"I'm a hopeaholic." Said Gloria Steinem. I like that word- hopeaholic. It describes me, no matter how disturbing or depressing the news gets, I don't feel down for long. I can't help myself. I return to my, "Things will get better." mentality quickly. I'm a hopeaholic also and to be in Ms. Steinem's company is pretty good company. During her interview with Oprah recently I realized I admire her as much today as I did 30 plus years ago. She is 81 and feels like she has not accomplished enough- that she still has so much more work to do.

If I am an addict this is the right kind of addict to be and I hope no one tries to drag me into an intervention because of it. I cannot imagine walking into a room with family gathered around, serious looks on their faces: "We are all here today to talk about your hopefulness. We hope we can help you understand how harmful hope is to you and what it is doing to the family." Fortunately that will never happen because when we lose hope, we have lost everything. The darkest moments I have experienced were when I gave up hope, without it, it's hard to even get up out of bed. You may as well lay down and let the lion tear out your belly. Hope gets us moving and is one of main the ingredients for life. Sometimes my hopes are small, "I hope my dog sleeps past 5:30 am." And sometimes they are very large, "I hope I win the lottery." Determining which hopes and desires are achievable can be difficult and hanging on to hope while the world is falling down around you is difficult. Perhaps Albert Einstein had the right idea, "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." Using his advice may help you keep your head in the cloud to dream while your feet are steadfastly on the ground.

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer." Albert Camus

We humans have a tendancy to think we are the first generation of people living, that what is happening now has never happened before and that it will turn out badly. When the Polly Anna's of the world try to speak they are quickly slapped down. Negativity seems to rule our culture. It's hard to be a hopeahlic because there seems to be a limitless amount of people who want to criticize you and tell you why you are doomed to fail. The anonymity of the internet breeds the worst in humanity and being told you're a dreamer is the least of the insults that will come your way. Who do we look up to? Who remains with us in our minds? Is it the negative co-worker or the disparaging teacher from 5th grade? Or do we admire and revere those who had vision? Our statues and our heros were people who somehow rose above, sometimes from humble roots then going right back to humble roots and obscurity, like Sybil Ludington, a heroine of the American Revolutionary War who, mounted her horse, Star, and became famous for her 'Paul Revere-ian' night ride on April 26, 1777 to alert American colonial forces to the approach of the British. We love the stories of people who had humble beginnings and achieved greatness because it reminds us that we are also capable of wonderful things. While many acheivers rest quietly in dust covered archives unearthing their stories usually brings about cheers and fascination. It was hope that propelled Sybil to ride, hope that her family's lifestyle would not be damaged by the advancing British Forces.


The movie, Suffragette,  is exposing the ugly truth of what women suffered to get the right to vote and while it is disturbing and painful to realize that we as a nation were so cruel to our mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts it is the story of hopeaholics. Women who did not give up. In the history I was taught in school a few lines, maybe in some books a few paragraphs, were written about the voting rights of women, as kind of an aside, "Oh, and on August 18, 1920 women were granted the right to vote." After a cursory mention the history books moved on. As we once again face some policy makers who wish to restrict the voting rights of our fellow citizens I hope that the hopeaholic in all of us will say, "NO!" loudly and proudly. "No, we are not going back. We are not going to be a country of exclusion but a country of inclusion, as it states on the Great Lady's tablet: 'Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.'" Emma Lazarus. I imagine Ms. Lazarus was also a hopeaholic.


Another hopeaholic, Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough, the engineer who designed the Chicago sewer system in the 1850's in downtown Chicago. At that time, refuse; human, food and animal were simply dumped in streets for other humans and animals to walk past or through. Some countries and states and cities had determined that there was a connection between open sewers and health problems and disease and a smattering of communities had started to install sewer systems. The problem in Chicago was the land was flat- no where for the sewer to drain down and away. Mr. Chesbrough had the idea that buildings would have to be raised and the sewer sytem installed below them. Chicagao was a bustling city at the time with many storied buildings and there were many who scoffed at the idea. Imagine! Lifting every building in a big city up off the ground and installing a sewer system below them. However, it was done and often with little inconvenience to the inhabitants of the buildings. Business continued as usual. A man with a vision dared to hope for a goal and he achieved it to the health and benefit of his fellow citizens.

Along with Obama, who has the audacity to hope, is another famous hopeaholic, Franklin Roosevelt. He inherited a world in deep depression and fought hard to give us the safety nets we have today, like Social Security, despite intense resistance from his peers and some of the public. As President, Roosevelt was hit from both the right and the left. He came under attack for his supposed anti-business policies, for being a "warmonger", for being a "Fascist" and for being too friendly to Joseph Stalin. Yet, he remained steadfast in his goals.

If you find yourself in a hopeless situation, if the problem seems insurmountable then meet, Yacouba Sawadogo. He is a Muslim farmer from the West African nation of Burkina Faso. In his village there was drought and desertification, the people were starving and had little to no resources. He decided to try farming the land. Yes, he decided to farm a desert. The villagers laughed and mocked him. His family thought he was crazy but after years of hard work he succeeded. Now his village has produce and trees. The trees have changed the environment, birds have come back, other small creatures are returning and the village can now grow food. He has been successfully using a traditional farming technique called Zaï to restore soils damaged by desertification and drought. A documentary feature film, "The Man Who Stopped the Desert" portrays his life. 


Currently we have many problems that can seem hopeless; climate change, war in the middle east, divisive politics, a troubled economy and you may think you have no power to make any significant change. The people I described above also faced daunting obstacles but with an impractical devotion to hope they were able to change their world and a part of the world around them. Dare to hope. Humans are as capable of great deeds as they are of foul deeds.

"Hope is the pillar that holds up the world. Hope is the dream of a waking man." Pliny the Elder

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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