I want to write about hope today, because it feels necessary and relevant.
I have a complicated relationship to hope. I used to eschew it, thinking it got us off the hook for making something happen. Too often people misalign hope with action, as if hope on its own was enough. I used to hear hope like wishful thinking – I hope that happens – as if the outcome was independent of anything I could do about it.
When we feel despair about the planet and the choices we humans are making, it feels as though hope is a delusion. Irresponsible even. But then I think – what is the alternative? Giving up? Bunkering into my own life and making that as pleasant as possible? I might do that for a while, but it is ultimately unfulfilling and can cause even more despair. As Viktor Frankl observed “for people who lose hope and purpose toward their future, their present becomes unmanageable.”
According to hope researchers, 3 things need to be present for it to exist. The first thing is a clear vision for the future that you want. What do you want? What future inspires you or you feel offers you what you need? The second is agency to make it happen. This is the ability and freedom to choose. The third is a pathway or strategy to get there. You may not have the whole pathway, especially for a complex or longer term vision, but you need to have steps to take to forward your vision, even if it’s just the very next step. If you are missing one of these 3 things then hope won’t be present. For instance, you might believe a new future for yourself is possible, and you are free to move and think in a way to bring it about, but if you feel there is no pathway or roadmap toward it, you’ll get stuck and lose hope.
Mariame Kabe is a Black organiser in the US, working for prison reform. She writes that ‘hope is a discipline’ and I love this. This is the sort of hope we need now. Kabe speaks to what it means to see a better future and take action toward it – even if the cards seem stacked against us. Hope then becomes an act of strength. We need more of this clear eyed warrior hope. Less mushy, sentimental hope.
Another key element for hope is that we can’t take effective action for a desired future if we don’t believe that future is possible. The key word here is ‘possible’. Too often we want guarantees before we start, and given the enormity of the challenges we face, who in their right mind can offer such guarantee? Instead of focussing on how unlikely something is, focus on what might be possible.
For my decades working on ending hunger, I knew there was no guarantee the aim would succeed and yet this did not diminish my activity. I knew the end of hunger was possible – and this was enough, so I worked to help bring about the conditions that could fulfil this possibility.
Hope does not need proof or guarantees. It does need the possibility – and then the action. The future is not yet written – we are writing it every day in so many ways.