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Hope for Pessimists, by Ed France

Leading From Within has long shared a selection of ‘What we are reading’ in our newsletters. It’s a way to share books and articles with insights related to our role of supporting and leadership in our community. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on an easy to read, short article by Arthur Brooks.
Arthur spoke through UCSB’s Arts and Lectures this past year and was interviewed by our very own board member, Emerging Leaders Facilitator, and UCSB’s Dean of Student Life Katya Armistead. We hosted a discussion afterwards with a group from the Katherine Harvey Fellows. Even on Zoom, It was a special night. He wrote a book called ‘Love your Enemies.” It’s well worth a read.
He used then and he uses again the example of Prisoners of War in the war with Vietnam who were optimistic ‘we’ll be out by Christmas.’ That optimism didn’t work out well, and counter-intuitively, it was those who were more skeptical that stayed resilient over the long haul of their imprisonment. Optimism and hope sound like synonyms, but holding out a hope that one could and would endure, was very different and importantly more specific than a broad sense of optimism that the situation would improve.
This applies well to our ordeal of the pandemic. After multiple waves of covid infections and the various repercussions, a simple optimism may no longer suffice to stay positive and resilient into the future. Brooks’s article gives me a sense that we can combine the sensibilities of ‘we aren’t yet out of the woods’ and ‘this too shall pass’ as we stay level headed and pragmatic through the challenges ahead.
What’s both beautiful and applicable here is that cultivating hope means engaging our own ‘agency.’ We can be pessimistic about factors in the outside world (or at least I often am), but we actively visualize our hope to effectuate within our sphere of influence. I find a poetic solace in the example that Brooks borrows from a 19th century French nun. Thérèse of Lisieux  advocated for the ‘little way’  that emphasized “the magnitude of one’s act is not just its worldly impact but the love with which you undertake it. Your little way will change your heart and perhaps infect the hearts of others, especially when they see the effect that practicing hope and love has on you.”
Well said Arthur Brooks. This gives me hope.
Ed France
LFW Executive Director
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