Hope: Crutch or inspiration?

Hope is a key component of the discourse of doing good. It is part of slogans, NGO names and many brochures. While some say it is all we have, a few crusty dissenters think it should be excised from the discourse. Is hope a psychological crutch of the privileged or the heart of change? Does it take us toward engagement or away from it? Or both? Here we present a variety of views on hope. – Eds.

Moved by hope ? As long as I fight, I am moved by hope; and if I fight with hope, then I can wait… . Hopelessness is a form of silence, of denying the world and fleeing from it. The dehumanization resulting from an unjust order is not a cause for despair but for hope, leading to the incessant pursuit of the humanity denied by injustice. – Paulo Friere in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”

Freedom from hope ? “Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing,” writes environmentalist and author Derrick Jensen in a 2006 article called “Beyond Hope” in Orion Magazine. “We’ve all been taught,” he writes, “that hope in some future condition – like hope in some future heaven – is and must be our refuge in current sorrow.” But such hope leads to inaction, he maintains. Instead of working for change, people just hope for it to inexplicably come about in some rose-coloured future. “Hope leads us away from the present,” he says, and when we’re stuck in our imagined future, we’re “blind … to real possibilities” for change here and now.

Jensen says people cling to hope because they are afraid of the despair they might feel if they faced the state of the world. But, he says, “when you give up on hope, you turn away from fear.”

Jensen says we should stop wasting our energy conjuring hope, and simply embrace the work of change that is in front of us: “I do not hope coho salmon survive. I will do whatever it takes to make sure the dominant culture doesn’t drive them extinct.” – Staff

Brimming ? A revolution is underway. You may not see it, if you don’t know where to look… . But once we become aware of this tidal change, the end of oil appears not as some hopeless, ghastly fate, but as an adventure requiring all our wisdom and passion for life. This adventure is what many of us call the “Great Turning.” It is the epochal shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining society. – Joanna Macy in “The End of Oil, Climate Change, and the Great Turning”

When hope becomes delusion ? We bandy the notion of hope about loosely, sometimes desperately. If we lose hope we think we’ve lost it all. So we hold tight to small signs of hope. We recount stories that reassure us that things will be okay. This is, of course, good. But it rules out certain questions. Like, what if the year 2015 rolls around and we’ve fallen embarrassingly short of meeting the Millennium Development Goals? What if we don’t stop the spread of AIDS? What if, despite all the official resolve, we don’t halt global warming? What if we get to a point at which hope becomes more or less sidelined by reality? What will we do then? If we have put all our eggs in the basket of hope, will we still be able to lament, console, confess, redeem, love and believe? Is our religion and spirituality deep enough to contemplate catastrophe? – Will Braun, from Geez 05, page 35

If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Post-hope ? Sisyphus is the Greek mythological figure who is condemned forever to push a rock up a mountain, only to see it roll back down again before he gets to the top. In a book about Sisyphus, French writer Albert Camus deconstructs the story, concluding: “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill one man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

But one could just as easily imagine Sisyphus as the personification of hopelessness – ever doomed to fail. However, what I see in Sisyphus is not hopelessness but an alternative to the standard hope narrative. I like to think of Sisyphus as post-hope – still part of the “family of hope” but sort of like the angst-filled son-in-law who doesn’t really fit in. Though I generally like to fit in, I’m fascinated by Sisyphus because he worked to achieve something despite knowing he never would.

To believe we can fix the world – that is, to latch on to the hope that we can really get the rock to the top of the mountain – is a naive and often violent ideology. Many people, including Zionists, eco-terrorists and presidents, go to great, and often destructive, lengths to get their rock to the top of the hill. This preoccupation with fixing the world is a plague that has also infected world-changers, activists and really any of us who pinned our hopes on the words “Yes We Can” last November.

In reality, we so-called world changers need to come to terms with the fact that neither we, nor any world leader, rebel leader, scientist or rock star will be able to solve climate change, Make Poverty History, or put an end to war, gender violence, racism or oppression. If our motivation in working for change is the hope that ultimate success will be ours, we’re misguided. Despite the temptation to invest our hopes in new people, movements and campaigns, the reality is that the top of the mountain is nowhere in sight. The preoccupation we privileged folk have with hope can be a distraction from what we are actually called to do. Hope has been co-opted by the Yes We Can success narrative. If working for change is dependent on achieving change, then we might as well give up now. But lest we despair, we may find something more compelling in our post-hope hero, Sisyphus. To be post-hope is to embrace love and duty despite all evidence around us. And to embrace our duty is to find motivation not in the hope of mountaintop success, but in love. We are called to struggle, not achieve ultimate success. The rock will not reach the top, but we must work and love anyway. And in that work, and in that love, we must imagine ourselves happy. – Dan Leonard, Geez board member

Hope is disclosed by the birds ? The language of hope is hard, for it communicates more than we can imagine. It leaps over sentences and blossoms with words – which when uttered sound foolish or poetic at best. But, for those in tune with the spirit, who open their ears within ears, hope will be as familiar as the firmament.

That we can conceive of something grand, that as mortals we have perceived that which we feebly call divine – not out of this world, but the very essence of this world – reveals an opportunity to participate in something larger, fuller, prior to our selves, worlds, histories and futures.

The language of hope reminds us of our rooted-ness in a new and ancient Being, which is affirmed by the Buddhist activist Joanna Macy, inferred by the one who taught peasant farmers, Paulo Friere, and embodied by the one who showed the Way, Jesus of Nazareth.

Only those who have yearned to a point past reason will feel the pull of hope. Hope is language transcended by the beauty of a flower. Hope is disclosed by the birds who return for a season to show us the way. I don’t hope to end capitalism or discrimination. I hope to live eternity now, in the midst of their demise. My hand is open. – Aiden Enns, Geez publisher

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