Once you choose hope, anything is possible. ~Christopher Reeve
I dwell in possibility. ~Emily Dickenson
Listen to the must’nts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’t, the impossible, the won’t. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me … Anything can happen, child. Anything can be. ~Shel Silverstein.
August is upon us, folks – the last few weeks (or days) of summer. It’s always a reflective time for me.
And as I was on a drive with my family, I was reflecting on the different presidential candidates that seem to be capturing our hearts and souls. And I came upon a conclusion that they all have one thing in common.
The through line of their campaigns?
Every one of the campaigns that I see people getting *really* excited about has a vision and a dream that they’re invite us to share.
It reminded me of a post about Hope that I wrote back in February for our self-care series. With everything going on around us, it’s a good time to remind ourselves why hope matters, how important it is, and how we can develop and share it.
So forgive me for repeating myself a bit … but Hope is my favorite.
I’ll get into the clinical here-are-what-the-studies-say-come-follow-me-into-the-weeds stuff in a minute. But here’s the long and the short of it.
Hope is that little pinch of magic, sprinkled on your soul. It’s the secret sauce. The mojo, the Force, the gas pedal, the call to arms – the cry of “Can We Do It?” and the feeling in your heart when the crowd roars back “Yes We Can!”
Hope is versatile – it’s both the ultimate driver of success and the ultimate act of defiance.
Because even though it’s the upswell in your heart, it’s also the perfectly manicured middle fingers of millions of women, politely extended to wanna-be-authoritarian regimes.
Hope thrives by staring down adversity, wiping the sweat away and saying “oh hell yes I can – just watch me.” Hope is seeing the shock-and-awe campaign of lies and horribles of the last two years, and while dodging the bombs of disappointment saying “I’m not stopping. You can’t make me quit. Only I get to decide that.”
Hope is that purest of beliefs that – no matter what happens or what challenges you face – there’s always a way. There’s a door. Or a window. Or a basement, or a side alley. Whatever. There’s an escape hatch somewhere, and you’re going to find it.
Because you’re the heroine in your life story, and the story isn’t over yet.
I love hope.
I live on hope.
But what’s interesting is that I’m not always optimistic. Hope isn’t optimism, even though the words are often used interchangeably. Hope isn’t an attitude, or a mood, or a bet, or a wish that things will be better.
It’s a choice.
It’s a skill and life practice like yoga and mindfulness and eating your broccoli. You can develop and foster it, and cultivate your capacity for it. And you can share it.
And it’s important to build it, because even though hope doesn’t necessarily get you out of a jam, the evidence is pretty clear that more hopeful people have better capacity to get through tough times:
Studies show that highly hopeful people are better able to withstand stress, better able to cope with obstacles, are less lonely, and show higher levels of success. They’re happier and more invested in their own lives and the lives of others. They’re mentally flexible and thorough thinkers; they’re more productive and healthier.
We intuitively know that hope helps us persevere – when people describe the leader they want to have, hope is one of the qualities people ask for time and again. Psychologists even believe that hope may be the most important state we experience.
And when people lose hope?
Well. You’ve probably heard about learned hopelessness – which is what happens when animals (or people) keep experiencing the same pain trigger over and over, but can’t do anything to avoid it. Eventually, if nothing they’ve tried works and they see no way out … they learn to lose hope.
And then they just stop trying. They resign themselves, sad, and broken. Defeated.
But we have the power to reverse that cycle.
Extreme poverty has been described as the ultimate “learned hopelessness” cycle of despair. But researchers are finding that people living in extreme poverty who are given gifts of livestock or bees – gifts that make them feel like they have options to improve and control their lives – work more, save more, and feel better. Another study showed people who watched an hour-long inspirational video (instead of a comedy show) saved more and spent more on their children’s education, even six months later.
And that’s relevant now, because you’ve probably seen a lot of learned hopelessness lately. There are probably folks around you (maybe even you) who have stopped speaking out, acting out, advocating – because they feel like there’s no use.
I see those people, too. It breaks my heart.
So let’s talk about how you can build your capacity for hope – and how you can boost the hopefulness quotient of your friends and groups while you’re at it.
THE ELEMENTS OF HOPE: GOAL, PATHS, AND WILL
Beyond the inspirational/visionary aspect that first comes to your mind when you think of hope, hope really has three basic elements.
First, a goal (that’s where the vision comes in). Second, the belief that you can take many paths to that goal (that’s the mental flexibility part) and that you’re capable of traveling those paths (that’s the “agency” part). And third, having the will to actually take the paths – knowing that obstacles will be put before you, but that you have the strength to confront those obstacles or change the path you’re on.
If it seems like “hope” is mainly developing the will to reach a goal and the mental flexibility to see a bunch of different ways to get there … you’re not wrong. In fact, one hope expert says hope is simply “all about options.” Options for paths, and options for goals, and options for self-soothing along the way.
So to start building your capacity for hope, first be clear on your goals – both as to what they are, and why they matter. Is your goal to flip the House? Flip the Senate? Elect more Democrats to your state legislature? Support nominees that align with your ideology? Write them down.
Having a goal is an essential first step; now it’s time to dig into the “why it matters” part to inspire yourself and others. Paint the picture. Create the vision. How are you making the world better? What is the world like when you reach your goal? Why should this matter to other people? Why does it matter – to you?
Now brainstorm ways (paths) to achieve the goal. If it’s electing more Democrats at the state level, maybe one path is GOTV in a certain portion of the district. Another is fundraising. Another is recruiting a candidate…. you get the picture. As you can probably already see, within each of these paths are more paths. For example, our “GOTV in a certain portion of the district” path could include voter registration efforts, yard signs, block captains, and community outreach.
Don’t skimp on this step – the most hopeful people generate the most options. In fact, it’s not uncommon for really hopeful people to have five or six things going on all at the same time. Then, when something derails them in one direction, they chalk it up to experience (seeing it as a positive educational moment, not a personal or movement failure) and go down a different path.
Next, think – in advance – of some of the potential roadblocks you’ll encounter. For example, in a movement powered by women, how will summer impact your/your group’s commitment? Does spring break derail you? Will yard signs cost money? How can you remove (or go through, or use) those obstacles? If you’re in a group, talk about possible problems with group members. Figuring out how to tackle them together will improve everyone’s mental flexibility, and will improve your group’s cohesion at the same time.
Then, when unforeseen obstacles come up – and they will come up – you’ll already have practiced skills that help you and your group change direction without feeling unmotivated.
WHAT’S MY REASON?
And finally – ask yourself: what is my life’s mission? Contemplate your purpose – your reason for being on earth and what you want to do with your time here.
You can call it a “mission statement” for your life, if business jargon works for you. Or you can think of it as a letter to your future self answering the question – why does what I’m doing matter? At the end of the movie about my life, what do I want people to learn? What is my story all about?
The point is – you can refer to your mission statement (or your letter) in the future, when the going gets tough or you are confused about direction.
Talk to that future self in your mission/letter. Tell her why she matters. Tell her why what she’s doing makes a difference.
Give your future self … some hope.
NOW … PASS IT ON
And when you’re feeling more hopeful, share your surplus. Help those around you create options, find their purpose, and be their best selves.
You’ll be making the world better, one drop of hope at a time.
You know, being hopeful doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be okay.
But it makes it much more likely that it will.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of August 13, 2019
Tuesday: Support the Endangered Species Act
It never ceases to amaze me the extent to which this administration will go to harm our environment. *Sigh.*
As I’m sure you’ve heard, yesterday the Trump administration issued new rules that will gut key portions of the Endangered Species Act. Conservationists and regular folks that love nature like you and I are outraged.
But here’s the thing – Congress can do something about this. The administration only has the authority to write rules because Congress gave it the ability to do so. (That’s just how administrative law and agencies work – they only get so much authority to implement laws as Congress lets them have.) So if Congress wants to, it can pull the administration back. So let’s ask for that this week and let our Congresspeople know that we’re watching what they’re doing here and we expect them to take action. (Call your Representative!)
Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling to see what, if anything, the Congress(wo)man is doing to counteract the Trump administration’s gutting of the Endangered Species Act. (Pause for them to say they don’t know, because it’s been only 2 days.) As I understand it, the administration is only able to make rules because Congress has vested the administration with the authority to implement rules to carry out Congress’s intent. So that means Congress can take that authority away. The majority of the American people approve of the Endangered Species Act, so please help us protect our environment and pass legislation that will either take the administration’s authority away or make Congressional intent clear. Thanks!
Wednesday: Protect Immigrant Families – Webinar Alert!
Also yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security announced “public charge” regulations that amount to a “racially-motivated ‘wealth test’ that rigs the rules against immigrants and their families who are on the pathway to a green card.” It’s going to devastate a lot of people, it’s immoral, and it’s un-American.
There are a lot of ins and outs, and a lot of folks working on this issue. It’s still developing, so one of the first things to do is get more information on what the rule will do and what organizations are doing to fight back.
On August 14, there will be two great webinars hosted by Protecting Immigrant Families. (www.protectingimmigrantfamilies.org) The event page to sign up is here: https://protectingimmigrantfamilies.org/events/
The first will cover “top lines of the final rule, share how your organization can best respond, and share top messaging and talking points.”
The second will go further in depth, focusing on the impact on nutrition:
From “public charge” regulations to enforcement actions, immigrant families face a range of threats that may impact their access to nutrition programs and resources. This joint webinar brings FRAC, the National WIC Association, and Feeding America together with the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign for a closer look at the Trump Administration’s “invisible wall” and to consider actions anti-hunger advocates, nutrition providers, and food banks can take to protect the nutrition, health, and well-being of immigrant families. Participants will leave the webinar with:
– A basic understanding of the administrative threats and how they fit together
– An overview of national advocates’ messages for families, policymakers, and press
– Opportunities to ask questions
Again, sign up for either or both at: https://protectingimmigrantfamilies.org/events/
Thursday: Hey ladies – Take the Super Majority Survey
SuperMajority, an organization founded by some feminist superpowers, has launched an online survey to get information from as many people who identify as women across the country as possible. With as much as this administration is trying to do to stifle data and data collection, helping get data on women across the country feels like a step in the right direction.
It’s a super painless survey and you do *not* have to be part of their email list unless you opt in at the end.
Take the survey here: https://supermajority.typeform.com/to/vzGvPd
Friday: Bee A Bee Spotter or a Ginko Finder!
When it feels like our government isn’t doing enough to protect the environment, or is stifling research and study into our natural world, I like to find ways that regular people like you and I can help.
This week I thought I’d share two resources with you – Bee Spotter and the Citizen Science Leaf Survey from the Smithsonian.
BeeSpotter.org is a great website that tracks the type and location of bees, using information gathered from regular folks who set up an account and then provide images of bees they see around and about. If you’re a gardener (or aspiring gardener) this is a great way to see just how “buzzy” your garden is! (See what I did there? Ha!) Unfortunately, right now it’s only tracking bees in Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and Indiana.
Second option! Ginkgo trees have been around since … well, since forever. For that reason, the Smithsonian is using their leaves to do more research into our current environment. They need lots and lots and lots of data – and that’s where we come in! They need help getting specimens and information about Gingko trees all across the US, and the more the better. You don’t need a science degree for this (and it’s great for kids and classes). All you need is knowledge of where a 10 foot tall Gingko tree lives in your area and the directions from the Smithsonian: https://www.si.edu/fossil-atmospheres/leaf-survey
And you can help classify and analyze images of those leaves, too! (Or, if you don’t want to or can’t find Ginkgo trees, this is a way to help the project.) The Smithsonian will be using citizen researchers to analyze images, then using that data in their research. To take part in the data analysis, go here: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/laurasoul/fossil-atmospheres/about/research
WHEW! Go, Team! Super Proud of You!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
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My deepest gratitude in advance.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.