Recently, Valentina Khan touched many of us when she wrote a blog entitled The Powers of Evil are Well at Work and I’ve Lost My Spirit. Valentina spoke of the weariness and despair many of us feel when we think about the problems the world is facing today. She said that “right now it just seems like my voice of peace is lost to the voice of fanatics who get more media attention than I ever will.”
Last week I met a young man who has recently begun to try to save a large wetland pool on the island of Lesbos. He told me he feels frustrated that “no one else” is doing anything to save the important and fragile ecosystem of our island. I explained to him that there are many of us who have been working to save the wetlands of Lesbos for fifteen years, but with few or no results.
In the past month—since the weather turned to spring—thousands of refugees have arrived on the shores of Lesbos. Most of them are fleeing war. They come from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and other countries. They have been told that Lesbos is Europe—which technically it is.
What they don’t know is that the small country of Greece does not have the resources to cope with a humanitarian crisis of vast proportions. Or that the European Community does not have a plan to feed, house, and then integrate so many people into European society.
I cannot even begin to think what the possible solutions to this problem are. I say we must end war, and I know that is true. But no one is even talking about doing that.
Responding to Valentina, I said that I had written in one of my books that asking whether any one of us—or many of us together—can defeat the forces of evil is the wrong question. Because this issue seems so pertinent today, and in hopes that it will help some of the readers of this blog find the reason to hope, I offer a slightly edited excerpt from chapter 7 of She Who Changes.
A review of Jane Goodall’s spiritual autobiography Reason for Hope provoked a quantum shift within me, releasing the paralysis I had felt about the fate of the earth. Goodall’s book taught reviewer Katy Payne that “hope . . . is not found in optimism so much as in a primal understanding of what matters most.”* In other words, the reason for hope is not to be found in the knowledge or rational calculation that our efforts will succeed in saving life on earth but rather in the conviction or inner knowing that it is right to try.
This thought was liberating for me. Like many others, I have spent quite a bit of time wondering whether anything I can do could make enough difference to save the earth. In light of the enormity and different kinds of problems we face, no action that I could imagine taking seemed like it would make a difference.
What I learned is that I do not have to know whether or not my efforts combined with those of others will actually end up saving the earth. What I do need to know is that it feels profoundly right to me to make whatever efforts I can to help others and to protect life. Since then, the energy I once wasted in trying to know what cannot be known anyway—the future—has been freed up to do what I can do. I no longer ask: Will it be enough? I feel grateful that I am in a position to do something, and ask instead: what more can I do? No one of us can do everything. We all need to find something we can do.
It now seems to me that the question of optimism or pessimism about the fate of the earth is the wrong question. What if all our efforts to save the earth come to nothing? The assumption implicit in this question is that if in the next fifty years we have not ended war, and if in a hundred or two hundred or five hundred years the earth is so poisoned or degraded that it cannot sustain human life and the diversity of life, then all of our efforts to save life on this planet will have been in vain.
But this, I now see, is not the right question. Even if we knew for certain that in two hundred years there would be absolutely no more life on earth, would it be reasonable to say that all of our efforts to save it were futile? Yes, if the end result is our only concern. But if we look at the process rather than the end result, it makes no sense to say that our efforts to preserve and enhance life come to nothing.
If one child is helped and goes on to help others, that is something. If even one life is saved, that is something. And the truth is that we really cannot know the long-term consequences of any action we take. One small act could be the one that turns the tide.
The reason for hope is the creative process of life itself. If human beings have created many of the problems that limit and threaten the possibilities of life on this earth, then we have the capacity to solve them as well. The way we use our creative freedom will help to determine the fate of life on earth.
*Katy Payne, “Among the Apes,” New York Times Book Review, October 24, 1999, 21.
Photograph of refugees in Molivos by Michael Honegger
Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter). Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and forthcoming next year, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Explore Carol’s writing. Photo of Carol by Maureen Murdock.