I’ve been thinking about hope again. It often springs to mind when the news is full of atrocities, disasters, and fear.
In the margin around my lazy cynicism, I am still naturally drawn toward digging trenches in my search for hope. It’s a funny word because, like a game of whack-a-mole it’s kind of difficult to pin down. It’s a slippery customer. I think I know what it means and then all sense of meaning escapes me.
But it travels deep. It penetrates our beings, and drives our action. Hope is baked into the mechanics of our human engine. The same as other characteristics like peacefulness, cynicism, humility, joy, fear, kindness, gentleness, selfishness etc. Characteristics which drive our words, our attitudes, and our behaviours.
Hope vs Cynicism
It’s not ignorant to live with hope as your engine fuel. It’s not a rejection of reality or the denial to see the truth of what’s “really” happening.
Hope is about more than outcomes. It goes deeper than what might or might not occur. It transcends the decisions that other people make. And rises above the choices that might create a barrier to survival and joy of people right now. Hope is a never ending belief in something better than this.
Hope is not a single destination. It pays little attention to where we end up because there are no lasting destinations. Life = movement.
What does hope look like? How can we use it to fuel our engines? Especially when times are tough personally, and collectively it feels like everyone and everything is screaming with fear and hatred, division and hostility? Where is hope and what use does it have in a world of despair and cynicism?
Where else to look for answers except for Mr Rogers? He had timeless advice for parents helping children understand and cope with tragedies and crises. It is also helpful for any of us needing to gentle nurture and comfort our inner child.
1. Step Out of Yourself
“Angry feelings are part of being human, especially when we feel powerless. One of the most important messages we can give our children is, “It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to hurt ourselves or others.” Besides giving children the right to their anger, we can help them find constructive things to do with their feelings. This way, we’ll be giving them useful tools that will serve them all their life, and help them to become the worlds’ future peacemakers – the world’s future “helpers.” ” – Mr Rogers
Humans are not meant to live isolated from one another. We are deeply communal and social beings. We need to appreciate and understand the part that we play as individuals in the bigger picture of community.
I love election day here in the UK for a few reasons: seeing polling stations all over the country in a rich variety of places. Schools, churches, town halls, scout huts etc. I love seeing these buildings being used for a civic purpose that carries historic significance to our community. I love to watch as people walk along to express their democratic right to have their say through their vote.
I’ve not always had such an appreciation of the meaning of it. Growing up I suppose I took for granted our civic norms and institutions, and civil society itself. It never carried the significance in my understanding that I now know if deserves; that we are all a part of something remarkable. Something bigger than us as individuals.
I’m reminded that society isn’t fixed. This is a source of hope.
However stable or fixed (or strong!) things appear to be, there is a fragility that becomes exposed when we stop believing in our collective reality. If we start to believe that our individual actions don’t really matter, that this is “someone else’s problem to sort out”. Or that we have no role or purpose in the wider scheme of things, then hope begins to insidiously fade.
2. Lock in on the Helpers
I find that one of the most unhelpful things I can do in the wake of a crisis or tragedy is watch the news or follow trends on Twitter or Facebook. Yet they are highly addictive and it can be impossible to look away. I don’t think I’ve ever fuelled my hopefulness by doing either of these things.
The news is often sensationalist, hyped up and negative. Social media is often reactionary, cynical and full of hostility. When I permit either or, both of these to shape my worldview I come away with depleted hope reserves.
“It’s easy to allow ourselves to get drawn into watching televised news of a crisis for hours and hours; however, exposing ourselves to so many tragedies can make us feel hopeless, insecure, and even depressed. We help our children and ourselves if we’re able to limit our own television viewing. Our children need us to spend time with them – away from the frightening images on the screen.” – Mr Rogers
But this doesn’t represent the majority of the world. Most people (the majority of the 7 billion on our planet) are reasonable. They hurt when they hear about bad news. They feel a deep desire to help and make the world better. Many don’t know how to respond. And many many many people give their time, money, and other resources in a quiet effort to improve our chances in the future.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” – Mr Rogers
3. You’re Being Observed
Your heart rate may have just increased reading those words…“No, I hate being observed!” Don’t worry. I’m not talking about sweaty palm observation when you’re watched or judged performing a task.
Rather the truth that we are all under observation, all the time.
Setting standards and modelling the world in which we believe. We are role models, whether we choose to be or not. People are looking at the way you act, what you say, and how you respond to the things going on in the world.
Take Heart from Others
Have you ever spent time with someone who exudes hope? A person who just has this sense that everything will be OK, no matter what it is you’re going through. Again, not in an annoyingly ignorant and pie in the sky manner, but in a real, gritty, we will deal with whatever comes, sort of way. If this is baked into the fabric of who they are, you probably find that eventually it rubs off on your own outlook. You look to them for how they respond to adversity.
Gentle strength, resilience, and hope are all factors that are cultivated within. They are nurtured from the inside of ourselves.
The opposite of the person who allows the direction of the wind to affect their mood, or someone cutting them up in traffic to cause an angry outburst. We probably all know people who carry that kind of outlook too, where everyone else is to blame for everything (if you’re anything like me then you have these days from time to time as well). This is not a recipe for hope.
“Children are very sensitive to how their parents feel. They’re keenly aware of the expressions on their parents’ faces and the tone of their voices. Children can sense when their parents are really worried, whether they’re watching the news or talking about it with others. No matter what children know about a “crisis,” it’s especially scary for children to realize that their parents are scared.” – Mr Rogers
We create culture. Everyone role models to others. If one person leads by fear and hate then others will follow. But leading by hope, peace, and love is a much more attractive role to model for the world. Whatever characteristic we allow to lead our lives as individuals is going to be a part of the contagion that follows.
The question is, what kind of world do you want to see growing tomorrow?
Over to You
Where do you find hope? Please leave your response in the comments below.