On Hope – an acknowledgement that I got it wrong

In May, 2019, I took part in a public event with Cathy Fitzgerald: Terrestrial Matters, at NUI, Galway, part of a Climate Cultures workshop organised by Prof. Nessa Cronin. One of the questions I was asked afterwards was about hope. As I remember that day, I rather glibly dismissed the idea of hope, along with that of faith. (As I see it now, a serious error of judgement in the Irish Republic where, however secular individuals may declare themselves to be, the underlying cultural mentality is still very much coloured by certain deep-seated assumptions embedded in Catholicism). I did so on the basis that hope is all too often linked to some kind of wishful thinking, either as ‘hope-that-someone-else-will-do-something-so that-I-don’t-have-to’ or, more simply, ‘hope-that-things-will-turn-out-to- be-other-than-they are’. Neither of those two attitudes seem to me, now as then, to be very helpful. But of course what I had forgotten, having fallen back on the analytic habit of mind naturalised in me by years of earning a living in academia, is that hope is not an idea; rather it’s something that is, at best, profoundly felt.

Cathy Fitzgerald had often referred to Joanna Macy in our exchanges and no doubt did so again that day in May. But, despite that, I had not taken the trouble to read Macy’s work. It was only when anther friend recommended her and Chris Johnstone’s Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy to me recently that I finally got around to getting hold of a copy and reading it. I can only say I really wish I’d done so sooner.

So why the apology now? Because in my answer then and my failure to follow up on Cathy’s recommendation, I recognise something that Jem Bendell identifies in a recent blog post about what’s needed for a genuine Green Revolution to take place. Among other things that need to change, he points to a profoundly problematic culture among professional people, one grounded in “an unacknowledged narcissism, where the motivation to feel ethical, smart, and contemporary” trumps every other consideration. It’s an attitude of mind I’ve become increasingly aware of in myself in recent years – and have been making strenuous efforts to let go of – and also among many (but of course by no means all) of the professional artists and academics I still tend to have dealings with. So this apology is simply to mark that realisation, in the hope that I, and others who share my professional background, can change. And, in changing, can contribute to what Macy refers to as The Great Turning . Such a change is, as I understand it, necessary to process of finding, or perhaps more accurately refining, the radical hope of which Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone write so movingly.