‘In societies like ours, optimism once bordered on a religion. The future seemed right, and we took refuge from the challenges of the day in a fantasy of tomorrow. Now we face a complex of crises. As the future becomes harder to face, hope is harder to find, but perhaps we have been looking in the wrong places. Perhaps real hope lives not by optimism’s confidence in tomorrow, but by a feeling for what is worth living for today.’ ~ David Gee
How are you doing?
I write as COP26 draws to a close and the climate emergency has been brought to wider public awareness by the media. If my social media feeds are any kind of indication, people’s responses to the outcomes of the summit include: outrage, fear, grief, denial, despair, overwhelm and weariness. I’ve also seen signs of hope that ‘we - the people’ will somehow turn this thing around. After all, since humans created this mess, we can also tidy it up, right?
I had a courageous conversation yesterday with two people I meet with monthly. We call ourselves ‘Shambolic Warriors’ after the ancient Tibetan prophecy of Shambhala Warriors, who enter the corridors of power with their two weapons of insight and courage. We spoke about many things including our responses to COP26 and our takes on the likely fate of human ‘civilisation’.
One of the metaphors that emerged in the conversation was that of the Titanic. I realised that although, deep down, I’m very afraid of the future my grandchildren will inherit, I’m clinging to a small piece of driftwood, named ‘Hope’. That’s not to say that I feel simply hopeful that things will get better, but I keep scanning the horizon for signs of a brighter, better, more beautiful future that are arising now, alongside the apparent sinking of the ship known as ‘Business-as-Usual’. One of my fellow passengers in the conversation likened me to a member of the band on the ship, who continued playing music as it went down. I’m ready and willing to own that and keep on keeping hope alive, until my own life ends.
‘Keeping Hope Alive’ was the name Sue Weaver and I gave to a one-day workshop we ran together last January, based on Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone’s book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. I highly recommend the book and also the free online course by that name, which can be found here.
I trained to facilitate this work with Chris and Joanna a decade ago and will always be grateful for the buoyancy aid that it is for me, in these increasingly troubled times. I’ll be offering some taster sessions, workshops and small group journeys, based on Active Hope in 2022. Please get in touch if you’d like the details: firstname.lastname@example.org
So, what is Active Hope?
Active Hope, (which I also refer to as ‘Activating Hope’, or ‘Authentic Hope’) is a way of tending to our longing for things to change for the better, in some way and has little to do with outcomes. It's a process that engages our moral imagination and our heart that may be longing for things like more beauty, kindness, compassion, truth and love, as well as all the political, economic, environmental and technical changes we want and need in the human world.
If we gave up this kind of hope, we might languish in despair, apathy, hatred, or some other bleak, dark place.
But, these days 'hope' seems like a dirty word to some people. Increasingly, I hear people talk about being beyond hope, or being hope-free, especially in Deep Adaptation circles.
But I’m not talking about having hope, or being hopeful- filled with hope- which would be a bit naive really, given the world we’re living in. I’m talking about hope in terms of what we do and what motivates us, rather than being a quality that we either have or don’t have.
In a nutshell: Active Hope is about taking action to support the future you hope for and strengthening your ability to make a difference in the world.
But of course, we often experience obstacles to this sense of active, authentic hope. Things like: feeling powerless, overwhelmed, despairing, depressed, angry, fearful, or completely numb (which is a perfectly natural survival response to our overwhelming global situation).
A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found powerlessness to be the most common emotional response to world problems. A lot of activists start out with a strong sense of power, a sense of being able to really make a difference in the world, together with others. But over time, it’s not uncommon to become disillusioned or completely burned out, especially if we’re not careful to look after ourselves and find opportunities to express how things really are for us.
So Active Hope is designed to support your resilience and resource you in the face of climate grief, anxiety and overwhelm. It supports you in keeping your own flame, or maybe embers, of hope alive and provides a space for exploring your own unique contribution to making the future you hope for more likely to come about
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” ~ Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark)