I argue that at this crucial moment in humanity’s history, three changes are essential to better understand how and why we see the world the way we do and what makes other people’s views sometimes so different from ours. Second, instead of passively accepting a dystopian image of what will come tomorrow, we need to actively create together from our diverse perspectives a shared story of a positive future, – including a shared identity as “we”, – that will help address our common problems and thrive. And, finally, we need to fully mobilize our extraordinary human agency to produce the future.
Each of these changes requires that we have hope. To believe in the possible and to make the possible real, we must recognize that the right kind of hope can be a tool of change, and we must give our hope the muscle it requires in our present crisis.
If we’re to survive, let alone see our children prosper in this century and beyond, we need a potently motivating principle that’s honest about the gravity of the dangers we face and about the personal responsibility each and every one of us has to face those dangers; that’s astute about the strategies we can use to overcome those dangers, given the viewpoints, values, and goals of people around us; and that’s powerful because it galvanizes our agency, our capacity to discern our most promising paths forward and choose among them We need, in other words, the kind of hope that has motivated millions of young climate activists to sit outside parliament houses and block business-as-usual traffic in capital cities worldwide and that has galvanized communities and nations around Earth to slow the coronavirus pandemic.
In Dante’s fourteenth-century epic poem The Divine Comedy, the entrance to Hell famously carries the inscription: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” The phrase has become watered down over time, almost trite. But facing a future that promises to be hell for countless people, our task in the twenty-first century is to rediscover the power of the uniquely human ability to hope, – an ability to envision and strive towards a positive future that’s an alternative to whatever challenging or even unbearable present we’re living in.
There are no guarantees of success. The perils are real, and the chance we’ll prevail may be small. But we face a choice between denying reality, running from the crisis, or facing that crisis head on to fight for a better future.
The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril