The world gets better. It also gets worse. The time it will take you to address this is exactly equal to your lifetime, and if you’re lucky you don’t know how long that is. The future is dark. Like night. There are probabilities and likelihoods, but there are no guarantees. Rebecca Solnit
Brexit came as a surprise.
We didn’t expect that overnight the United Kingdom would exit the European Union. But isn’t change like that? Both the things we long for and the things we dread. We spend years almost giving up and then in an instant the earth spins and a whole new landscape emerges. It would be easy for us to think these changes are completely disconnected from our actions and we are powerless to make any impact.
As Rebecca Solnit wrote in 2003 in an essay entitled ‘Acts of Hope: Challenging Empire on the World Stage’ :
Who twenty years ago would have pictured a world without the USSR and with the Internet? We talk about “what we hope for” in terms of what we hope will come to pass but we could think of it another way, as why we hope. We hope on principle, we hope tactically and strategically, we hope because the future is dark, we hope because it’s a more powerful and more joyful way to live. Despair presumes it knows what will happen next. But who, two decades ago, would have imagined that the Canadian government would give a huge swathe of the north back to its Indigenous people, or that the imprisoned Nelson Mandela would become president of a free South Africa?
I’ve been reading Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark this past week. It has me reflecting on how failures are more often recorded and the small victories that we achieve every day, all over the world, go unnoticed. People in power mistakenly think they hold control of the future. But everything can be overturned. When a possibility explodes and in that moment we realise that we are like the sleeping giant, capable of innumerable victories.
Capable of all the victories that we have allowed ourselves to forget. Solnit cautions us that it is always too soon to go home and too soon to calculate effect. We ‘write history with our feet and with our presence and our collective voice and vision’ .
Hope isn’t about believing that everything will turn out fine. That’s optimism, the opposite of pessimism. Hope is acknowledging that we don’t have a clue how things will turn out. Hope is a respect for complexity and for history. We can’t possibly know when the work of so many activists and commentators and writers and poets and change agents and saints and monks will emerge as visible fruit somewhere in the world. Let’s not lose hope. Let’s not be so naive as to forget our history. We are always making the world, just as we are making ourselves. If we get the chance to make the world we may as well do it with generosity and kindness.
Suppose you had the revolution you’re talking and dreaming about? Suppose your side had won, and you had the kind of society you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now. Paul Goodman
These are powerful questions. I want to keep developing a sense of self that is large enough to embrace a life full of hope.