Hope in the Dark

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

I don’t know what turned me on to her.  I refused to order the book from Amazon, just a small protest.  They forced our wonderful local bookstore to close.  I ordered from Green Arcade in San Francisco.  I think I must have found it on her website.

She is enormously inspiring.  She points out recent history where things have happened that were totally unexpected.  The Berlin Wall goes up, the Berlin Wall comes down.  The Soviet Union falls apart.  Grassroots movements unseat dictators in South America.  And yet the US gets bogged down in Iraq.  Bad things happen too.  But it’s not a linear process.  Tremendous movements: the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, the civil rights struggle — have all taken longer than we hoped, yet looking at the sweep of history, they happened very fast, almost out of nowhere.

She also talks about the behavior of people in disaster — it’s not what’s expected, the story that people are fragile— can’t take care of themselves — or that they are violent and selfish — neither story holds true.  The reality is that people help each other.  That disaster can create a community of people who feel bonded by helping each other.  She talks about all the people in little boats who rescued people caught on rooftops during Katrina.  Meanwhile, government created a shambles.  Partly, I suppose, because of Bush’s lack of caring for poor and people of color.  But also because bureaucracy is cumbersome.  I heard that the Coast Guard ignored the rules about how long a pilot could fly, they just went in and did what they could.  It makes me think of the rescue of the British Army from the beach at Dunkirk, in WWII, by thousands of people with little boats crossing the channel.  It made me think of the book about Katrina, Heart like Water, written by someone who stayed in his apartment.  He too records many acts of sharing and help for each other.  He talks about the reports of killings and lootings, but they never saw anything in their district.  I think he talks about a grocery store whose owner gave away food to all who came.  There is also a lot of evidence coming up from science that co-operation is at least as important as competition in evolving healthy ecosystems, healthy communities.

I love what she has to say, and find it very encouraging.  Looking at history as complex and chaotic instead of linear.  At any moment, anything could happen.  There are hidden forces, changing perceptions and beliefs, that result in totally unexpected happenings.  She describes two pitfalls.  One is despair, so you lie on your couch and do nothing.  The other is thinking victory has to being total change, we have won, we can stop now, instead of seeing that it’s one success on the way to a larger goal.  Or giving up because the “victory” wasn’t complete, was imperfect, etc.  We need to acknowledge and celebrate it and use that as energy for keeping on.

That’s what happens to me.  I think I’ve won: “I’m OK now” as though I’ve “gotten there,” and then being crushed when the old stuff comes back.  At least I did something different this time.  I was excited when I found I had resources that could dissolve the terror, painfully discouraged when they didn’t work for a new round, then saw a larger context.  Now I continue to remind myself that I had 24 hours free of fear, and I savored that wonderful feeling of relaxation.  I’m not hugely upset that I lost it, or trying to get back to it, or thinking I’ll never get back to it; I’m keeping it in mind as a success in the process of working toward seeing that I’m OK just as I am.

Another example of people giving hope to each other: Circle of Hope

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