On hope

Thea Snow
5 min readJan 18, 2024

The transition from 2023 to 2024 felt a bit like a tumble. Harrowing news about wars, natural disasters, and political unrest meant that I found myself welcoming the new year with a sense of foreboding, rather than my usual sense of hope.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and wondering what to do about it. And I’ve realised the importance — for me at least — of recognising and acknowledging these feelings, but then continuing to hope. Hope feels important for three main reasons: because hope inspires action; because hope plays an important role in narrative-shaping; and because hope supports connection and movement-building.

Hope inspires action

Last year — particularly towards the end of the year — there were times when I observed in myself a sense of hopelessness (unusual for me). This resulted in a sense of apathy, which made it hard to feel motivated to do much at all. Without a sense of hope, it feels hard to understand why you would want to keep working, trying, pushing, agitating. Hopelessness can lead to a sense of paralysis, or what Adam Grant calls “languishing”.

In contrast to this, hope inspires action. When we feel hopeful, we feel motivated to contribute and to act. We feel a sense of agency. As Rebecca Solnit explains,

“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.”

Solnit also draws an interesting distinction between optimism and hope:

“Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterwards either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”

Hope shapes narratives

Hope is also important because of the role it plays in influencing the narratives that shape our lives. Social Change Initiative defines a narrative as, “a collection of stories which together convey a common worldview or meaning — it is a shared interpretation of the world and how it works.” If we allow ourselves to be dominated by narratives of hopelessness and despair, that risks becoming our reality. In contrast, if we collectively craft hopeful narratives, we give ourselves greater opportunities to care, and push ourselves to create a world we will be proud for our ancestors to inherit.

But how can we contribute to shaping hopeful narratives? By telling hopeful stories. As Digital Storytellers explain in this blog, “Fear-driven stories have a way of hijacking our limbic systems, triggering our ‘fight, flight, freeze response’, and robbing us of one key factor that is fundamental to our ability to keep going and be resilient during times of uncertainty and despair: hope.” Building on this, John Hagel explains, “Threat-based narratives feed our fear. Opportunity-based narratives, in contrast, help to cultivate hope and excitement about the future and motivate us to seek out the opportunity.”

Hope allows us to tell stories and craft narratives about what the world can be; rather than accepting it as it is.

Hope supports connection and movement-building

The final reason why hope feels so important is because of the role it plays in building movements for change. A shared sense of hope can be a powerful force for connection and coalition building.

There are many studies in the field of environment, for example, which demonstrate that hope is positively related to climate change engagement and pro-environmental behaviours among adults, adolescents and children. When people coalesce around shared goals, they can unite around a collective vision for the future. Hope also helps maintain momentum within a movement.

Hope versus wishful thinking

As Octavia Butler points out, “Wishful thinking is no more help in predicting the future than fear, superstition or depression.” But hope and wishful thinking are different things. When I write about hope, I mean “grounded hope” (borrowing from Feldman and Kravetz’s Supersurvivors) — a form of hope based not on positive thinking, but on a commitment to reflection and taking positive actions.

For me, being hopeful doesn’t mean avoiding hard realities. It means acknowledging them, but not letting them overwhelm or paralyse me. To hope is to acknowledge the grief, suffering, pain and disappointment that characterises every human life and society, but to understand that everything is transient, and not a cause for despair or hopelessness. To hope is to recognise that life is also full of joy and possibility.

At this moment in time, things feel particularly unstable and uncertain. And it may well be that we are entering a period where there will be more suffering than many of us have known in our lifetimes. However, many models of change identify that disruptions are necessary to bring about big shifts. These disruptions can cause immense pain and discomfort (sometimes for long periods of time). But they can also be incredibly generative and usher in paradigm shifts that wouldn’t be possible without the disruption. This is not to diminish the reality of the pain that might need to be endured. But it is to emphasise that we should not lose hope. As Rebecca Solnit has argued, we need to embrace uncertainty and recognise that positive changes often emerge from unexpected places — “We don’t know what is going to happen, or how, or when, and that very uncertainty is the space of hope.”

Faced with a newsfeed which seems destined to push us towards despair, it doesn’t feel easy to hope right now. But to choose to hope is an act of courage and defiance. Choosing hope enables us to keep pushing forward; to keep connecting with one another; to keep imagining and creating a different and better world.

So, despite the world feeling darker right now than it has for some time, I’m choosing hope. I hope you can too.

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