It’s these questions that led me to explore the idea of hope. I’ve spent the past few months with my colleagues at the national public radio show, “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” working on a radio series on hope. We logged close to 20 interviews, and hours and hours of tape talking with scientists, artists, theologians and naturalists. We asked where hope comes from, how you make hope, and if there’s really hope for the future. I won’t pretend to have found all the answers. But, I did find hope to be messier, more conflicting, and at the same time ultimately more possible and deeper than I knew before.
One of my favorite interviews in the series was an emotional, complicated one with 17-year-old activist Lydia Hester, a high schooler who has led protests on gun reform, women’s rights, and was recently the campaign manager for a successful run for a city council seat. But she can’t yet vote.
Hester is mad that some of us (yes, those of us who are her parents’ age) don’t see the urgency of needing to act now, or maybe we just don’t know where to start. She’s inspired by young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. “One of my favorite parts from her speeches was: 'I want you to act like the house is on fire because it is,’” Hester says.
Don’t tell Hester you don’t do politics, because she would say that’s just a part of community and getting things done. “I would like people to realize that this is everyone’s job to create a movement and save our future,” she says.
She makes me think about how so many of the rest of us have looked away in the face of overwhelming future adversity. But teenagers like Hester and my own daughter and her friends, who marched in climate change protests and made a short film about the disappearing Monarch butterflies, are not taking the simplest route. They aren’t pretending everything is okay. And that, right there, is what gives me hope.
Writer Roy Scranton, whose latest book about climate change is “We’re Doomed, Now What?” has a gloomy outlook on our days ahead. The environmental damage is not turning around, he says, and it’s time to admit it. Yet, he also recently became a father.
So does that mean he believes in a future after all?
Yes, but it may look very different from what we expect. He says he’s wondering whether to save for his daughter’s college education or sign her up for archery lessons, preparing for a Katniss Everdeen survivalist life. Maybe he’ll do both.
“For me, hope is always connected to faith because you don’t hope that you’ll go to work in the morning,” Scranton says. “I don’t hope I’ll change my daughter’s diaper, I just do those things. You hope for things that you don’t have any control over. I do have a faith in human resilience and the human ability to adapt to difficult situations and still find ways to lead meaningful and rich lives.”
Hester says the older generation — us parents — needs to keep thinking of teenagers as hope.
She’s right, and that’s why these voices of teens and of parents looking to each other for what some call “hope work” are so powerful to hear. Maybe we’ll even do some of it together. “Don’t just think about yourself when you’re in that voting booth,” Hester says. “Think about all of the younger generations that can’t vote or whose future this will be affecting.”
Hope is not always easy to explain, or touch or understand in a straight line, which all reminds me of motherhood. For me, hope is what I see in my daughters.
Shannon Henry Kleiber is a producer for the nationally syndicated public radio show “To the Best of Our Knowledge.” She’s the author of two nonfiction books, the mother of two, and a former staff writer and columnist for The Washington Post.