Hope against all hopes

by on Tuesday, 17 November 2009 Comments
One thing that makes you desperate about the world is that problems, big and small, seem to remain around without ever being solved. Afghanistan makes Obama sleepless; the Middle East changes only for the worse; negotiations on climate change are protracted; bankers have gone back to their indecent bonuses; corruption and short-term interests are still hindering the shift towards sustainable development in most countries; Taiwan politics remains… well… Taiwan politics… and the list could go on indefinitely.

Of course, when you look more carefully at the picture you might feel a little less desperate. People easily forget the progresses already accomplished, the breakthrough having occurred in the past, and we all naturally focus on what is still going wrong. Even more important is the fact that most problems are not just fixed in one or two moves but require long-term, incremental adjustments. Nobody ever found a vaccine against cancer, but modes of treatments are indeed more sophisticated and successful than, say, fifteen years ago. Humankind had always been “muddling through”, and will presumably continue do so. “Muddling through” does not make for good movies plots (we go for decisive triumphs and crushing defeats), but constitutes the very substance of our everyday struggles.

As we enter Christmas time, we may be remembered that real progresses are often silent and discreet. They start from something that has changed within us and is communicated around, as a candle’s fire kindles other fires. Just for taking an example: for sure, negotiations on climate change are important, and we need new regulations. At the same time, if humankind is to overcome such challenge it will come from changes in consumption models, awareness of the challenges resulting in shifting behaviors, entrepreneurs’ commitment to shift to renewable, non polluting energies even if there is still some extra cost involved in such a move… These changes are actually already happening, just because concerned individuals and companies make them happen. Networks spread around knowledge and ideas, public opinion translates them into forces for change, and local leaders sometimes are able to mobilize whole communities.

Such outcome never comes automatically. It germinates within the hearts of individuals who have decided to take seriously the challenges to which they can practically respond, and who associate with like-minded people. As happens when we contemplate the Christmas manger, we are often moved by the very weakness of these individuals or local communities: the Pakistani village that transforms itself though micro-credit; Afghan women mobilizing against violence, as Irish women did a few decades ago; aboriginal communities struggling to maintain their identity and traditional setting… Paradoxically, their weakness becomes their strength, as it tells us something fundamental about human life: problems are not solved by problem-solvers; they must be tackled at their root thanks to a revolution from the heart.

(Photo by C. Phiv)
Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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