How are you feeling these days?
If you're like me, you might glance at a news headline and immediately feel anxious, angry, furious, or fearful. You might want to withdraw, wilt in despair, and try to protect yourself by turning off another spigot of empathy.
I worry that our collective angst could lead to disaster in the 2020 election because too many will sit out, having been emotionally maimed by the Trump administration—its unrelenting attacks on our best American ideals. We also can't deny the existential dread that comes from witnessing the dying of our planet. Sorry, climate change deniers, I'm done arguing about the coming inevitability if we don't act immediately.
Instead, I've been thinking about how to sustain joy and energy to persist in these times, which can sometimes feel like the End of Days. Now is the moment to call upon reserves of hope to change the course of our nation and, indeed, our planet.
I asked a variety of activists how they find the inspiration and courage to stay hopeful and active in fighting for the causes they believe in. I am grateful for the eloquent and thoughtful responses I received.
An old friend who has spent her career fighting for environmental justice said, "I think those of us who do this work are optimists at our center, but because of my work with the Union of Concerned Scientists, I'm aware of folks all over the world who care deeply about stopping the madness and are working for solutions."
That's something numerous people mentioned: finding inspiration in collective action and in the stories and examples of courage all around us.
SLO City Councilmember Aaron Gomez told me via email that he makes it a point to learn about humans who defy the odds and live in extraordinary ways. He mentioned Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and Swedish schoolgirl and climate change warrior Greta Thunberg.
For Gomez, these individuals illustrate the human potential to change history, and their example gives him hope that he "is part of the last generation that lives in a fashion that takes more from the planet than it gives back."
Ironically, the "gloomy reality" of environmental disaster "grants us an opportunity to really rise to the occasion and show up for life on this planet in a way that we never have before," Gomez wrote. "Hopefully that gives people purpose. I know that it gives me a feeling of purpose."
Mothers For Peace activist Michele Flom also mentioned Thunberg, who at 15 inspired an estimated 1.4 million students in 112 countries to join her on March 15 in a school walkout to demand climate change action.
"Scenarios of a grim future for our children is, for me, one of the more difficult issues to grapple with," Flom told me, "and yet, the rising up of young people like Greta is perhaps what brings me the most hope."
If you need a boost to stay energized and positive, why not make it a practice to note individuals who inspire cultural change and awareness through their own actions?
Who knows, you could also step into the arena yourself in small or large ways.
Terry Parry, an organizer of Women's March SLO said, "For me, the only way to be hopeful is to get involved.
"Small victories are important. They actually build on themselves and inspire people to join and cause phenomenal movement. There is a lot on the table, and more and more of us finding a way to take a stand about what we value. This is so very energizing."
The trick is to be energized, not overwhelmed. So many of us have exhausting, busy lives. You can't solve the whole dang mess, but you can take "one small step." Simply modeling hope helps us all! By taking that one step, we can help to revive the body politic.
Another propitious idea came to the fore in my query: Sometimes, hope comes spontaneously out of the actions of yourself or others, but sustaining hope requires intentionality. Express gratitude and you will feel grateful.
Jeff Nadel, local president of the CSU Employees Union, gave me personal, practical advice on how to stay positive: "Lose the frown! Embrace your family and pets, go to the gym, say hello to everyone you meet, and connect with your own deep-seated empathy."
When opened, even a little, the spigots of empathy can begin to inspire. Paso Robles City Councilmember Maria Elena Garcia wrote in an email, "I truly wake up feeling grateful for the opportunities I have daily to help people.
"The Hispanic Business Association in Paso gives scholarships to students. One recipient said, 'Thank you. I have been working in the fields with my parents to save money to get my welding certificate.' That comment makes all the hard work raising money worth it."
By their breath and action, all these folks suggest we not only hold to our values, we nurture our ability to empathize and find the joy of purpose. They inspire us to appreciate the opportunities we have to take action, to be grateful for our daily breath. To re-elevate the best of American ideals. Δ
Amy Hewes is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.