Today’s blog is slightly longer, but well worth the extra minute, and the encouragement you receive will be your reward. Jeffrey Bilbro, a professor and multi book author, has written an article that offers words of caution to some ideas that are just generally accepted. Our current landscape applauds scalability and metrics, but does not account for how overwhelming these ideas and the problems we seek to solve can become. Bilbro makes some great distinctions while checking our perspectives. All the while defining hope and our responsibilities in the present, which again reminds me that the habits and disciplines of my life matter.
Two weeks ago the blog post was all about summer goals. If you are having a hard time getting started (like me) or are already faltering, then this article below may be just the inspiration we all need. The last line of this article is my prayer for all of us, “In the end may our master, whom we love, find us full of labours.”
LABOURS OF LOVE
Cultivating Grounds for Hope and Good Work
Much of our public discourse about societal problems revolves around mind-boggling numbers: tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere; acres of topsoil washed away; millions of lives lost or impoverished due to historic and ongoing racial injustice; trillions of dollars of debt; thousands of daily COVID-19 deaths. When the problems are quantified in these ways, moral agency and responsibility become attenuated, and the responses we can most easily imagine are variants of either resigned pessimism or gleeful optimism. The pessimist figures there’s nothing I can do in the face of such huge problems, so I might as well distract myself with doomscrolling or, at most, find some insignificant gesture to make myself feel a bit better—maybe dumping ice water on my head to raise money for ALS or posting another story on Facebook about the dangers of the coronavirus. The optimist agrees that there’s nothing an individual can do, but places confidence in big solutions, usually political or technological. Neither the pessimist nor the optimist can imagine any meaningful action in the face of massive societal problems.
Framing our problems in terms of vast quantities encourages us to ground whatever hope we can muster in solutions large enough to put a dent in global problems. Conveniently, such framing also absolves us of individual responsibility; if the problems are so big I can’t do anything about them, I don’t have to change my life. In fact, not only can I not do anything about these problems, but I don’t even need to do anything about them—the politicians and technocrats will fix them for me. On this optimistic view, the millennial kingdom is just around the corner. And for those who don’t have faith in a government run by their preferred political party or in the scientists and experts working on these challenges, then apocalyptic devastation seems unavoidable. The optimist and the pessimist occupy two sides of the same coin: quantified discourse shuttles between utopia and apocalypse, but proponents of both agree that the scale is so vast no individual action matters—our future is determined, and it’s just a question of whether we’re determined to live in a Silicon Valley paradise or to go up in smoke.
The Kentucky farmer and essayist Wendell Berry seeks a third way, the way of hope. For Berry, good work is worth doing regardless of whether it will fix our global problems. By grounding ultimate hope in a given redemption, he is freed to do good work without having the impossible pressure of fixing global problems.
Crosland Stuart, of Crosland & Company, LLC, works with The Collaborative on marketing, recruiting, and content creation. Additionally, she also works in the areas of foundation consulting, communications, and is a literary agent.