You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Extract from Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise” Maya Angelou

The late Maya Angelou fought a different fight, conquered different demons, in a different country. Yet I can find inspiration in her words and deeds. Her poem connects me to others who are fighting battles I have never fought. Around me are stories of devastation and loss. Loss of income, loss of self-esteem, loss of loved ones.

Yet…still I rise.  How can we find hope amid uncertainty and heartache?

The words of poets and authors, from all corners of the earth and across all time, are a reminder that suffering is universal and suffering is timeless. This is one such moment in history. Many are crushed by the impact of Covid 19 while others are fighting personal battles that are not on our radar.

Yet…still I rise. How can we find hope amid pain and despair?

 Hope is right there inside each of us

It is easy to get bogged down in the mud of emotions. But if there is a way to feel hopeful, why would we not choose it? Perhaps it is just in the shadows and if call it by a different name, it will emerge. We have no idea what the world will look like in months from now and creating a vision for post Covid 19 seems challenging. Excitement for the future might even seem unattainable. But, what if we defined hope differently?  Could we lure it out from the shadows?

I’ll rise

Hope and despair exist on a continuum. They are not opposites. On one end of the continuum is despair and stretched across on the far side, is hope. We all have stories of despair. We experience despair when we feel we have no choices…no options.  Things we previously took for granted have been removed.  Many of the pre Covid 19 options have been taken off the table along with freedom. To move along the continuum towards hope, we have to start now and start small. Action gives us momentum to move along the continuum. Each seemingly tiny choice we make takes us closer towards hope. But there is a secret. When we make a choice, we need to acknowledge that we have made one and celebrate that we did. Never doubt that small choices can lead to great things. Once we realise we have options, we start to feel confident and we expand our options. Perhaps you will even begin to improvise. Start small:  Should I phone a friend who needs encouragement or should I have a cup of tea first? As we expand our options, we start creeping towards hope.

Finding meaning in this new world may seem elusive, but it is definitely possible. When we are pushed into a corner we get to stare reality in the face. This can be powerful. What matters most to you? What are your unique qualities and how can you put them into action with others, in this moment? Maybe this is not anything like the script you previously had for your life. But it is not a blank page. Each of us has a meaningful purpose. How can you use this adversity and make a contribution to a deeper purpose? When we shift our focus to what makes life worth living we begin to feel the warmth inside us. It is called hope. It is a ‘little good feeling.’ Focus on the warmth that emanates and start creeping towards hope.

What if we define hope as “together we can make the world better”?  In very dark days, the warm glow of hope comes through in connection. Resilient people connect more, they share resources and seek support. We have been given the term ‘social distancing’. We hear it everywhere and it increases our feeling of isolation and despair. What if we reframed this as ‘physical distancing’? No meeting of the elbows will replace a wholehearted embrace, but if we start to see physical distance as temporary, and we focus on building solid connections. There is commonality in our suffering. I have met people in virtual rooms across the world who have shared their stories and they have brought me closer to connecting across cultures and continents. We are all vulnerable and when we connect from a place of vulnerability, connections are accelerated. I am seeing people in my own community who are reaching out and creating new support networks that will have lasting impact. Find one person who “has your back” and choose to have theirs. Make a pact to walk the road together.  Start creeping towards hope.

By defining hope in this way, you tap into the three characteristics of resilient people…

  1. An acceptance of reality
  2. A deep belief, supported by strong values, that life is meaningful
  3. An ability to improvise

Diane Coutu in her article How Resilience Works (Harvard Business Review 2002) identified these three characteristics and has this to say “You can bounce back with one of two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three.”

Hope can take many forms. But I have no doubt that hope comes from inside me.  I need to develop and cultivate hope to bring it out of the shadows.  Albert Camus wrote a beautiful piece, one of my favourite…

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”  Albert Camus
(1913-1960)

I think perhaps he had discovered hope.

Read Maya Angelou’s the full poem Still I Rise at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46446/still-i-rise