Cultivating Hope in Uncertain and Scary Times

Hope is needed now, more than ever. Hope might sound trite, but it is powerful. Hope might also sound fanciful and unrealistic, but it is grounded. Here we are in the midst of a global pandemic, economic devastation that will outlast the virus, renewed calls for racial justice in response to watching murders happen without accountability, the most divisive presidential election of our lifetime looms in the months ahead, plus all of our own personal and private challenges in these times. How can we be hopeful amidst all of this? How can we not be? Without hope, we might be tempted to give up or give in. How do we cultivate hope to keep us engaged and working toward a better tomorrow, individually and collectively?

Hope Defined

I love Shane Lopez’s definition of hope. In his book, Making Hope Happen, he described hope as thinking “that the future will be better and that you have a role in making it so.” He describes the first part as optimism and the second part as agency.

Cornel West on Hope and Optimism

Nearly 25 years ago as an undergraduate at Hamline University, I heard Cornel West speak. He concluded his speech about race and racism by saying that he wasn’t optimistic but he was hopeful. He explained that optimism required evidence of progress and the evidence wasn’t good. However, hope required no such evidence. He explained that hope was a spiritual leap of faith that we could join together and make the world a better place. I’ve concluded my talks on sexual violence prevention with the same message.

Hope and Movements

In this On Being conversation, Ai-Jen Poo and Tarana Burke discuss the critical role of hope in movements. They also discuss trauma, healing, grace, action, cynicism, and liberation.

This formula is: Work plus hope plus grace equals miracle.

-Ai-Jen Poo & Tarana Burke

Viktor Frankl on Optimism and Pessimism as both Fatalistic

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl is most well known for his incredible book Man’s Search for Meaning. However, in his lesser known book, Yes to Life, he discusses how optimism and pessimism are both fatalistic and robs us of our agency. If you are optimistic the world will get better not matter what, then you don’t have to engage. If you are pessimistic the world will only get worse and there is nothing you can do about it, then you can give up.

Give me a sober activism anytime, rather than that rose-tinted fatalism!

Viktor Frankl

Hope and Cynicism

Maria Popova, author of the Brainpickings blog linked above also helps us see hope as an antidote to cynicism. I find this quote so helpful in a world that seems to often confuse criticism with critical thinking.

Popova further reminds us of how radical living with hope can be.

To live with hope in times that reward cynicism and, in many ways, call for cynicism, I think, is a tremendous act of courage and resistance.

Maria Popova

Letting Go of Control and Claiming Agency

Spiritual teachings across religious traditions remind us not only that a better world is possible but that we must be engaged in bringing it about. Folks often quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Without hope, this might be just magical thinking, but hope reminds us that we must bend the arc. In these trying times, I continue to remind myself of this powerful lesson and let go of what is beyond my control (news, national politics, what has already happened) and focus on where I have agency (my parenting, the work I do, the social change I work for).

How can I give up as much control as possible over what is beyond me & simultaneously claim as much agency as possible over what is within me?

Enemies of Hope and Hopelessness

This talk explores the role of hope in education, including enemies of hope and enemies of hopelessness.

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