A friend gave me a book for my birthday. “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times” is the record of interviews that writer Douglas Adams carried out with naturalist Jane Goodall across several months and three continents.
Goodall left England in her 20s to study behavior patterns of chimpanzees in Tanzania. Her observations upended scientific convention and set her on a path of saving not only these intelligent animals but the entire planet.
Hope is not the same as optimism, which seems to be more innate than hope: You are born optimistic or you are not. Hope is cultivated and grows with practice.
The Bahá’í writings admonish, “However confused the scene, however dismal the present outlook, however circumscribed the resources, (we must) … labor serenely, confidently and unremittingly to lend our share of assistance, in whichever way circumstances may enable us, to the operation of the forces which … are leading humanity out of the valley of misery.”
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In “The Book of Hope,” Goodall describes her four reasons for hope: the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people and the indomitable human spirit.
First, the human intellect: We are a visionary and problem-solving species. We invented language and language made us human. Our intellect enables us to see ourselves in others and allows us to understand and forgive. A friend says that learning to read saved his life — he taught himself to read when he was 35.
Second: the resilience of nature. Every gardener understands this as we see year after year the robustness and tenacity of the plants we call weeds. I recently saw a video showing abandoned factories in a Midwest city. Every single factory had trees growing on the roof.
Third: the power of youth. Among the hopeful organizations of youth worldwide and across the U.S., the Jane Goodall Institute lists a collection of 187 youth groups under its “Roots and Shoots” umbrella (rootsandshoots.org). The most recent such group formed last week in California.
One of the oldest comprises a group of teens in a Ugandan village who started a recycling program for their community. Another is a group of children in the Bronx who succeeded in banning Styrofoam from their school cafeteria. Each group of young people creates its own projects and carries them out, consulting together, reaching consensus and then taking action.
And, finally, here’s one story to illustrate the indomitable human spirit. Two Chinese men surnamed Jia were friends since childhood. Jia Haixia was blind and Jia Wenqi had lost both arms in a childhood accident. The friends decided that feeling hopeless was not helping them or anyone else, so they came up with a scheme to plant trees in their village, to bring hope and to start to heal devastating environmental damage.
But they had no money and their abilities were limited. Well, Wenqi decided he would find branches to plant and Haixia would plant and tend them. After several false starts, the trees grew. By now, they have planted 13,000 trees, and the entire village is involved.
In a documentary about them, the two friends said, “Though we are limited physically, our spirit is limitless. So let the generations after us … see what two handicapped individuals have accomplished. Even after we are gone, they will see that a blind man and an armless man have left them a forest.”
A forest of 13,000 trees. The two Jias demonstrate how the actions of a few give hope to many, as these friends “labor serenely, confidently and unremittingly.”
Sandra J. Bean served at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, and, before moving to Corvallis for public health doctoral studies, worked as a health communications specialist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. She became a Bahá’í in 1971. She is co-organizer of a virtual book club discussion group focused on racial justice, and is a lifelong learner.