To Those Who Reconstitute the World

by Terence Jeyaretnam

Paul Hawken is one of the best-known environmental authors of our time.  With The Ecology of Commerce, he opened the eyes of business its impact on the environment.

Blessed Unrest, Hawken’s most recent book is about what is going right in a resource-constrained, polluted, and decadent world.  In a recent unforgettable address to the Class of 2009 at the University of Portland, Hawken said:

“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 Clark, 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, and non-governmental organizations, of 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.”

Blessed Unrest is ripe with teachings from leaders and activists such as Rachel Carson, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Rosa Parks. Revealing the theory behind the global movements for social and environmental justice--the Blessed Unrest--provides context and meaning to the why and how of the struggle for expression and freedom. To me, the book was an eye-opener, offering a glimpse of hope to those despairing in the world’s current state.

A quote from poet Adrienne Rich seems to explain why Hawken sat down to write the Blessed Unrest: “So much has been destroyed. I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”


Sources: Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken and Healing or Stealing: Commencement Address to the Class of 2009, University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009.

Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (,
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne