If you are engaged in any way with sustainability, ecological health, climate change and energy transitions, restoration and protection, chances are you have danced with this question:
Do we have hope?
As our awareness rises – whether through a hard-hitting environmental program or documentary, or simply listening and hearing about the litany of declines and threats facing our webs of life – it is almost impossible not to have this question.
Why? Because as humans, we are problem-solving, puzzle-figuring, riddle-answering beings. We are designed to solve, understand and, most importantly, make meaning.
However, in the face of ecological threats, meaning takes a pretty hard hit. Why is this happening? What does it mean? And most of all, do we have hope?
We need to understand where this question is coming from in order to answer it thoughtfully. And by thoughtfully, I mean inhabiting this question, versus kicking out a response that’s phobic of negativity. Because this does not serve us very well. We need all hands on deck. All hands on deck also includes our full human experience on-board to meet what’s coming down the pike. This means making space and room for the hope and the despair. And for all in-between.
The question about hope, therefore, must be engaged.
What this question really is about is our need for having efficacy and impact in the world of our life. I say “world of our life” because this world may be the one closest and most intimate, or it may include continents and pods of Orcas and ant colonies and old-growth Oak woodlands. What matters is that we need to feel we have efficacy, the ability to influence, shape, inform. And if we perceive there is a limitation on this, we will simply, brilliantly redirect our creative, generative capacities to what is closest at hand. Which may the garden, what kind of water we buy, or the most amazing playlist.
If we understand this question at this level, we then have a different set of considerations to make. Can I dare to have hope, to extend my vulnerability enough in the world, to risk loss, disappointment? What is the cost? Can I act, even if I don’t have “hope”? What does that look like?
All of us are calibrating, all the time, the costs and risks of hope. Which is really about the costs and risks of being engaged with life, fully stepping into life. Can I risk being destroyed by loving what may be lost? Can I risk testing the limits of my own resilience, in falling in love with the microbes and sea creatures and winged beings who cross our lives, if we are lucky? Feel the self-care, the move to protect ourselves at almost any cost. This very human impulse is not about our lack of care for the world, or our numbness to pain. It’s about how we are designed to survive. And the world is asking us to relate with self-preservation in a different kind of way.
You want me to answer: yes, we do have hope; and yes, you can act.
However, what if we step out of the hope/despair binary like a party dress, and leave it behind? What if we instead focus on crafting a new set of questions, and thus a new set of responses, to guide our hearts and our hands, our words and our boundless human capacities?
The hope and despair question keeps us in an eddy. We must now create, dream, a doorway out. This doorway looks more like a hand, a gesture, a song that contains the multitude of our hopes, our despairs, our grief, our delights and our endless heart-break. Yes, it’s unavoidable now to engage with our world without heart-break. But this does not need to break us.
Living and being with hope and despair, as integrated and inseparable elements on a dynamic continuum of experience, is coming from a true place of strength and resilience. Resilience, as we know, is not about a brittle resistance to what is, but a supple capacity to bend and flow and tolerate.
However this is something we can model, cultivate, teach, and support in one another. It starts with learning to be okay with pain, with loss and heart-break and trust it won’t break us.
Let’s start today with softening our fear, of making friends with our fatalism and sadness, knowing it will not drown us.
Let your heart feel the woodlands, the oceans more silent, the scrabble for life in these checkered plains, the tiny moments of rescue and of the failed attempts. Feel it all.
It is, in fact, the basis of our resilience.