Active Hope: how to face the mess we’re in without losing heart

Illustration by Anna DeSmet

By Amelia Eichel

Activist and artist Barbara Ford came to campus Saturday, Sept. 23 to facilitate a workshop called Active Hope inspired by her mentor, Joanna Macy. This workshop consisted of a lecture-based presentation and interactive activities focusing on the role of hope in navigating today’s most prominent issues. Contemplative and Spiritual Life Coordinator Jeanne Lilly organized the event.  

“My goal for this workshop is to offer tools to people to help weather the storms of the dangerous political, cultural and ecological circumstances we are in right now,” Ford said.

Ford drew from Macy’s “Three Stories of our Lifetime,” a trilogy which lays out the three most prominent societal and cultural narratives of the present. The first of these stories is “Business as Usual,” a narrative that perpetuates inequality by asserting that there is no need to change society and the way we live.  

The second is “The Great Unraveling” which highlights the political and natural disasters caused by “Business as Usual” and the likelihood that these events are the beginning of the end.  

The third and final story is “The Great Turning,” which explains how tumultuous times are mobilizing groups of people who will address the root causes of our current problems and change the world for the better.

Ford emphasized the importance of vulnerability and connecting with people. One activity had participants pass around a rock and each person took their turn sharing their feelings about the state of the world.  

“I have thought about the world a lot, but haven’t been in many spaces where I felt safe and encouraged to talk about it with others,” one participant said, who asked to remain anonymous.  

Ford said the purpose of this activity was to “connect the participants with each other and see that the first step in activism is realizing common concerns and feelings with the people around you.”  

Ford emphasized the notion that we cannot change the world alone, and that there exists a niche for every talent in the fight towards a better world.  

“To be on the front lines is not to be in one set place, but to be giving your everything to healing or helping others,” participant Amaris Bouchard ’20 said.

Through goal-oriented activities, Ford showed participants that even though we may feel discouraged, everyone can play a role in the upheaval of oppressive systems by contributing their talents toward the collective effort for good.  

Ford left participants with a quote by author Rebecca Solnit, highlighting the role of hope in creating a better future.  

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky,” Ford read. “It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency…To hope is to give yourself to the future—and the commitment to the future is what makes the present habitable.”

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