A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with an aunt, who happens also to be one of the wisest people I know. We were chewing over some thing I’d raised, and she placed her wine glass on the table, and pondered for a moment and said, “you know, it gave me great solace when I was finally able to admit to myself that I don’t live in my first-choice world.” Things don’t always work out. Life is not always what we have wanted it to be. There are disappointments and wounds.
With TEDx looming I have been thinking a lot about our theme, hope, and wondering if it is simply this: that even though we do not live in our first-choice world, we hold on to the idea that our world can still be changed. We can still be changed. Our politics can still be changed. Our community, our nation, our climate. Hope is, by definition, about the future. It is a belief that the world that is yet to come is not yet decided, and can still yet be moulded.
To put it mathematically (a professional habit – apologies) hope is a vector: it has to have direction. When we hope, we look ahead along a particular line. The question that this prompts is what engine is driving that hope. What force is making that change we want to see in the world?
For many years my hope was located in my religious beliefs. In any given situation, my hope was that God would sort it out, and it took me a long time to realise that this was because I was afraid of taking action myself. By pushing hope into the ineffable, I was able to abdicate responsibility for the world that I lived in. If it was imperfect it wasn’t my fault; if it wasn’t made better it wasn’t God’s will. In any case, my final hope was in heaven, a cast-iron ‘first-choice’ world that I would topple into once I’d fallen into my grave. Job done.
Amusing as this religious hope might seem, it’s far more common than we might think. Putting your hope in a ‘big other’ – in some big system above us that we trust is in control and will sort everything out in the end – is how many people live out their politics. We don’t need to act in our communities, because the government will do it for us. Others have a similarly religious view of technology: their hope located in the divine intelligence of Google or Bill Gates to deal with disease and poverty and unemployment. Climate crisis? Haven’t we got an app for that?
The maxim attributed to Gandhi – “be the change you want to see in the world” – is really about the adjusting the vectors of your hope. Once we see that the ‘big other’ largely has other ideas about what the world should look like, we have to redirect our hope away from the vertical – God, the political class, ‘high’ technology’ – and to the horizontal. Still confident that our world can be transformed, we get off our knees and backsides and commit to working with others to do something about it.