Is ‘Hope’ the new hot button?

slice of geography of hope book cover

As an artist, marketer and environmental activist, I’ve been asking myself lately, “How do we move more people to action? Is it through fear? If they imagine a scary future will they act now? Or is it by planting seeds of hope? Is ‘Hope’ the new hot button that will galvanize the world to take action?”

Money and celebrities trump humanity’s survival

Many people are becoming numb to the world’s problems, and retracting into their cocoons. Something that brought that fact into sharp focus for me was this… As I flipped through the newspaper looking for something interesting to read, this headline caught my eye: “Humanity’s survival at stake: UN”. It announced the UN’s 572-page report, Global Environment Outlook.

Hmmm. Isn’t that curious? Humanity’s survival at stake is not front page news! The front page stories were about the soaring loonie (the nickname for the Canadian dollar) and a hot, young hockey phenomenon, John Tavares.

Does humanity’s future being bumped by the loonie and a fledgling hockey star sound loony to you? I don’t know… It must be a defensive play to sell newspapers. The editors know the public can only take so much bad news before we shut down and lose all hope. So they push in our faces the stories they think we really care about. Money and celebrities trump humanity’s survival.

The frog in a pot of boiling water

frog photo and drawing by franke jamesAt times, I fear we are like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water. The story goes like this… If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you place a frog in a pot of warm water and gradually turn up the heat, it will very happily boil to death. Because the frog’s survival instincts are only triggered by sudden changes. And so it is with climate change. We’ve heard many warnings about climate change over the past 30 years, but somehow we are deaf to them, and unaware of our impending doom.

Pitching Hope to Solve World Problems

geography of hope book cover

Well, clever marketers, artists and writers sense the water is getting a bit too hot, and are serving up the solution. This new crop of “Hope products” could be just what the world needs to inspire action and jump out of the pot.

So where am I seeing evidence of hope? Seemingly disconnected dots have started joining up and a pattern is emerging… Is it a trend? In the past week I’ve been to a book launch for Geography of Hope (which gives us hope by showing signs of a sustainable future unfolding around the world). I also attended Chest of Hope, an art exhibit raising funds for cancer research (which rekindles the hope that cancer can be beaten if we all pitch in and contribute to medical research). Hope is an emotion that savvy Breast Cancer fundraisers have used for many years. Even the packaging on my favorite whole wheat bread features the familiar pink ribbon and a Harvest of Hope campaign to raise money for the cause!

Chest of Hope, 3 sculptures by Christa Gampp

But hope is too powerful a force to be owned by any one cause. Marketers know that hope sells — and some would argue (me included) that the environmental movement could motivate more people by injecting ‘hope’ into their message. Humanity’s survival is at stake — but too many people are tuning out the message. How are we going to flip this around? Personally, when I read about a successful green project it inspires me and gives me hope that perhaps my efforts are not wasted.

Hope as an inspirational force

Hope as an inspirational force is springing up everywhere. I also read news articles about actress Hilary Swank and shoe/clothing designer Kenneth Cole who have jumped on the hope bandwagon. Each promises to tell us how to achieve our dreams (if we buy tickets to their Power Within events in Vancouver and Toronto).

Swank offers hope to young women, “I feel like there’s not a lot of great women role models for girls. If a girl can see my story and somehow say, ‘Hey you know what, I’m NOT going to give up on my dream’ … then I am going to continue to tell my story.”

Cole offers hope to business people when he talks about his company’s efforts which have funded AIDS research and anti-poverty initiatives, “What I’m doing is taking a business that exists and somehow connecting it to a bigger purpose; it wins on every level.”

And this morning’s paper offered more hope in the form of a new book: Jean Vanier, Our Life Together. Vanier is the Founder of L’Arche, the international network of homes for people with disabilities. Vanier urges students to keep “hoping and dreaming.. the important thing is to go ahead and do it.” His message to students is to have the courage to do something different with their lives, “We don’t have to be doing what everyone else is doing… We don’t have to be like a bunch of cows or sheep.”

I say, “Amen to that!”

The common element in this cornucopia of new products — which all pitch different causes — is that they are selling hope that is backed up by action and offer doable solutions. They are giving us a glimpse of a hopeful future. (Listen to Turner’s podcast on CBC.ca for more inspiration.)

But the dilemma is we need a lot more Vanier’s, Turner’s, Gampp’s, Swank’s and Cole’s to get us to wake up and jump out of the pot!

The big question is: Are you ready to take action? Can you plant a few seeds which will offer the world hope? Franke james photo of jumping frog

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© 2007, Franke James,MFA


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5 Replies to “Is ‘Hope’ the new hot button?”

  1. Love the frog at the end. Whaaaaa!

    True enough… haven’t we had enough of the get-nowhere booga-booga scare tactics? I think hope’s time has come. Here we are, edge of precipice, so busting out sandwich boards reading “The End Is Nigh” isn’t so unrealistic… unless we do something. Immediately. And don’t we need a galvanizing force? Something that will actually touch everyone individually? Hope is that common denominator. Well said.

  2. Hi Franke,

    What a great article! I must say that I’m a bit humbled to find my name on the same line as Jean Vanier!

    I have been following his life for many years. One of my old friends, a Jesuit priest and rebel of sorts, has lived in one of the L’Arche communities and known Jean Vanier personally. Jean is a great man and a true visionary.

    I always wonder about the newsmedia and the public they are trying to please. Not one of the Toronto newspapers was interested in writing about the Chest of Hope event. Is this a sign that the public is so desensitized with headlines about disasters, crime and the end of the world, that they will yawn at a story about hope? There were no shootings or stabbings at my exhibition, no scandals of political or personal nature, nobody jumped out of the gallery window, and the artists are not drug addicts. What’s there to write about?

    Unless you are a writer in search of authenticity and truth, you would not want to waste the ink in your pen (or should I say the keys on your keyboard) to write of such things. Congratulations to you, Franke, for paying attention to the mavericks who are spreading the seeds of change! You are obviously one of them! Welcome to the club (no membership fees)!

    Cheers,

    Christa

  3. I’m of the other mind on this one, Franke. I suspect the reason for inaction on climate change is all the hope-mongering in the world!

    I haven’t read Turner’s book yet (too busy trying to get people to wake up and smell the doom and gloom, when the majority of people are simply plugging their noses and going about business as usual), but I’d be interested to know how he thinks any of his good news stories (and the humans in them) are going to survive the warming climate — if we don’t all, everywhere, push for and get internationally binding radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

    As you’ve heard me say before, research shows that the human brain tends to shut down when it can’t conceive a hopeful future. But the way to conceive that hopeful future is to create it — by doing whatever it takes to turn global warming around.

    Hope as a noun does nothing but make people feel better when they should be scared shitless about the future we’re creating (or killing, to be more exact). We live in a culture that’s hooked on hope and feeling good and being anesthetized by TV and shopping so that we don’t have to feel anything negative.

    Hope as a verb becomes a replacement for action. Isn’t it action that creates hope, Franke? Certainly hoping that it all goes away doesn’t lead to action. Hoping that someone else will do it doesn’t lead to action. What’s going to lead me to take action is accepting the scary news, learning all I can about it, figuring out what I can do about it, then feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

    So maybe the new “hot button” needs to be courage! The world could certainly use more courage mongers.

    The message doesn’t have to be a message of hope, that message needs to be that we can create hope — if we’re courageous enough to really hear what’s happening to our planet.

    For the Children and the Earth,
    Julie

  4. Julie,

    Thanks for dropping by and sharing your perspective. When I hear of someone taking a positive ‘green’ action that gives me hope. It is not dreamy. It is backed up by action.

    Chris Turner’s book has many stories of people taking green action — that feeds hope that all is not lost. We need to impress on people how serious the climate change situation is — but we also need to motivate them to take ACTION.

    The last line of my article sums up the connection I see between hope and action:

    The big question is: Are you ready to take action? Can you plant a few seeds which will offer the world hope?

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