I’ve recently gone through a weird and remarkable shift in perspective. One way to put it would be that I’ve given up all hope for the future of the world – and it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
In these troubled times, with hope and despair both our frequent companions, I’d like to share a bit about my experience in the hope (haha) that it might benefit others, might help you take better care of yourselves and of those around you.
Hope and motivation
I’m a highly political person who has also always been a highly sensitive person with a vivid imagination. If you’re anything like me, you’ll know what a difficult combination these things can be – I’m frequently off visualizing where our world may be headed, or what I know is going on in parts of the world less fortunate than mine, and it can be deeply troubling, to say the least.
In the last few months I have had the privilege of being paid to write regularly about the climate crisis, and this has had the unsurprising side effect of making me aware of more and more details regarding the unfolding tragedy, while also making it much harder to ignore that knowledge and enjoy any kind of blissful ignorance.
In my writing, I have found it important to tell the truth but also give hope – things may seem bleak, the prospects of improvement slim, but there’s a lot of important work to do nonetheless, and hope is an important motivator.
Considering the worst
Then I read an article titled “Deep Adaptation” and had a bit of a crisis. This is an article which dares to delve into the possibility that all is, in fact, lost, and the climate collapse can no longer be halted.
A note about the Deep Adaptation piece:
You really don’t have to read it. If you want to anyway, and you’re sensitive like me, be careful and take good care of yourself. Don’t read it on a bad day. Brace yourself for bad news and troubling thoughts. I won’t even link to it, so as not to tempt you to peek in (it is very easily googleable). Make time to read the whole thing in one go.
The Deep Adaptation piece raises an interesting point about hope: hope makes you dependent, and hence fragile. Your emotional wellbeing becomes contingent on events turning out this way or that, shifting your focus to the future (and often, to things beyond your control) and setting you up for a major psychic hit if they do not.
When I read the piece, I thought this point was logical, but hard to accept. I was still very emotionally invested in hope at the time, of course. It was only a few weeks later that I really appreciated the validity of this observation.
In early December, I started getting very anxious.
The UK general elections were coming up, and from a climate policy perspective the two outcomes couldn’t possibly be farther apart. Labour proposed to set into motion the first “Green New Deal” type package of eco-socialist policies in a major economy – the only approach to halting climate collapse I find plausible (for reasons best explained by Naomi Klein). The Conservatives promised to plow ahead with Brexit, removing EU environmental regulations and most likely spelling a massive setback to the UK’s impressive sustainability gains.
Considering we have, at best, a decade to set massive policy shifts in motion to avert runaway climate collapse, I held this election to be the last chance to start doing so in the major economies before it’s too late. I further worried and hoped that the results would embolden, respectively, the Right or the Left the world over, setting the stage for the possibly even more crucial US elections in November.
The global stakes, as I understood them, could hardly be higher, and I was very anxious.
The morning after the elections, still oblivious to the awful results but knowing a Labour victory was unlikely, I braced myself for the bad news. Before going online, I took some time to meditate, and told myself that if Labour lost indeed, it would only mean we were the same place we were the previous day, heading in the very same direction, and nothing had changed. In other words, I let go of my hope.
Surprisingly, I managed to take the bad news quite well. More surprisingly, my mood only improved over the rest of that week. Not only was I free of the anxiety over an election I could not vote in, I was suddenly free of hope.
I still consider the Johnson victory a disaster, I still consider the upcoming US elections crucial, but my perspective has shifted deeply.
I am no longer dependent on hope. I am not anxious to see who the Democratic nominee will be nor whether they beat Trump.
Instead I feel more focused on the here and now, on the immediacy of the tasks at hand. For me, these are to learn as much as I can about our collective situation – how we got here, where exactly we stand, and where we are headed; to share that information and help make it accessible to more people; to take care of myself and the people around me, as we all go through these terrible times; and to keep alive, and further develop, positive visions for a better world – because if anything matters at all, there will be a point where at least some of the people in this world are regrouping and organizing a new society out of the rubble of the old, and these visions could be an important source of inspiration.
Being free from hope makes it easier to focus on these tasks, to consider them in their immediacy, to carry through on them, one step at a time, without worrying about ultimate outcomes.
It also gives me more strength (or perhaps resilience) when dealing with the continuing onslaught of horrible news. In recent weeks this has included the unfathomably huge fires ravaging Australia and annihilating hundreds of millions of animals, and just today the news that Trump has essentially started a war with Iran.
I still feel, I still experience the shock as news arrives or details emerge. But I am no longer hanging on to the hope that things will stop getting worse. The bad news affirms my basic expectations, and hard as that sounds (and it is hard) I feel better able to handle it from this position of acceptance.
Be kind to yourselves, and to each other. And even if you give up hope, never give up the fight. If nothing else, let’s not let the bastards get away with it without a fight.