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What is hope?
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
What is hope?
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
What is hope?
Pass it on
Pass it on
28 December 2020

What is hope?

Hope is something we discover through action, not something to sit on the couch and feel.

Written by Ann Porcino

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.

Discussed in this Story

Hope is not something you have it is something you do.

It is a calling; a calling to care for one another and for the world. A desire that stems from the root of what it means to be human and strive with others for something better.

Hope is a decision. It’s a choice we make about where we put our minds, and how we will respond in any given situation. Hope is a decision to act as if change might be possible in the face of uncertainty, even if you feel small, unworthy, hopeless, discouraged.

Hope comes from joining forces with others; not from working in isolation. From the knowledge that together we are stronger, smarter, braver than we could be on our own.

Hope is something we discover through action, not something to sit on the couch and feel. It is the discovery of a strength in ourselves that is bigger than the despair and fear; a discovery that propels us to take a step and see what happens.

You don’t wait around for hope to emerge. You can’t go looking for it and delay action until you find it. It is not wishful thinking or pretending that everything will be all right. It is not a glass half full; your glass can be half empty and you can still decide to act for change. It is not putting on a happy face or waiting for a warm feeling. It is not waiting to be rescued by someone else; a rider on a white stead perhaps or someone (surely someone else) who will make sure the right thing is done.

Hope is simply a power, a power that you can rise to. It comes from looking straight in the face of the reality of what is going on in the world, seeing the good and the shocking… and then deciding to act: together, for the future, because it matters. It is our birthright as human beings to stand up for what is right; to act on behalf of ourselves and others; on behalf of the beauty of life; the beauty of the planet. Hope comes from the wellspring of our innate goodness, compassion and love.

Looking to history

The history of the world gives us countless examples of human beings working together to face and overcome challenges that at first seemed insurmountable. I urge you to find Rebecca Solnit, author of Hope in the Dark and many other essays on the history of change. She is one of the best writers on hope that I have ever encountered.

She speaks of the many amazing transformations that human kind has made possible and reminds us that “though hope is about the future, grounds for hope lie in the records and recollections of the past” and that “ideas first considered ridiculous or extreme gradually become what people think they’ve always believed.”

Through her essays, she gives examples of moments in history when human beings have joined together to demand a better future and won that change. Not on the first go, but after repeated trial: many actions; many players; many successes; many failures.

Look at our own recent history — there are many instances when bold ideas, once seen as radical, became our new normal; sometimes without our fully realising that a shift had taken place.

Free university education was a bold idea: one that changed the lives of generations of Australians and opened up new opportunities like never before for women and people who had previously had no access to higher education.

  • The first National Park was a bold idea.
  • Giving women the vote was a bold idea.
  • Weekends, unions, the 8 hour day and penalty rates were all bold ideas.
  • So was Medicare.
  • So too was the bold idea that we could keep the Franklin and Gordon Rivers forever, exactly as they were – pristine, wild, beautiful.

Seizing the opportunity NOW

We are right now in one of the most influential periods in the history of humankind, one that Joanna Macy, author of Active Hope calls the ‘Great Turning’ to describe “the vast revolution that’s going on because our way of life cannot be sustained.”

Like Joanna Macy, I take hope in the countless grassroots organisations and movements bubbling up everywhere, refusing to let evidence of our collapsing environment and society be the last word; deciding instead to find a new way, a better way, to stop climate change and ensure the future of this planet for all people.

We see it in Groundswell Gloucester: stopping an open cut coal mine in these beautiful hills, and being prepared to keep fighting until the decision is stayed.

We see it in the student strike for climate action: as young people organise and say, ‘No more. We want a better world then you are going to leave us and we are ready to fight for it.’

We see it in Lock the Gate: bringing together farmers, businesses and other community members to stop fracking in community after community.

We see it in the #metoo movement: believing women’s stories, amplifying them and giving them light and space, demanding that violence and harassment against women and girls never be tolerated – ever again, anywhere.

And in our civil society organisations: Get Up! Greenpeace, the Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Oxfam, law centres, human rights organisations, development agencies and so many more — up-scaling their ambitions, building their membership, connecting people in action.

And in the huge number of grassroots community actions and movements around the world, in which people have come together to demand an end to the practises which take their land, their health, their livelihoods.

We are learning how to work together for change, from the historic Stop Adani alliance to our own amazing Australia reMADE, the global Fight Inequality Alliance, UK Compass, LEAP in Canada, and the list goes on.

We are thinking and behaving differently — tackling power at its source and mobilising supporter bases for action.

We are joining together in new ways, proudly declaring our vision for the future, opposing things that aren’t working, connected by technologies that weren’t available just 10 years ago.

Yet hope hides

So if we have history to draw on and are in the midst of the ‘Great Turning’ we should all be feeling hopeful and be joyfully taking action for as long as it takes to get the world we want.  Right?

Yet many of us find hope illusive.  It seems to hide.  And even when you find it, touch it for a while, it is hard to keep hold of.

Hopes hides behind massive feelings of defeat and despair, feelings that can freeze us and make us feel powerless to act. It lingers behind messages we tell ourselves: ‘I am not good enough, smart enough, capable enough.’ ‘Who am I to believe that I can make a difference?’

And no wonder. We have been deliberately and systematically discouraged by the current world order from believing that we can have a world that is organised around the needs of people and the planet.

Hope hides underneath this weight of neoliberalism. The way it is has us working so hard that we can’t breathe, or think. The way it has us numbing with addictions and drugs and useless time wasted looking for comfort in shopping, in Netflix, in the latest craze. The persistent message we get that there is no alternative (to growth, to corporate greed, to market power). The way we learn that change can be made, but only around the edges of the current system and in small increments.

Paradoxically, hope hides in optimism. Optimism assumes that all will go well. And there is a multi-million dollar wellness industry peddling this message: if we just think positive thoughts good things will happen; without our effort, just because we believe it will. Optimism delivers the message to put on a happy face (and demands this from others), and tells us not to focus on the bad things going on in the world, the tragedies of the way we are living together now. You won’t find the action required for hope inside optimism.

Hope is concealed by our fears. Fear is intentionally stoked, sometimes without shame: African gangs roaming the streets of Melbourne; people seeking asylum taking our jobs and homes and making our cities too crowded. It is no surprise we are frightened when every horror in the world comes to us instantaneously, usually through multiple sources. And when we are scared we are vulnerable to losing sight of what it is we really value and want. Hope drops away to be replaced by acting for the protection of ourselves and our families.

And finally, hope is lost when we give up too soon. We look for immediate wins as a sign that an action was a success, and disparage efforts that don’t seem to lead to an immediate outcome. This way of thinking makes people give up and go home, way too early. Change is a process. Winning is part of that process. Losing is part of that process.

The point is, you cannot know the impact you are having immediately. Ever. Not when what you are working to change is the very systems that hold the existing world order in place.  Not when you are challenging the might of corporate and personal greed and power.

Hope derives from action and from action we derive hope. You have to believe that the small and large incremental actions matter.  And that they matter even when consequences aren’t immediate or obvious. Indeed you have to be willing to fight for what you believe even when you may not see the end results of your efforts in your lifetime, trusting that somehow your actions, our collective actions, provide the impetus for what is to follow;  bending that arc of justice, making it possible for others to stand on your shoulders with hope and determination until the job nears completion.

So how do we cultivate active hope?

There are four suggestions that I want to give you about how we can cultivate active hope. There are countless more that I could talk about. But here are some important ones.

Do more of what gives you joy. Sing, laugh, play sports, gather with your family and friends, paint or create something, go to that beautiful spot in the world that makes your heart sing. Do whatever it is that reminds you that life is worth living and propels you towards the possibility that you can make a difference. Take time for this; it is what gives our actions purpose.

Build relationships and learn how to solve relationship difficulties. To change everything we need EVERYONE! And we need each other now. Good working relationships keep us hopeful, get us out of bed in the morning, sustain us for the long hard work ahead. And yet – surprise, surprise – relationships often are hard. Our egos get in the way. Our feelings of inadequacy get in the way. Our privilege and feelings of superiority get in the way. Sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, oppression of all kinds – these get in the way, however unintentionally. And sometimes (and way too often) we fight each other rather than the system we are trying to change.

  • So we need to give attention to relationships, no matter how incidental or frivolous this may seem.
  • Give time to getting to know each other and welcoming new people.
  • Make moments for connection at each and every meeting.
  • Plan in advance how your group will handle conflict and who people can turn to for assistance.
  • Make personal decisions — reach out to a person that you find hard, to find kindness and compassion, to examine what you can change to make the relationship work.

Build support and self-care strategies into the work. We need strategies to help us deal with our grief, our disillusionment, our discouragement. You (and your group) may find practicing mindfulness and meditation useful; or being in nature; or adding arts practices into what you do. I would like to suggest one very particular way that we do this: by turning to each other, recapturing our ability to be with each other and lift each other up. Not through platitudes ‘you’ll be alright’ but in listening partnerships: pairs or small support groups of people who agree in advance to call on one another when we are frozen into inaction by grief or fear or anger or discouragement. Groups where people have equal time to share feelings, concerns and thoughts while the others listen respectfully and without judgment. Knowing that this is the natural way that humans have of being with one another – in telling and listening, in sharing time – and that this will make a difference to our capacity to stay with each other and in the fight.

Celebrate successes (each and every one) and the courage, inventiveness, resilience and determination we already have. There is power in doing this. In the simple importance and pleasure of telling each other often and accurately what you appreciate about each other’s efforts and the difference these efforts have made. And, as a group, of stopping regularly to notice what you have achieved and what you have learned.

In closing

There are many wonderful quotes that I could have used to close this session. I had a number lined up. But yesterday while I was getting ready to come to this Convention I watched and listened to Jacinda Ardern’s speech to the memorial service in Christchurch NZ. The young, female prime minister of New Zealand leading the world.

Jacinda Ardern had two broad options about how to lead her nation in this time of great tragedy. She could have closed down, turned backwards, closed the borders, heightened fear. Instead she invited people to open up their hearts and minds and go forward as a community to be the best that the country could be.

So in closing I offer you some of that speech. See if it doesn’t inspire hope in you as it did in me:

Extract from Jacinda Ardern’s speech at the memorial service in Christchurch New Zealand on 29 March 2019

Over the past two weeks we have heard the stories of those impacted by this terrorist attack. They were stories of bravery. They were stories of those who were born here, grew up here, or who had made New Zealand their home. Who had sought refuge, or sought a better life for themselves or their families.

These stories, they now form part of our collective memories. They will remain with us forever. They are us.

But with that memory comes a responsibility. A responsibility to be the place that we wish to be. A place that is diverse, that is welcoming, that is kind and compassionate. Those values represent the very best of us.

But even the ugliest of viruses can exist in places they are not welcome. Racism exists, but it is not welcome here. An assault on the freedom of any one of us who practices their faith or religion, is not welcome here. Violence, and extremism in all its forms, is not welcome here. And over the last two weeks we have shown that, you have shown that, in your actions…

…we are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other. We never have been. But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.

And so to each of us as we go from here, we have work to do, but do not leave the job of combating hate to the government alone. We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness. Let that be the legacy of the 15th of March. To be the nation we believe ourselves to be.


This article combines from our friends at Australia reMade. Ann Porcino is a Co-founder and the Deputy Chair of the Secretariat for the Australia reMADE Alliance. She has been a key driver of the project since its earliest days. Ann is an extraordinary facilitator, community architect and strategist with decades of experience working with social justice, international development, health, social service and environmental organisations. Ann led the development of the Australia reMADE vision and coordinated the engagement project preceding it, listening to the hopes and dreams of hundreds of diverse Australians to inform the collective vision of Australia reMADE.

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