Gritty Hope: now what could possibly go right?

“If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”  ~~Noam Chomsky

The “What Could Possibly Go Right?” team has new weekly episodes planned through the end of 2020 – a year that so far has not gone right at all. It’s gone from bad to worse, with more in store. The pandemic ground normal life to a halt. Economic precarity followed. Tempers frayed; drinking increased along with waistlines. The #BlackLivesMatter uprising swept millions into the streets, which brought out militias, increasing extreme polarization. All of this against the implacable backdrop of climate disruptions, with smoke from forest infernos now literally in the faces of people on the West Coast of the United States. 

Asking “what could possibly go right?” might seem tone deaf given these trials—like saccharine positivity, or a question for the privileged few.

It is none of these. It is a way of shining a light, as precisely as possible, onto what is growing in the cracks, right now, as the old ways buckle like a road in an earthquake. It’s not “what could possibly go right?” as resistance to the pain, nor projecting a better future. It’s supporting our social body’s healing response.

I find this question has me cocking my head as if listening for a distant sound. It is like a hunch that becomes a hypothesis, leading to research and new knowledge. What do we actually see when we stop looking through mental models and filters? 

Or it’s an entrepreneurial question: what opportunities are visible now that some obstacles have fallen away? In capitalism, entrepreneurship means exploiting a niche ripe for profit, but for social changemakers, it can mean discovering fresh approaches to problems so intractable you could lean on them and they would not budge. 

“What could possibly go right?” is also just a personal mantra. A question I hold as I go through my day.

At the end of our first 15 interviews, I wrote my own answer to “What could possibly go right?” Since then, more has gone wrong—more black men shot by police, and skirmishes in Portland after the peaceful protestors have gone home. In one week, the president heralded an underage man  who killed two protesters with a borrowed gun, while a self-identified Antifa member shot an alt-right protester and was later killed by police. Then the two parties had their conventions in August and staked out their territory – one of decency and diversity, the other of law and order. From the reactions, it was clear that what you saw depended on what media you consumed. The buildup to the election now feels like two thunderheads on a collision course.  

Yet, after 15+ interviews with cultural scouts, I seem less despondent about what we are losing, and more willing to see the green shoots. 

Here are a few of the provocative ideas our guests have evoked in me.

Movements matter. 

We may be breaking the choke hold hyper-individualism has on us. We see it in the solidarity rising around the planet, in the peaceful protests against racist thinking and policies, and in the civic spirit rising. We are a social species, cooperation in groups is how we’ve survived. I’m weeding out go-it-alone heroism from my garden, and I am planting humility and playing-my-part. 

Humans are a migratory species. 

Our ancestors have followed the green edge of the changing climate again and again for millions of years – glaciers growing and retreating, mountains rising and wearing away. While I bemoan this, I know that, were I to live 100 more years and stay put, my dear companions, the Douglas Fir will have died and their offspring migrated North. The earth I was born into is not the one I will die out of. Humans have always been in motion,; life is always on the move. The trailing edge of tribes are those dying off and the leading edge are those carrying on. I choose for that to be interesting, not tragic; to grieve properly and stop inwardly resisting the loss.

Humans have screwed up again and again. 

Severn Suzuki told a story carried by the Haida people about the disappearance of an oily fish that you could actually dry and light for a candle. The fish left, the Haida said, because humans disrespected them and took too many. Indigenous culture by definition is tied to the land. I used to think indigenous knowledge was too far gone and elemental to bring into the modern world, but now I think – thanks to Severn and Lyla June Johnson and Sherri Mitchell – that this wisdom is crucial and the indigenous people have not abandoned us. They are here to teach. They’ve lived long enough in place to be taught by nature how to behave. They’ve survived the decimations that we may be facing. I find this incredibly comforting –knowing that tribes have screwed up and learned lessons and carried on. And we can too. 

Everything takes longer than you think it will.

This was the last piece of advice from my friend and partner, Joe Dominguez. 

When counseling distraught people, I used to suggest that they “pour in time,” meaning everything doesn’t need to happen all at once, no matter how urgent it feels. You can stretch actions out over time and handle the welter of challenges sequentially. I often feel overwhelmed by the pace of the unraveling. With social media and news apps idling on my phone, the end of the world as we know it is literally at hand. 

Some of our cultural scouts, though, work on a longer time frame. They see humans as a young and evolving species. They say things have to come apart to allow new patterns to emerge. Before our interview series, such sweet talk seemed like a spiritual bypass to me, like an unwillingness to open one’s heart as this sh*tshow rolls through town. Now I can see that, should we get through this knothole in time, we may emerge cleansed of the need to reach for competition and violence at every turn. We may develop, iteratively, a more cooperative operating system. What looks like an emergency now may be, in Universe time, a skinned knee. 

“What could possibly go right?” To hold such a brazen question in tough times, we may just have to dig deeper into our souls, and accept that “right” may not ripen for decades or even centuries.

Even as my heart breaks for those suffering the consequences of our monumental blindness to the cost of modernity, I still ask, “What could possibly go right?” 

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In your life now… what could possibly go right? 

Originally published on Resilience.org.

FYI: What Could Possibly Go Right? was born of a series of interviews – the CoVida conversations – I did in April right after the Pandemic hit. Check that series out here, with three featured interviews with David Korten, Robert Gilman and Sherri Mitchell.

 

 

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