Finding Hope

“What would it take?” When we set out to find answers to that question in many, varied forms for this special issue of Momentum, we knew we would encounter many, varied answers. One thread, however, seemed to weave through most, if not all, of the responses: the need for hope. We invited the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, a student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and founder and director of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to answer what could be the biggest of the Big Questions: What would it take to find hope?

How can we find hope in the midst of the daunting environmental challenges that we face?

The first thing is, as individuals, organizations or society, to take into consideration that there are a lot of positive things that are happening. The next thing is to look at the fact that the alternative to hope is not any brighter or not any more optimistic. As individuals and groups, we have to look into deeper aspects within ourselves and society to strengthen the sense of hope—because that is where solutions, that is where a sense of optimism and a sense of brightness, lie. By strengthening this mutual sense of hope, we can survive the challenges that are to come. Hope is not just a nice word or a blank stare arising from desperation. Hope is empowerment – hope is a solution – hope is a game-changer.

So—we need to look at the positive things and build on those?

Yes. When we speak of sustainability, we have to look into a more microscopic form of sustainability, which has to do with sustainability of each individual and their potentials. So sustainability of hope, itself—what is it that we can do as individuals? Each individual has the capacity to cultivate a sense of compassion, a sense of kindness, a sense of optimism. It becomes a reservoir, in a manner that you can support a sense of hope in other individuals as well.

What should we do with this hope?

The whole clarity we find with the sense of hope—for example, looking at particular challenges and solutions, and the way we come to agree on those solutions—comes from relating to other individuals in the ecosystem. Although each individual is a complex organic system, we exist in relation to other things around us.

One way to deepen the sense of hope is by developing a sense of clarity: How can we relate better? How can we build a better society, better environment? When you identify concrete challenges, then you can identify a process of finding concrete solutions. There is a sense of interdependence between clarity and sustainability when it comes to hope. If our hope is fuzzy, it is not sustainable. If our hope is clear, then it has a sense of confidence built into it, and that oozes into the society at large.

Oftentimes people interpret a sense of hope as a sense of complacent behavior, that you sit idle and do nothing and just be hopeful and pray if you are religious, and just wish for a good outcome if you are not religious. That passive sense of hope is detrimental to human society. It can be a serene sense of hope—but it still needs to be active. And it has a cumulative effect. Every time we give up hope, we demolish something in our society. Every time we take a step to strengthen the sense of hope, we become stronger as humans, we become stronger as society.

One has to understand that one’s behavior is more contagious than one may care to admit. Once we have this recognition that our behavior influences the positive behavior of the people that surround us, we begin to take hope much more seriously. It is not just about my hope, but it is about the hope of the world, hope of people around me, and so on.

Are you saying that we have a duty to hope?

One has a responsibility to be hopeful. If we are to survive as a species, if we are to survive as a planet, we have a responsibility to have a sense of hope—because that will trigger our ways of finding solutions.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We really have to look into transforming minds and mind-sets. As a part of this transformation of mind-set, it is important that we begin to add training or education mechanisms that help us abandon the myopic worldview. We cannot continue to think simply in terms of the next 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. We have to go back to this old way of thinking—which is, what do we do for the next seven generations?

Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi


ILLUSTRATION BY ALICE X. ZHANG

The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi is a student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and founder and director of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.