Active Hope

“Active hope is a practice…it is something we do, rather than have.” Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone

When I feel hopeful, I have some confidence that what I hope will happen is likely to happen. For example, I hope this meeting accomplishes what I want it to accomplish. Or, I hope people listen to one another’s perspectives.

In this way, desire for a particular future is a part of hope. “Active hope,” according to Joanna Macy and Chis Johnstone, means “becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for.”

In Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy , Macy asserts that active hope is not something we have, it is something we do. It is a practice in which we work to create what we hope for. For example, writing my book and this blog, teaching, and facilitating meetings is how I work to create what I hope for: good conversations.

Macy and Johnstone identify three steps involved in practicing active hope. First, we see current reality clearly. For example, we can see many interactions in which people do not create good conversation. They speak more than they listen and sometimes are barely civil to one another. As a result serious issues are not being addressed and a sense of belonging is diminished.

The second step in active hope is clarifying what we hope for or the direction we’d like things to move in. For example, in our interactions at home, work, and in our communities I want to see people who…

  • Search for solutions that benefit the largest number of people possible;
  • Listen to one another with genuine curiosity and honestly consider the points of view of others, even if they conflict with theirs;
  • Express appreciation for others’ contributions to the conversation;
  • Share their points of view as just that, not as “the Truth;”
  • Base their deliberations on unbiased information;
  • Change their thoughts and emotions as they listen and learn;
  • Hold their allegiance to an ideology or pre-determined position lightly;
  • Pay attention to the wisdom or way forward that is emerging in the group as a whole;
  • Include people who are or will be affected by decisions;
  • Lead or participate in ways that encourage everyone to feel safe enough to express what is most deeply important to them.

The third step is to behave in ways that move the conversation in the desired direction, i.e., do everything noted in the previous step. We can choose how we interact; we can choose what we express and how; we can choose to ground our actions in our intentions to create the kind of conversations we believe will help us connect with others and solve tough issues.

We can create the kind of conversations we want to have by accurately seeing the current reality of how conversations occur now; by defining the direction we want to move in; and by behaving in ways that help us move in that direction.

Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available.  Click here to purchase it.

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