Out of the Sewer

Found this archived bit of wisdom today in the Esquire politics blog. Reflecting on the nature of hope and absurdity, Vaclav Havel tells a tale of his falling into a sewer hole full of shit then somehow finds his way out of that telling to explain:

…history is not something that takes place elsewhere; it takes place here. We all contribute to making it. If bringing back some human dimension to the world depends on anything, it depends on how we acquit ourselves in the here and now.

The kind of hope I often think about (especially in hopeless situations like prison or sewer) is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t. Hope is not a prognostication — it’s an orientation of the spirit. Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within himself. You can’t delegate that to anyone else.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

History, yes, but also “organization culture” and most all of the real work that gets done in the world, it seems to me, depends on “how we acquit ourselves in the here and now.” Some talk of “culture change” but culture is what we all create together, what we all agree and reinforce with each decision, what is good and right. We can make grand plans and designs, but it’s the absurdity of taking immediate next steps, into those designs, that depends on hope, stepping into the absurdity of doing this one little thing in the face of the great need or plan or vision.

This reminds me of opening space in organizations. It’s not about some theory of how things work, or some conviction that open space is some sort of magic. It’s about inviting and leveraging our innate ability to come together, hope together, and do the first things, the most important things, even if we only have a couple days or hours. We make a beginning, purposefully not pointlessly.

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