Perhaps you have read that The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom has decided to use the terms climate emergency, crisis or breakdown instead of climate change in its news stories; and global heating instead of global warming. As social and cultural circumstances alter, words and their power change their meanings and impact, and the public in the end may have to adapt by using new words.
Or sometimes we can try to refine or redefine old words to fit new circumstances. For instance, hope, which as verb and noun has long implied both desire and expectation: “I hope [desire] that we can solve the climate problem” or “I have little hope [don’t expect] that our civilization will survive this existential climate crisis.” But what happens when desire outstrips results, and then discouragement leads to hopelessness, despair, cynicism, paralysis? When hope starts to sound passive and empty?
Here, from some leading thinkers, writers, philosophers, and educators, are a few useful, maybe even inspiring, ways to rethink hope. Click on the links for more good words.
- Amory Lovins: “Many of us here stir and strive in the spirit of applied hope. We work to make the world better, not from some airy theoretical hope, but in the pragmatic and grounded conviction that starting with hope and acting out of hope can cultivate a different kind of world worth being hopeful about, reinforcing itself in a virtuous spiral. Applied hope is not about some vague, far-off future but is expressed and created moment by moment through our choices. … Applied hope is a deliberate choice of heart and head. … Applied hope requires fearlessness.”
- Joanna Macy: “Active Hope involves identifying the outcomes we hope for and then playing an active role in bringing them about. We don’t wait until we are sure of success. We don’t limit our choices to the outcomes that seem likely. Instead, we focus on what we truly, deeply long for, and then we proceed to take determined steps in that direction.”
- Michael P. Nelson: “I want us to replace ‘I hope’ with ‘I resolve to do the work’ or ‘I will be this kind of person, I will live this kind of life’ or any sort of utterance that focuses on virtue rather than on consequence. … I am suggesting … that our obligation to the future is most properly satisfied when we act rightly and virtuously, and when our motivation stands stubbornly apart from, not held hostage to, the consequences of our actions.”
- David W. Orr: “Optimism has this confident look, feet up on the table. Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”
- Maria Popova: “Today, the soul is in dire need of stewardship and protection from cynicism. The best defense against it is vigorous, intelligent, sincere hope – not blind optimism, because that too is a form of resignation, to believe that everything will work out just fine and we need not apply ourselves. I mean hope bolstered by critical thinking that is clear-headed in identifying what is lacking, in ourselves or the world, but then envisions ways to create it and endeavors to do that. In its passivity and resignation, cynicism is a hardening, a calcification of the soul. Hope is a stretching of its ligaments, a limber reach for something greater.”
- Carl Safina: “Hope is the ability to see how things could be better. The world of human affairs has long been a shadowy place, but always backlit by the light of hope. Each person can add hope to the world. A resigned person subtracts hope. The more people strive, the more change becomes likely. Far better, then, that good people do the striving.”
- Rebecca Solnit: “Hope is not about what we expect. It’s an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world. Hope is not a door but a sense that there might be a door”; “It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand”; “It’s important to emphasize that hope is only a beginning; it’s not a substitute for action, only a basis for it.”
This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.