What makes hopeful people hopeful?

When the future becomes harder to face, how do some people continue to live and act out of hope, conscious though they are of pervasive violence and injustice?

I have been sitting down with people who work with hope in difficult circumstances, wondering what they have in common. Among them are people with experience of being a refugee, homeless, or bereaved; people who work to support others, such as community workers and therapists; and people working for social change. I tell some of their stories in an eight-part series on the Hope’s work blog.

Despite the diversity of their backgrounds, all the people I have heard from appear to have six ‘qualities’ in common, which culminate in a characteristic attitude or way of being that sustains them in their hopeful work. These qualities are summarised below in the form of queries.

Six ‘core conditions’ of conscious hope

Alive to the world

When events seem distant and reduce us to spectators, how much do we still feel present to them, like witnesses, knowing that those events make a claim on how we might live?

What do we need to stay alive to the life of the world?

A feeling for promise

When the talk is all doom, how familiar are we with the world as a place of vitality, generous in delight, striving to flourish?

What do we need to receive the promise of the world more openly?

Facing tragedy

When tempted to hide from the world as a tragic place, how ready are we reckon with the violence that makes it that way, be it physical, economic, cultural, ecological, or any other kind?

Where does the courage to face up to violence come from?

Reading power

When the structures of power seem like a brick wall, how attentive are we to a world in process, more like a forest, in which the power of every participant counts?

What do we need to notice the ways things change, and so read the world as an ecology of power?

Committing

In a time of losses – when the prospect of tomorrow is hard to face – how committed are we nonetheless to living for what has worth today?

What do we need to hold faith with what matters in the present, whatever the future may bring?

Solidarity

When the challenges ahead seem overwhelming, how open are we to holding hope in common, accompanying one another in the work?

What do we need to assume our own share of hope’s work, while trusting others to play theirs?