The Power of Hope

William McKibben predicts in his book Deep Economy that with the end of peak oil, people will become less concerned about belongings and more interested in belonging. This sounds like a welcome change in our culture. What did this country’s rate of consumption portend for the future of this planet anyway? True and meaningful change won’t happen without something to provoke it. Perhaps economic and environmental crises are a dubious necessity in humanity’s social evolution. We all know that addicts and alcoholics generally aren’t persuaded to quit; it usually takes a major loss or a crisis to convince them that they are destroying their health. Civilization is addicted to fossil fuel to the point that many cannot imagine a lifestyle with less available and a large percentage of our population probably could not live without it.

Quakers have always tried to treasure things of the heart above and beyond material things, and to ascribe to a faith in the solemnity of the spiritual and eternal. Yet the thought of an imminent change in our economy or our global climate tends to evoke much fear and insecurity. I believe that addressing this fear should be a focus of our spiritual communities.

There is a story that tells how St. Francis was approached while working in his garden and asked what he would do if he knew the world would end the following day. He answered, "I would work in my garden." We, as Friends, are called to be faithful; we are not called to save the planet or ourselves. A spiritual community is not a retreat for survival. In one sense, communities aren’t spiritual, people are; and therefore, any community is a spiritual community to the spiritual seeker.

A spiritual community is one that provides encouragement, hope, and enlightenment. It is a place where we are challenged to grow past our fears and to find the courage to do God’s will. A spiritual community can also be a place where one can witness how the collective Light far exceeds the sum of the individual Lights. That is just the kind of miracle this world needs.

I believe we must resist falling into the kinds of doomsday conversations we hear so often now, the ones that detail with empirical evidence how we are on a path of death and destruction. It may be true, but then it may just be a matter of perspective. I’d prefer to be hopeful and talk about the miracles that may take place as the world recovers from its addiction. I see this situation as the opportunity to take a solution-focused approach. Ask the doomsdayers if they’ve seen any evidence of people making changes to solve problems. Talk about how people are helping others and what they’re doing for the planet. Talk about the things that give you a sense of peace and security. Share your Truth. The world is, truly, always turning toward the morning. A positive attitude is more likely to yield positive outcomes, and we always have the choice of being optimistic or pessimistic. Henry Ford once said, "Whether you believe you can, or you can’t, you are right."

As people start to take their focus off of their belongings and look for a more meaningful sense of security in those around them, we as Friends must be ready to light the way with the example of our lives. By living (and dying) with integrity according to our traditional testimonies, we offer hope and encouragement, and we contribute to the salvation of our planet.

Dan Michaud

Dan Michaud, a member of Old Chatham (N.Y.) Meeting, is a clinical social worker in a public mental health setting. He enjoys organic gardening and raising animals.