coverMacy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone (2012) Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. New World Library: Novato, CA.

This is an antidote to the despair many of us in the sustainability profession feel about the state of the world. The authors provide concepts and tools for us to find satisfaction in our efforts beside the challenges. It includes stories and also exercises and in this way is similar to doing one of Joanna’s workshops, although doing it alone will not be as impactful.

The problems we face are so daunting that many people turn away or get burned out. But the authors maintain that hope has two meanings. The first is related to hopefulness, that you think the outcomes you want will come to pass. This form of hope in the face of climate change and species extinction can lead to despair. But hope is also about desire, what you’d like to have happen in the world. “Active hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have.” The steps of active hope are:

--Take a clear view of reality

--Identify what you hope for (direction and values)

--Take steps to move the situation and ourselves in that direction

“Since Active Hope doesn’t require our optimism, we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless.” (p3)

We are encouraged to see our striving as similar to the many hero’s journey stories (Odyssey, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc.) where an apparently ill-prepared protagonist embarks on a journey where there is no guarantee of success. They face many obstacles on their path, engage others in the quest, summon unknown inner resources, and develop along the way.

The authors also encourage us to see ourselves and our efforts in a larger context. We may only be doing a little piece but we are part of the Great Turning. I loved how rainforest activist John Seed described his efforts:

“I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am the part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking.” (p 94)

The book lays out three different types of actions needed: holding actions (to preserve what we have); life sustaining systems and practices; and shift in consciousness. You may be more drawn to one type of action or another or you might evolve from one to another. In any case, this book and the concepts in it are useful tools to take on your hero’s journey.