It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and destruction. The hope I am interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It is also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse one. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naivety,” the Bulgarian writer Maria Popova recently remarked. And Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, early on described the movement’s mission as to “Provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation, rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams”. It is a statement that acknowledges that grief and hope can coexist.
I’ve only just realised that the essay ‘Hope is an embrace of the unknown’: Rebecca Solnit on living in dark times was published in the Guardian newspaper on my birthday this year. What a wonderful birthday present it was and it’s a very timely read.
I want better metaphors. I want better stories. I want more openness. I want better questions. All these things feel like they give us tools that are a little more commensurate with the amazing possibilities and the terrible realities that we face.
The essay is about hope as different from optimism, the importance of collective memory, embracing complexity and collective action. It’s an enriching read and a great reminder at the moment. Read Rebecca Solnit’s essay ‘Hope is an embrace of the unknown’
Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterwards either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.