Not All Hope Is Created Equal

My fear all along has been that "hope" would become a casualty of this campaign - that its very meaning and currency would be diminished through overuse and sloganeering.  Now, on the day of the Indiana and North Carolina Democratic Primaries, I wanted to return to this topic to make an urgent case for a particular meaning of hope in politics and public life. For not all hope is created equal. Tonight the pundits and spin-meisters will talk about hope as if it is on trial. Some will say that if Hillary Clinton wins it is proof that talking about hope is a reflection of a naive view of politics. If Barack Obama wins, there will be those who will declare that the audacity of hope remains a brilliant strategy. But no matter what results emerge from tonight, I believe we must see hope differently if we wish to make it real. We must distinguish between authentic and false hope. Here are some basic tenets to guide us:

Hope is an orientation, not a platform - let's be clear: hope is not a platform; there are no "policies" that the "hope camp" can claim. Instead, hope is about offering people a new perspective on moving forward, helping them to discover opportunities that are not obvious, or which are latent within us.  A distinguishing feature of hope is whether one seeks to build things up, or tear them down; and whether one's efforts are an attempt to address reality, or serve merely as window dressing or half-hearted ploys to placate and persuade.

Hope is neither about "being nice" nor "going negative"- to make hope real, we must pursue a different option, one that calls for a tough-minded, dogged approach in which we are ready to openly juxtapose our own views with those of others. There must be a willingness to step forward and strongly argue points of substance, to disagree, even to be critical, but with respect and without name calling. It means not backing down from a fight, but rather placing a stake in the ground to assert one's position. Favoring hope demands that we speak out with clarity and conviction.

Hope is not naive - some belittle those who promote hope by saying that it is soft or squishy, and that there is little room in politics and public life for such silliness. But they're wrong. Hope is an essential human emotion people need if they are to believe that change is possible; hope enables people to step forward and risk failure; hope allows people to come face-to-face with others, especially those who may seem different from themselves. Through hope, people are able to believe that tomorrow can be different from today, even when the odds seem stacked against them. What is naive is the belief that politics and public life can flourish without hope.

Hope must reside in your house, not simply The White House - as I travel to communities across the nation, it is clear to me that many of the issues and challenges people talk about can only be solved in their local communities. Thus, while messages of hope can and should come from the White House, hope must reside first and foremost in each of our own homes. For hope to be real, it must live within and among us, and in our neighborhoods and communities.

Hope must be grown, not only promised - yes, there is something remarkable about the "promise" of hope - the sense of possibility that can arise from a well-crafted speech or sermon. Those who say otherwise are merely playing games or have not encountered hope themselves. But, over time, hope emerges and is sustained because it rests on something real; it is a manifestation of that which is promised. Thus, to make hope real requires moving beyond exhortations, conversations, speeches, to the creation of pockets of change that demonstrate to people what is possible.

When "hope" comes under fire many people feel compelled to either defend it at all costs or simply to say that it's a nifty campaign slogan and not much more. I fear both stands; each neglects the sense of purpose and intentionality required to bring about authentic hope. Each fails to account for the choices we must make in daily life. Each misses a fundamental truth about hope:

The pursuit of authentic hope is a function of what we say and do over time.

The role of hope in this presidential campaign is certainly important, but we must each keep these ideas front and center in the work we do. For only then can hope be real.

Download a free copy of Rich's latest essay - Make Hope Real and begin your pursuit of authentic hope today.