Tuesday, December 12, 2017

To Hope or Not to Hope

My career is mission and impact-oriented, and as a result, I run in these circles. I have found that my peers often express feeling overwhelmed with the problems in the world like climate change or global poverty. I usually end up guiltily admitting that I don't connect with that feeling at all. I've realized it's not because of being particularly insensitive or being an optimist or pessimist because I know a handful of others who share my confusion at this feeling who have wildly different personalities. Then I read this passage that finally puts my vague thoughts into words. I couldn't say it any better. In fact, I couldn't say it at all!
When I am asked about what keeps me hopeful, I hear people asking if it is worth it. If they work to make the world better, will it pay off? I think that the dominant focus on hope and reward in the future leads people to think that if they don’t have personal hope that their efforts will be rewarded, they have the option to give in to despair and inaction. It is from a place of tremendous privilege and disconnection to others that one can ask for hope in this sense. Why should I work for change unless my work will succeed? No one gets that guarantee, and no one can give it. Nor does not having hope allow one to opt out unless one has the privilege to make that choice — and it is an illusory choice because we are all interconnected and interdependent.
Many spiritual traditions are not hope-centered. In these societies, people have communal responsibilities and obligations because they are focused on maintaining the webs of mutuality and the balance of life. They are mandated to work for justice because it is the right thin to do; it is our responsibility to each other. They are not future-oriented but focused on the present, inspired by their understanding of what is necessary. Their challenge is to maintain the bonds that exist, not to transform the world. People from these traditions acknowledge where people are and support them in flourishing rather than assuming they know where people should be (judgment) and trying to transform (save) them. They respond to what is needed in the moment and not to what has been lost or might be gained. This daily focus has often been misdescribed as women’s work and thus devalued, but people of all genders do it. Many spiritual traditions and indigenous communities emphasize the daily weaving, building and transformation of community, in sharp contrast to the dominant Western paradigms of hope, nostalgia and despair.

To hope or not to hope; that's not the question.

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