The Gift of Practical Hope

[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]

When I step back, I still find it hard to believe how intense the last year has been. What an immense range of challenges we as a society and individuals have faced. With spring weather and the increased availability of vaccines in parts of the world, perhaps you’ve found yourself feeling a faint glimmer of possibility and wondering, “Is it okay to hope?”

And yet, with so many heavy, unresolved problems—from the heart-rending situation in the Middle East to the violence against Black and Asian communities—it can feel naïve to hope.  At the same time,  the alternative seems even bleaker: giving up and feeling hopeless.

There is another option beyond the extremes of wishful thinking or despair. I call it “practical hope.”

I went through a few years of chronic illness in my mid-30s. With each new doctor, supplement or treatment, I would allow myself to hope for a cure and end up feeling devastated when it didn’t come to pass.

This is the trap of ordinary hope, which is tenuous. It places our wellbeing on an uncertain future beyond our control and ignores our agency in the here and now. When the wished-for outcome isn’t realized, we are crushed.

Practical hope is a stable perspective that starts from where we are. We assess the reality of what’s happening around us, as well as our own resources and capacities. When we include both the external and internal realities, we can begin to respond effectively.

The human species has some intractable problems that are going to take tremendous cooperation, energy, and determination to shift. Instead of placing our hopes on a vague sense of “things getting better,” we can place our faith in the only thing that has ever brought about change: concrete action in the here and now connected with vision.

Transformation is possible. It depends not on wishful thinking but on what we do and say in the present.

We can ask: “What is our vision? What are our resources? What’s possible right now?” What can we do today that will move us in the direction we want to travel, however incremental?

In this sense, practical hope is something that we do, more than something we have. It’s a way of aligning our hearts with what’s most important to us, and engaging our energy to move towards it.

All of us have been called to change and adapt our lives during this pandemic and the massive social problems and inequities we face. That begins by recognizing what is possible, and taking a small step in that direction. Then, regardless of the outcome, we can be at ease knowing that we’re acting with integrity and playing our small part.


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Oren Jay Sofer is a Collaborative Trainer here at BayNVC, and teaches mindfulness and communication locally and nationally. He is a member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council, a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication, founder of Next Step Dharma and co-founder of Mindful Healthcare. He is the author of Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication and coauthor of Teaching Mindfulness to Empower Adolescents.

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