We don’t always talk about the significance of our emotions in times of crisis. Unexpected crises present us with change and unfortunate happenings that are often outside of our control.

Without mindfulness in these times, emotions can become overwhelming. To quiet our fears, we can use hope to see the present and imagine a better future.

The key to this future is that we must have a specific kind of hope – active hope! If we feel hopeless about the future, there is no reason to change our behavior in the present.

But when we believe our actions matter and that we can change or influence the future, we engage with our communities and organizations differently. That difference in behavior and belief is what causes positive change to take root.

A closer look at hope

The book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy (2012) recognizes the word ‘hope’ with two different meanings – hopefulness and desire.

  • Hopefulness is an emotion we experience when our preferred outcome seems reasonably likely to happen.
  • Desire is what we feel when we know what we hope for and what we’d like – or love – to take place.

It is what we do with hope that really makes the difference in how we show up in the world. That action or inaction is what marks passive versus active hopefulness.

What is passive hope?

Passive hope is about waiting for other people or groups to bring about what we desire. When we have passive hope, we can see a better future, but we don’t believe that we can influence people or our communities to achieve that future.

This causes people to look for “leaders” who will show up and fix their problems. They sometimes complain about our leaders who aren’t delivering on our vision of a better future. People who have passive hope are waiting for someone else to make things happen. This kind of thinking is a roadblock to creating a better future.

How is active hope different?

Active hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for. Active hope is a practice. It is like gardening or yoga – something we do rather than have. In gardening, both the flowers and weeds are always growing. You must have active hope to show up throughout the summer growing months and weed, even though you know more weeds will be there tomorrow.

Three steps for practicing active hope

  1. Take a clear view of reality. Don’t wear rose-colored glasses to view what is going on in the present. Anchor yourself in everyday reality. Face it, name it and acknowledge what is happening around you.
  • Identify what you hope or desire in terms of the direction you’d like things to move in or values you’d like to see expressed. Take time to imagine what ‘being better’ would look like for yourself and others.
  • Take steps to move yourself or your situation in that direction. In other words, show up and act in a way that’s aligned with the future you want to happen. Since active hope doesn’t require your optimism, you can apply it even when there is a big gap between your reality and desired future. Instead of weighing your chances and proceeding only when you feel hopeful, focus on your intention and let it be your guide.

Showing up to act

We must show up each day and act in a way that is consistent with the kind of world we want to live in. This is the power of active hope. It invites us to act to make something happen, even if it doesn’t exist today.

Don’t confuse this practice with blind optimism. We have to keep a firm grip on reality and a sharp vision of what we want the future to look like. Otherwise, our actions won’t matter because our behaviors won’t align with a better future.

Whatever situation we face, we can choose our response to our current reality. From wherever you sit in your community, organization or world, you can start showing up to behave daily in a way that aligns with the future you want, knowing that what you do matters.

With active hope, we have the power to change our world, even in very uncertain times.