Science can lead us to better futures if we lead with hope

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This is a guest post by Edauri Navarro Pérez.


The struggle of hope

For a while, I have been struggling with the concept of hope. Our reality has been tackled so hard with tragic events (COVID-19, immigration irregularities and insecurity, climate change, discrimination, and more) that talking about hope felt ironic to me at some point. Moreover, I hardly find answers to the question “how to be hopeful without being naïve and misinformed?”. Although I comprehend that cynicism (1) could be a mechanism to defend ourselves from general misinformation and fears, I tend to criticize cynics most of the time because I do not feel that these postures help move us forward.  I also criticize naivety heavily and believing that things will work out just because, especially when it comes from people with easy access to information (2). Like Maria Popova said once: “…cynicism is both resignation’s symptom and a futile self-protection mechanism against it. Blindly believing that everything will work out just fine also produces resignation, for we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better.”

So…how can I be hopeful during one of the worst crises that we have faced as a world? How can we be hopeful if there is so much pain? How can we, with our science, provide more hope?

During this pandemic time, a friend recommended the book “Hope in the Dark” by Rebecca Solnit, and it helped to elucidate my concerns regarding hope. Moreover, how we, scientists, need hope to continue with our work. I used to think that hope was the same as “aspirations”, and while these two are related, hope requires action, aspiration does not. Everybody aspires or desires something, but working for what we aspire, that is hope. In other words, Rebecca Solnit talks about a hope that is “about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act” (Solnit, R. 2016). 

Hope is an action

Current #BlackLiveMatters protests and how students, professors, staff, and other academy members have reacted and denounced racism in the system has everything to do with hope. Climate change science and activism are everything about hope. Denouncing sexist and misogynistic patterns in science or any other field is hope. Demanding justice and inclusion for every marginalized community by actually listening and providing safe spaces for these groups is hope. All these actions are hope because we challenge the current status, and we demand, not only with words but with actions too, something better. By educating ourselves, creating conversations about these topics, taking action on the streets or in our homes, we are doing something. By embracing new perspectives, questions, and concerns, we create new starting points. By thinking and rethinking how we can do things differently, we reject what did not serve us. By transforming ideas into action, we are doing hope.

Hope does not mean to forget about our current problems or to deny our realities and struggles. Hope means facing these realities, working on them, acknowledging people’s discomfort and fighting for justice, the movements that we have created, the small victories, and the solidarity that have united us as a country (Solnit, R. 2016). Hope requires us to embrace the uncertainty from all the angles, including the good and the bad ones. 

Hope in science

We, as scientists, have an incredibly privileged position. We basically get paid for thinking, experimenting, and theorizing our curiosities. We communicate different types of knowledge. The academy is a vast institution that structures a lot of societal guidelines. With our privilege and positions, the academy can be used as a tool for hope and to do things differently, because the way that we have been structuring the academy is not working (not for everybody, at least) (3).

Still, with our current situations, we are hoping, and we are doing. It’s important to say that many people will make us feel that we are doing nothing, that our actions and demands are minimal, that our science is not heard.  But really, that is not true. Most of the storylines that we read in the news are focused on stories that can make us feel unhopeful, but there are always “small” victories. Yet, we have to keep in mind that change is not acquired rapidly. Change takes time because change requires us to restructure our way of thinking, societal norms, and more. Even gradually, change, just like hope, is still happening. Slowly, but steady. 

As current examples of hope, scientists have been working to develop vaccines and treatments against COVID-19 and even if we are still waiting for one that is medically and politically approved, there have been so many advances regarding this topic in the last couple of months. Moreover, we are currently demanding to restructure our political systems; we are talking and protesting in support of #BlackLivesMatters. Black communities are not quiet and have been active and talking about racism for a long time, and today at least, more people are becoming aware of this type of systematic oppression. Again, by talking, educating, and actively working to change the realities that do not serve us, we are doing something, and we need to keep doing it.

We need to continue the fight.

Change requires time and action, and frankly, there is a lot that needs to be done. We still need more underrepresented communities in positions of power. We need to keep asking ourselves what privileges we have and how we contribute to others’ oppression (3). We need to keep deconstructing current beliefs (like racism, transphobia, xenophobia, sexism, and more) that were normalized but are not okay. There is so much more that we need to keep doing, and to do it, we need to imagine a different future, a future with a perspective of hope.  Because, no matter what, we will always be unfinished, and that is okay. 

We, as scientists, are proud to call ourselves critical thinkers. Related to this, Maria Popova once said, “critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.” We owe it to ourselves and to others to fight for a different future. A future that fights resignation, that can see “small steps” and believes in the power of change and people. We need a future that has science driven by hope.

Acknowledgments:

Thanks to Ana Isabel Terminel-Iberri and Daniela Mera-Rodríguez for their comments and grammar editing. Moreover, thanks to Yíamar Rivera-Matos for the multiple conversations about futures and hope. They have really shaped me.

Footnotes:

1) Cynicism= believing that people only do things to help themselves rather than for good or honest reasons. Not believing that something good will happen or that something is important.  (Oxford dictionary, 2020)

2) Access to information= Having the resources to acquire or gain information without too much struggle.

3) “Why privilege should be part of our conversations as natural scientists?” blog post by Edauri Navarro Pérez= https://smallpondscience.com/2020/04/15/why-privilege-should-be-part-of-our-conversations-as-natural-scientists/

References:

Solnit, R. (2016). Hope in the dark: Untold histories, wild possibilities. Haymarket Books.

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/cynical

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