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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Jackson: Holding Out Hope

In the face of political apathy and pessimism, hope for a better world is the most valuable thing you can have.

The world seems, broadly speaking, pretty bleak at the moment. The looming threat of climate change continues to be a massive, ineffectively addressed problem, authoritarian regimes continue to suppress citizens and there’s an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Problems persist at home, where we see continued concerns over gun violence, persistent income inequality and legislation that punishes queer people for existing. For the average Dartmouth student, this reality is not only terrifying, but also exhausting. When met with such seemingly insurmountable pain and strife, many people’s natural instinct is to throw their hands up in defeat. But that reaction is wrong.

It’s no surprise that, for many, the idea of holding onto hope during trying times seems like a childish or foolish endeavor. It’s easy to point to the horrible events happening around us and conclude that efforts for change are pointless, the world is endlessly cruel and hope will only lead to pain. But the reality is different: turning ourselves away from the possibility of things getting better only ensures that they won’t. 

Of course, no one student can make the necessary widespread systematic change these issues require. And in a world that measures progress only by the most bombastic and obvious victories, the knowledge that you are unlikely to be able to fix these problems may feel demoralizing. It is equally true, however, that — over the course of human history — we have braved threats and atrocities not through the efforts of the few, but instead through collective, concerted action.

True change comes about when enough people — millions or even billions of people — decide to take a stand for something in which they believe. It comes about when those people talk to each other, then talk to other people and take action to spread the word. True change only arrives when people refuse to let themselves become demoralized by the idea that individual action may not be enough on its own, and hold fast to the belief that enough people taking a stand at once is much more powerful than the work that any one person could do. Historically, we could not have achieved the greatest feats of humankind — politically, scientifically and socially — without both a collective desire for change and a voice to make that desire known. And we certainly couldn’t have achieved our goals if the prevailing attitude had been that holding out hope was pointless.

Even more disheartening than simply choosing hopelessness for yourself is, in my opinion, trying to impose that same belief on others. Watching other students attempt to spread a message, only to be told that their actions are for nothing, is discouraging. On Dartmouth’s campus, it’s not uncommon for student activists to be met with derision by their peers: “What do they think they’re going to accomplish? Why do they bother?” These kinds of messages flood student social media platforms like Fizz, as well as the comment sections of posts made by student activists — all under the guise of common sense reasoning. This criticism is not constructive, and students who are making their voices heard should not pay it any heed.

The students campaigning against climate change won’t save the environment on their own. But maybe they can encourage Dartmouth to take positive strides. And while Dartmouth’s decisions won’t save the environment, they may set an example for peer schools. Eventually, divestment from fossil fuels may become common enough for colleges to recognize it as the norm. After colleges, high schools, cities and state governments may come next. At the end of the day, those Dartmouth students will have been crucial, even if their actions were unappreciated at the time.

It can sometimes be hard to maintain hope, especially when it seems like your individual actions have no impact. But change is rarely made by individuals, and more than that, it doesn’t happen at all when people don’t act. We have to believe that a better world is possible because, without belief, it is almost guaranteed not to happen. Despite what you’ve been told, having hope is deeply important. Hope is the most valuable thing a person can have. Why else would people be trying so hard to take it away?