Hope is like the sun
On despair, COVID, snakes and the reason for suffering
We’re all kinda just barely holding it together these days, aren’t we? The pandemic has stretched us to our limit and tested things we previously understood about ourselves. “I am patient”…. “I am optimistic”….. “I’m kind”…..all somewhat easy things to believe about yourself until you’ve been sheltered at home for 9+ months, cut off from your friends and extended family and the light at the end of the tunnel always seems to be getting further away.
I held my 10-year-old last night as she cried (hard) about something she couldn’t even name. Nothing happened. I was just putting her to bed and had asked her (because she was being kind of nasty and negative all night) “if she had hope for 2021.” The question sort of broke her — I half expected it would. Her pain is being felt around the country by kids and adults alike, battling an invisible enemy (COVID-19) and doing so with immense sacrifice and at a real personal cost. You can’t put a price on the value and meaning of traveling to be with family on Christmas, of snuggling up with your grandparents after a morning of opening presents and making homemade waffles. You can’t put a price on social interaction and the personal satisfaction most of us feel when we’ve decompressed with our friends on the school bus or had a fun night out on the town. It feels like this will never end.
She was crying because she couldn’t feel *hope*…..that reason behind why we suffer, that reason for which we fight. For anyone but especially a child, a year of their life spent mostly at home has to have a purpose and an end-date….and I think we can all safely say that COVID-19 has dragged on longer than any of us expected. If you don’t have hope, your suffering is meaningless. The only thing left at that point is cynicism, despair, and sometimes even wickedness.
Last week I wrote to you about “Fear and its death grip" — and I told you that FEAR can open the door to HOPE. It can. That’s because fear is not just a thing that hangs over us like a specter, it’s also a sort of propeller toward action. Fear keeps us alive, it’s the foundation of self-preservation. Humans innovate and build things because we want to escape certain threats or diminish large inconveniences in our lives. Hope is that guiding light that gives us a sense of what we’re looking to build in place of that threat or annoyance. Hope is the spark in the cover of the darkness.
Star Wars talks about this all the time.
“Rebellions are built on hope”….
"Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you'll never make it through the night”…
“That's how we're gonna win. Not by fighting what we hate. But saving what we love”…..
I think it’s safe to say that the Rebel Alliance wouldn’t have been very effective in taking down the Empire if their message to people was “The Empire is really bad, but you know the Republic was awful too. Join us in our fight to take down the Empire and we’ll figure out the rest later.” No thanks. While it may be true that what preceded the Empire was far from perfect, the full name of the rebellion “The Alliance to Restore the Republic” gives you some sense of what they’re shooting for, something to dream about or feel nostalgia for. A world without Emperor Palpatine isn’t actually enough, especially when what he’s offering people is stability first and foremost.
Successful social movements (or rebellions) require hope like you require oxygen. Otherwise, there’s no point to the suffering involved in social change. Take climate change for example. I’m quite discouraged about where the environmentalist movement has gone. The kind of thinking I hear from people under age 30 is borderline Thanos (The Avengers) talk,….which is really just recycled 1960’s global warming apocalypticism. WE’RE OVERPOPULATED! THERE’S NOT ENOUGH FOOD AND WATER! HAVING KIDS IS SELFISH!
There are very few leaders on the world stage saying, “Actually, having children is good and sort of the single most motivating thing the average human being can do to improve their lives….and we should double down on developing technologies and fuel sources that burn clean…and we should develop new kinds of housing that make better use of the plentiful space we have for more people...etc, etc.” A few people are saying this, but I get the feeling no one is listening. The only people getting awards and international recognition are prophesizing doom and scolding people for flying on planes (travel brings short term joy to people) and having multiple children (kids bring us long term purpose).
So let me land this solar-powered plane for today…. we can continue unpacking HOPE in the next edition and get into the weeds of why it matters in politics & pop culture.
Despair is easy. It’s really enticing and even popular to deal in cynicism and personal nihilism. You can amass a huge following online by throwing stones, being negative, and dressing down the entire system under which we live, or prophesizing doom. People eat it up. Hope is hard, but it reminds us and those around us what we want from the future.
I don’t know what to do about my kids growing despair about life during COVID. We’ve lacked coherent national leadership on the matter that balances realism, hope, purpose, and sacrifice in a way that makes clear what we’re suffering for and for how long. One thing I told her was that we should use all this time spent at home to reflect on who we want to be one day — and work on the areas in our life that we have control over to become that person. She wants to be the next Steve Irwin…she loves snakes and would like to be a wildlife biologist or something like that.
So…..we’re getting her a snake for Christmas. I hate snakes. Like really hate them. But what matters right now for my kid (and you should think about this for your own life) is seeing past COVID-19 — seeing her own bright future. If handling a demon spawn and learning the ropes of caring for an evil serpent helps her to engage with her future-self and imagine life in 10 years and all the adventures she’s bound to have….well, sign me up.
It’s me, Stephen Kent! I’m the curator of Politicize Me, host of the Beltway Banthas Podcast forthcoming author of ‘How The Force Can Fix The World’ (Hachette-Center Street). You can follow me on Twitter @Stephen_Kent89.