A quote was shared with me just a short while ago that was used when discussing how people describe themselves changing and experiencing their emerging identity. The quote, from the American author Marilynne Robinson was “people describe themselves in small, continuous gestures towards others”.
It is interesting how Robinson has captured what seems to lie behind that tentative, tenuous yet very powerful emotion; hope. And also captured the very much misunderstood causality that drives it.
When you ask someone if they have hope for the future they will answer from an emotional perspective, they either do or they don’t. If pressed to explain why, they will likely be able to list a number of rational factors, supporting either their positive or negative perspective. And yet, no matter how long and logical either list may be, it will rarely change the sense of hope, or lack of hope that was first expressed. Hope springs from an emotional source but it is not devoid of concrete rationale.
This is where the quote noted above comes in. When people who have a positive sense of hope for the future are asked to describe what that hopeful future looks like they will describe it primarily in terms of small, normal day to day interactions that have a positive, qualitative difference compared to the same type of interaction they experience around them in the present. They have hope for the future because they see it in terms of different and ‘better’ small, continuous gestures made towards others both by themselves and by others.
It is interesting that Robinson uses the same language as George Herbert Mead, the American social behaviorist whose work highlighted the conversation of gestures between people as the process by which meaning emerged and identities progressed. Between the gesture of one and the response of the other, meaning emerged that was wholly dependent on both. This social interaction is the foundation of identity development and in a very real and concrete way how the future comes into being. When we see a future that has these conversations of gestures that are positive or better we experience/feel hope for the future; it is the cause of our hope.
This is of vital importance in these turbulent times. It is very easy right now to sit back and wait, to see who will do what and play arm chair strategist and predict or be cynical in an intellectual and inactive way. And yet the future happens one interaction at a time, each interaction informed by the patterns of our history and our intentions for the future. The causality of our future exists in our interactions of today, every one of them.