What Gives You Hope?

In a world that has so much terrible stuff going on, finding hope has always been incredibly important to me. I need hope to survive, and I need hope to do pretty much anything related to social justice or helping other people. I have to believe that somehow, what I do will help. It will matter.

I think that having hope is half of what makes it possible for people to work for social change. Without it, we fall into nihilism and apathy.

There are a few things that have given me hope when I needed it most:

1) Martin Luther King, Jr. got a C in his college philosophy class.

2) Rosa Parks worked on desegregation for 12 years before she sat down on that bus.

3) Susan B. Anthony worked for women’s suffrage for her whole life. She died 14 years before it happened.

4) The Greensboro sit-in, which launched a whole movement of sit-ins for desegregation, started because four guys (four!) just decided to do it one day.

5) Jackson Katz and Byron Hurt.

6) I know a man who started college sexist and graduated an anti-sexist activist.

7) This book. And really, Kate Bornstein herself.

8) The last scene in Angels in America.

9) This book. I refer to it regularly when I don’t think I can do any more.

10) The activists I met in Colombia, especially the one who told me that despite constant death threats, she is not afraid because she has a sense of history, and she knows that things do change.

11) Malalai Joya.

12) A skinny guy who led a movement that took down a huge and brutal empire with love, of all things.

13) The fact that #12 could actually refer to more than one person.

14) Banyan seed.

15) Banyan tree.

What gives you hope?

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26 comments for “What Gives You Hope?

  1. Kate
    August 14, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Dear jebus, thank you for this post. I’ve really been needing it for a couple of days. I’ve Starred it in my reader so I can come back to it for future hopefulness.

    For now, I’ll answer your question. Laughter gives me hope, and for laughter I dose myself daily with icanhazcheeseburger.com. Seriously. HA!

  2. megara
    August 14, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    I heard a story from a guy that teaches an intensive semester-long course to college men, especially men who belong to frats, that is basically an entire class on rape prevention.

    As he tells the story, one night his TA was walking home, and ran into one of the students from his class. The student was quite drunk and started yelling at the TA. The basic message was “Fuck you, and Fuck (the guy who teaches the class). I could’ve had sex tonight, but didn’t becuase she was fucking drunk, all becuase of your stupid fucking class.”

    I am rather skeptical about preventing violence against women, but that story gives me hope.

  3. August 14, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    How funny, I wrote a post a bit like this just two days ago, with exactly the same title! In it I talked about how I recently got a comment notification from a post I made two years ago about feeling excluded by male-centric language. A commenter there had disagreed with me at the time, and two years later came back to tell me that s/he understood what I was saying now–s/he thanked me for having made that post and apologized for not being supportive at the time. I didn’t even remember having made it until I clicked on the link!

    So that gives me hope, that if we keep speaking our truth, even if it doesn’t get through right away, or have immediate results, we have no idea how that seed we planted may be cultivated by other things and slowly, over time, end up making a big difference in the world.

  4. Kristen J.
    August 14, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Alas, Anthony does not make my list because while she fought valiantly for suffrage she did it with the help of pro-slavery racists like Train (pg. 93) and using racist rhetoric (pg. 383).

  5. August 14, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    The realization that slavery was the norm the world ’round only a few generations ago and now it is condemned by all civilized nations.

    The fact that the global literacy rate has increased more than ten fold in the last hundred years.

    The change in the world since 1900 from one dominated by monarchies to one dominated by representative systems.

    The substantial likelihood that such trends will continue throughout my lifetime and the lifetimes of my grandchildren.

  6. Kel
    August 14, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    What a wonderful post. And I, too, indulge in the “catz.”

    My one-on-one class with my professor gives me hope. As a 21 year old female searching for someone to take these issues – that quite frankly I’m often perplexed by- I’m facing seriously, I was shocked to find that I found a confidant in a 30 something year old male professor. I was more shocked when I found another one. Also of the same profession, age, and gender.

    Still, it saddens me that most women my age, situation, and gender can’t understand why I feel so strongly about things like “cat calling.”

    I know I make a difference. Or that even if I don’t it’s completely worth the shot. Still, when I really need to feel the difference I make, I play with my adopted bunny and refer to things like “The Better World Shopping Guide” and the “Blue Pages” to make sure the money I spend counts for the things I want it to count for.

    When I need hope I read “The Little Prince.”

    And when I really, really need hope I stop doing everything… put on some Billie Holiday, and do whatever I need to do to fully indulge ma’bad self and refuse to feel guilty in doing so.

  7. August 14, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    I am a very simple person and so I will simply state when anyone I love smiles or laughs. Not only does this give me immeasurable pleasure,it allows me to some of the goodness in the world.

  8. Falyne
    August 14, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    The fact that France and Germany will not (barring major, major systemic upheaval) go to war again.

    Since Ceiling-Cat-only-knows-when, somebody from one of those countries has been pointing a pointy stick of some variety at somebody from the other. And, by integrating their economies, starting with steel/coal/war-required-stuff, it’s been made so absurdly not-in-anybody’s-interest to go to war that it’s inconceivable.

    It’d be eurocentric and silly to start talking about any End of History, of course, but if you look at the sheer human misery that centuries, millennia, of warfare in Europe caused, and to know that it’s over… We know the solution for war. Horrible, infernal war. It’s up to us now to work for best-interest-based peace systems elsewhere, but the fact that it works for freaking France and Germany gives me hope for the world.

  9. August 14, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    I’m dating two men, both of whom I send feminist links to, both of whom read said links and will have debates with me… and will listen to me, and not dismiss my experiences.

    (I’ve spent so much time assuming that most men won’t care, that having two! men! who listen to me and talk to me and want to learn seems almost excessive.)

    My girlfriend straight-up gives me hope by existing.  She is constantly improving herself and assisting others, constantly rooting out -isms in herself and posting about injustices and aiding and sharing and everything, and that is wonderful.

    Seeing progressive notions turn up in unrelated blogs (such as trans* awareness in a generic parenting blog) definitely helps.  That shows me that these ideas are getting out there, in a good way.

    And, it always seems like a minor thing, but when I spread a link around, and others post about the topic, that gives me hope — even though usually the most I can do is bring things to others’ attention, people do pay attention, and they do act.

  10. Corey Ann
    August 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Andrea Dworkin’s writings, especially her memoir, Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant

  11. Lucy Gillam
    August 15, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Simple story: last summer, one of my (male) students asked me if I’d liked Dark Knight, as he knew I was a Batman fan. I answered that I liked it very much, except for the fact that there were something like four women in the whole movie, and none of them actually did anything. He appeared to think for a moment, and said, “Yeah, you’re right.” Another student, this one a woman, asked him what I’d said, and he told her. She replied, “Yeah, that’s true.” It wasn’t just that they recognized the factual accuracy of what I’d said, but that they got why it bothered me, and agreed that it was a problem. I often find myself fighting the perception that things like that don’t matter, but at least once a semester, there’s a moment when one or more students really get it.

    A less-small story, this post of mine on rape is still getting comments, and good comments, and I’ve heard back from several men who’ve indicated that they are really trying to be proactive in combating rape culture in daily conversations.

    And as always, my daughter. She gives me hope, and a reason to keep fighting.

  12. August 15, 2009 at 5:47 pm


    Ha! As a former anti-violence educator who did exactly that kind of programming, I love that story!

    My favorite experience doing those presentations was the time I did a program with a frat, and was talking about how men abuse each other into conforming to patriarchal masculinity. One of the guys just had the lightbulb go off, I guess. All of a sudden, he yelled out, “Guys! She’s right! We have to start being nicer to each other!”

    Now that gave me hope.


    Talk about cause for hope.

    I hadn’t seen your post until now, and I don’t know what to say, except that it’s an interesting, uh… coincidence? that two future preachers on opposite sides of the continent wrote a post with the same name and message two days apart.


    Thank you for your beautiful post. It was really moving for me to see your completely different approach to hope. It reminded me of the beauty I ignore.

  13. August 15, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    This Audre Lorde quote:

    “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

    Katie! That was me! I’m glad that gave you some hope.

    I guess serendipity makes me hopeful, too.

  14. Lyndsay
    August 15, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Some Gapminder.org videos give me hope.

  15. Edmond
    August 16, 2009 at 6:19 am

    I’m an animal rights activist and usually one of the things that gives me hope on those particularly saddening days is to just look at an animal and play with him/her. When I look into their eyes I see what I’m fighting for and why. No matter how sad I may be, there is nothing like just holding an animal and realizing what beautiful creatures they are.

  16. August 16, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Two things: my husband and my dog. My husband because he listens every time I have anything to say about feminism, sends me feminist links and articles and took a feminism class in college because he knows it’s important.

    And my dog, because when I adopted her after she went through three years of abuse, she was mean, aggressive, undernourished and scared of everything. Now she is none of those things. She reminds me every day that just treating a creature with respect and dignity (and a lot of affection, not to mention training in her case) can turn a life around.

  17. Bagelsan
    August 16, 2009 at 11:54 am

    First it was Prozac (lol) then it was cheesy anime! I watch a lot of those shows where the main character is pretty much just relentlessly kind and determined to that point that all the villains just get worn out into falling in line. (Yanno, stuff like Naruto where he’ll get in a fight with a bad guy, punch them/get punched, and then talk about his feelings until they convert and say they’re sorry. Rinse, repeat. It’s great. :D)

  18. August 16, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    • The lives of my parents, and what they achieved as Segregation-era, Depression-era, pre- and post-Civil Rights Black Americans. They are an example of what I can and hope to accomplish in my own life.

    • All of the courageous Black Americans who came before me. I think that Black Americans exemplify patriotism. We are still here, and still believe.

    • The next generation. I teach, and the kids with whom I am blessed to teach very year teach me a great deal, and give me tremendous hope.

  19. August 16, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Studying quantum physics and astronomy gives me hope. Just looking at the images Hubble has been sending back for all these years now and imagining mindboggling enormity of the universe fills me with awe. The universe is stranger and full of more mysteries than we can imagine.
    Cats and rooks and music also give me hope.

  20. Fluffy
    August 17, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Edmond- I’m an animal rights activist (and a vegan) and sometimes I feel utter despair and rage at the way we treat our fellow creatures. What gives me hope is that there are so many more vegans now than there were a decade ago. I hope we can reach the stage where every living being (human and non human) will be treated with love and respect and accepted for who they are.

  21. AJ
    August 17, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    The fact that I can’t go a day without making someone a new library card at work gives me hope.

    The adult literacy volunteers where I work – and the people they teach – give me hope.

    The story of Iqbal Masih makes me sad and gives me hope at the same time.

  22. Grace
    August 18, 2009 at 8:33 am

    The fact that there are more and more women seeking higher education gives me hope. We need more strong, confident, educated women to become leaders and set a good example for younger generations.

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