Having hope as a rebellion
I was recently chatting with two very good friends about systemic problems that have been bringing us down. We talked about the anguish around the climate emergency and anxiety over the disappearing COVID-19 regulations in our province, among others. In my conversation with them, we found our way to the issue of hope. How do we retain any sense of optimism, in view of how much despair there is in the world? I want to write today about the response I shared with them: how having hope can be a rebellion.
Freedom of choice
Let’s start with existentialism. Existentialism is a way of understanding the world that centres the personal experience, by means of one’s existence, freedom, and choice. Although it can be difficult to summarize philosophical concepts, the core ideas behind this philosophy are that we have freedom of choice, which makes us responsible for our interpretations and actions. As a consequence, this accountability can make us feel angst. On the other hand, this freedom means we can make our own meaning out of every experience.
Since existentialism poses that there’s no One Truth (we make our own truth), it can be easy to fall into nihilism. In nihilism, the belief is that there is no ultimate meaning, therefore there is no true value in experiences. Nothing is better than something else; there are no moral standards. The problem with this view is that it can lead to hopelessness; if there’s no guiding compass, then there is no way towards improvement.
The distinction above is important. A potential way of understanding the consequence of having the power of choice in meaning-making, is that we have two options. One, we can assume that because there is no unifying Truth, there’s no purpose and, therefore, no meaning to life. The other is that, if we have freedom of choice, we can make meaning out of life. This is where I think we can choose hope.
Choosing meaning and disrupting the status quo
What happens when we choose the meaning we give to life? There’s freedom and, as a result, agency. This isn’t completely far-reaching; there are limits to this power when we live in a system that likes to keep us in check. Those environmental factors want to keep us confined and they often manage to do so. Viktor Frankl, a prominent figure in psychology, talked about it extensively. He proposed that, even in the most horrible circumstances, we have the freedom to choose our attitude towards what happens around us. He was a survivor of the concentration camps during WWII, and he attributed his survival to having this capacity.
While there can be anguish around the climate emergency or the change in regulations around COVID-19, there can also be freedom in the meaning we make out of it. What if the meaning we made was that of hope? I invite you to think about it this way: if we lose hope, we tend to collapse into ourselves. There’s no purpose in attempting change and there is no justice. Even though this can be a very real experience when we have little power in an oppressive system, it is also favourable for those in power. It maintains everything as they want it. That learned helplessness keep us from acting on our agency and our sphere of power, conveniently shifting the tide always in their direction. Conversely, hope allows for action, because it allows for power. Even if it’s very little, it’s actively choosing to have hope for the sake of continuing to work towards a better life and a better world.
Hope and vision as rebellion
We can’t know what’s true, nor can we know if choosing hope will result in change. We do know, though, that it can keep us going. If we all do our small part, and we all keep going, eventually change will happen. That’s the vision we can hold, and it disrupts the status quo much better than collapse. This is a rebellion; a small form, perhaps… but it’s sustainable and ongoing. I may never see the result of my insurrection, but I choose to keep on going regardless. Little by little, we take a step forward so that the next generation takes it further.
When despair threatens to weigh me down, I acknowledge it and listen to its message: a lot needs to change. Then I ground myself and redirect myself to hope. That move forward is the seed where a better future takes hold.
I grew up speaking Spanish. English is my second language. When I communicate in English, I make mistakes. I've chosen to let the writing on my blog reflect the kind of mistakes I make when speaking, so that you have an idea of what it might feel like to talk to me. I trust the message is still clear but, if it's not, please don't hesitate to ask me for clarification.
The information provided on my blog is a mix of my personal thoughts, professional approach, and articles related to mental health. The purpose of sharing all of this is to communicate the models at the core of my practice, as well as to provide education. I hope this will help to minimize some of the power imbalances related to my profession. The articles on this blog should not be considered as professional advice for any one person or group of people. If you have any questions about the appropriateness of this content for you, please contact a qualified mental health professional.