Hope ignites our brains toward solutions

Yeah, I know. “Hope” gets shoved into a corner called “nice” where weaklings huddle who can’t face hard realities. In fact, hope and power don’t often show up in the same sentence.

Truth is, though, hope is a tap root of power.

First, note that the word power derives from the Latin, posse, “to be able.” It is our capacity to act. So understood, power seems rather impossible without its partner, hope; for most of us have a hard time acting without at least a bit of it.

Then consider the work of Harvard’s Srini Pillay, who grapples with hope’s power from the world of psychiatry and neuroscience. In Life Unlocked he explains that hope has the power to help reorganize our brains toward solutions. “When the brain thinks that something is possible, it sketches out the route for achieving it.”

“Hope is not an answer,” he underscores, but because it stimulates the imagination “hope helps us to pose the right questions.” And, I’ve learned that asking the right questions is foundational to achieving just about any goal.

And then Pillay adds the kicker.

Because “hope seems to travel in the same dungeons [parts of the brain] as fear, it might be a good soldier to employ if we want to meet fear.” That sure sounds like power to me.

And there’s yet another way hope wields power. It is the power to attract. When I sense hope in someone, immediately I am attracted. I want some of that!

And, in an era of multiplying threats, don’t all of us, more than ever, want others near us?

Given our nation’s mounting democracy crisis, with a president violating norms and rules that we long thought had protected us, don’t we want others—in fact, millions more—joining together in the good work of fixing our democracy’s system flaws that allowed this sad turn? Don’t we want citizens closing the doors to big, secret money  drowning out the voices of regular citizens?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

We want to attract strangers—people who’ve never ever been engaged in public actions—to join the work of hope that is the Democracy Movement.

Hope, I’m convinced, is one key to the birth and speedy growth of Democracy Initiative, an organization that in just five years has attracted nearly 70 national organizations—from labor to the environment to racial justice—representing 40 million Americans committed to pursuing reforms together to make democracy work for all of us.

A scowl of anger or despair won’t draw in more new faces.  Hope will. Hope is contagious, and that’s a really good thing.  

So, let us drop any thought that hope is a weakling.

No. It’s pure muscle.

Hope ignites our brains toward solutions. It gets us asking the right questions. It counters fear. It attracts others.  Wow.

Yes, hope is power, what we need now more than ever to fortify us to act boldly.