Here in the northern hemisphere it’s almost the summer solstice; the day of the year when the hours of daylight are longest, and the hours of darkness at their most brief.
And yet, world events make each passing day feel ever darker.
In the UK the death toll from Covid 19 currently stands at 60,000, or 1% of the population, and is set to spiral unnecessarily while an incompetent and morally negligent government contradicts scientific advice to protect the job of an unelected advisor.
And in the US, the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in broad daylight, the police’s brutally violent response to protests, and the incitement of violence against blacks by the president, is the latest chapter in an horrific and centuries-old catalogue of dehumanising black people.
We are told that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. But it can feel hard to find a spark when the darkness feels all-consuming.
Talking about self-care when others are struggling to survive feels crass and privileged. That’s because it is, and it’s only by putting on our own oxygen mask first that we have the resources to help others; to let a deeper wisdom act through us. Otherwise the oxygen can end up fuelling the flames of self-destructive anger, rather than fuel righteous reform and action.
And then, we can be of service to others who are suffering. The pillars of self-compassion are an invitation to go beyond our self-preoccupation by being mindful and aware of what’s being experienced, to be gentle with the powerlessness that’s felt, and to connect to others through a shared humanity that triggers inspired action.
One of those inspired actions may be to reawaken hope.
Hope is a virtue, an emotion, and a way of thinking. To hope is to dream of a better future, to see how it can be reached, and a belief that it is possible to reach it. To hope is to be vulnerable to disappointment, failure, to contradicting inner and outer stories, and takes trust, openness, faith and love.
In the appropriately titled Hope in the Age of Anxiety: a Guide to Understanding and Strengthening Our Most Important Virtue, authors Anthony Scioli and Henry Biller suggest that there are three key aspects to providing hope to others:
Are you available? Do you let people know where and when they can reach you, and are you honest about your availability to ensure that you’re not spreading yourself too thin? Do you make an effort to understand and anticipate the needs of others, and do you prioritise them and keep your promises?
Are you present with others? Are you a good listener, able to stay focused when people tell you their stories rather than centring the conversation around you? Do you take their fears and worries into consideration, and try to make people feel comfortable in your presence? Are you authentic with your feelings, and share what’s really on your mind?
Do you keep in contact? Do you make time for one-to-one conversations, and remind others of the experiences you’ve shared? Do you respect someone’s boundaries, and try to spare them from needless embarrassment or hurt? Do you share rituals or routines to strengthen your bonds, and make an effort to invest time in others?
Through these three channels you can strengthen someone’s ability to rebuild hope, and to support them to think hopefully; to come up with a goal, to envisage ways to reach it, and to have the self-belief to know that it’s possible.
A stunning example of this comes from rap singer Killer Mike’s recent speech at the Atlanta Mayor’s office;
The son of a police officer he shared his family’s connection to the force and exactly what was on his mind, and gave clear goals to focus the justified anger from destruction into action;
“I’m mad as hell. I woke up wanting to see the world burn yesterday, because I’m tired of seeing black men die. He casually put his knee on a human being’s neck for nine minutes as he died like a zebra in the clutch of a lion’s jaw.
So that’s why children are burning it to the ground. They don’t know what else to do. And it is the responsibility of us to make this better right now. We don’t want to see one officer charged, we want to see four officers prosecuted and sentenced. We don’t want to see Targets burning, we want to see the system that sets up for systemic racism burnt to the ground.
I am duty-bound to be here to simply say: That it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house, so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organisation. And now is the time to plot, plan, strategise, organise, and mobilise.
It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth. It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable, chiefs and deputy chiefs.”
Another great example of being available, fully present and taking action to strengthen bonds comes from the Flint Michigan Police, who chose to remove their riot gear and walk with protesters;
Some of us want to burn the world down. Others know it’s already burning. And some of us are so burnt-out from the endless fires that we’re unable to function.
So to turn destructive flames into sparks of hope is a radical and courageous act. To hope, itself, is a radical and courageous act.
But I suspect hope is what we all need right now.
. . .