Ultimate HOPE

In the past few months, I’ve written several times about death in my two series of blogs on the TEDxExeter 2017 theme of HOPE, and on things that interest me which have a TED or TEDx angle: the death of Carrie Fisher highlighted her last (CGI-created) word in Rogue One; the death of Richard Adams caused me to reflect on the work of Susan Cain on introverted leadership, and how it appears in Watership Down; the death of Hans Rosling made me think about taking responsiblity for our own statistics; and in the last week or so, I’ve considered the response to the Westminster attack and quoted reflections after the death of John Berger.

It is probably one of the ways I am grieving my own father’s death last November. Also, I tend not to be squeamish about talking about death. Death makes me think about life, especially during Spring, and especially especially at Easter. Denial of death, and use of euphemisms like ‘passing’, are much more likely to make me squirm.

I agree with Benjamin Franklin: “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Although certainty can for a time be comfortable, it is a living death. For me, faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin, and faith and certainty are in opposition to each other. Paying attention to this world and to my life of prayer can only get me so far. How can I possibly know the mind of God? Uncertainty is fruitful, in the mulch of faith.

Ships are not built to stay in harbour, but to put out into the deep. Some may be freighted low in the water; others are short on ballast. Some congregate in flotillas and convoys; others are a lone sail on the horizon. Some are navigationally-challenged and wallow in circles; others find their Polestar and sail straight and true. But all risk storm and doldrum, even those which stay close to harbour tacking to and fro, or which don’t leave at all.

Hope pulls, love pushes, and faith supports. To those of us who will make landfall briefly together at TEDxExeter tomorrow, whether in the Northcott or via the livestream, what are your hopes? What are your hopes for the day, and for your life? What are you going to do about them? As Carol Ann Duffy wrote in Snow, “what will you do now with the gift of your left life?”

Our Speakers will have their own hopes, and tomorrow I hope to hear many of them. Today are the Speaker rehearsals, but this year I won’t be there. I am instead singing at a friend’s funeral. So I will leave you for now with these words from Benedictus by John O’Donohue, which her family has shared. Even in the darkest places and the fiercest storms, there is always hope.

May you be given some inkling
That there could be something else at work
And that what to you now seems
Dark, destructive and forlorn,
Might be a destiny that looks different
From inside the eternal script.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Imaging HOPE

Images are extraordinarily powerful. Those able to see, see before we learn to read, and orient our world by sight. One of the articles after art critic John Berger’s death in January applied his ‘language of images’ to Trump, polar bears and Kim Kardashian.

Berger was optimistic about the age of the mass-circulating reproduced image: “For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free. They surround us in the same way as a language surrounds us … If the new language of images were used differently, it would, through its use, confer a new kind of power. Within it we could begin to define our own experiences more precisely in areas where words are inadequate.”

He was a moral man who wanted a better world, and his art criticism is ultimately an eloquent argument for social justice and ethical behaviour. But the article goes on to note that “vacuous, deceitful, falsely seductive, grossly manipulative images have never bombarded our semi-conscious minds so shamelessly. … We have more images than compassion… In a world shaped, as ours is, by what Berger called ‘the language of images’, people don’t think too clearly.”

Should we be hopeful or despairing? Here is a triptych of further art-related articles presenting both sides.

“The drop in museum visitors reveals a nation without aspiration or hope”

“There is nothing more aspirational than visiting a museum or art gallery. It is an expression of hope and self-esteem.” writes Jonathan Jones. “Just as lying in bed all day binge-watching TV [let’s call this ‘Berger-negative’] and eating crisps is probably a mark of melancholy. Going out to an exhibition [ie ‘Berger-positive’] or taking your kids to the Natural History Museum is surely a symbol of belief in your family and the future.”

Jones diagnoses the causes of falling visitors numbers as not the shrinking of minds or the internet making young people turn away from art and knowledge. Rather, the causes are “the same economic pressures that have uprooted politics around the world”, which mean fewer school trips, and fewer adults making time to go to museums and galleries and take children with them on visits.

His prognosis is gloomy: “Britain is failing its young people, and losing the passion for self-improvement that our free public museums used to nurture. A nation that loses interest in museums has not just lost its head. It has lost hope.”

My prescription? Watch Camilla Hampshire’s talk “Home to a Million Thoughts” from TEDxExeter 2013, and go visit RAMM. And get stuck into some of the many goings on during Art Week Exeter over 13-21 May.

Art to inspire

Various famous people appeared in a Guardian piece at the dawn of 2017, reflecting on works of art that fill them with energy, optimism, hope and zest.

From the introduction, again by Jonathan Jones:

Aristotle, the first person to think seriously about art’s purpose, claimed that watching a tragedy was a “cleansing”, a catharsis that purified your soul. So seeing the stage covered in bodies at the end of Hamlet is the best emotional detox you can have.

This is what makes art so much more valuable than some inspirational video or self-help book. It does not feed us fake remedies for life’s ills. Instead, it speaks to our innermost selves in a way we recognise as true. What it tells us is that other people feel like we do, that we are not alone. “He was despised and rejected of men,” goes the line in Handel’s Messiah, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” It is one of the most inspiring of all musical uplifts – and it works by accepting and transcending pain, rather than denying it. All kinds of art can provide the inspiration we need, and it is a sustenance like no other.

Here is philosopher Alain de Botton on Chardin’s “Woman Taking Tea”:

Art can teach us to be more just towards ourselves as we endeavour to make the best of our circumstances: a job we do not always love, the imperfections of age, frustrated ambitions and our attempts to stay loyal to irritable but loved families. Art can do the opposite of glamourise the unattainable: it can show us anew the genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it. It is advertising for the things we really need.

And here is curator Hans Ulrich Obrist on artist Etel Adnan:

She is a great inspiration to many. Although she is now in her early 90s, her art still has energy, optimism and intensity, and remains among the best work being created in the world today. It gives me courage. It reminds me of what Gerhard Richter once said: “Art is the highest form of hope.” When I asked her to write a Post-It for my Instagram project, Adnan wrote: “The world needs togetherness, not separation. Love, not suspicion. A common future, not isolation.” These words seem particularly urgent for 2017.

Drawing a way out of depression

Nick Willing, the son of artist Paula Rego, says “an artist is like an explorer who goes to worlds where no one has ever been and brings back a picture. And although we’ve never seen it before, we all recognise it.”

Rego has often suffered depression. In a particularly deep trough in 2007 it nearly killed her, according to Willing, before she “drew her way out of it”.

She created 12 large pastels of a woman – isolated, fearful, paralysed, constricted – then locked them away in a drawer. “She had put the depression into them,” says Willing, “and was afraid it could come out again.” …

Today, Rego can view the images more comfortably: “Now they’re pictures, it’s all right”. This is a theme that runs through her life and work: traumas are turned into art; difficult emotions are worked through in images…

Willing was surprised at how he reacted to the unveiling of the depression pastels. He was expecting to be shocked, to feel sorry for his mother. “But I didn’t. I didn’t see her at all. I saw depression, as I or anyone else suffers it. The art was already working.”

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

A fortnight of HOPEful responses

During 82 seconds on Wednesday 22 March, Briton Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing and injuring more than 50 people; fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer in New Palace Yard; and was shot and killed by an armed police officer. Over the next fortnight, these were some of the responses. Governments please take note.

Friday 24 March

Sheikh Mohammad al Hilli, of the Shia Muslim Council; Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis; the Chief Imam of the Central London Mosque, Sheikh Ezzat Khalifa; and the RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols attended a vigil outside Westminster Abbey. The faith leaders held a minute’s silence to remember the four victims, and spoke of their determination not to let violence triumph.

Archbishop Welby said: “We have all of us come together because it is a moment of sad reflection but also of determination for our nation together. We represent the three Abrahamic faith communities, equally committed to a peaceful future”

Sunday 26 March

Muslim women gathered on Westminster Bridge to condemn the attack and show solidarity with the victims. Dozens of participants from a range of backgrounds joined them at the event, organised by Women’s March on London. One of the women said: “Islam totally condemns violence of any sort. This is abhorrent to us.” Others spoke of the “overwhelming” emotion they felt standing on the bridge. A group of women, wearing blue as a symbol of hope, stood holding hands for five minutes on Westminster Bridge as Big Ben chimed 4pm.

The Observer published this comment on the response to the attack: “Terrorist outrages can serve as a brutal reminder of humanity’s capacity for cruelty. Yet it is so often the brave responses of ordinary citizens that we remember. In London last week, the reaction to the trail of death and brutality that Khalid Masood left in his wake proved the point: the sacrifice of PC Keith Palmer, who laid down his life keeping MPs and citizens safe; the actions of the MP Tobias Ellwood, who performed first aid; the medical staff of St Thomas’ hospital who ran on to Westminster Bridge to help the wounded; and the ordinary men and women who reacted with compassion and courage to the distress of the victims.

Wednesday 29 March

Hundreds of people gathered on Westminster bridge and outside the Houses of Parliament, and police officers  held a minute’s silence outside New Scotland Yard, to pay their respects to the four people who were killed.

The acting commissioner of the Metropolitan police said: “I would urge you, if you get time, to go on to the bridge, talk to Londoners, talk and get a feel for this great city and how it’s come together in responding to these events.” One woman reflected on living through the IRA bombing campaigns in the 1980s: “I think it’s so important to show that we all stand together.” 

Wednesday 5 April

That message was echoed in the Dean’s conclusion to a service of hope held in Westminster Abbey: “We stand together; just as in this service the world faiths are represented and will pray together – above all for the gift of hope.”

National dignitaries, police officers, paramedics, and relatives of those killed lit hundreds of candles together to “our shared humanity and our resolve to bring light and life to all.”

Faith representatives, including a Muslim commander in the Met and a Sikh constable, said prayers, which ended with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, quoting the prayer ascribed to St Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make us channels of your peace… Where there is hatred let us bring your love… Where there is despair in life, let us bring hope. Where there is darkness, only light.”

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Point sources of HOPE

M5 globular cluster From the Hubble Space Telescope website: “This sparkling jumble is Messier 5 [aka M5] — a globular cluster consisting of hundreds of thousands of stars bound together by their collective gravity. At 13 billion years old it is incredibly old, dating back to close to the beginning of the Universe. It is also one of the biggest clusters known.”

Hope can come from unlikely sources. Which makes me wonder… What would be the most unlikely and surprising source of all? Looking within, with a wry chuckle, I conclude that would probably be my own self! So here’s a challenge to myself: What if I were a source of increasing hope? What would that look like? How would I be? What would I do more of, or less of?

What if each one of us were a source of increasing hope to everyone around us? Each of us a point of hope, a point of light in the dark. We would become a field of stars shining in the night sky, sweeping across the heavens like the Milky Way.

Each point source of light is small, and twinkles as our energy ebbs and flows, as we try and fail and try again. The night is still dark. And yet… North of the equator we only need one star, the Pole Star, to know which direction we face. And we only need two stars, in the Plough, to find the Pole Star. And only seven stars to be sure that it is the Plough. And with the help of other constellations and planets we can find out where we are, what time it is, how fast we are going.

Each of us can help those around us navigate in the dark. We can look to other people for their help. It might take seven. It might only take one. We might be that one to others. And they might be near at hand, or far away in parts of the world that barely scratch our consciousness.

Sometimes there is a shooting star or aurora – an Anne Frank or a Jo Cox – that scorches across the heavens. It is extinguished all too quickly, but the trace remains bright in the memory. Sometimes, a moon or comet – a Mother Teresa or a Nelson Mandela – might rise and hold steady, and the whole world seems bright for a time.

Each of them is – each of us can be – a promise and a hope of a shining new sunrise.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Guest Blog: Kester Brewin on HOPE

Kester Brewin will be speaking at our forthcoming TEDxExeter event in April. He is an alumnus of TEDxExeter 2013, where he spoke brilliantly about “Mutiny!”.

 

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.

Audacity of HOPE

Sometimes it’s easy to lose hope. Barack Obama repeatedly used messages of hope in his presidential campaigns and during his time in office. Then, one month after Trump’s election, Michelle Obama gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey in which she said “Now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like…”

But she followed that up with “You know, hope is necessary… What else do you have if you don’t have hope?” And in her final speech as first lady, she urged young Americans to believe in the power of hope: “Lead by example with hope. Never fear.”

Because sometimes hope can come from unlikely sources. Even a Republican House of Representatives with a majority of 44, which defeated the American Health Care Act and preserved Barack Obama’s healthcare reform for a while longer.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Voices of HOPE

Music has played an important role in many social movements, bringing hope to millions, fostering community, and encouraging perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Negro Spirituals were a vital means for African American slaves to express their solidarity and protest, and immunise themselves against despair in the face of extreme unjust treatment. They have been described as “Living Hope”:

African American religious music has generally been born of suffering yet focused on hope-hope for a better world, where oppression and suffering give way to justice and freedom. In the spirituals and hymns that have grown out of African American experience, this hope has most often been expressed in terms of a heaven beyond this world, where all will be made right. That vision of hope has never failed, though, to stir longings for something better “here and now” as well. The music of this tradition has made, and continues to make, an indelible impression on the landscape of American (and world) culture-expressing a proud heritage of faithful endurance, offering a testimony of hope to all who suffer, enlarging many human hearts through unique poetic power, even challenging public policy through compelling portraits of a just and free society.

The tradition continued in South Africa during the struggle against apartheid. In many anthems of hope, the people expressed their anger at the government and their sorrow at the Sharpeville massacre and other tragedies, and sung of their coming freedom.

In recent years, Gareth Malone has demonstrated the power of singing together in daily life. He has taken his choral direction skills and expertise into places and situations where they were decidedly lacking. In “Boys Don’t Sing”, he led a large choir of difficult boys to a performance at the Royal Albert Hall; he set up a vibrant community choir in South Oxhey in “Unsung Town”; and he nurtured the “Military Wives” to a Remembrance Day performance before the Queen. In all cases, the music and the experience of singing together, encouraged by Malone, has drawn out emotions, given confidence, and literally and metaphorically given a voice to many people.

Then there is the choir Voices of Hope, the current holders of the “National Choir of the Year” title. It was founded in 2011 for a memorial concert to raise money for the British Heart Foundation (BHF). It takes its name from the BHF’s Gifts of Hope tribute fund, which enables people to share memories of their loved ones and help to tackle heart disease.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

HOPE and Joy

To celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday recently, he and his close friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu got together for a week to talk about something very important to them: a human, embodied, and honest exploration of the challenges of living a joyful life. The result was “The Book of Joy”. Here is a small excerpt from the book, in which they are speaking with co-author Douglas Abrams about hope.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

 

Book-of-JoyThe Dalai Lama said “When bad things happen they become news, and it is easy to feel like our basic human nature is to kill or to rape or to be corrupt. Then we can feel that there is not much hope for our future.

“All these things happen, but they are unusual, which is why they become news. There are millions and millions of children who are loved by their parents every day. Then in school their teachers care for them. Okay, maybe there are some bad teachers, but most of them really are kind and caring. Then in the hospital, every day millions of people receive immense caring. But this is so common that none of it becomes news. We take it for granted.

“When we look at the news, we must keep this more holistic view. Yes, this or that terrible thing has happened. No doubt, there are very negative things, but at the same time there are many more positive things happening in our world. We must have a sense of proportion and a wider perspective. Then we will not feel despair when we see these sad things.”

Neither [the Dalai Lama nor Archbishop Tutu] was asking us to look at the world through rosecolored glasses or to not see the world with anything but a searingly honest view. The Archbishop even discouraged people from being optimistic.

“You’ve spoken, Archbishop, very powerfully, about how hope is not the same as optimism. Could you tell us a little bit about the distinction you make?”

“Hope,” the Archbishop said, “is quite different from optimism, which is more superficial and liable to become pessimism when the circumstances change. Hope is something much deeper.

“I mentioned earlier about Chris Hani, whose assassination occurred at a very critical point in the negotiations for a new, democratic South Africa. We were on the edge of a precipice. It was so serious that the then president, the white president of South Africa, F. W. de Klerk, asked Nelson Mandela to address the nation.

“That incident could have caused the collapse of the negotiations, but it didn’t, in fact. We were fortunate that we had someone like Nelson Mandela.

“Now, if you had been an optimist, you would have said, Well, the assassination of Chris Hani is really the end of everything. What made people want to go on going on – holding on by the skin of their teeth – was not optimism but hope – dogged, inextinguishable hope.

“I say to people that I’m not an optimist, because that, in a sense, is something that depends on feelings more than the actual reality. We feel optimistic, or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is based not on the ephemerality of feelings but on the firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper and very, very close to unshakable. It’s in the pit of your tummy. It’s not in your head. It’s all here,” he said, pointing to his abdomen.

“Despair can come from deep grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak. Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”

As the Archbishop was explaining, hope is the antidote to despair. Yet hope requires faith, even if that faith is in nothing more than human nature or the very persistence of life to find a way. Hope is also nurtured by relationship, by community, whether that community is a literal one or one fashioned from the long memory of human striving whose membership includes Gandhi, King, Mandela, and countless others. Despair turns us inward. Hope sends us into the arms of others.

Wiggle Room in the Universe

Last year, I wrote a review of Rebecca Solnit’s vision of “Hope in the Dark” for Issue #1 of The Porch magazine. Now it is on Issue #3, The Porch has kindly allowed me to cross-post it here.

“Hope in the Dark” was originally published in the Bush years as ‘an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists’. It sold out after Trump’s victory in December. So here also are Rebecca Solnit on Hope, Lies, and Making Change on WNYC in January this year; and from earlier in 2016, Brain Pickings’ reflections on Hope in Dark Times, Resisting the Defeatism of Easy Despair, and What Victory Really Means for Movements of Social Change.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

 

Activists come in all shapes and sizes.

My particular interest is in sustainability, especially in economics and climate change, and until 2009 I was an insider working in consultancy and government science. But more recently, my tendency has been toward what might be called the outlying practices of contemplative prayer, living the change, conceptual art, and writing.

Rebecca Solnit has been an outlier since the 1980s – a social justice activist who is committed to direct action; and a writer compelled to weave beauty into the conversation about the things that compassion demands we change. She first wrote Hope in the Dark in 2003-04 for activists, to “make the case for hope… against the tremendous despair at the height of the Bush administration’s powers and the outset of the war in Iraq”. This third edition includes a new foreword and afterwords, reflecting on the intervening twelve years. It is a timely publication, during a bizarre US presidential election in which it seems the stakes couldn’t be higher, and at a moment which demands urgent and significant action on climate change.

For Solnit, Hope in the Dark “is one part of a vast, ongoing conversation about who we are, what powers we have, and what we can do with them”. It is now part of the conversation in my head, with other books and ideas that have inspired me; another piece in my mental jigsaw of how I can be what the world needs.

When she locates hope in “the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act”, I am reminded of how much wiggle room there is in the universe. Not just in the uncertainty inherent in quantum physics, but also in our minds: the wisdom available to us through what Jung called our unconscious, which, at its best, dances with linear Cartesian thinking.

Solnit quotes Paul Goodman: “Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side had won, and you had the kind of society that you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now!” My linear logical mind is uncertain whether my small attempts to live that way now or my contemplative prayer practice are really making a difference. But my unconscious, in its dark unknowing, convinces me that I must continue in that uncertainty.

Donald Rumsfeld recognized the existence of uncertainty in his “unknown unknowns”, but he left out or never saw the unknown knowns, those things we don’t like to admit. Walter Brueggemann wrote in The Prophetic Imagination of the need for prophetic grief in the face of how the Powers that Be deny change and death, and their wrong-headed insistence on perpetual business-as-usual. Solnit agrees that hope “is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine… grief and hope can coexist.”

She invites us to imagine how things could have happened differently and better if 9/11 had not been followed by lies and propaganda that served the Bush government. Such imagination is a powerful tool. She also invites us to imagine (as in It’s a Wonderful Life) how things could have happened differently and worse if we had not acted. It is important to acknowledge those victories that look like nothing has happened: the environmentally destructive road that wasn’t built, or the fracking that was banned.

There are so many stories of victories, and individual and collective histories of change: but we are somehow trained to downplay or even erase them in the face of today’s struggles. For Solnit, hope is the branches that grow out of the roots of recovering such memory. Much of Hope in the Dark is story and memory – “examples of positive change, of popular power, evidence that we can do it and have done it” – and this is primarily what will continue to resonate for me in my own activist ups and downs.

Alongside Solnit’s stories of the Zapatistas, Silent Spring, Nunavut, and many others, we can set still more. I recently re-read Alastair McIntosh’s Soil and Soul, an account of two successful campaigns in Scotland against a proposed super quarry on the Isle of Harris, and for land reform on the Isle of Eigg. Like many, these victories were incomplete. Land ownership is still concentrated in the hands of very few. Quarries will still be opened until we stop building unnecessary roads and use only recycled sources for crushed rock.

This is the essence of what Solnit calls a “seventy-seven cent victory”. Such a victory doesn’t shut activism down either in the mistaken belief that we have won and our work is finished, or because a perfect victory is not immediately possible. Instead, it celebrates winning an increase in women’s pay from sixty-six cents relative to the male dollar, vowing not to stop until parity is attained.

McIntosh’s activism is inspired by Walter Wink’s writing on naming, unmasking and engaging the powers. Solnit doesn’t directly draw on Wink, but often nods to his approach, for example: “Making an injury visible and public is usually the first step in remedying it”. In the case of climate change, we should celebrate the investigative journalism which revealed how Exxon suppressed information about the impact of climate change, and the achievement of the Paris Agreement despite struggles1 – while recognising how much further we still need to go and how rapidly the room to act offered by uncertainty is shrinking.

In one of the new additions to this edition, Solnit issues a challenge: “This is the time to find your place in [the climate movement].” I first found my place there in the early 1990s, and have to agree. The quotation (slightly out of context) that for me sums up Hope in the Dark is: “Here are some stories about other things BUT CLIMATE IS BIGGER THAN THIS”. Thankfully, each story has also inspired me to recall my own; and to reaffirm the knowledge that others have achieved what they also once believed impossible. It can happen again.


1 See Christiana Figueres’ TED Talk

Taking responsibility for our own statistics

Last year I started a series of blogs on things that interest me which have a TED or TEDx angle. These might be my responses to watching TED and TEDx talks, or interesting things that TED and TEDx talks could shed some light on.

I haven’t had time to watch many new TED talks this year. But this week I have made some space for statistics in honour of Hans Rosling, who died on 7th February. He was a TED favourite, lighting up the stage with his passion for communicating statistics about important things to the world. Here he is in action…

It struck me as interesting timing that Alan Smith’s talk on “Why you should love statistics” at TEDxExeter 2016 was published on TED.com just before Rosling’s death. Perhaps there is a baton being handed on here.

It also struck me that we have a responsibility for our own data and statistics, because they reflect ourselves and the way we see the world. Whether it’s how we take care of our bodies – data on types of calories we eat, and calories we burn off in exercise – or our minds – minutes during the day we allow ourselves to switch off, or number of TED talks we watch per month! – or how we take care of the world – our carbon footprint, or how much time or money we give to others.

The Iona Community is “An ecumenical Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Church engaged together, and with people of goodwill across the world, in acting, reflecting and praying for justice, peace and the integrity of creation; convinced that the inclusive community we seek must be embodied in the community we practice.” Its Members commit themselves to a short Rule of life which includes “accounting with one another for the use of our gifts, money and time, our use of the earth’s resources…”

Whether or not you share the Christian faith, these words describe a helpful discipline, which also harks back to Mike Dickson’s talk at TEDxExeter 2012 on “What is Enough?”. Alan Smith’s talk encouraged us to think about our local communities, about what we know and what we think we know. And then… all our lifestyle choices affect others. The inclusive community we seek must be embodied in the community we practice.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller