, however, by the media or by industry whenever the latter feels threatened. Hawken describes Rachel Carson‘s ground-breaking accomplishment in her book Silent Spring (1962), “enlarging the conceptual framework of the environmental movement from conservation to include human rights and the rights of all living beings… [and] by revealing the pollution inside our bodies, not just in nature” [p. 58].
When modern industry could not counter Silent Spring‘s thesis with facts, it resorted to undermine the book’s popular acclaim on an emotional level. Montrose Chemical Corporation made slurs against the author’s intelligence, while Monsanto satirized Carson’s work in a pamphlet titled “Desolate Spring.”
Another tactic used by industry to undermine environmental truths, writes Hawken, citing ExxonMobil as one example, is “to corporatize how science is perceived and understood by the public, creating doubt and fear whenever possible, but always couched in the language of reason. To do so, Exxon funds so-called think tanks that work diligently to create skepticism, if not cynicism, about efforts to mitigate climate change” [p. 65].
Inserted throughout Blessed Unrest are marvellous examples of famous and lesser known “thought leaders.” The author credits Ralph Waldo Emerson with planting the seeds of American environmentalism by focusing on “two disparate concepts that animate our daily existence: how we treat nature and how we treat each other” [p. 73].
Hawken introduces us to a number of brilliant individuals, in business, the sciences and technology, whose innovations and practices clearly demonstrate the possibility of evolving toward a “zero waste society” in the foreseeable future.
I genuinely believe that the more the wider public becomes aware of what is possible, the more we can support and co-create functioning on this planet less destructively and choose what protects life.
In the closing pages, Hawken responds provocatively to the oft-stated sentiment that we cannot save our planet unless human kind undergoes a widespread spiritual and religious awakening. “What if there is already in place a large-scale spiritual awakening and we are simply not recognizing it?” Hawken asks.
He refers to acclaimed author Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006). “The point Armstrong strongly emphasizes is that the early expressions of religiosity during the Axial Age were not theocratic systems requiring beliefs, but instructional practices requiring action… No one in the Axial Age imagined that he was living in an age of spiritual awakening. It was a difficult time” [p. 184-5].
Hawken sees the parallels between then and now, such as how the prophets from ancient times, that we now enshrine, were ridiculed in their day. He also points out what distinguishes today’s movement from “the massive failure of the Axial Age.” Today’s awakening “sees the feminine as sacred and holy, and it recognizes the wisdom of indigenous peoples all over the world, from Africa to Nunavut” [p. 185].
What Hawken hopes is for the underlying values, at the core of the organizations in today’s global movement, to permeate global society. These are ancient principles that include the Golden Rule and the recognition of the sacredness of all life. He writes:
“To salve the world’s wounds demands a response from the heart. There is a world of hurt out there, and to heal the past requires apologies, reconciliation, reparation and forgiveness. A viable future isn’t possible until the past is faced objectively and communion is made with our errant history… Making amends is the beginning of the healing of the world. These spiritual deeds and acts of moral imagination lay the groundwork for the great work ahead” [p. 188].
Go to WiserEarth, the Social Network for Sustainability online, to find out the most recent news, participants, and updated database of organizational categories initially published in the Appendix of the book.
To see an excerpt from Paul Hawken’s presentation about the message in Blessed Unrest, click 2007 Bioneers Conference.