Life... is not all bad, but it is not all good, it is not all ugly, but it is not all beautiful... It is savage, cruel, kind, noble, passionate, selfish, generous, stupid, ugly, beautiful, painful, joyous --  it is all these, and more...

-Thomas Wolfe

Thoughts on Hope

Thoughts on Hope

Let’s talk about hope for a minute.  It comes up frequently—tossed about the waves of our collegiate environmental action discourse along with less inspirational vocabulary words like despair, outrage, guilt, and shame—and actually discourages me more than its aforementioned negative counterparts.  

Hope sits heavy on my shoulders.  

When I think about it deeply, critically, I can feel the spine crushing weight of a helplessness caused by talking in circles, as only an armchair philosopher could, in the comfort of a western, privileged, academic, and safe bubble.  A plea to hope alone is a virtuous one, and I am not a virtuous woman.  In fact, I’m terrible.  I have no qualms admitting that I am part of the problem.  But, that does not stop me from having convictions about how life ought to be lived.

I’m not perfect, and no one is.  But, that can not be the reason to decide we aren’t worthy of being environmental stewards—activists, communicators, artists, philosophers, scientists, and overall every day earthlings that have to work and drive to the grocery store, and drink beers out of aluminum cans with friends.  

In all this it is not hope that will get us over the hurdle of collective shame, guilt, and inaction.  By recognizing our flawed cultural and societal behavioral norms, we can overcome cognitive dissonance and get our small (and big) actions and decisions more in line with the moral, ethical, and logical reality we desire, and that the natural world so desperately needs from us.  

What’s the cliche? The first step in solving a problem is to admit you have a problem. Ya. That’s it. Not read about it. Not agree with overwhelming scientific thought about it. It is to admit that. You. Have. A. Problem. That I have a problem.

I have to base my pursuit to understand, to work against, the crisis our world is facing through a morality that is intrinsic to my very humanity, and essential to every other human I share our Oceans with as well.  Kathleen Dean Moore speaks of ethics in this way, and also acknowledges that it isn’t for the ethicists alone, for the scientists alone, for anyone… any one perspective alone.  

It is only through working together with those who have different levels of expertise among us, and unifying the varied knowledges that each individual contributes to this society, that we can communicate urgency and action in these troubled times.

I don’t mean to get all manifesto on your ass, and I don’t know if the work I’m doing is going to change the world.  I don’t know that my tiny slice of a perspective is going revolutionize the environmental movement.  My ideas about communicating science, my pursuits to understand the tools to do that successfully, the driving force of my creative endevaors exists because there is work to be done.  I don’t hope for shit.  

I want only to do the work.

What really worries me-terrifies me, truth be told-is the use of hope as a motivator for healing our wounded and warped relationship with the natural world. I worry that hope will actually stifle, not aid, our resolve. I worry that hope can be, and often is, a distraction, an excuse for not getting on with the work at hand.
— Michael P. Nelson, Moral Ground
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