Radical Hope: The Path Forward During Troubling Times

Justin D. Henderson, PhD
13 min readJun 29, 2020

Finding a sustainable way to stay engaged when the path ahead is difficult

The year 2020 has had a pronounced tie to suffering: fires consuming Australia, a global pandemic, global economic hardships, political unrest, and a crescendo of awareness surrounding racial injustice.

In the space of so much suffering and uncertainty, we can lose the motivation to stay engaged in the real work of making the world a better place. How do we hold so much pain without becoming overwhelmed or burning out?

We have to find some semblance of hope to move forward individually, as a society, and as a global community. But how?

The truth is I’ve never been a big fan of the concept of hope. I know that sounds particularly troublesome since I’m a psychologist, therapist, and counselor educator. As I will clarify here, it is not that I do not think that hope is unimportant. Instead, I believe that hope is unhelpful when it is framed outside the space of real suffering. In particular, I see many conceptions of hope to be troublesome when applied to problems that are multi-lateral and systemic. When tackling concerns such as racial justice, we must be very clear on how to constitute and sustain a sense of hope.

Before we can build an intentional space of hope, we must identify how hope, if construed problematically, may not serve such promising prospects.

Some Problems with Hope:

Part of my uneasiness about hope is how it is often construed. Hope frequently is described as some fairy dust that is sprinkled over the smolder of suffering to make us feel better. But I don’t think hope is a type of salve that we apply to help us feel better about the present circumstances. The problems of the world are too grand for something like that to work.

Hope, when superficially constructed, can offer absolutely no support in any meaningful endeavor. It is blown over easily by the prevailing winds of systemic homeostasis.

This is all to say that I am heedful to turn to hope in a cavalier fashion. Instead, hope has to be purposefully manifested deeply to help guide us through the storms of life.

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Justin D. Henderson, PhD

Dr. Justin D. Henderson is a psychologist, professor of counseling, and organizational consultant. He’s a Medium Top Writer in Leadership and Business.