There are many good reasons to be concerned for humanity these days. Runaway climate change, impending WWIII, and the (possible but unlikely) Zombie Apocalypse just to name a few. We don’t have to look far for the signs. For example, wildfires are blazing like never seen before in Australia. The U.S. recently ordered the assassination of the esteemed general of Iran. One may even say that the zombies are already among us, crossing the streets while gazing at their cell phones… It is easy to become overwhelmed, numb, or fall into despair at these times when crises seem to be looming on the horizon. I’ve found myself becoming numb as well (and perhaps a bit zombie-ish) and wondering, “How can I cultivate hope?”.
The other day, I was sitting in a cafe and a friendly man sitting nearby commented: “Did you hear about Iran? And that missile accident? What a shame eh.” I didn’t know how to respond. Part of me wanted to just continue working on my laptop. I turned to him and said, “Ya it’s pretty horrible” and then I added, “It is good to be aware of these things but we don’t want to think about it all the time, you know? Otherwise we start to feel really down”. I realized that I wasn’t taking the time to process the terrible plane crash and thought that perhaps a lot of other people feel this way too. Sometimes we choose to not engage because the issue brings up fear or it feels out of our control. We can easily blame and call people idiots but does that solve anything? What can we do to be a positive influence in these situations? How can we acknowledge reality while cultivating courage and hope?
After this encounter, I wanted to find a way to contribute to growing hope and peace in the world. I recently read that Martin Luther King Jr. considered hope to be the power to effect change. He used words filled with hope and courage to inspire and lead thousands of people in his vision for a brighter future for African Americans with equality for all. He said something that really resonated with me:
Tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King’s words really spoke to my feeling of urgency and my desire to encourage positive change. I felt inspired to create some sort of tool that could help people to consider positive actions in different areas of their lives. The goal would be to increase our collective resilience in the face of great uncertainty. I was going to call it “The Survive and THRIVE Toolkit”, a bit doomsday-ish but catchy right? The “Survive” section would be focused on basic bodily necessities such as water, food, and shelter. The “Thrive” section would be focused on our need for happiness rooted in connection with our family/tribe, community, natural environment, and Great Spirit/God/Tao. It would encourage people to bring attention to each area and come up with positive actions that can be implemented today. However, something didn’t feel quite right. I wanted to share my lessons with you:
How do we know what is truly a “positive action”? What are we using as guideposts to decide what is “good” or “bad”? For example, we could say that we need to take action to ensure that our children’s children have good quality air to breathe in the future. Taking action may include buying expensive home air purifiers or inventing a big machine that scrubs the whole world’s atmosphere clean. These actions could be inaccessible, expensive, or even dangerous. An action that may be considered positive for a corporation may not be a positive action for a low income household. Actions can easily become focused on the interests of a few in society rather that the greater good. One option is to act from a place of best intentions and based on our current knowledge and wisdom. However, many of us are blind to our own self-interest and the twisted money-centered values of society. Actions based on fear and ignorance may be just as ineffective as not acting at all.
How do we cultivate hope when there is so much uncertainty, even when it comes to taking positive action? I believe that one action is more important than all of the others: examining the values and beliefs that underlie our perspectives on what is “positive action”. Do we value our family over financial interests? Do we value safety and security over taking risks for the greater good? Values and beliefs are very tricky because they are often subconscious. I challenge everyone to think deeply about the following question: What do you want to protect most in life? What really matters to you?
What is truly good in life and worth protecting can be intuitive to a person. We all have the ability to tune into the wisdom of our hearts. However, it is also very easy for any person to become confused and distracted by their ego and its fears. If we want extra guidance and clarity we can turn to the wisdom of our spiritual teachings. Sacred texts from across spiritual traditions provide guideposts on what is good and bad for humanity. Guideposts that I like to use from Buddhist teachings include reducing the suffering of others and non-materialism. I turn to the Bible for other guideposts like loving our neighbors as ourselves, being honest, and not stealing from others. What guideposts do you like to use when making decisions about what positive actions to take in the world?
After further reflection on the spiritual texts that I am studying, I realized that the “Survive and THRIVE Toolkit” idea may contribute to more fear than I had intended. Fear can arise from ignorance or a misunderstanding of how the world works. We as individuals cannot control nor predict the outcomes of large scale events such as climate change. We as human beings are simply not that powerful or intelligent. If you want evidence, just look at the global crises we have co-created! Actions that involve over-thinking the future and trying to influence future outcomes are sure to perpetuate fear. Rather, we need actions that are focused on building goodness in the present and that come from a place of love.
Spiritual guideposts that are grounded in love have helped me to see some of the ignorance behind my ideas, such as the “Survive and THRIVE Toolkit”. We are each in a constant learning process and, when we realize our mistakes, all we can do is continue to seek truth. I vow to continue to learn and humble myself when it comes to sharing ideas that I hope will contribute to growing hope and peace in the world. Perhaps we can continue to look to examples in history like Martin Luther King Jr. who inspired thousands to positive action with his words of love, courage, and hope. If I could go back and talk to that man in the cafe again, I would ask him: “What gives you hope these days?”.
My sense of hope is supported by a belief that there is a greater power than all of us in the universe. A greater power that is truly good. I believe that when we align our actions with what is good we will be protected. We can trust that the wind will be in our sails and that we will know what to do even through the storms. Hope grows from a clarity of knowing what is good and the courage to take positive actions for the greater good.