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

On hope…

Thank you to Martin Thompson for this guest blog, which is adapted from a post he wrote for Advent on his own blog. Martin teaches RE at Uffculme School. He is a big supporter of TEDxExeter in his work, bringing pupils to the events and using videos in the classroom. In the early years, when the event was in the school holidays, he was a volunteer with a view from the wings of the Northcott.

 

Hope.

I wonder what comes to mind when you hear that word?

Dreams?

Aspirations?

A desire for something to change?

Expectation?

There’s been enough going on in our world recently to make even the most optimistic progressive want to give up. We’ve even taken to criticising those of us who have suggested that things may not be as bad as we at first think, that this may be a time of challenge, but also of great opportunity.

Hope appears diminished, besmirched somehow…an unattainable wisp of a thing. Our world is a mess, with little to suggest that there’s any way out. To say we ‘hope’ sounds like an unattainable expression of an idea, not any concrete reality.

We are crushed. Hope is gone.

Sometimes the English language simplifies concepts that deserve much more interesting definitions. A great example of this is the word ‘love’ – which could be used to describe desire for our partner, our interest in an author or a football team…but in Greek there are at least four different words for love – agape, philos, eros, storge… each reflecting a slightly different dimension of the same thing.

It could be helpful to explore whether there might be a better way to think about hope – perhaps looking at other understandings, other dimensions that help us glimpse something different.

For example, the Greek word that we translate as ‘hope’ – elpis – might better be translated as ‘expectant’. A sense that something is coming, something is happening. Not an empty, dreamy thing, but a visceral, tangible expression of denial that the way things are is the way things have to be.

Another helpful example might be the Latin version of the word spero, which is etymologically related to the word spiro, ‘to breathe’. It’s almost as if they’re saying to hope is to breathe, or vice versa, to breathe is to hope.

If we breathe, we have hope. If we have hope, we keep breathing.

A Latin phrase based on the works of Theocritus and Cicero echoing this idea says simply this:

Dum spiro spero…

‘While I breathe, I hope…’

Just take that in for a moment.

We breathe, we hope.

We are hope.

Our world is a mess, but we are bearers of that which has the potential to transform all that appears dark into light – hope.

We must never give up our expectation, our breath. To do so would be to stop breathing, to expire.

To die.

Dum spiro spero…

Our world is changing for ever. Something is coming, something real. But what that ‘something’ is depends on us and how it impacts us is our choice.

Our choice is to shape that change, to engage with it and bring ‘hope’ to those who feel they have nothing to live for other than hate of the ‘other’ – or to give up and to allow the darkness to overwhelm us.

Our choice is to be expectant that our efforts can and will counter those of forces who want to see us divided and in conflict – or to stand by and allow event greater horrors to emerge.

Our choice is love over fear.

We live or die by our choices. They cost us and those around us dearly every single day.

Choosing not to act, not to hope isn’t a neutral place to be. Too much is at stake here. Too many lives. We choose acceptance over resistance.

If we stop believing we stop hoping. If we stop hoping, we stop breathing.

I choose to believe.

I choose hope.

I choose to breathe.

#alwayshope

Reasons to be Cheerful

I subscribe to GRIN. That is to say… Every Monday to Friday, I get a bulletin from the Grants Resources Information News, which focuses on one grant scheme or related resource. Every alternate Friday it features a blog by TED fan and philanthropy advisor Emma Beeston. I thought today’s tied in nicely with the theme of TEDxExeter 2017, which we have just announced: HOPE. Emma was happy for us to feature it as a guest blog.

 

Depending how you get your news, it can easily feel that we are living in gloomy and uncertain times. So, as the evenings get darker, it is important to keep looking for the positives that are all around us.

Not to delude ourselves (as my teenage son puts it when I endeavour to be cheerful, “life is not all rainbows and butterflies”) but to give us hope that positive change is possible. These are the reasons to be cheerful that I have gathered over the past few weeks and that give me cause for optimism: 

  • I attended a training session for small charities supporting refugees across the SW, which was co-hosted by Unbound and Lloyds Bank Foundation. I was very impressed by the fact that, despite the considerable difficulties they face to deliver vital front line services, all the charity leaders were also working to achieve systemic change. And one of the advocacy trainers reminded us all that the campaign to abolish the slave trade was started by just 12 people coming together.
  • The Funding Network held a live crowdfunding event in Bristol. The pitches were excellent – getting your case for support across in six minutes is no mean feat – and over £25k was raised for the five good causes. These were all small organisations where this level of funding, and the recognition, will make a big difference. But what struck me was the positive energy in the room created by people coming together and wanting to help.
  • I got to visit Exeter CoLab as they hosted the latest meeting of the Funding SW funders forum. This is such a good example of bringing services together to tackle social issues. I liked the focus on relationships, with those in difficulty telling their story just once and then being introduced to the individuals who can help them, rather than being constantly referred from one organisation after the next.
  • I have started using 360Giving website. After so many years of talking about data sharing and transparency, it is fantastic to have this open resource where you can see who has given grants to who. Do take a look, and if you are a grant-maker, add your data.

The millennials are coming and they are going to change things. I have been reading lots of research showing how millennials want to combine working with doing good. And this includes their activity in philanthropy and investment (e.g. a World Economic Forum study surveyed 5,000 millennials in 18 different countries and found that their overall top priority for any business should be “to improve society.”). Here is one article with some examples of what the next generation are up to.

And these are just some examples.  I have also visited and read about lots of other excellent charities who are working really hard to bring about positive social change. Thanks to all of them for giving me hope for our collective future.