Hope in Dark Times

Hope in Dark Times

Last week I blogged about why we need fantasy. I largely focused on empathy. Today I’d like to focus on another aspect of stories: hope. I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot of comments recently along the lines of ‘given how horrible the world is, we shouldn’t be reading escapist stories’. There seems to be this perception that when the world is dark we should constantly focus on how dark it is. Apparently we have an obligation to be serious all the time right now. Personally, I think the last thing we need at the moment are happiness police.

We live in dark times…

There is definitely a growing sense that the world is becoming a darker place to live in. I’m not going to go into all the details here. It’s happening all around us and everyone I know is very aware of the issues. We’re swimming in them. The media is showing us stories all the time about the disregard for human rights, the perversion of democracy, the creeping loss of civil freedoms. These are real and they are happening. I’m not in any way saying they’re not, or that we should disregard them. What I am saying is that it is not wrong to look for stories that make us feel good, as an antidote to the darkness.  If we are mired in the dark all the time, we will lose something important. Our sense of hope.

Hope matters

During the Great Depression, Shirley Temple movies were hugely popular. People were living in terrible poverty, but for 15 cents they could see a movie that would lift them out of their life for a while. Roosevelt said of Temple, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right”. Sure it was escapism, but it made a difference. It kept peoples’ spirits up. Stories can make us feel good too. They can give us a moment where we’re not weighed down. A story requires forward movement – something has to happen. Otherwise it’s not a story, it’s just a description. Such momentum can remind you of the possibility of change.

As someone who has lived through some very dark times, I’ve realised that one of the strategies I have used throughout my life so I don’t become lost in the dark is to give myself something to look forward to.  It doesn’t matter if it’s something big, or something small. What matters is that it gives me hope. That hope gives me the strength to keep going. Even more importantly – in the face of injustice, hope can give the strength to keep fighting.

Good versus evil

When we’re young, we learn from stories that good triumphs over evil. As adults we discover the world is not that simple. There’s no clear ‘evil’, just as no one person is pure ‘good’. But what we are seeing now is the binary of decency versus corruption. I know I for one have felt despair that our government acts against the best interests of many. Not only that, but they seem to think they are untouchable even as they are clearly going against the will of the majority. This seems to be a growing trend around the world. Now, I’m sure I’m going to be accused of idealism, and it wouldn’t be the first time, for what I’m about to say. But stories show us the bad guy doesn’t win. Stories give us a world where right triumphs.

Yes, I know that’s often not how the world works. I truly do. But sometimes it does. Sometimes regimes are toppled, civil rights are amended to be more inclusive, corrupt leaders are caught out. And the reason that happens is because people say no. They continue to resist – to say no even in the face of apparently overwhelming odds, or leaders who think they are beyond accountability. And the reason they say no is because they have hope. Those who know only despair don’t resist. Hope is a crucial ingredient for change. To quote Les Miserables, we have to believe that:

‘Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise!’

The creative human spirit

do think it’s important for people to be informed in a world that is in desperate need of change. Putting your head in the sand about climate change or politics is definitely not the way to go. But neither is turning away from the creative human spirit. Some of the greatest acts of resistance I’ve seen recently have been funny and immensely creative. Entertainment and laughter are food for the soul. Stories encapsulate the human creative spirit, but they also inspire it.  Sometimes we need to be serious. Sometimes we need to be uplifted, to see that change is possible and that corruption doesn’t always win. Hope can come from many places. Sometimes it can come from stories.


Comments are closed.