I’ve spent my life working on audacious projects that might help save nature, mitigate climate change, and feed the world responsibly. But, every day I struggle with the question, “Are there reasons for hope?”. To answer this question, I have learned it is necessary to hold multiple conflicting beliefs rather than try to resolve them into one.
There is no reason for hope. Everything that can be lost will be lost. Life is suffering. Nobody gets out of here alive. We’re each an irrelevant speck of stardust in an infinite universe living for an insignificant blip of time. Nothing we do matters. Hope is for ignorant fools.
Paradoxically, accepting a reality without hope is humbling, a path to freedom and internal peace, and a path to hope. Acceptance turns ignorant fools into Sacred Fools. From this place, I release myself from the obligation to save the world and the childish, narcissistic belief that I can. I release myself from self-criticism for not being perfect in every moment. I awaken from being enslaved by the stories of my mind and the insidiousness of my ego. I remember the inescapable suffering I went through while I was asleep, living a completely unconscious life that was frequently hurting myself and those I loved. I remind myself that I will fall back asleep over and over, but that I’m grateful to now have some tools and self-love to hopefully reawaken again and again.
I finally trust that I have the internal strength to help others without it draining my life force, because I am not obligated to do anything. I recognize that the suffering that living beings experience is real and does matter to them and to those they love, even if it might not matter in the grand scheme of the universe. I recognize that many people are still asleep, repeating the same nightmares day after day without being aware of the way out. So, I appreciate that anything I can do, however small, to bring more love and light into their lives is a gift and a worthy purpose for my life.
In this place, I find I have reasons for hope again. I hope I can cultivate joy and love and peace in my life. I hope I can bring joy and love and peace into other people’s lives. I hope and have faith that I will continue to love my family and feel their love for me, even after they die. I hope that if I have children, I will be a good father and share all that I’ve learned from those before me. I hope I can pass on the gifts of my teachers to honor them, and in turn honor all their teachers. I hope I can feel awe and wonder of the miracle of all creation, whether I am standing in front of a great landscape or lying down with my eyes closed.
I remind myself that having hope does mean holding the belief that we can save something by preventing it from suffering for all eternity. With that definition, there is no hope for elephants or sharks or rainforests or humanity or Earth or the universe. Everything that can be lost will be lost, as far as I know.
So, I hope I can keep alive the bit of faith in me that there is some benevolent force connecting us all, a force that is more loving and compassionate and beautiful than I could ever comprehend in this lifetime.
I have hope that whatever happens as our climate changes, we will adapt. Life will evolve. It always has. The miracle of each new generation is that it starts with a new baseline, with a new hope for a better future, even as older people cling to what has already been lost. I have hope that the last elephant will still bring us joy and that she will be loved and appreciated and mourned, even after she takes the last breath for her species.
I have hope that no matter how much is lost, as long as there is something to protect and love, people will find purpose in protecting it and feel joy in loving it, exactly as we do today.
Thank you to Dennis Proffitt, my mentor since undergrad and author of “Perception: How Our Bodies Shape our Minds”, for the conversations that prompted this article.
Evan Rapoport is the Senior Technology Fellow at Conservation International. Previously he was a Rapid Evaluator and cofounder of Tidal at Google X, a Product Manager at Google Maps, and the founding CEO of Oceankind, a philanthropic funder of ocean conservation.