Provocation: Finding hope today

Four speakers in chairs discuss hope and despair in global futures. The screen above them shows a fire.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt

Happy Earth Day. The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory is closing out its Earth Week series of events. Andrew Maynard, associate dean for student success in the College of Global Futures, again kicked off the day with a provocation, a “fire starter,” which Maynard says with an uncomfortable level of enthusiasm. Today’s focus is: How do we foster hope in a world that sometimes seems hopeless?

At the beginning, Maynard read the preface from his own book, “Future Rising;” he wrote the introduction back in the early days of 2020. The preface reflected on the turmoil of the day, including a new virus, populism on the rise, and refugees kept in less-than-human conditions.

“And yet, in the previous two years, things have gotten immeasurably worse,” he concluded.

This set the tone for reflecting on the reality of the times while also discussing ways to move forward and uncover pathways toward hope. Panelists included Nina Berman, director of and professor in the School of International Letters and Cultures; Susan Goldberg, vice dean for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and professor of practice in the Cronkite School and the College of Global Futures; and Peter Schlosser, vice president and vice provost of Global Futures.

Goldberg said one of the biggest challenges to moving forward is the rise in distrust. The rise and spread of misinformation and disinformation scares her. She modified an old expression, telling the audience, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before truth can get its pants on.”

“If nobody believes the science, then they’re not going to take action on climate change. If nobody believes what’s right in front of them with this growing inequality around the world and how that plays out–in everything from revolution to people who just won’t participate in society–then how are we going to fix these problems?” she asked.

Love and compassion are crucial, Berman said. What we need most are shared visions that lead us to action. There is an abundance of hope in the world right now, but often it is the wrong kind of hope, because one can have a hopeful vision and not do anything, instead delegating the responsibility to someone else, she explained.

Maynard acknowledges that hope is not unequivocally good, that there is a dangerous, self-centered and destructive hope as well. Someone like Vladimir Putin is “driven by hope … but it’s totally in dissonance with the value systems of others,” he said.

Yes, there is a “long list of very dictatorial men who are not about collaboration and compassion and so forth. So that is, of course, our challenge. And we have to come up with visions that counter that,” Berman said.

Schlosser agreed with Berman in the need to work across values systems and find common ground, as well as find methods to sort through differences to find consensus. Different cultures have different values, he said, but there is likely a core set of values for most people, though recent events–the death of millions from COVID-19 despite the availability of life-saving vaccines and the war in Ukraine–give him pause.

“I think there are some core values, but then there are quite a few value systems that are diverging,” he said. “That is really the key challenge–to identify the value systems and see if we can bring them together.”

This is the way the conversation went, a push-pull between hope and today’s stark reality. Opening the day, Schlosser worried too much talk of hope could seem out of touch. But there are options to deal with global crises. Speakers referenced the new MechanicalTree, which passively removes CO2 from the air, or Dreamscape Learn, a virtual reality education tool that helps students experience other places and cultures to find better understanding.

We must also increase our interpersonal connections, said Goldberg, noting that two years of a pandemic has led to isolation and an ability to make people a caricature of their beliefs.

“Coming back into the world, it does make me very hopeful that we will start to get on a better path. … And part of that is coming out and dealing with people, people we don’t necessarily like or agree with or even respect, but just having those human interactions,” she said.

Watch the whole conversation–and all Global Futures Laboratory Earth Week events–at the Global Futures Laboratory YouTube page.



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