These are the words that have been echoing in my mind and heart in recent weeks. Everywhere we turn we are confronted with growing polarisation amongst people and in politics as well as the enormous destructive effects of climate change. How can we remain hopeful and take positive actions in the light of the many catastrophes and conflicts?
Each time I connect with the enormity of what is going on I have a sense of grief, but from this grief arises a new sense of urgency to make whatever small contribution I can towards a world where all can flourish.
The circumstances of our world can seem overwhelming and this overwhelm can cause people to deny or close their minds to the bigger picture. My sense is that we need to shift into a consciousness of 'living for the whole'. What do I mean by this? Well, many things and in future newsletters I hope to share more about this. Here, I would like to share two inspiring stories and also some wisdom which comes from the international organisation, Rotary, which in some way represent living for the whole.
The two stories illustrate that no matter how hampered we might feel by our own personal life situation there is something we can contribute to the good of the whole.
The first story was one I heard from Gloucester Fair Shares at one of our community meetings at the Friendship Cafe, Gloucester https://thefriendshipcafe.com. A lady who was house bound wanted to contribute to her community but was not sure how. What eventually transpired was that she offered to take in parcels for her local community - receiving parcels is of course problematic for people who are out all day. This helped her community and also herself as she made friendships with the people who came to collect their parcels. Her selfless act in wanting to work for the good of others resulted in mutual good.
The second inspiration is a good friend of mine who has a real heart for the world, for nature and for good of all. She too is 'differently abled' but she uses whatever she is able to do to work for the whole. She does this by regularly posting on Facebook incredibly informative posts about climate events and other situations around the world, often things which do not hit the headlines.
Another aspect of living for the whole can be seen in some wisdom from Rotary International. They have something called the four way test, which I think is a good rule of thumb for discerning how we as individuals can live for the whole.
The Four-Way Test is a nonpartisan and nonsectarian ethical guide for Rotarians to use for their personal and professional relationships. The test has been translated into more than 100 languages, and Rotarians recite it at club meetings:
Of the things we think, say or do
These four simple questions might help each of us if we are inspired by the idea of living not just for ourselves, our friends and families but living for the whole, as the Dalai Lama suggests:
“I believe that to meet the challenge of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. We must all learn to work not just for our own self, family, or nation, but for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace, the equitable use of natural resources, and through concern for future generations, the proper care of the environment.”
—The Dalai Lama
With best wishes,
Hope springs eternal in the human breast. - Alexander Pope
Hope is the faith that, together we can make things better. - Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Much has been written about the power of hope and opinion seems to be divided on its’ usefulness and value. Some see hope as something negative – leading to apathy and inertia.
Others point to ‘false hope’ attributing to it the means of making life bearable, other see in it quite the opposite, the devastating effect when a false hope is revealed as precisely that –false.
More often I believe hope is seen as something positive, it can keep us going and strengthen resolve when times are tough or uncertainty abounds. It can be a motivating and revivifying force.
Episcopal Priest and author, Cynthia Bourgeault points out that sometimes optimism can ensue from hope, ‘In our usual way of looking at things, hope is tied to outcome. We would normally think of it as an optimistic feeling – or at least a willingness to go on – because we sense that things will get better in the future’. However as we shall see below, hope and optimism have different qualities.
However, hope like love, is a quality that is multifaceted and not always easy to put into words. I would like to consider here a few aspects of hope that I find particularly helpful and are perhaps not so commonly recognised. One aspect is described in the following quotation: Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. -Václav Havel, Disturbing the Peace (1986)
Here we see hope as something which is not connected to outcome but to something which seems right at an inner level. It brings with it a sense that we must be a certain way, or do a certain thing because it has intrinsic value in itself – regardless of the outcome. It is a quality of being, even a way of life, going beyond positive thinking into positive living.
Today I hear many people expressing a sense of hopelessness about the many huge challenges facing our world, from climate challenges and loss of biodiversity to polarisation and growing inequality.
Havel provides a counter to this despair: even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.
This is a crucial factor in what I think of as “participatory hope”. This kind of hope is a quality of the heart. The deep heart which sees all things, connects all things, holds all things together in compassionate love. Hope can be both a call and the fuel for action.
“Hope’s home is at the innermost point in us, and in all things. It is a quality of aliveness. It does not come at the end, as the feeling that results from a happy outcome. Rather, it lies at the beginning, as an impulse of truth that shines forth. When our innermost being is attuned to this impulse it will send us forth in hope, regardless of the physical circumstances of our lives.” - Cynthia Bourgeault
In the words of peace activist, Fr John Dear, ‘to be hopeful, do hopeful things’.
There is a growing emphasis on the daily practice of expressing gratitude and how it can lead to a more fulfilled life, from religious teachings to the evidence- based insights from the field of Positive Psychology. A helpful practice might be to regularly reflect on what hopeful actions one can take no matter what the situation and then going out and doing them!