Apr 13 0 Comments

Hope, the thing you find outside yourself

I have been trying to write an article about hope for a while. Gaiam, a company that we have worked a lot with, asked me to write something for their blog. I was flattered and happy. Now I had an excuse to write something just for fun, during my work hours.

I looked up some quotes on hope. Many of them I had read before. I searched some articles about hope, and learned some. I asked myself what I hope for.

My hopes ranged from: “Time to organize the laundry room” to “Greater influence in the development of the democracy in Burma.” If I am going to be totally honest, I must say that most of the things I hope for are things I hope for my family and myself. To hope for peace on earth sounds noble, but, honestly, I hope for things much more selfish way more often.

I have realized that living in a rich country and being among the rich few in the world (I don’t consider myself rich by any means. I compare me to my neighbors, and they have a lot more than me. The fact, however, is that compared to most of the people on the planet, I am very rich. I don’t live in a cardboard box, for starters) makes it hard to hope for much except that which is pictured in the glossy clothing or home furnishing catalogues. Everything has been given to me already, and what I don’t have isn’t essential for my survival. (I would like a new pair of shoes, but will I die if I don’t get any? I would love it if we could have two cars instead of one, but are our lives in danger with just one car?) Hope is not what keeps us alive.

I don’t think I have a great answer to the Hope question. This is what I ended up writing for Gaiam:

Over the years of working with refugees from Burma I have often wondered what their most important possession is. We have even made lists of the things that they bring with them as they flee the attacks of soldiers: A machete, cooking pot, tarp, a lighter, rice and salt. All those things are essential for survival in the jungle. The same with medicine and warm blankets. These are possessions that give life.

People on the run from their homes try to make sure that all these items are in the baskets on their backs and know that they will depend on them in the days to come. But often the attacks have been so sudden that they have not had the time to gather the basic essentials before fleeing. My organization, Partners Relief & Development, will first and foremost try to get help to people who have fled with nothing.

But there is something more important still: Hope. Over and over I have talked to people who have lost everything many times. They have seen loved ones killed. They have held their sick children in their arms when there was no medicine to even lower the fever. They have lived in the jungle, eating only what they can find. And yet they have smiled. They have not given up. They have made it back to their destroyed villages to rebuild them—again. What makes them do this?

I think that along with a huge portion of resilience and courage, these people are able to continue their lives because they have hope. They hope for peace. They hope for a better future for their children. They hope for a chance to continue to live in their villages again. It is when their hope is taken away that they truly have lost everything. I have met people who have lost this last part of themselves— their hope. These are the people who stop caring about getting out of bed in the morning, who stop taking showers, who stop trying to look nice and make their environment the best it can be. The ones who lose their hope are indeed lost.

But for the ones who can hold on to it have a reason to continue living, no matter how harsh life is.

How easy it is to hope when things are going our way! When all the stars align in our favor and the circumstances are our friends. “I hope for nice weather, “we will say, or: “I hope I can find a nice outfit for the right price.” “I hope I can go on a vacation.” It is easy to hope for a bright future, for good health, and for prosperity in all the areas of life when the circumstances are in our favor.

But how about if you lost everything? How easy would it be to keep the flame of hope burning then?

From the displaced people of Burma I have learned that it is then one needs hope more than ever. Hope becomes the medicine that helps us survive.

I think we all need to hope for something, and that something needs to be outside ourselves.