I recently read Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone’s book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. This is a book that I’d highly recommend to anyone who is concerned about the issues (ecological, economic, social) that are facing our world today. (Incidentally, it seems appropriate to be reviewing this on a night featuring a debate between the two main presidential candidates for this election.)
There is plenty of information available about the threats that we are facing globally today, and while the book touches on some of these issues, it is not its primary focus. It looks instead at why so few people seem to getting involved to try to make a difference. The authors propose that we tend to get stuck either in the mindset of refusing to believe that things are as bad as we hear so we should continue with business as usual or we believe that it is already too late to do anything to stop the coming crisis. Some of us (myself included) tend to waffle back and forth between these two positions. The problem is that neither one of these stories motivates us to action.
Macy and Johnstone suggest a third story that they call The Great Turning. This story believes that many people making whatever small changes they can wherever they can will work together to create enough change to prevent catastrophe. This view is predicated on more people being willing to take action where they are such that all of these smaller changes add up to a larger tipping point.
I have tended to easily get discouraged by the idea of trying to make a difference in these areas because the problems seem so overwhelming, so much larger than anything that little old me can do anything about. It feels like there is nothing I can do that could make a difference in the scope of all this.
But this book left me encouraged that maybe the ripple that my actions take will be enough when combined with the actions that others are taking to build into a wave of change. By living in active hope, I become willing to not only hope that I can make a difference, but to take action where I can to try to make that hope a reality.
This is powerful stuff, and I’m feeling more inclined to try to make changes in my own lifestyle after having read this book. But given my struggles with hope, it also spoke to me at a deeper level about what hope is all about. Perhaps one reason why I sometimes get disillusioned by hope is that I tend to think of hope as a passive thing. The thing hoped for is something that I think a lot about and want to have happen, but I’m not sure I always make my hope an active kind of hope where I am consistently taking actions in the direction of that which I hope for.
Perhaps if I was spending more time in active movement in the direction I want to go, I would be less likely to be so overwhelmingly discouraged when things don’t go as I want them to. Since I’d already be in motion, I might be more likely to keep working toward the goal despite the temporary setback, even if it meant adjusting my path or my goal somewhat in light of new data.
It’s given me a lot to think about. I’m actively considering ways that I can get more actively involved in making a difference in the challenges facing our world. I’m also taking a good hard look at other areas in my life that I need to take a little more action to move in the direction of my hopes and dreams.
How do you live out active hope in your world?
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