On Hope, Reality, and the Danger of “Hopium”

False hope can lead to intemperate choices and flawed decision making. True hope takes into account the real threats that exist and seeks to navigate the best path around them. ~Jerome Groopman

Hope itself is always genuine. It’s only what it’s placed in that can prove to be false. ~Karen Maitland

Hope is not passive. It’s a decision.

But it’s a decision based in reality – in seeing the obstacle in front of you, having faith and hope that you can overcome it … then gritting your teeth and setting one foot in front of the other, confident – hopeful – that you’ll reach your destination.

I believe that hope is magical – and essential – as those of you who’ve followed this page for a few years can attest.

“Hopium,” on the other hand, is incredibly destructive.

Hopium is a desperate reliance upon the belief things will somehow magically spontaneously improve, or that data (whether epidemiological or polling) shows a world that looks far better than reality. It’s more than rose-colored glasses. It’s blinders. It’s the cousin of willful ignorance.

You may have seen the meme of the dog calmly sipping coffee in a room engulfed in flames, saying “This is fine!” That illustrates hopium quite well, I think.

You see a lot of hopium these days.

On social media, it’s spread by people who declare “The pandemic’s over!”, or who rationalize that the new Omicron variant is somehow, magically, “mild.” (It’s still too early to tell if Omicron is mildER than the other variants. There is data going in both directions. However, for perspective, the original wild strain was “milder” than Delta. In other words, “mild” is still deadly.)

It’s spread by people who look at our flailing democracy and shrug, saying the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, the pendulum always swings back, we’ve got the demographics of a growing population on our side…

Hopium invites inaction. And in a time of crisis, that’s dangerous.

As you know, we’re in a time of crisis. Twin crises, actually.

When dealing with the pandemic, focusing on overly rosy predictions means more people will stop taking precautions. That’s deadly.

When dealing with our country, focusing on overly rosy predictions means more people will stop taking action. That, too, is deadly.

Friend, you’ve seen enough over the last five years to understand the predicament our democracy is in, why we’re in it, and how hard it will be to get out of it. That’s a powerful amount of knowledge. It’s knowledge that many other people around you simply don’t have. In fact, they’re often saturated with the opposite narrative – that eventually everything will be just fine. Just stick it out.

And that makes our work more difficult. Because it’s harder to get well-intentioned folks who aren’t steeped in politics to stand up for democracy when they’re bombarded with the calming effects of articles promising future electoral victory based solely on demographic change.

Friend, winning is not an inevitability. Saving democracy is not a foregone conclusion. We won’t succeed because it is karmically our turn. We’ll succeed because people like you look around and see that work needs to be done – and then make it happen.

The arc of the universe doesn’t bend toward justice organically – it bends because people like you make it happen.

That’s why I believe hopium is beneath you. You deserve the truth.

You need the truth.

Because only when seeing the world for what it is – only when seeing reality – can you be truly hopeful.

And, for all of the doom and gloom of late, I can assure that I am hopeful. Very much so, in fact. For everything that is going wrong right now, there are people like you who are reading essays like this and trying to figure out how to make a difference.

That has been the power of this movement all along. It’s the power of this moment, too.

So as we go into another year, another cycle, and (sigh) another pandemic wave – let’s make ourselves a promise: that we won’t sugarcoat reality to make it easier to digest.

Instead, we’ll change the reality in front of us, and make it better for everyone.

Sound like a deal?

I hope so.

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of December 21, 2021:

Voting Rights, BBB

Well, it’s pretty clear what our top two priorities are for legislation right now, eh? Both the Build Back Better bill and voting rights legislation are being waylayed by Joe Manchin. Last week there was a lot of movement on voting rights – with multiple Senators who had been holdouts on reforming the filibuster coming out in favor of at least reforming the filibuster to make voting rights legislation filibuster-proof.

That’s a good sign, and we should build on it.

So in the days leading up to the holiday – and I know there are not many – please give a call (or two or three) to your Senators. Let them know:

  1. They need to support the Build Back Better bill because it will do an incredible amount of good for your state. If you’re not sure just how much good, you can go here for a great summary of the impact for families in your state: https://www.thirdway.org/report/what-build-back-better-means-for-families-in-every-state. It will also cap insulin at $35/month (far lower than what most families pay now), expand the ACA’s premium tax credit and lower premiums, provide universal preschool… (See the framework here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/build-back-better/)
  2. They need to support voting rights legislation because our right to vote is sacred, and state legislatures across the country are trying to make it harder for Democrats to vote. That’s so undemocratic it’s hard to believe we have to advocate for these bills, but we do – and we must.
  3. They need to support filibuster reform if it’s needed to pass voting rights legislation. We simply cannot have a system where the filibuster is reformed to make way for bills addressing the economy… but not for bills addressing our democracy. Right now we’ve got a few holdouts, but as we’ve also seen over the last week, there are some who had been silent but who now have come out in favor of reform. That’s a big deal – once those dominoes start to fall, it’s harder for Manchin/Sinema. Please call your Senators and ask them to support voting rights and, if it’s needed, reforming the filibuster to protect democracy.

How Will You Spend January 6th?

An impressive group of partners have joined together to organize candlelight vigils and voter registration drives across the country on January 6 – the anniversary of a violent and deadly attack against our democracy – to urge Congress to act and pass legislation protecting the right to vote.

I think this is an incredibly appropriate and moving tribute. The attack that began on January 6th continues today, although it’s been legitimized and transported to state capitols around the country, where state legislatures are making it harder for some people to vote. So the best way for us to honor that day is to push back against the forces that brought 1/6 about.

Check it out here: https://jan6unityday.org

Find an event near you here: https://www.mobilize.us/democracyvigils/map/


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.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
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.

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