"Passive hope is about waiting for external agencies to bring about what we desire. Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for. Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have."
—Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy
We are in high gear at the Natural Hazards Center as we prepare to launch our 45th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop. In anticipation of that event—which will be held virtually for the first time ever—I wanted to share how the theme of Active Hope began for me on a personal level and then morphed into an organizing frame for this year’s meeting.
As 2018 came to an end, I found myself overwhelmed by the condition of our world. I was in despair over a number of things—the changing climate, escalating disaster losses, worsening economic inequality, the suffering of so many people, and the lack of ethically and scientifically informed decision-making in some areas of our society.
What kept me from becoming paralyzed by my sadness and worry was a book called Active Hope. A friend and fellow sociologist had enthusiastically recommended this book as a way to process the grim social and environmental problems we face, while recognizing that, even with the gravest threats, there is always something we can do in response.
At the outset of the book, authors Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone introduce the idea of a “Spiral of Work that Reconnects.” They envision the spiral as four successive movements, which they refer to as coming from gratitude, honoring our pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and going forth.
Gratitude is the starting place, they write, because “when we come from gratitude, we become more present to the wonder of being alive in this amazing living world, to the many gifts we receive, to the beauty we appreciate.” Through this act of valuing our world, we can become more observant and be more present. Gratitude strengthens us emotionally, and it prepares us for what comes next.
The second phase in the spiral entails honoring the pain, grief, and even outrage that we might feel when we consider the degradations and violations that are currently underway—ecological destruction, racism, sexism, political polarization, and the fraying of our social fabric. Admitting we are in anguish is crucial, Macy and Johnstone tell us, because this is what activates our “siren of inner alarm” that “alerts us to danger but also reveals our profound caring.”
This deepened sense of care for one another and our world will allow us to move into the third phase, where we see with new eyes and recognize how we fit within an interdependent web of life. This shift in perception can also illuminate many resources—those inside us, as well as all around us—that can strengthen our response to the various perils we may face.
As we reach the final station in the spiral, we go forth, which involves “clarifying our vision for how we can act for the healing of our world, identifying practical steps that move our vision forward.” Macy and Johnstone encourage us to ask ourselves, what part would I like to play in the changes I’ve envisioned? That question can move us from a position of passive hope to the stance of becoming active participants in creating what we hope for.
This last concept was perhaps the most important insight that I gained from this book—Active Hope is not about feeling hopeful or optimistic about the future. It is about doing something to actualize the hope that we have for our lives or our world. It is a practice that we can engage in to move forward in a more just and sustainable way.
This recognition helped me to see what I could do to begin my own Spiral of Work that Reconnects. I made a 2019 New Year’s resolution to write publicly each day about something or someone that inspired a sense of gratitude in me. This resolution gave birth to #365daysofhope, during which I used social media to share instances of ingenuity, compassion, integrity, and moral courage that came into such sharp focus once I began looking more carefully.
As I drew the #365daysofhope series to a close on December 31, 2019, I knew that I wanted the 45th Annual Natural Hazards Workshop to be organized around the theme of Active Hope. I saw this as an opportunity for us to work together to establish a clear view of reality, to use that view to identify solutions, and to decide on the individual and collective steps we can take to move in a new direction. I also thought this was the right way to honor members of our hazards and disaster community, who are visionary in so many ways. Indeed, those in this field have long been concerned with documenting the urgent realities we face while also imagining the possibilities of reducing risk.
Although public health recommendations and our commitment to one another mean that we cannot gather in person in Colorado this summer, we will still come together—albeit virtually—as we always do, to listen to and learn from one another. We are excited to bring you the same rich content and inspiring speakers that you’ve come to expect from the Natural Hazards Workshop.
I am also thrilled to share that we will have a chance to hear directly from author and widely recognized resilience expert Chris Johnstone who will teach us more about the principles of Active Hope that inspired both me and this year’s Workshop theme.
Active Hope encourages us to find our inner strength and collective power as we move toward a newly envisioned future. On behalf of the entire Natural Hazards Center team, please know that we are looking forward to continuing this journey with you.
Please take care of yourself and others.
Lori Peek, Director
Natural Hazards Center