How to find new hope when the world is … a lot
This one is a bit more existential than usual. Fear not: I will return to productivity ideas and random pop culture references after this!
Hello and welcome to Academia Made Easier. I am so glad that you are here.
The world is a lot these days. It has been for years, or perhaps it always has been and I am just becoming more aware of it. Recently, when I speak to friends and colleagues, I hear a lot of despair: about our country that is literally on fire, about polarized politics, about the state of women’s rights and children’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights, and about climate health. It is a LOT.
And then there is Sammie.
Late this spring, one of my neighbours adopted a new dog. Sammie is a one-year-old rescue dog, breed unknown but certainly part angel. She quickly became best friends with my other neighbour dog, Hank, and soon after that took part of my heart. My husband and I take Sammie and Hank for walks and Sammie sometimes runs with me at a pace slower than her preference. (She is built for speed; I am built for stroll.) She is one of the most joyful creatures I have ever met.
Last weekend, I learned Sammie’s backstory, about how she was rescued from a garbage dump at 9 months old. About how she would bury whatever food she found to hide it from other dogs, about how she was starved and full of mange. I was able to find her photo on the dog rescue Facebook page and the dog pictured looked so sad, so lonely. But here is Sammie now:
Due to the amazing efforts of New Hope Dog Rescue (♥️🙏) and my neighbours who adopted her, Sammie’s world is infinitely better. My world is better. And that little reality sits with me and gives me hope in this world that is a lot, and for me, that little bit of hope is also a lot. It is new hope.
This probably sounds small and silly, and it undoubtedly is. But it is what today’s small thing to try immediately is about, so if you also have been finding the world to be a lot, please stick with me.
One Small Thing to Try Immediately: Find the Bright Lights
Whenever something terrible happens, my social media accounts fill with Mr. Rogers’ mother’s “look for the helpers” line. And frankly, it always pisses me off. Those of us with social media accounts aren’t the helpless children Mr. Rogers sought to console. We are adults with (some) agency and (some) resources – including our voices and our votes – who can affect (some) change. As Ian Bogost wrote in The Atlantic, “Ironically, when adults cite “Look for the helpers,” they are saying something tragic, not hopeful: Grown-ups now feel so disenfranchised that they implicitly self-identify as young children.”
Feeling disenfranchised is awful. Here are some ideas to find some new hope, be it through your academic work or elsewhere:
1. Identify your personal spheres of influence. Since the world is overwhelmingly large and its problems seem even larger, shrink the scale to identify your personal spheres of engagement. Your university and your department/unit. Your discipline and your sub-discipline. Your community.
2. Find some bright lights. Within your personal spheres of influence, look for some lights of inspiration who are using their personal agency to make the world a bit better, in any way. Like my colleague who rescues baby raccoons, and my other colleague whose research outreach includes working with community agencies to expand the use of therapy dogs. Like the individual citizens who show up in hundreds to advocate for children’s education needs and gender rights. Look around yourself and see where others are using their agency to make change or to make their voices heard. Watch for where you feel a sense of inspiration.
3. Identify your own agency in your own spheres of influence. A colleague who knows me well once told me, “Having agency in situations is particularly important to you and your well-being.” This was a perceptive comment. When I feel helpless, I feel stuck. When I take the time to sort out where and how I have agency, I can see opportunities to take some action, even small action, that feels positive. I can research and write for impact. I can volunteer. I can speak up. I can provide support to others needing support or to others seeking to be bright lights.
4. Allow being a bright light to be enough. In Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski use the Star Trek training simulation “Kobayashi Maru” as a metaphor. The training simulation is unwinnable. Its point is to see how the pilots act in the face of an insurmountable challenge. Being a bright light (in your discipline, your department, your community) is a show of your character and of your personal values. It may not be enough to create the change you feel is needed. It may seem like a wasted effort. But it shows your character and your values, and others might see your bright light and be inspired. That alone is of value.
A final word on this: if you are feeling hopeless beyond a level of frustration about the state of the world, please take this seriously and speak to your doctor or mental health provider. Your well-being matters. You matter. Please take care. ❤️
Until next time…
Summer is over and the semester has begun, and I plan to get back to my more regular Academia Made Easier writing schedule. I am excited to reconnect with you in the months ahead. I’ve missed you!
Stay well, my colleagues.
P.S. Since I mentioned the amazing New Hope Dog Rescue, I also want to give a shout-out to SCAT Street Cat Rescue. I have volunteered for SCAT for five years now and we adopted our sweet Storm from SCAT. If you have a rescue animal in your life, please give them a scratch behind the ears for me!
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