Seemingly Disempowered: Active Hope

by | Jan 17, 2017 | Personal Growth


As a child, my father often criticized me for being too idealistic.

He said my expectations were too high, that I would live a lifetime of disappointment and should learn to be more realistic and lower my expectations.

I couldn’t do it.

I have an abiding vision of a world that works for all people.

A sustainable, collaborative, interdependent world. A world in which relationships are soulful, connected, compassionate and energizing, where people are not treated as objects.

Then I listen to the news. I listen to the suffering endured by people in my therapy office. I listen to the stories of fragmentation and power struggles in my consulting work. I listen to my 8th grader navigating the world of mean girls in Middle School.

Sometimes I want to block it all out.

A part of me prefers not to think about it.

The pain on our planet is overwhelming. Facing it, I often feel paralyzed, insignificant, powerless.

In Active Hope, Joanna Macy reminds us, “Heroes almost always start out seemingly distinctly disempowered.”

I like that word: Seemingly.

In the face of despair and pain in our world, in our personal lives, in ourselves, she reminds us that we need hope.

But not the kind of hope that is attached to outcome.

  • Being hopeful for a particular, preferred outcome is ironically disempowering. If we don’t think the chances of achieving our preferred outcome is high, our motivation fizzles and our actions stall out. Passive hope does not motivate us; it leaves us feeling hopeless and disempowered.

Instead, we need to draw on the kind of hope that is activated by desire.

  • This kind of hope holds a vision of a better world that works for all people, and then inspires us into active roles bringing that vision into systems and structures in our societies. Know what you’d like, what you long for, and let your actions serve these intentions.

Passive hope waits for external agencies to create what we long for. Active hope rolls up its sleeves to serve higher principles in at least three ways:

  1. We see reality clearly, without judgment. We allow ourselves to be impacted by “what is.” We face the state of things, as they are. We don’t shrink away because we don’t like it, and we don’t meet it with condemnation.

  2. We identify what we hope for and the values we want to see expressed and lived. If you value integrity, honesty, trust, equality, understanding, then ask yourself: How do these look and feel in action and word? How can we each live and model these values more fully ourselves?

  3. We take concrete steps to move ourselves in that direction (no matter how far away we think we are). We seek out community, insight, support and tools. We practice speaking from the heart instead of reacting from judgment. We notice when our actions and values are out-of-sync, and bridge that gap by choosing new responses to one another.

While we may not control all the circumstances and world crises of our time, we remain able to choose our responses to them. Let’s choose responses infused with light, with love, with wisdom, with compassion and with courage.

Let the way you live your life, support the changes that you want to bring about in the world.


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