It’s not surprising that since Brexit and the US election many people around the world have felt subjected to a continuing flood of bad news. Hardly a day passes without some new threat or disappointment all of which occur against the backdrop of random acts of terror, the flight of millions from their homes and the continuing upheavals in the Middle East. To say nothing of global warming and its associated long term impacts.
Many years ago I was invited to a teachers’ centre in Wolverhampton, UK, where a group had become depressed at what they saw as the deteriorating prospects for youngsters in their care. Out of that engagement came a simple tool that explored optimism and pessimism on the one hand and the implications of low-quality and high-quality responses on the other. What became clear was that optimism, pessimism and uncertainty were best understood as being ambiguous. The key was how you responded. You could be optimistic and just miss the point. You could start out being pessimistic and then turn that around into a powerful motivation to act. That’s when the contrasts between high and low-quality responses start to emerge. That’s why we can still envisage and work towards futures beyond dystopia.
For several years now I’ve been collecting what futurists and foresight practitioners call ‘scanning hits’ on a range of subjects. Many of them deal with issues and problems that provide real and substantial cause for concern. As a kind of antidote, however, to this ‘diet of bad news,’ I’ve also discovered a number of items that fall under the heading of Solutions and Good News. Then last year I came across Rebecca Solnit and her book Hope in the Dark (London, Canongate Books, 2016). Here is a small taste of her work. She writes:
Activists often speak as though the solutions we need have not yet been launched or invented, as though we are starting from scratch, when often the real goal is to amplify the power and reach of existing options. What we dream of is already present in the world (P. xv).
Solnit’s work is nothing if not deeply informed and powerfully inspiring. I have to go back to Joanna Macy’ in the 1980s for a comparable example of someone who understands the human condition so well and also draws from it the kind of depth insight that we all need – especially during such troubled times.
Currently I have another project to finish. When that’s complete I intend to take a long look at the ‘good news’ and the ‘solutions in waiting.’ I want to see what patterns emerge and to take a fresh view of the wellsprings of hope and informed optimism. If you have any succinct examples that you think should be included please send them to me at the usual address (or via this website). Here, again, is Rebecca Solnit on the power of public awareness:
The sleeping giant is one name for the public; when it wakes up, when we wake up, we are no longer only the public: we are civil society, the superpower whose nonviolent means are sometimes, for a shining moment, more powerful than violence, more powerful than regimes and armies. We write history with our feet and with our presence and our collective voice and vision. And yet, and of course, everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous, pointless, or criminal, unless it is far away, was long ago, or, ideally, both. These are the forces that prefer the giant stays asleep. Together we are very powerful, and we have a seldom-told, seldom-remembered history of victories and transformations that can give us confidence that, yes, we can change the world because we have many times before. You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future (P. xxiii).