In The Book of Hope, a dialogue between Jane Goodall and writer Douglas Abrams, the pair discuss the difference between hope and optimism. According to Goodall, the latter means wishful thinking while hope reflects a decision to work toward a good end. A philosophy major in my undergraduate days, I grew accustomed to word parsing. Whether hope and optimism are different or the same, I leave to the opinion of others.
That said, Goodall’s book recounts many anecdotes about individuals who have acted to make the world a better place. In turn, these uplifting stories foster an atmosphere of hope which is what the world needs. Even so, my word for the new year isn’t hope but kindness. Hope reflects an intent to work toward solutions. Kindness is the solution.
Daily, the news media screams about the need for kindness as it reflects human acts to the contrary. What we see is a montage of human greed and cruelty. Like the ghost of Christmas Past, headlines present us with a history of billionaires and grifters who stand ready to trawl for the last fish in the ocean, destroy the last tree of a forest, and sustain themselves with polluting industries that reward their workers with cancer.
We read stories of churches that spew hatred and observe leaders so driven by blind ambition, they threaten world peace. We’ve grown so inured to this resume of human history that the humanitarian crisis at our southern border brings few tears to the eye. Why should it when scenes of Afghan women being beaten like cattle barely makes us blink?
Scrolling down the pages of any newspaper, we witness horrors greater than any to be found in Dante’s Inferno–suggesting, perhaps, that where cruelty is concerned, the mind of man exceeds God’s imagination.
Hope, the intention to do good, as Goodall describes it, strikes me as insufficient to the challenge of shaping a better world. We can do more than hope. We can act.
Some people are succeeding in bringing about change. A recent gathering of nations closed with an agreement to support biodiversity; U. S. scientists have made a breakthrough in nuclear fusion, a clean energy source; The omnibus spending bill Congress recently passed hints at a return to bi-partisan politics, though elsewhere goodwill barely registers a pulse. Russia sends drones to reduce Ukraine to shrapnel. To their credit, the brave citizens of that country use this technology to guide Russian soldiers to safety.
What a piece of work is man. Our truth is born from our assumptions, Our state of mind determines our health. Entanglements in the brain point us to a plane where truth becomes ephemeral, altered by the presence of an observer. In sum, we create our world.
Shall we despair or hope for the human condition? We have a choice. As Eric Maria Remarque wrote in All Quiet on the Western Front, there is always a choice, even in war. A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies; a word of command might transform them into our friends.
Goodall is right to honor hope. But, if we wish to save our species, let us choose kindness