“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”
[Note: many readers may know (of) Susanne Moser and her work. If you don’t you should! She does ground-breaking interdisciplinary research and consults in the very interesting space at the intersection of science, policy, and communication for social change. Much of her work focuses on the application of all this to climate change. Last month, shortly before Christmas, she did me the favor of sending me a draft of a chapter she was writing for a book. Her chapter title? Intriguing. “Getting real about it: Navigating the psychological and social demands of a world in stress.” It’s slated to appear in a handbook for environmental leadership coming out soon. You can access the final preprint version and more details on the handbook itself here. I recommend you read the chapter in its entirety! Much of it focuses with growing leaders’ capacity to be with people in an increasingly stressful and distressing future. She draws on the experiences of people in concentration camps. And more. Sobering, but also inspiring.
In reading Susi’s chapter I felt it was spot on…that it will be an insightful help to those aspiring to (or maybe given her scenario, more accurately, willing to accept) future leadership roles. Best for all of us to know what we’re getting into. At the same time, though, I found that I felt a bit more hopeful. And her chapter challenged me to explore just why. I wrote this post in response – as a complement to her chapter, not as any kind of critique or rebuttal.
But for that reason I wanted to be able to cite her work and acknowledge its inspiration. And Susi in turn needed to get permission from her editors and publisher. Hence the delay in this Christmas post until after the season. Even so, I hope you’ll be able to summon up those feelings of a few weeks ago as you read this. Maybe listening to the music will help. ..Bill]
Ever heard of Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure? How about Adolphe Charles Adams? No? One last chance. John Sullivan Dwight?
Even so, we all owe this trio. Big time.
Together, they gave us O Holy Night!, one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of music we hear every Christmas. Placide, a nineteenth-century wineseller, was asked by his parish priest in 1847 to pen a Christmas poem. Once done, he thought his words should be set to music, so he importuned his friend Adolphe, a composer of some note back then. John translated the French lyrics into English for us.
Uplifting words! Hauntingly beautiful, especially when the vocalist has the needed range. Always fresh. Don’t know about you, but for me this hymn is special. I never get tired of it. Here’s a version…one of many.
And that’s a good thing, because every year we hear the same selections of carols, hymns, and tunes over and over and over…at Starbucks, in the mall, on the car radio, television, there’s no escape. Santa Claus keeps coming to town. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer saves the day thousands if not millions of times. Sleigh bells ring…and we are all listening. And listening. And listening.
But back to hope.
Sometimes it seems there isn’t that much of it these days. Why should there be, Bill? The Middle East is ravaged by turmoil and upheaval. Africa struggles with poverty, violence, and corruption. In Europe and America, unemployment is rampant, we all owe thousands of dollars – trillions, in aggregate – and the 2008 global collapse of the financial sector threatens to repeat should the Euro fold. In Europe, Africa, and Asia, there’s rioting in the streets. Here in America, Occupy has us occupied. Worldwide, we watch as the worst leaders abdicate their responsibility; even the best struggle to gain any semblance of control over events. As individuals, we tussle with aging, health care, education, jobs…and oh, don’t forget all those less-than-ideal family relationships, especially around the holidays. You name it, we’re struggling with it.
Plenty of reasons for real concern.
And, if, like me, your business is Earth observations, science, and services, you may feel an additional overlay of reasons for gloom. Our observations and the science tell a dismal story of environmental degradation, reduction in biodiversity and habitat, unsustainable use of ecosystem services and water resources, climate warming because of over-dependence on fossil fuels, and increasing vulnerability to natural hazards. Seven billion of us are on a collision course with global limits. What’s worse, the public shows few signs of listening to the message or supporting the necessary actions.
The ancient Norse had one response to this: Ragnarǫk: a final battle in which many of their gods, including Odin, Thor, and Loki die. This has been immortalized in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. The idea? Accept the fact that things will end disastrously, but nonetheless continue in your personal thoughts and actions to show the virtues: bravery, integrity, selflessness, etc. It’s the ultimate test of our character.
But is there no room for hope?
Recall that Daniel Boorstin, in his major work, The Discoverers, argued, as have others, that science of the last thousand years has largely been a western accomplishment because those from the Judeo-Christian culture felt that since God was/is a God of order, that they could find order in His creation, the universe. This gave scientists hope. So they sought order, and boy did they find it – everywhere they’ve looked. In physics. In chemistry. In geology. In biology. In evolution. In the origins of the universe. We continue to find new evidence of such order each day.
That same tradition teaches that God is a God of hope more broadly. So…maybe, if we look, we’ll find reasons to hope.
To start, let’s agree that to be hopeful should mean something quite different from being delusional. Or based in fantasy. Any reason for hope has to be based in reality. We’re all Living on the Real World.
Remember, as we saw back on August 2, to be realistic, we need approaches that are effective, that can be implemented quickly, and that will be inexpensive. As noted then and in other posts, on the face of it, it seems unrealistic to seek solutions that possess even a single one of these attributes, let alone all three. But in fact, this conundrum is resolved by focusing on approaches that are emergent…that start small and then take on a life of their own. Again and again, we’ve come back to four:
– Leadership development (Susi’s subject!)
– Social networking
– A basis of facts.
Individual posts over the past eighteen months have expanded on these notions. Policies are frameworks for making decisions, and making thousands of them quickly and effectively, from place to place and instant to instant. With the right policies in place, seven billion of us can increasingly pull in the same effective direction. And as slow as the policy process sometimes seems, it’s lightning fast in its implementation. Leaders? Much easier to equip small numbers of leaders than seven billion of us. [Not with this or that narrow doctrine. This is not about brainwashing. It’s simply helping them as they sort through for themselves, individually, the values, the ethics, the strengths and skills they’ll need for their work.] And recall…we specifically need a vast variety of perspectives in our leaders. If it didn’t exist, such diversity would have to be invented. Social networking? Increasingly, we need, and are developing, wiki- and open-source approaches to a wider range of our problems and challenges. And finally, it helps to have the facts. Facts about the Earth as a resource, a victim, and a threat…but also facts about how we’re made and how we function as individuals and societies within that system.
In each instance, it’s not a matter of starting something that doesn’t exist. Each of these efforts is already underway…not in any single place or institution, but in a variety of settings. Each is enabled by the rise in information technology – itself an emergence that seems almost providential. Each is accelerating.
It could be this is how it feels when things are going well.
Want a homework assignment? Google “hope quotations” and check out some of the listings. To whet your appetite, here are two. They’re not by any means the best, but one comes close to capturing what most of us often feel, and the second comes from an important figure in our field.
“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” Robert H. Goddard