October 1st 2020
Thank you for inviting me to give a provocation on the Importance of Hope, I believe what will follow is reflective of and will build upon the wonderful contributions we have enjoyed so far this evening.
In preparation, I looked up the word provocation and discovered the following definitions: ‘an action or speech that makes someone angry, especially deliberately or an action of arousing sexual desire or interest, especially deliberately. I’m afraid I can’t guarantee to deliver on either, having planned a philosophical zigzag through the concept and practice of hope, based on my own experience of Chairing a Global Foundation and being part of a collaborative journey through incredibly turbulent, demanding and exciting times. In addition, I have drawn heavily on the work of Rebecca Solnit, ‘Hope in the Dark’, Victor E Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning, the classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust and the work of Vaclav Havel, politician and playwright.
As we journey through this evening together, I would welcome your thoughts and questions being shared in chat, and with the help of our estimable chairperson will aim to respond to as many as possible towards the end of our time together. I would also welcome beginning by inviting you to consider your own relationship to hope; what does that word mean to you? To what extent does hope have a place in your life or is despair a more familiar companion; hardly surprising at this time in our planet’s history or do those two co-exist within you, contradictory bedfellows, fed and watered by the daily news, an unexpected kindness, a beautiful sunset, the news of yet another loss of species or habitat? Apart from a lovely glass of wine or a warming cup of tea, what are you hoping for right here, right now, for this weekend, for the future? Please feel free to share in chat if you so wish and also throughout our time together.
Rebecca Solnit describes hope as the embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, hope locates itself in the spaciousness of uncertainty and where there is space, there is room to act. For three and half years, I have Chaired the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative, a global community of networks, companies and learning institutions focused on being and acting in a globally responsible way in terms of how we live, learn and lead. We are part of a UN Global Compact and since 2003 have been guided by three laws:
The law of the environment: the natural system is not a stakeholder in our business, it is the ultimate foundation of the rules
The law of interconnectedness: everything, everywhere is linked to a single system, therefore, every action must be considered in the context of its effect on the whole system
The law of engagement: we must all become engaged in solving the dilemmas that confront us as a consequence of the first two laws
During my tenure on the Board, we have experienced partners and Board Members having to leave meetings to attend to their houses and live stock in Australia because they are on fire, we have faced the uncertainty and trauma of our colleagues living in Cape Town as the city faced the possibility of being the first in the world without any water at all, our American colleagues have lived through the devastation of campus shootings, losing friends, colleagues and students, and, alongside the UK and other European countries, we have all experienced a rise in populism and anti-collectivist movements – and there are other examples from around the world, all meaningful and painful. We have known despair, a sense that we are going backwards, that whatever we do it’s not really going to make a difference.
So what has kept us going, what keep us going?
It is an all consuming, shared belief that the struggle is worthwhile and that there are sufficient like minded and like hearted individuals who share our view of what the world could be like if people and planet really matter. It is taking action, no matter how small, that is intended to have a positive, unique and sustainable impact, being part of a ‘think and act tank’, rather than being part of a’ thinking tank or a talking shop’. When times have been particularly difficult, we have returned time and time again to the shared values and clear purpose of the GRLI to guide our actions. To quote Nietzsche and, for me, applying to all genders: ‘he who has a why to live can bear almost any how’.
One of the most poignant and evocative descriptions of hope that I have ever discovered is that written by Vaclav Havel, from Disturbing the Peace: originally published in 1987
To me it summarises so eloquently the why and the how of hope and I make no apology for quoting in full:
‘The kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t …Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart…
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or a willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same things as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breath-taking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were from ‘elsewhere’. It is this hope above all that gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.’
If like Havel, you accept that hope is a state of mind rather than a state of the world, then we have total influence over our ability to be hopeful, to travel in hope and not necessarily to die in despair. We do not have to rely upon others to give us hope, although that is possible. We can be the creators of and investors in our own hope bank. The harder the situation, the deeper the hope we can conjure, manufacture, hold onto, call upon, care for, make manifest, seek and possibly inspire in others. But hope alone is not enough, it must be coupled with action, hope might get us there but it is action, work that gets us through difficult times, regardless of whether or not something will turn out well or successfully. As Roberto Unger, Brazilian philosopher and politician exhorts: we must avoid ‘the dictatorship of no alternatives’.
The symbol of the GRLI is three ellipses representing the ‘I’, the ‘We’ and the ‘All of Us’. For us, being globally responsible is necessary on all three levels, individual, at the level of organisation or community and at a systemic level. It can come as no surprise to anyone on this call that it is change at a systemic level that is the most challenging. What we have discovered is that we need ‘all of us’ in order to create the collective groundswell to shift obstinate and at times what is felt to be impermeable resistance. I need the company of others to provide me with the emotional and physical support, the recharging of my often faltering batteries, to sustain a prolonged campaign of action and to keep hope alive and despair at bay.
We are here this evening, on the brink of transforming and being transformed. In the act of transformation, individual hearts and minds change, beliefs and long held perspectives can melt as those who have been transformed become aware of a different world view, as new possibilities and horizons present themselves or are conjured into bein… but the act in itself is a deeply challenging one. Before I change myself, I must have a sense of an alternative way of being, a vision for a changed me which is sufficiently compelling to make me want to leave the shore and discover new oceans. Transforming beyond the self requires the same commitment but this time the vision has to be created by more than one person, one group, one mind or heart set and therein lies the joy, the complexity and the contradictions, the potential for despair as we fight against rather than fight for a shared sense of what is essential for a transformed future.
The GRLI community will often look at the same thing through very different lenses. Those different perspectives, be they political, religious, philosophical or cultural can, at times, be frustrating and dialogue lengthier than those of us with an action orientation would wish but working with those differences enlarges the scope of possibility. We go further together then anyone of us could ever go alone but it is by no means easy. It is always possible to go quicker when everyone speaks the same language and has the same view on life but who gets left behind? Whose voices are not included? What plots and plans get hatched because people feel excluded, cannot see themselves in the vision for the future?
Rebecca Solnit writes about a ‘contagion of boldness’, in that state the impossible becomes possible. If I have any provocation this evening, it is that out of this weekend a contagion of boldness builds from a diversity of imagination, ideas, aspirations. In calling for a space in which we may feel free to think the unthinkable, speak the unspeakable, envisage the impossible, I am not suggesting we veer towards any kind of insulting or denigrating language or behaviour, rather we feel able to be bold in our thinking, being informed by but not labelled or fettered by individual belief systems, able to tap into the ‘breath-taking dimension of the human spirit’. If you believe, as we do in the GRLI, that the process you use to get to the future is the future you get, then let us be incredibly mindful about the way in which we move into a new phase of life for Tynedale.
Hope has to transcend factionalism and labels, it calls to a higher purpose and it is action that leads to hope. To end, I would like to return to the words and spirit of Rebecca Solnit, she suggests: ‘I think you have to have hope, and hope in this sense is not a prize or a gift, but something you earn through study, through resisting the ease of despair, and through digging tunnels, cutting windows, opening doors, or finding the people who do these things.’ I believe we find over the coming weekend a richness of thoughtful, purpose driven, action oriented people, with the spirit and intent to make a better future for us all and I am hopeful for the future of a place I am privileged to call home.