The Necessity of Hope

Peace Advocate February 2022

A group of young people marching marching down the street of Washington, DC, June 2021. Sunrise Movement/ Josh Yoder photo
A group of young people marching marching down the street of Washington, DC, June 2021. Sunrise Movement/ Josh Yoder photo

by Nick Rabb

As a younger person living in 2022, the world seems to be stacking the deck against me. Although I have privilege in many ways, my life has been marked by financial crises, a growing climate crisis, a global pandemic, senseless wars, and a system that hardly budges in response. Many people my age adopt nihilistic attitudes or try to ignore the problems, but the crises rock us to our cores and seep into our bones no matter how hard we try to look away. While some older people belittle our depression or our desire for radical change in a cheap attempt to delegitimize our concerns– perhaps reacting to their own feelings of guilt and hopelessness– young people have risen up in profound ways, leading to some of the most radical changes to society in decades. We may be painted as hopeless dreamers or radicals, but we remind ourselves that we are in the right. When we embrace our experience of the world and articulate what we see as fundamentally broken, we help lift the veil of normalization and offer a clear and moral voice calling for a new world.

Why choose hope?

My view that hope is necessary for taking action derives from the pragmatist philosophical tradition. This tradition argues that any time we take an action, we must have even the slightest belief that we will be successful. If we wish to act to combat the climate crisis, we must believe in some way that we can do it. If we wish to act to distribute resources equitably, we must believe that it is possible. Some of the most profound changes in human history have come about because brave people decided to hope. Entire struggles, like that of Black people in the U.S., are predicated on creating hope in what others see as hopeless situations. Those whose land we occupy have fought for centuries, daring to hope in the face of severe hardship. Climate refugees leave their homes with radical hope of a better life. For me personally, my ancestors, victims of British colonialism, found a way to summon enough hope to flee their home, give up their previous lives, and start anew. I am the product of  their radical hope, and the flames of that hope burn brightly in my heart when I dare to do as they have done.

I say that hope is the essence of life because making meaning out of struggle is an act of creation that is unparalleled. Like many before me, I have suffered. For a long time I did not know what to make of it. Coaxed by the words of great thinkers and visionaries, I learned that in the face of an absurd and often cruel reality, we must make our own meaning so that we actively shape our existence. This act of molding and telling our story, to me, is a large piece of what life is about. Making meaning is an inherently hopeful act, one that dares to imagine that our suffering is not for nothing, but a step towards a better future.

Hope in the face of crisis

If we are to have any chance of securing a future for ourselves, we have to hope. Because we need radical change, we first have to believe that radical change is possible. But it is not enough to find hope and be satisfied.

Once we dig deep and find hope, we must act. Often, I see hope as interpreted as living in a fantasy world that does not meet the harsh realities of our present struggle. I reject that interpretation. For me, hope is active. It is the prerequisite to radical change. I hope precisely because I take the crises that burden my life with a seriousness that requires me to take uncomfortable action. Hoping is a vulnerable act. Taking action can place us in danger and make our lives difficult. But without action, nothing will change.

After we find that hopeful spark for ourselves, we must carry it forward towards others who are searching, helping them on a journey to light their fire. To build the collective power necessary to make the changes we need, we must hope not just in the future but in others’ capability to fight with us. Without believing in each other and the possibility of a future worth living for, we will never make it. We need to collectively embrace our struggles, make meaning from them, and be vulnerable enough with each other that we can realize we are all interested in radical change.

For me, that has meant organizing political education workshops, engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience, encouraging others to join political organizations, and having hard conversations with my community. Those are actions suited to my skills – everyone has skills that are useful for the broader movement. But I know that whatever action I take, it should be one imbued with radical hope so that those who are a part of those actions move closer to taking their own hopeful steps.

It is this combination of factors that answers the question of how and why I hope in the face of crisis. These motivations drive my every move. I would not dare to argue that this is applicable to all young people, but I would also anticipate that some of this resonates with others as we are subject to similar conditions. My journey has taught me that hope is essential to changing our world, but we need to actively adopt it and act on it. In my view, it holds the key to our future, and spurs me on to inspire its awakening in others.

— Nick Rabb is a member of MAPA’s Peace and Climate Working Group and a PhD candidate in computer science and cognitive science at Tufts University.   He presented a two-part series of webinars, “Opposing Militarism: A Key Task for Climate Justice“,  on October 16 and 23, 2021