Originally published in the Summer 2009 issue of Biodynamics. Leslie Loy is Executive Director of WeStrive.org (new website coming in September 2009), a social network of individuals and initiatives committed to deeper community and more effective social action by supporting spiritually striving individuals and initiatives.
In a recent commencement speech at Portland State University, Paul Hawken proclaimed to the graduating students, “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.” His words struck a cord with the audience, drawing attention to the fact that our world, the planet we live on, is hiring invigorated, enthusiastic people who are inherently brilliant. The new generation of graduates, “the Millennials,” as Eric Utne recently wrote, are filled with “a sense of urgency about the future with a belief that they and we can and must change our direction. They know what is being asked of them, and they’re stepping up to the challenge.” These young people are world-changers who are not afraid of failing, but rather of not doing, of not taking action and responding to the call of the planet, of the poor, and of the disenchanted. They are motivated by their friends and family and are facing the world full-on, asking themselves what they can do, how they can make a difference, who they can collaborate with.
The ability to collaborate is critical. Recent grassroots-driven campaigns have demonstrated the importance of alliance building between initiatives to create real-world change. Not only do activists need to be able to understand their own work, but they also need to understand how their work reflects the greater picture. Using their imaginations, these individuals need to be able to discern the threads that connect questions, finding similarities and possible complements in how they are addressing particular social questions or issues. Ultimately, they need to be able to step outside of their isolated work and to understand that today’s social activism means engaging with the whole, not so that they can protest against it, but so that they can transform it. They are now discovering that to work alone is unrealistic and recognizing that the work they are doing takes place in the world and therefore their work must be with the world.
People often shy away from the word “activist,” thinking of radical extremists, people who stage mass protests and who defy authority. But it appears as though a new kind of activist is emerging in the world, one who is focused on contributing, one who is striving not for a utopian ideal but for something tangible: a reality of relatedness and collaboration, where community is at the center again and where living is a responsible activity. They are not daunted by the task, and they do not think, “This task of planet saving is not possible in the time required.” Hawken told his listeners not to “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.”
These modern activists are doing just that and are looking at a world filled with challenges and one quintessential and seemingly impossible task: save the planet. But, as they are discovering, saving the planet doesn’t just mean reducing one’s carbon footprint, switching to bikes instead of cars, or relying on seasonal, locally grown, and sustainable crops bought at the farmers’ market. Saving the planet means saving, in many ways, human beings from themselves and from their own self-destructive activities. Saving the planet means reconnecting, rechanneling, and reimagining.
Collaborative efforts exist on all fronts, and saving the planet can be done through the simplest, most breathtaking gestures. Overwhelmed by the task of saving the planet, we often shrug our shoulders in despair and ask, “Where do I begin? What can I do?” Examining our lives and comparing them to the stark contrast of those in Iran, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Vietnam, we are overcome with the sense of our own limited capacities. We must recognize, however, that addressing the struggle of our fellow human beings begins by understanding the human beings around us and by striking up real interactions, real conversations about our communities, the world, and ourselves. By rechanneling our thinking and transforming our perceptions, we will discover new avenues connecting us to the future, a future in which we actually have made a difference, in which our efforts and our striving have, incredibly, saved the planet.
We can do this, as countless new activists show us each day. They begin at home, in their own communities, addressing problems that impact their daily living. They strive to be consistent, realistic, and open. They take the time to share their questions in real conversations and then they work together, and in their working together, something new, something inspiring, emerges. This is how we can save the planet.