Book Review: Blessed Unrest

Book by Paul Hawken.
Reviewed by Jonathon Fisher.

“Only connect,” wrote the British author E.M. Forster. This is the message I take from Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest, a book which has important lessons for those of us catalysing social change movements.

Blessed Unrest suggests that although there are vast numbers of people and organisations who share the desire for a transition to a saner and wiser culture, most of them are not connected with each other. We live in a time where many people feel profound isolation. It leaves me with the question: “What could be possible if we became really aware of the size of this movement and then found ways to connect and support the emergence of a new narrative in ways that are enjoyable, entertaining, and innovative?”

I believe the role of genuine leadership is to provide the spaces for people to connect and have permission to freely share new narratives around the notions of ‘success’, ‘luxury’, and ‘fulfillment’.

People are yearning to connect in new, entertaining, and optimistic ways. They are not interested in angry protests, demonising people or becoming burned out using ineffective means. They want a new kind of activism – one that is filled with beauty, artistry, inspiration, science, and utilises modern technologies.

While Blessed Unrest makes a powerful case that the current sustainability and social justice movement is the largest movement in the history of human society, over 100 pages of the book is dedicated to listing over 1 million types of non-profit groups involved in this movement. Why would someone devote over 100 pages of a book to listing organisations? Could it be a demonstration of widespread fragmentation? Could it be that one of the big missing pieces for the creation of a wiser and saner culture is connecting like minded people who might be feeling alone or isolated?

I continually encounter people from all walks of life who support a whole new worldview and yet feel that they are the only ones in their circle who view the world the way they do. This was one of my key motivations for establishing Wake Up Sydney. I personally wanted a place to connect with other like-minded Sydneysiders who seek change in a whole new way. I also wanted to provide a place for the disparate groups and organisations to come together. For too long the worlds of social change, sustainability, yoga, the arts, and science have lived in separate worlds.

One year down the track, thousands of Sydneysiders have joined this movement and come together to be inspired and to connect with other people who feel the same way they do. What brings these people together is a common set of values and concerns around their personal, community and societal wellbeing. They defy typical demographic stereotypes, but are more of a psychographic of people who want to be part of a new kind of renaissance.

The disconnection people are experiencing is supported with the research of sociologist Paul Ray who found that a quarter of people identify sustainability and social justice as major elements forming their worldview and lifestyle. Despite the strength in numbers, the research also points to a pervasive feeling of isolation. These people rarely express their opinions outside of their closely knit groups. This is why Blessed Unrest refers to this movement as under the media’s radar. History shows that it only takes a handful of creative and concerned individuals gathering to trigger positive large scale change. Whether it was the French Revolution, the Renaissance or Earth Hour – they all unfolded from small groups of people connecting to share new ideas and narratives. Blessed Unrest clearly illustrates this with its story of a dozen people meeting in a small print shop in London to discuss the abolition of the slave trade. “They were reviled and dismissed by businessmen and politicians. It was argued that their crackpot ideas would bring down the English economy, eliminate growth and jobs, cost too much money, and lower the standard of living.” However, this was the beginning of a movement that would change the world forever.

So what is the role of leadership in fostering the emergence of a new narrative built around kindness for each other and the natural environment? I hesitate to put forth a definitive answer; however it may not be as difficult as it initially appears. The visionary leaders are the ones who have the courage to invite new, courageous conversations within their families, organisations, or network of friends. We do not need to change the entire world or country. Just one family, community or organisation could re-imagine itself and this small group would inspire others to start down this road. Feelings of disempowerment and cynicism would disappear. The key is to keep enjoyment, curiosity and fun at the forefront of whatever we do. Like Emma Goldman, a well-known political activist, once said: “If there won’t be any dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming!” So instead of serious meetings under florescent lights, what if you had a picnic with nice wine, invited a local musician or simply organised online for a dialogue about positive changes and connection in your community. Here’s the thing: we could rapidly change direction. The only thing that constrains us is our creativity and courage to start a risky conversation with a friend, family member or senior manager. This conversation would be one of thousands of new conversations. We would begin a new narrative centered around kindness towards ourselves, each other, and the natural world. My dream is for Sydney to become the global hub for this new narrative.

Jonathon Fisher is the founder of Wake Up Sydney! for more check out

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