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Hope after disillusion

We are in march 2020. A pandemic has hit the world. Countries are closing their borders and going on lockdown. Airplanes are stuck on the ground. Something Big is happening worldwide.

For many, it is a wake up call, it is also an opportunity for change in our society. If our societies can take radical action like this, what else is possible  if we collectively put our mind to it? What about addressing climate change? I was filled with hope and co-created a project called “Possibility Now”, a place  “​​for us to rebuild the muscle of our imagination, to sustain our capacity for hope.”

A movement of solidarity runs through the streets, people clap out of their windows in expression of gratitude to the health workers, artists produce content to keep the morale of the population, facebook posts acknowledge the bin men and the cashiers. We are present to the goodness of people and humanity.

(video of people clapping for the health workers in europe)

Then, as the months and years unfold something shifts. Gradually a new conversation fills the space based on blame and wrong making. The pro vaccine versus the anti vaccine people, the pro government versus the conspiracy theorists.

Possibility started to be replaced by resignation and I started telling myself that I could not make a difference therefore what was the point in trying. That if the world was going downhill, it was because of the idiots out there. I collected proof for my view that “we are doomed anyway”. I entered a place of disillusion, resentment and resignation. I gave up on myself as a possibility and I gave up on seeing others and the world as a possibility.  I got carried away into the usual human conversation of wrong making and was no longer an interruption for hope and possibility. I stop seeing that during this pandemic solidarity was still there but went unacknowledged: some people chose to vaccinate to protect others and themselves, some people chose not to vaccinate for the same reason, people were willing to confine to keep each other safe, some people  stood for us to get to be physically together again, free and expressed. That at the end we might not agree on the way but people care.

People embracing at our 2020 Gathering

I could not see the difference I made and could not acknowledge the difference that others made. I attach the value of myself to the outcome I produce, rather than being present to my and humanity’s intrinsic value. I was no longer present to who I am as a gift.  

My first aspiration for possibility got distorted in my mind into possibility as change, as fixing, as repairing a broken world. Change is not transformation, because change is a way to fix something, it is still trapped in the space of something is wrong. In that space there is still no room for true possibility, because possibility is something created from nothing and in which there is space to bring forth transformation. Fixing is still a dynamic of being against something else, of othering, so we are still trapped in it. 

Here is a metaphor: If I repair something I still have the thing I repair, but if I take what is in front of me, just for what it is;  then I can start playing, imagining and creating something new and out of that comes forth something that has never existed before which open new possibilities that were not there before. 

As another crisis had shown up this summer, my heart was saddened. As I saw the leaves of the tree falling from the heat, smelled the smoke of the forest burning and witnessed the river drying I started to make what was happening wrong and started panicking!  We got to do something! Why is no one doing anything? Then my partner read a paragraph of Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing on aimlessness. Because what was I trying to do, have everyone panic with me and run around like headless chickens? And then what? Would we be better equipped to address the situation? So as the weeks unfolded, I looked deeper into the nature of the climate crisis, I realized that well, the opportunity does not lie in fixing the climate crisis but how we address it, let’s put it that way “there is not a lot of change in the climate change mouvement” (echoing Thich Nhat Hanh’s comment that “there wasn’t a lot of peace in the peace movement” of the 60s).

Let me make this concrete. Suppose a new global pandemic or a terrible war killed two thirds of the population. This would “solve” the climate crisis: consumption and CO2 emissions would be radically reduced. But that would not be a transformation in how we address the crisis. Nothing would have really changed in humanity.

Ultimately, there is no way we can escape death. The question is not: “not dying”, it is how we live whilst we are alive. If we can start relating to each other as brother and sister, with solidarity, and listen to each other as a possibility, if we can bring forth a world that works for everyone, where no one is left behind, where we stop watering the seeds of separation and othering. That would be a breakthrough and an extraordinary outcome. We would be living in a new world where we would be dealing powerfully and peacefully with climate change – where we would have a true “solution” to the climate crisis.

By Sylvie Shiwei Barbier

Sylvie Shiwei Barbier is an Artist and Co-founder of Life Itself