Scaling Hope and Love

Hello again! I’m glad to be back with you! Many of you attended our Science of HOPE conference in April; I know this because I saw you there and you told me you enjoy this blog. Thank you for that! Since then, I’ve been processing so many wonderful experiences at the conference and distilling a few key takeaways as well as creating space for diving further in.

I continue to be really excited about the intersections between the academic world’s definition of hope as taught to us by Dr. Chan Hellman and Healthy Gen’s idea of H.O.P.E. (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) as a more relatable way to talk about our mission to create enduring health equity.

With a big dream, like H.O.P.E., one person, one organization even, can’t do that alone. Our work needs to include an intentional weaving together of people. Taking the beautiful strands of each of us and weaving them together into what ultimately becomes an unbreakable web of shared intent and shared action. 

At our conference, we brought Dr. Hellman in to teach us about hope, what it is, how we can measure it, why it matters. You can see his full keynote here (38 min) along with the rest of the Science of HOPE keynotes. Based on his teachings and the work in the field, I now think of hope as being able to dream, to have a vision for a goal, and then being able to take action to achieve your goal, your dream. Hope is about personal power, not about waiting around for a fairy godmother to make it all better. That's wishing. Nothing wrong with wishing, but hope puts you at the center of whether you're going to get what you want or not.

If hope is about action, we know we need hope to get to H.O.P.E. because wishful thinking isn’t going to cut it to create a world in which all people have the same opportunity to achieve their highest health potential. So how do we scale hope, then? How do we mobilize our collective selves forward to create the world we are dreaming of? Consider the following words from writer, historian, and activist, Rebecca Solnit:

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable."

Don’t you love this?! It gives me goosebumps. You too? Yes…! We each need to give ourselves to a future in which we function as a “we” more than a “me.” Dr. Shawn Ginwright’s keynote teaching (44 min) at the conference dug into this with his ideas about restorative hope and hope as a profoundly political act.

One of many points he shared that has stuck with me was a story about botanists who have studied plants’ response to stress by introducing toxins into their air in a closed environment and studying, basically, how long till they die. Ugh.

But they discovered that when they introduced the toxins to a group of plants together, rather than alone, a funny thing happened. Together, the plants were somehow able to pull out different nutrients and chemicals out of the soil and metabolize them differently to start emitting their own gas that neutralized the toxins being pumped in.

Together they rebuffed toxins and thrived. 

You already know about my love of trees from Trees Are People Too. We have fascinating evidence about how the connection between trees creates protection and resilience for both their individual and group health and wellness. We know this is also true for humans. The Harvard Study of Adult Development (possibly the longest study of adult life ever done) found that, simply put, good relationships keep us happy and healthy.

We are all connected. We are all stardust

For me personally this all comes down to a foundational piece of love, the work that love has to do in this world, through each of us. It’s not just how do we scale hope? But as we consider Chan’s eloquent idea that hope is a social gift, it really needs to also be about how do we scale love?

Connecting to others isn’t easy for everyone. Childhood trauma and the othering created by personal and institutional bias, to name a couple, can be major barriers to healthy connections with others. If we want to build a strong web of HOPEtivisits to create enduring health equity, we have to start with our own healing, we have to get the oxygen mask on ourselves, build our skills around boundary setting and personal wellness in order to avoid the death by overwhelm that is troubling virtually all of us these days. I heard about this problem from so many of you at the conference, either thanking me for the brief respite the event provided you from that, or simply noticing how hard it is to carve out the deep reflective time we each know we need to take care of ourselves and to make progress. We have to love ourselves first and then we can connect to love for and from others. Then we can effectively reach out to help others, to create positive relationships that nurture each person in them. As Shawn said in his keynote, “If we’re not well, young people [or anyone else we seek to support] can’t be well.”

So, how do we scale hope? How do we scale love? Let’s start in our own selves and commit to our own individual wellness as a crucial building block and let’s look at ways we can move what we know in our heads, which are crammed full of great knowledge at this point, deeper into our hearts. Because it is what is in our hearts that will activate our feet and we need to get our feet moving!

I can’t think of any better way to capture a call to action than the wonderful words of Dr. Maxine Hayes, in her acceptance speech for Health Gen’s inaugural Maxine Hayes Creating Enduring Health Equity Through Public Health Practice Award: “I believe strongly that you do what you can, where you are, with what you have, while you can.”

All this has made me increasingly ponder a shift we talked about at the conference, a shift towards “Hope Informed Practice” instead of the existing paradigms for that which we use today, like Trauma Informed or ACE informed etc. How would that change the way we do our work?

I want to leave you with an incredibly inspiring video that a colleague and friend shared with me recently. I’ve been sharing it with everyone, making them watch it right on the spot! It filled me right up with awareness of love and hope. So I hope you will watch it too (below) and let me know in the comments field what you thought, about the video or any of it! Let’s get the conversational party started!

Love you!