The educated, the enlightened, the self-aware and the well informed — those who care about the planet, in other words — are often sad, to paraphrase Nancy Mitford, because they care so much about their causes, and their causes “are always going so badly.”
That sadness has seemed relentless lately, director of the NGO Women for Refugee Women Natasha Walter wrote this past weekend in The Guardian newspaper.
There’s no need to parse the reasons why, she added. It’s enough to simply remind ourselves — not that anyone needs reminding — that the headlines are relentlessly grim, “and the unreported detail often worse.”
Well-intended campaigns tend to start with energy but are soon bogged down by the sheer scale of the problem at hand, before splintering into separate factions with their attendant taunts and mud-slinging. Keeping hope alive is as daunting a challenge as any existential crisis facing humanity today.
We can’t give up, though.
“I spend my life working alongside refugee women,” Walter writes. “And being with marginalized women teaches me that stepping (away) would be a terrifically privileged step to take.”
None of us can walk away, in other words. We don’t have the right. “Stepping away from activism completely doesn’t feel OK, not when so many people are teetering on the brink of disaster. I don’t want to lose touch with the possibility of a better future, even if the change each of us can make is very limited right now.”
She suggests three small things anyone can do, “three things I’ve learned that help me to stay in touch with hope.”
1. Get out of the online swamp. “Instead of being active online, be active in everyday life,” Walter writes. “Sitting with people rather than their online avatars helps you to see what you can do together, despite your differences. You learn to shift your point of view rather than entrench it.”
2. Think locally. That can be something as simple as forming a coffee group where people can share ideas, support each other and provide a different narrative from the political talking points of the day. “While we mustn’t mistake sticking-plaster solutions for real change,” Walter writes, “it’s heartening to see how people are getting together to show that another world is possible.”
3. Recognize small steps. Even a small victory, whether borne from a simple, individual act of kindness or a tiny cog in the wheel of a much larger campaign, is something from which to take heart.
When Oregon-based conservation biologist Laurie Marker founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia in 1990, she vowed that saving one cheetah at a time is every bit as important as spreading the wider message of cheetah conservation to the world at large. Just 7,000 cheetahs remain in the wild, judging from the most recent estimates. According to a joint study by the Zoological Society of London, Panthera and the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2016, the species could decline by an additional 50 per cent in the next 15 years. Given those numbers, one cheetah at a time might not sound like much, but every individual counts, especially when extinction is facing them squarely in the face.
Progress is progress, in other words, no matter how small. We must never lose sight of that. We need to celebrate the wins, however small they may seem. Positive stories in and of themselves won’t counterbalance the sheer onslaught of despairing headlines, but they’re worth knowing about.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Martin Luther King said that. And it’s as true now as it was then.