Creating hope in the face of current events

Jan 15 2021

Creating hope in the face of current events

“We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Like people all over the world, I have been reeling since last week’s attack on our nation’s Capitol building, and I have been trying to process these events.

Photo credit: Stephanie Keith, Reuters

As a student and teacher of history, I have felt for years that the 1850’s might serve as a possible analogue to our own period of vitriolic language and political violence. As Upper School history teacher Dr. Anna Armentrout knows since I have spoken to her AP US History class the past couple of years on this topic, there are disturbing parallels between the Antebellum period and now. Without diving too much into the parallels, there’s an adage attributed to Mark Twain that goes, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.” Last week’s events reminded us of the violence that can ensue when our political system has difficulties addressing the tensions that are pulling our country apart.

On a personal level, watching a mob scale the walls and vandalize the Capitol rendered me speechless. For years, I led student trips to Washington, DC where one of the highlights was visiting Congress, standing awestruck in the rotunda, and watching our representatives in action. To see this epicenter of our legislative process under assault frightened and deeply saddened me.

It would have been easy and comprehensible to become despondent and perhaps give up on the political process at this point. To just walk away and move on would be perfectly understandable.

How does one find hope in times like these is a reasonable query.

And I am not talking about an ethereal and touchy-feely kind of hope. I mean a hope that is bold, courageous, and active in the face of such powerful negativity.

Please allow me to share an insight from University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education senior fellow Annie Mckee, who contends that hope is a combination of “Faith+Hard Work.”

She says that hope allows us to:

  • Tap into optimism (we will get through this);
  • Find a feasible vision for the future (No delusions! Be reasonable);
  • Discover efficacy (I, or we, can make this happen!)

There’s no doubt that this is hard work. As Mckee points out in a 2008 Harvard Business Review article, “It’s not to say that we should banish fear, or anger, or sadness–they are often warranted and very useful in guiding our actions. But we can’t let these emotions control us. The minute that happens, we lose control over our lives–and the future.”

What happened last week felt destabilizing. And yet, at the end of the day, literally, and into the next morning, Congress did its job and ratified the results of the 2020 Presidential Election. On January 20, Kamala Harris will make history when she is sworn in as Vice President, and Joe Biden will then take the oath of President. To paraphrase a comment by the journalist and historian John Dickerson from a recent podcast, “the sandbags of our democracy held.”

Beyond this, what has given me hope recently have been Keystone alumni, current students, and our faculty/staff. On Thursday, Upper School Head Bill Spedding, Director of College Counseling Sara Christiansen, and I had lunch with recent alumni; on Friday, we held Zoom meetings for upper school students to visit with alumni. On Friday evening, there was a wonderful Upper School Stone Soul thanks to Dr. Brian Lawrence, Alicia Ortega, and Mr. Spedding, capped by a spoken word rendition of a song from “High School Musical” by five seniors that brought much needed laughter and joy.Throughout the evening, the students also made beautiful music.

The insightful comments and thoughtful remarks by alumni, the harmonious and moving music of our students, and their words of appreciation for Keystone teachers and staff members reaffirmed what we do. These young women and men can inspire us and give us, in the words of the Book of Hebrews, a “hope in the unseen.”

Meanwhile, many of our teachers led discussions with students about the events last week in an age-appropriate manner so children could process what happened.

Please don’t think for a moment that as I talk about being hopeful, I’m minimizing the danger of what occurred on January 6. We have work to do. The ties that once held us together are being torn asunder, and there is much to be done to repair them. However, to quote Mckee again, “Hope is nothing without courageous action. You need to develop a sense of efficacy: self confidence and the belief that you–or we–can make something happen.”

Perhaps where we can take action and plant our stake in the ground beyond the efforts some may do as private individuals is to continue the care, love, and teaching we provide our students as the next generation of citizen leaders. They are our hope and the work we do daily can make us feel more sanguine about the future of our country. As an entire Keystone community, we can help restore the foundations of our democracy and aid our country to move forward and become a more inclusive nation for everyone. In these dark times, may we all offer light and inspiration.

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