Staying Hopeful in an Unhopeful World

The world is a mess. My country is a mess. Crimes of inhumanity flooding us through the media. It is overwhelming and hurtful and difficult not to close our eyes and disappear. So, you sensitive souls, you empaths, how do you stay hopeful in an unhopeful world?

I often look to the most thoughtful leaders who live(d) through times of wretched conflict and who never gave up hope for humanity. They are the tragic optimists. The ones that know firsthand about inhumanity (having seen it up close and personal) and yet still have faith in human goodness. Abraham Lincoln, Viktor Frankel, and the Dalai Lama are the big three for me. When I feel our world has gone mad, I turn to leaders who have seen this madness on a grand scale – having survived the American Civil War, the Holocaust, and the annexation of Tibet – and I see that they all remain(ed) hopeful. Their words inspire me to keep hopeful.

Their words remind us that losing or keeping hope is a choice we can make and re-make every day.

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”
Dalai Lama XIV

“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” – Viktor Frankel in Man’s Search for Meaning.

Words of inspiration can soothe our souls, but how do we get through the day? What can we do in our daily lives to keep hopeful? Here is some advice from Psychology Today on 3 Ways to Stay Hopeful:

1. Be kind—to yourself and others:

Curtail your intake on media—we are constantly bombarded by media with “breaking news.” Consider watching/reading a couple of news shows/articles a couple of times a day (once a day is better). Although news reported later in the day is more current, it’s not particularly healthy to go to sleep with disturbing thoughts fresh in your mind. So make sure you read, watch or do something that will replace unwanted thoughts before entering a sleep cycle.

Take mini-breaks—these can be anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, two or three times a day. Shift your focus from whatever you are doing to something that brings you the feeling of happiness. For instance, visually look at the flowers in the office or the clouds floating by or photos of loved ones, or close your eyes and go to your happy place; you’ll feel refreshed.

Practice random acts of kindness—every day! Go ahead and help the elder across the street, or get the item off the top shelf at the grocery store for the person in the wheelchair, or give a sincere compliment to your coworker, or hold the elevator door open for all to enter or exit freely. These random acts will bring a smile to your face as well as the person on the receiving end. Remember: Kindness begets hopeful feelings.

2. Treat each day like a precious gift:

Express love tangibly—be generous with hugs for loved ones, encouraging words for coworkers, and those acts of kindness mentioned above. The more we express our love, the more deeply we feel it and the more hopeful we’ll be.

Revel in the beauty around you—there is beauty everywhere; sometimes we just have to shift our focus. Notice the color of the sky, the grain in the wood, the water dripping off an icicle, the sound of children laughing, or bird song. Beauty is plentiful, and always there. Realizing there is beauty brings with it a feeling of hope.

Be grateful—for everything! The roof over our head, food in the refrigerator, the warmth of a sweater, and for the people in our lives, especially our family and friends. Even in the bleakest of times, we have much to be grateful for.

3. Make a difference:

Volunteer—if you have a special skill, consider sharing it; be a reader at your local school or a helper at a soup kitchen. And if you have a special interest, consider getting involved in an organization that improves the life of others less fortunate. Volunteering puts not only our lives, but the lives of others into perspective.

Make calls, write post cards—if being social isn’t your strong suit, consider making phone calls or sending post cards to government officials to express your concerns. Millions of people feel the same way you do but most won’t take action. And consider breaking the mold by being pro-social – go on a mass march to openly protest injustices to women and minorities and/or to support science, climate change initiatives, etc. Being pro-active is being hopeful.

Be kind—it’s worth repeating! By being kind to yourself and others, you automatically make the world a better, more hopeful place and pave the way for a brighter future. The Dalai Lama reminds us often that shared Compassion makes our world more loveable and liveable, but should begin with self-compassion. YOU are the key! – Rosemary K. Sword and Philip Zimbardo Ph.D.

Be kind, be hopeful. The world needs your compassionate strength.
“Let us confidently hope that all will be well.” – Abraham Lincoln

Defiant Joy

Conflict. We don’t like it. For empaths, conflict inflicts emotional overload. We feel our emotions strongly, and we feel the emotions of the others disagreeing with us strongly. Their emotions feel like an attack. A physical onslaught. What’s an empath to do?

If it’s a flight or fight scenario, I can tell you that our instinct is to run. To vacate the premises is a vote for self-preservation. This is often mistakenly interpreted as giving in to the other side. It is not. It is leaving to get away from the hostility and to re-group for another, and hopefully better, discussion.

The word “conflict” implies a serious and often prolonged argument or disagreement. Empaths don’t look for arguments, but neither do we back down to injustices. Sometimes we are thrust into the position to advocate for ourselves and others. We likely feel passionate about our view, yet physically incapable of a shouting match. Which is a good thing. Shouting feels like violence to us. (And please know, if you are shouting at an empath, they don’t even hear your words. They just hear yelling and will get away from you as quickly as possible.)

I’ve learned two tactics to arm myself in times of ongoing conflict. One is to prepare. The other is to pause.

I am in a situation now where I need to advocate for someone in my family who I love very much. So my advocacy is also steeped in emotion. I recognize this, and to handle it, I switch gears. I go to my head and educate myself. I will go into the meetings required better prepared than anyone else in the room. I will stick to the issues – which is what is best and fair for my family member. I have learned that with planning and presenting information in a clear but not accusatory way often is enough to accomplish your goals.

The second tactic is to pause. If a situation is not going well, and clearly the conflict and hostility are rising in the room, stop everything. Push the pause button. Do not agree to anything except the next time to meet and discuss the issue. Time and thought can be a game changer. The key is to remember that you do not have to agree to anything on someone else’s time table.

Now here is the hardest part for me – ONGOING conflict which requires ongoing advocacy. Dedication is required on a whole other level. It can be exhausting. Close to soul crushing. You will need defiant joy. Defiant because you will not give up. You will continue defying those who block you.  Joy because you can still feel happiness in your life in the midst of this conflict. Defiant joy is a choice you can make when those around you say that you have no choice. Yes, you do. Exercise it.