It’s easy to feel that nothing you do will matter in the grand scheme of things. But Bernadette Russell believes that a small glimmer of hope can go a long way…

- How To Be Hopeful (Elliott & Thompson) by Bernadette Russell is out10th September. Bernadette’s podcast of the same name can be found at white rabbit presents.

It can be hard to carry on at times, but Bernadette Russell has some advice

Afew years ago, I found myself thinking about hope a lot. I was muddling along, doing my best to be happy, playing my small part in making the world a better place in whichever way I could. Meanwhile, the world’s troubles were so complex and seemingly insurmount­able that it was easy to feel that whatever I did was a bit, well, pointless. My friend Kate summed it up well: ‘I see pictures of the ocean full of plastic and I think to myself, “What is the point of recycling?”’ The barrage of bad news we all face – bleak economic forecasts, growing societal and political divisions, increasing anger, frustratio­n, hatred and prejudice, against a backdrop of the terrifying climate crisis – is creating an epidemic of fear, despair and hopelessne­ss. Yet I know for certain that finding hope has helped me. I have experience­d homelessne­ss, childhood sexual abuse, poverty and adversity – times when I could not easily see a way out. Without hope, I would not have survived, and my experience­s taught me that in order to save ourselves, and to have a fighting chance of changing the world for the better, we need hope now more than ever. We need an active kind of hope, one that allows us to believe that positive change is possible if we take action.

Shortly after arriving in London in my 20s to escape an abusive relationsh­ip, I found myself in a pretty desperate situation. I had hardly any money, I was couch surfing and I felt utterly lost. When I left university I hoped to work in the theatre, but I had no idea how to make that happen. All my friends seemed to be doing better than me. I felt ashamed of my failure, of my childhood experience­s and my poor choices. But even then, I knew that to have a chance of living some kind of enjoyable life, I had to pull myself out of this, even if it felt impossible. I asked for help. Not everyone responded positively, but some did. Those people remain friends to this day. But the most important lesson I learned from that time was that I could depend on myself, on my courage and resourcefu­lness. That taking small actions towards a brighter future – even if I wasn’t sure they would work – was better than giving in to despair. It was a long and difficult journey, but on the way I gained confidence and an unshakeabl­e belief in myself, that even at the worst of times, I could find a way out.

Despite my own resilience, hope seemed to be in decline in the world around me. So I went on a journey to find and learn from Hope Heroes: people who have dared to imagine a better world and have taken action to get there. I discovered people who had found extraordin­ary courage to realise their dreams, for themselves, their communitie­s and the world. People such as Ian Toothill who, despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer, realised his ambition of climbing Everest, and Lucy-anne Holmes, who founded the No More Page 3 campaign, to stop topless models being published in tabloid newspapers. What I learned from them, and others, was how to navigate the path between denial and despair, so we can face the facts with courage while still perseverin­g in our hope for something different.

In order to do this, we need to strengthen our resilience, reminding ourselves of what makes us feel hopeful. To start, commit to noticing something every day, no matter how small, that gives you hope. For me, I love the pianos on train station concourses, because they give space and time for strangers to come

together and enjoy something beautiful for free. Or the South African poacher-turned-wildlife-protector I read about, because it reminds me that people have the courage and humility to change their lives. Collect these things together in whatever way most appeals to you – as pictures, words or objects

– but keep them in one place and refer to your collection when you feel hope waning.

Next, recognise your personal achievemen­ts thus far, large and small. I still get a thrill from seeing my name on the spine of the books I have written. As a working-class woman who was the first in my family to go to university, the odds were stacked against me, but I defied them, as have many others. You can gain hope for the future by rememberin­g all you are capable of and how far you have come.

Then, recognise that ‘you are what you eat’, or rather, you are everything you consume. Make sure you get plenty of hopeful, solutions-focused news stories into your life by subscribin­g to a few of the many sources out there, such as Good News Shared or Reasons To Be Cheerful. If you find that the regular news gets you down, limit the time that you engage with it and stick to that limit. If you notice anxiety or worry increasing as you engage with the news, stop. Take time to learn what calms and soothes you and do that instead. For me, that is walking in the woods, preferably at dusk or dawn. I limit my time with the news to once a day, and read thoughtful, solutions-seeking content instead.

Gavin Haines from Positive News is one of the Hope Heroes who taught me to always look for the person who is trying to find a solution to the problem. From him, I learned this: if something is worrying you, face the fear (it will resurface if you try to ignore it). Don’t feel defeated because you are just one person in a world full of troubles. The key to finding hope is to become part of what creates it. Seek out those who are exploring solutions – running a campaign or fighting for change – and get involved. One of my fears was the effect of plastic pollution. Then I discovered that plastic was originally created with the best of intentions by amateur inventor John Wesley Hyatt. One of his hopes was that plastic could be made to imitate ivory and tortoisesh­ell and therefore protect wildlife, such as elephants and tortoises, so I feel sure his intention had not been to clog up the oceans with carrier bags. Learning more, I discovered that in 2015, Dutch inventor Boyan Slat launched his floating rubbish-collector, picking up huge amounts of plastic from the sea. He’s still collecting it now, turning the gathered waste into plastic bike paths that are installed in cities all over the world, actively encouragin­g a healthy activity that helps the planet, too, as we use cars less. This example made me realise that as humans, our endless creativity and curiosity are tools that we will always have at our disposal to potentiall­y solve the world’s problems. Chances are someone is already working towards a solution to the thing that is dragging you down. It always pays to look – and once you find them, that will bring you back to hope.

Hope for social justice can be found, too. We have all witnessed the positive changes that have taken place as a result of the protests after the tragic death of George Floyd, offering us proof that collective action brings results. If you are going through a dark time, as I once was, know that it is possible to find hope: ask for help and remember that whatever you are experienci­ng, someone has been there before you and has survived. Be kind to yourself when you are suffering; comfort yourself as you would a friend and allow yourself to begin considerin­g what you hope for. Then, what would be a tiny step in the direction of that hope?

We are living in extraordin­ary times. It is our responsibi­lity to tell the stories that spread hope instead of fear – the ones that inspire us to take action, to stand up for one another, to make changes, to demand changes of those in power. All over the world there are people doing just that, whether they are enrolling in night classes, lobbying government­s, litter-picking in their local park, welcoming a refugee family to their community or shopping for a neighbour.

Instead of being diminished by fear and hate, let’s allow ourselves to believe that anything is possible and that the future could be wonderful, if we act on our hopes, together.


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