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Becoming a Force for
Change in the World

By Barbara Kammerlohr

“The world is as you dream it,” the shaman said.
To change it “All you have to do is change the dream.”
— John Perkins

Three authors — David Korten, John Perkins, and Paul Hawken — whose wisdom qualifies them as “elders” have each written recent books about the current challenges facing humanity. All have a similar message: Earth is at a crisis point. As a species, we can still “turn it around,” but that will require deep and lasting change. A brief look at the lives of each shows the many paths to personal wisdom, and each book can serve as a roadmap to spur us to work in the world. All offer a variety of solutions to the horrific problems facing the planet. Individually committing ourselves to just one small piece of the waiting work can lead to a lifetime of service and elder wisdom.

 “Elder” has recently become the politically correct way to refer to members of our generation. That the world no longer sees us as “senior citizens” is a sign of the changing landscape of our “Second Journey” and signals an evolution in the experience of growing old in Western culture. However, using the word in that manner also dilutes the concept of “elder” held by more traditional societies, a concept which attaches to specific roles and evokes a more positive image.


The Pachamama Women's Group is fighting in Ecuador for inclusion of women in development decisions


In those cultures, an elder is someone with the deep wisdom that comes from living a life of integrity for a very long time. The insights and practical solutions to real problems offered by such people have the power to benefit an entire tribe, village, or society. Their wisdom is a treasure, a communal resource, that — when shared — enhances society as a whole. Respect naturally flows to such an individual.

Calling someone an “elder” rather than a “senior” — a first step in restoring old age to the position of respect it once held — is, however, not enough. For true respect to return to our generation, those of us who have begun this “Second Journey” must develop an understanding of what “elder” means and strive to become one. This means we must pursue wisdom for its value to ourselves, our families, communities, nation and Earth as our home. We “elders-in-training” must then become part of a force for change in the world. Only then will we receive the respect accorded traditional elders.

David Korten, John Perkins, and Paul Hawken — mining their own varied life experiences — have each written books with the potential to awaken practical wisdom in those who want to leave Earth a better place than it was when we arrived.

Visit David Korten's website

The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community (Berrett-Koehler, 2006) follows up on Korten’s best-seller, When Corporations Ruled the World. In that first book, he sought to expose “the destructive and oppressive nature of the global corporate economy and…spark a global resistance movement.” In The Great Turning, however, he sees the problem through a wider lens and with far greater consequences:

As the crisis has continued to intensify, I have come to see that the issues I addressed in When Corporations Ruled the World are a contemporary manifestation of much deeper historical patterns and that changing course will require far more than holding global corporations accountable for the social and environmental consequences of their actions

Korten concludes that we humans have arrived at a turning point — the end of a deeply destructive era. We are at a defining moment. Only 27% of humanity currently enjoys the material affluence of this consumer society, and “It would take an additional three to four planets to support the excluded populations of the world at the level of consumption prevailing in Europe.” The depth of change needed can only be built on a spiritual foundation. Our stories and myths about our way of being in the world must change if we are to change the human course. Near the end of the book, Korten offers strategies for birthing the new order of “Earth Community.”

The ideas in The Great Turning are compelling and fascinating and echo the foundational teachings of all great spiritual paths — it is only through a change in consciousness that material change happens in the world.


Visit John Perkins' website at


John Perkins, in The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals and the Truth about Global Corruption (Dutton, 2007), echoes many of the points made by Korten, but from a different perspective. Whereas Korten, true to his academic background, carefully documents his assertions, Perkins uses stories from his own life and from the lives of other “hit men” and “jackals.” Both books, however, make the point that corporations now play the role of dominator once played by kings and other dictators. The poverty and sense of hopelessness they see corporate activity causing, in their opinion ferments terrorism.

If we are to change a world ruled by the corporatocracy, we must, as Perkins sees it, change the corporations. Though corporations are still very much in the driver’s seat, Perkins believes they suspect their days are numbered, and he asserts that change is happening in very significant ways.

If you must choose between the two books, the well-done vignettes and stories in The Secret History of the American Empire make it an easier read than The Great Turning. Though Perkins' book will probably hold your attention the longest, do not give up on Korten’s book. It is well-documented, and his thesis that corporate influence is just a modern-day manifestation of an age-old problem has merit. The implications of this assertion run deep.

Visit Paul Hawken's website

Paul Hawken's book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming (Viking, 2007) emerged from a decade of researching organizations dedicated to restoring the environment and fostering social justice. Hawken agrees with Perkins and Korten that the “planet has a life-threatening disease marked by massive ecological degradation and rapid climate change.” But his focus is less on the negatives and more on what is going right on the planet.

Hawken describes a movement composed of thousands of small nonprofit organizations  that has formed in response to injustice, inequities and corruption. One organization alone would probably not make a big dent in the monumental challenges we face. However, taken all together, they make a significant difference.

The movement  does not fit the standard model. It is dispersed, inchoate, and fiercely independent. It has no manifesto or doctrine, no overriding authority to check with. It is taking shape in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, companies, deserts, fisheries, slums — and yes even fancy New York hotels… As I counted the vast number of organizations it crossed my mind that perhaps I was witnessing the growth of something organic, if not biologic. Rather than a movement in the conventional sense, could it be an instinctive, collective response to threat?

Hawken's book is short — 190 pages of text with the rest of its 342 pages taken up by an appendix that describes the organizations Hawken researched.

Many readers of Itineraries have already identified the work they will do to make a difference in the world they will leave to their children. For those who have not yet found “their calling,” these authors provide a wealth of ideas worthy of your time, resources and energies. Those not into in reading books can find the same stimulation from the websites of each author.