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Post nasty midterms:
5 steps to engendering (real) hope

Rich Harwood

November 29, 2018

The incredibly nasty midterm elections have finally passed. Now what? I believe you don’t need to lie down and accept the current state of affairs, but that there are five practical steps you can take to engender more hope in our lives, communities and society. We must act. And you can.

Regardless of who you voted for, these elections leave us more politically divided and polarized at the national level than before Tuesday’s voting. That’s not good for any of us. It’s not good for our country. Sadly, more gridlock, endless investigations, and greater nastiness are all on the way. Don’t hold your breath for some kind of miraculous breakthrough from Washington, D.C. or even from many of our state capitals. It’s not coming.

I’ve been listening to a lot of political observers, operatives and others say the best strategic response to this political mess is for each political party or partisan—for each of us—to dig in deeper on our existing positions. They argue that as others “go low,” your side should go lower. That nastiness should be met by greater nastiness. That when people up the volume on their political attacks, unleash even louder attacks in response.

I disagree—respectively, firmly.

This foolhardy approach will only produce more frustration, fear and feelings of helplessness within us, among us. We won’t be an inch closer to creating a more hopeful society.

Still, “being hopeful” is not something that can be imposed upon any of us. You can’t simply urge someone to be more hopeful. Such pleas only make people feel worse, even angry. You can feel your concerns are being dismissed—not truly heard or addressed; that you’re being sold a bill of goods.

But here’s the thing: you can engender hope. In this way, hope is not a feeling you or someone else should be told to have, but rather an action—something we actively create through our words and deeds.

You can make the personal choice to be an agent of hope. You already have the power to do this. Based on years of research and on-the-ground work, here are five basic steps you can take to engender hope:

  1. Take small steps forward that create evidence that it is possible for people to come together and get things done in these divisive times.
  2. Put hard issues on the table to show that we actually can face up to them, even talk together, especially when we disagree.
  3. Demonstrate people still care by creating ways for people to act on their compassion and affection and support for one another.
  4. Tell stories of progress that help to seed and shape a new can-do narrative, where people can see themselves in these stories and gain a sense of possibility.
  5. Open up new spaces for people to come together across dividing lines, perhaps even transcending differences.

Our task is to counter today’s troubling trends by engendering a more authentic hope. This takes courage to put a stake in the ground and stand strong; humility to know that our actions alone will not change the world, but they do contribute to helping set a better, more hopeful direction.

Make no mistake: engendering hope takes discipline and intentional action. Today, false hope too often is the coin of the realm—defined by inflated expectations for change, tough talk, witch hunts and the manufacturing of heroes, among other things. Winning at all costs, demonizing others and swiftly taking up sides only diminishes our sense of possibility.

There is no quick fix for what ails us today. But despite our current challenges, I find in local communities people are yearning to re-engage and re-connect in meaningful ways. Good work is being done.


There is no quick fix for what ails us today. But despite our current challenges, I find in local communities people are yearning to re-engage and re-connect in meaningful ways. Good work is being done.

I know that being hopeful can be hard nowadays. These tough times can get us down. But engendering hope is a choice we—you—get to make. Each of us already has this power within us. You do, too.

It’s a choice I want to make—and I am glad we are on this journey together.

Richard C. Harwood is president and founder of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit that teaches, coaches and inspires people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities collaborate.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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