John Hain

Hopelessness and the Path Forward

Hopelessness.  We have all felt it.  We can all agree that there is a gnawing and/or lingering pain deep inside of us that can be represented by that one word, Hopelessness.  Some of us are just coming out of a sense of hopelessness.  Some of us are just entering.  Either way, we all feel it together, because we are all connected.  We all interpret the same experience from different contexts. 

Often, we focus on extreme opposite contexts. Each side believes they are the good guys.  One side is meek, holding sobering compassion, the other wants nothing more than to be a hero.  What both sides do not realize is that they are fundamentally pulled by the same base human desires, wants, and needs; with varying gradients of each.  Both sides want to be heard, seen, acknowledged, accepted, valued, and validated.  They want to know that their perspective has value. That their life has meaning.  That they make a contribution; even if the contribution is to rebel or just plain out not contribute.  We can recognize that complacency is a choice.  That even as a non-vote your very existence counts as a variation of our shared experience, thus is a contribution to the expression of what a human is.  We all exist relative to each other.  We are not just one side or another.  We are not just black and white – we all contribute to existence by bringing ourselves to each other. 

As a species, we are stronger together than we are apart.  As individual tribes in a coalition of overarching shared values, this is what made the United States a powerful country in the world.  We have struggled to maintain shared values, when we can barely live by a shared belief in our constitution that “all men are created equal”.  Maybe it should instead say, all humans are equally valuable.  We are not born equal, in that the world in which we are born has varying degrees of scarcity or abundance.  However, humans are equal, in that they can be valued equally.  The places from which their knowledge and wisdom come from, are of equal value, and all contribute to our shared experience.  We are all equal, in that we get to choose what we hold as meaningful.   “We all have our own right to derive our meaning from within.” (Shimek, Z., in discussion, 2021).

Being equal, on the other hand, does not make us entitled to forcing our meaning onto each other.  It means that we are all “sovereign” beings who are subject to the responses of other sovereign beings who hold different things as meaningful.  In other words, if one person’s meaning is to interpret a riot as a “revolution”, they are subject to other sovereign being’s meaning, whose interpretation of a riot is “sedition”.  If we are to come together, we have to honor both meanings as valid. 

So, what makes someone see the January 6th riot as a revolution?  What makes someone see it as an act of sedition?  We all know that the system is flawed.  It is flawed because it is made of humans, and humans are, by nature, flawed.  Humans are also perfect.  In their flawed nature, they are perfect.  They each represent a perfect expression looking for the perfect context.  It reminds me of the quote that is not by Albert Einstein, and is instead an allegory that represents how often we are mismatched with our context…. “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

In other words, we all have our strengths and weaknesses.  They are often the same thing – only they are weaknesses in the wrong context, and strengths in the right context. 

For years, my husband was waiting for the world to end.  Not because he wanted it to end, because he knew his skills and talents were of more use during times of strife.  It wasn’t until he and I discovered a little mindfulness practice where we let our strengths evolve on our own metaphoric personal islands.  In our heads, in other words.  On our individual island lives everything that is important to us as an individual.  We decide what is valuable, meaningful, and necessary in our lives.  Everyone’s island is their own.  Circling it is a stream where every drop of water is another thought, sensation, and emotion.  The place where each of us exist, is in the present moment.  The stream flows forward into the future, and meanders back to us from the past.  In front of us, into the future, we can see it bend around our island.  If the contents of the stream are important, it stays on or around the island.  If it is not of any importance or consequence, it flows out into the ocean to join the abyss.  If it is needed in some future present moment, it comes right back to you, from the past.  In this process, we can learn to trust ourselves.

We can trust that what we hold as valuable is true; however, we must first recognize what it truly is that we hold as valuable.  So that we can learn to honor our own value as well as each other’s value.  This is how we can come together. 

Why is this important?  Why is it important that we come to a consensus…that we come together?  This is not a “Kumbaya” moment.  There are very real threats to our species.  At an instinctual level, we can sense it, the way the elk can sense that a volcano is about to erupt.  Our volcano comes in the form of a plague and climate change.  Both of which cannot be denied any longer.  Our coasts are getting pelted with hurricanes, fires, mudslides unlike we have ever experienced.  Then throw in a global pandemic.  This is all that stupid word…. unprecedented.  Why don’t we use a thesaurus and instead say other words like unparalleled, unrivaled, unmatched, bizarre, incomparable, unequaled, unique, exceptional…. etc.  All those words are another way to say, this has never happened before. 

Yes, we’ve had plagues, yes, we’ve had climate change.  We have never had them at the same time while living with technology, and a population explosion.  Unless anyone remembers and or believes in Atlantis.  Maybe Atlantis was a parable to remind us of how delicate and precarious our existence really is.  I digress.

It is hard to predict what will happen when events like this converge…. because none of us have ever experienced this.  We are all doing the best we can with what we know.  Now if we could just get out of each other’s way and acknowledge that we all need to come together.  We need to come together, because ultimately, there is a possibility that many of us are not going to make it.  The earth is shifting….and we are subject to its shift.     Our reaction to the earth’s shift is our own responsibility.  We can own it, deny it, ignore it, fight it, or try to live within the shift.  At some point, nature will take away that choice, by means of natural disasters. 

By acknowledging each of our value and meaning, we tap into a global source of strength, agility, and resiliency.  When we work together, we can tap into each other’s collective skillsets and passions.  Even rebellion and complacency are a strength in the appropriate context.  We will not be stronger by choosing one way over the other, we are stronger when we choose all the ways.  Like Pink Floyd says in “The Wall”, “together we stand, divided we fall.”  You can also quote various other songs or go back to ancient Greek and Aesop’s fables, or even the bible.  Aesop says:  “United we stand, divided we fall.”  The bible is quoted as:  “And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand’,” in both Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17.

In whichever way we say it, this truth is self-evident.  The question is where do we stand together?