I used to be a bit of a hope hater. I got tired of people saying “all we can do is hope”, telling “stories of hope” and holding onto “hope” as though it was the answer to the world’s problems.
The facts are what we need, I thought. People don’t need to be told about hope. They need to know the harsh reality of life for so many other people, so that they are moved. They must be educated, challenged. The truth will speak for itself.
I still believe that facts and reality are vital. When I speak on issues of human exploitation and social injustice, I make sure those listening know what reality is like for their neighbours, or fellow humans further afield. I don’t believe in hiding or diluting the truth when it comes to these things. In fact, I am an advocate for a good dose of anguish to accompany us on our journeys of activism.
However, part of the truth, I have realised, is that we do have hope. And hope is part of what we carry on our voyage towards changing reality. Hope fed by little changes and victories; hope feeding our hunger for more. I’ve come to agree with my friend, who reminds me that we must always “frame it in hope”.
If you have spent some time on this blog, you will know that my favourite book is C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe – and has been since I was 6. Here is the copy my parents read to me then, which is one of the 7-part series now sitting proudly on my book shelf:
It is the story of a land under the spell of winter at the hands of the White Witch: a land where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.” The land awakens under whispers that the Lion is on his way, as birds suddenly chirp, the sky becomes bluer and bluer, a light breeze springs up carrying delicious scents against the faces of travellers, trees begin to come fully alive and green, bees buzz across their path. (Gah! See why I love this book?) Mr Beaver tells the four visitors to Narnia that “Aslan is on the move…perhaps has already landed. And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realise it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.”
Lucy feels hope.
I got to share last Friday at a Tell It In Colour event in Belfast, on International Women’s Day. The theme was, funnily enough, “stories of hope”. Rather than roll my eyes, I welcomed the opportunity to tell those gathered in the room of the hope that I have found in my involvement in the abolition of modern-day slavery in Northern Ireland. I feel like Lucy when I hear of the 30+ victims rescued this past year; of the stories of individuals giving of their time towards raising awareness; of amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill aiming to deter potential traffickers; of secondary schools raising over £1,000 for advocacy work.
But I can’t simply keep it in a jar. That is when hope becomes unnecessary and I become a hope hater. I think Rebecca Solnit sums it up:
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the Earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginalized… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”