Sometimes you just need to feel hopeful- whether you’re saving an endangered species from extinction or simply (HAH!) concerned about the political situation these days. I recently read ‘Saving Wild: Inspiration from 50 Leading Conservationists’ edited by Lori Robinson. The book is comprised of short pieces by people like Richard Louv and Tom Mangelsen about how they stay inspired doing work that can often incite despair. Not surprisingly, my favorite contribution is from Dr. Amanda Stronza, an environmental anthropologist at Texas A&M University, who finds hope “in the small and singular.” She writes, “In homes around the world and in the U.S., I’ve learned to see conservation by paying attention to the one- the one moment, the one place, the one person.”
I also find hope in life’s small moments of big connection. I couldn’t go on caring about the well-being of other people, other animals, and other beings if I thought otherwise. If I am anxious about the way another living thing or our planet is being treated, it’s because I believe that we have the chance- the opportunity- to do the right thing. To be loving, compassionate, ethical, and respectful instead of cruel, greedy, selfish, or apathetic. I have hope that we humans will continue to do the right thing more often than not, which will ultimately result in a world with less unnecessary suffering.
Another insightful dose of hope came from Andrew Schelling who wrote an article titled ‘Bardo of Lost Mammals’ for Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine. The 17 years that separate now from the publication date are merely a blink of an eye in both evolutionary history and the cyclical nature of time from the Buddhist perspective. For this reason, I believe everything Schelling wrote in 2001 is still relevant today, maybe even more so. I discovered this essay in Schelling’s book Wild Form & Savage Grammar: Poetry, Ecology, Asia in which I wildly and savagely underlined, drew hearts, and scribbled notes on the pages as I read. I cried at the end of this piece, enchanted and inspired by his fresh perspective. I hope you read it and enjoy it too. (Note: Think of bardo as the Buddhist equivalent of the Christian limbo.)
Here are the ways in which Schelling and Stronza have encouraged me to keep hoping:
Hope is based on the belief that all beings will accompany us on the ‘Great Journey.’ All creatures desire and deserve to be free from suffering. We are all connected and interdependent.
Hope is accepting impermanence. This state of environmental destruction in which we find ourselves will not last forever- it is just one moment. Even moments of destruction, despair, and suffering can inspire hope because they do not imply or foretell the future. Schelling’s piece concludes, “…With some hard, intelligent work—by eco-activists, biologists, game wardens, Buddhist practitioners, and poets—this might not have to be a hell for some notable species, but a bardo. An in-between state.”
Finally, I realized how often I find hope in experiencing small moments, single places, and individual lives on a grand and mysterious scale. See the infinite in the infinitesimal. Keep working and keep hoping, my fellow primates!
Alison, thank you for your insightful perspective on hope in an oftentimes depressing field. Your post was just what I needed to read today. I look forward to reading some of the pieces you mentioned.
Your words are grounding in a time that seems so desparate, reminding me to live in the present. I am so grateful the forces in this world crossed our paths two years ago! You are an inspiration 🙂