I got the chance to see Paul Hawken speak tonight in Santa Barbara. I knew him best as the author of Natural Capitalism which provided a great roadmap for integrating ecologically sustainable practices with the business world. This talk was based on his recent book - Blessed Unrest - How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.
The basis of this book is simple: that organically-developed, bottom-up, non-hierarchical organizations (which number in the millions according to his research) are now leading the world in many diverse areas of service. He describes these environmental and social justice organizations as the "immune system" of our societies; our response to destructive and corrupt habits perpetrated by those in power who are willing to compromise our future for short-term gain.
One thing that struck me about the subject was the importance of sharing information and ideas (as opposed to spreading an ideology). I thought one of the most interesting stories of the night was his description of how the meme of non-violent civil disobedience evolved... from Emerson, to Thoreau, to Ghandi, to Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King, Jr. At each turn of the story, there was someone (often unnamed but vitally important) who turned on each of these people to the ideas of those who came before.
Paul was eager to point out the role of technology in this inter-connected mesh of grassroots community organizations. He mentioned open-source software a few times and even gave a shout out to Ruby on Rails (which I gather was the backbone for his WiserEarth.org site focussed on connecting these diverse organizations).
It was a careful mix of optimism and pessimism; Paul was careful in noting the many severe challenges we've been handed but was confident that this bottom-up mesh of interconnected citizens can form a community strong enough to withstand anything that comes it's way. In the end, his message was about doing what you love, connecting with others and standing up for your values. Sounds like good advice to me.