Ocean Robbins: Hope

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Ocean Robbins is a peace and youth organizer based in Santa Cruz, California. He is founder and co-president of the youth leadership organization, YES!, and co-author of Choices For Our Future. He has facilitated "YesJam" events in over sixty nations for youth empowerment and building a sustainable future, and has been selected by "Audubon, Time Magazine, and Utne Reader as among the heroes of the new Millennium." Hope can inspire. Ocean Robbins shares with Worldchanging San Francisco his vision of hope in the world.

Editor's note: Working at a high school, I've had a number of experiences where I'd like to think I've made a significant difference in the life of a student. It's usually something small, like sitting with them and talking about their situation and sharing one's own experiences and lessons learned. The other day I had such an experience. The boy I spoke with wasn't motivated, and I knew exactly what that could be like in high school. Turned out he did like to have fun taking 'miracle' shots on the basketball court. We spoke about the experience of going out on the court and shooting at the hoop -- we've got to at least shoot the ball, if we don't, we'll never know if it goes in or not. That night I was watching a PBS documentary about female suicide in China. When I heard the line, "every four minutes a Chinese woman commits suicide," I sat up and thought for a while. Across all nations and people, a sense of hope and belief in the self is greatly needed. -- MW, Editor

by Ocean Robbins
Originally published in HopeDance Magazine of San Luis Obispo, courtesy the author

Hope is not a spectator sport, something that comes while sitting on the sidelines, calculating what’s going to happen in the world. Hope must come from the prayers and the dreams and the commitments that move through our lives; we must find a way to live hope, not as a noun, but a verb, something that must move through us, an action. I believe that to live truly in a place of hope means to be open to two things.

We must be open to the painful realities of our times, the tremendous madness in our world today. Every day on our planet we have less ancient forests, every second we lose more than a football-field-sized chunk of tropical rain forest, every day we have more air pollution, water pollution, every day tens of thousands of people die of hunger, every day we have more guns, bombs, madness on this planet.

At the same time, we must be open to something that is precious and sacred and beautiful, worth fighting, loving, living for, the beauty of humanity, of this earth. There is something so precious about this world, about this world’s people. That a child dies of starvation on this planet every two seconds is so numbing and overwhelming, because every child is so precious. As a father of four-year-old twins, I am moved by the preciousness of every life because I know how much I love our little munchkins and that all children deserve to be celebrated, supported, upheld, to be who they are, to give their gifts to this world. Everybody has unique contributions to make to this planet. There are more than 6.5 billion parts to play in the transformation of our world, each a unique path, coming out of our histories, our struggles and devastations, and our dreams for the future. Whatever love, nurturance, opportunities and privileges have been given to us, they’re ours now. In this precious and wild and crazy thing we call our lives, what choices will we make? What will be our impact upon this planet? and upon those with whom we share it?

Ecology tells us that everything we do sends out ripples. We’re merely a strand in the web of life, and whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. Ecology is the interconnecting of all the issues we face in the world today. We must keep broadening our definition of the environment: not just the trees, water, air, ozone layer or global warming; it is also people, and the social climate of our times. To be an environmentalist means to cease being a helpless victim of problems we didn’t create and become a participant in the transformation of our world. Each of us has the capacity to become an environmentalist, one who cares for the commons, for that which surrounds and protects us.

There is a myth in our society of the separate self, that we are somehow individual, disconnected from one another, that we can enrich ourselves, become "wealthy" materially or socially or spiritually, at the expense of other humans or other life forms. It is a lie we must challenge at its roots if we are to create a world that our grandchildren deserve.

The truth is that we are far more interconnected than we most realize. Around the world, tropical rain forests are falling and indigenous peoples are loosing their homelands and their entire way of life. In the United States, three out of five African Americans and Latinos live in a community with a toxic waste site; it’s called environmental racism. As long as we create pollution, it has to go somewhere. As long as certain communities are being marginalized or exploited and people don’t have the money or the time to speak out, polluters will have a place to deposit toxins. The issues are all interconnected, and we cannot just solve one problem without recognizing that we must solve "the totality."

Ultimately, for me, it comes back to a vision of humility, that we are but one part in a grand relationship. It is not ours to save the world, but to inspire and awaken and enliven people. What they do from there is up to them. How important it is to do what is ours to do and respect each human being’s own journey! This whole thing we call life on Earth is playing out with forces that are so vast and beyond our control and comprehension. We must be willing to look at it with open eyes, heart and mind to see what is happening and ask from a place of real humility, what is mine to do? How can I be of service in these times? Ultimately, I believe that that which is truly ours to do will nourish us, fill us with beauty, joy, and meaning, because we cannot give what we do not have. I do see a lot of activists trying to create change in the world without being fulfilled and sustained, and I don’t really think we can give something we’re not receiving.

I think all the universe works in circles. If you learn anything from ecology, it is that everything has a life cycle, giving and receiving are one journey. We humans are not too different from that and must find ways to nurture ourselves and thrive, if we are to create the world we dream of. In these times when we are not necessarily being rewarded in the political domain for our actions, not seeing the political renaissance we would like in this country, how do we find deeper roots to sustain us in the times to come?

I’m 31 years old and have been working for social change full-time for about half my life, and I know I’m just beginning. I have been around long enough to realize it may take at least another ten years. I want to be around to see what’s going to happen, and I want to be nourished and fulfilled along the way. I also realize this thing called humanity is going to be around for a long time if we do our job right. We have roots that go way back, and we truly stand on the shoulders of giants as we move along our path, some of them famous, most with names we will never know. Without them, we would not be having this conversation today, and women, people of color or even people who don’t own land would not have the right to vote in this country. We would not have so many freedoms or opportunities to express ourselves, to make a difference. We might not have those eco-systems that still sustain us. We would not have those trees left standing that do provide the air we breathe today. So we must give thanks for all who have gone before us, who have made possible the expression and the lives that we live today, while also realizing that there is much left to be done.

small image by YesJams; large image of Ocean courtesy YES!

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