We Have to Talk About Hope

By Margaret Wheatley

“Hope is a dangerous barrier to acting courageously in dark times.
 In hope, the soul overleaps reality, as in fear it shrinks back from it.”
— Hannah Arendt


How are you doing as the suffering of people and planet becomes more evident?

When you feel grief, sadness, powerlessness, do you reach for hope to propel you into action?

Do you rely on hope to motivate you? Are you afraid without hope or optimism that you’ll sink into despair and hopelessness? How exhausted and overwhelmed are you? 

We reach for hope as the antidote to despair, but actually hope is the cause of despair.

Every time we rely on hope, we always bring in fear. Buddhist wisdom teaches that hope and fear are two sides of the same dynamic. You already know this from your own experience. Think of when you put great hope and effort in a project, cause, or person. You worked very hard for its success, but then it failed from causes beyond your control. How did you feel then? The problem with hope is that it’s bipolar.

Too many of us good people dedicated to creating change have become addicted to hope. We feel despair for the destruction of planet, peoples, species, and the future. Yet we still need to make a difference, so we grasp for hope to motivate and energise us.

It’s time to be aware of this cycle and liberate ourselves from the drug of Hopium

Hopium: a comforting vision of the future that requires breaking the laws of physics, biology and ecology; Irrational of unwarranted optimism that promises short-term relief but delivers crushing disappointment and despair when reality inevitably bites. [Michael Dowd]

Hopium never gives us the energy and motivation we need to contribute and persevere. As we free ourselves from the cycle of hope and fear, we don’t become useless, hopeless people. Instead, we become people who can see clearly how to contribute in meaningful ways. We discover work that makes a different difference. We contribute meaningfully within our sphere of influence to a person, a community, a local cause.

Liberating Ourselves from Hope - An Intervention

Those who deeply care about a friend or family member who’s addicted will sometimes create an intervention for the person to see their addiction and discover a better way. It’s my heartfelt aspiration that we liberate ourselves from Hopium so that we can discover meaningful work to serve the human spirit and the spirit of life. 

Hope blinds us to our path of contribution. With insight and compassion, we discover abundant ways to contribute to this time of great suffering for peoples and planet. This intervention will include three steps:

Step One: Facing Reality.  
Withdrawing from the drugged haze of hopium, we can see reality clearly. We comprehend the scientific and social dynamics already in motion for planet, people, and societies that cannot be changed by human will or unified global efforts.

Step Two: Discovering Meaningful Work.  
We cannot change the world at the level of scale that is needed. This is the tragic reality of our time. We still want to make a difference and we can. We learn to look within our circle of influence, in our community, team, family and ask: What is needed here? Am I the one to contribute to this need?

Step Three: We take our place in the family of beings.  
The antidote to despair is not hope, it is love--love for the beauty and harmony of life even as we despair for the destruction caused by us humans. We give up control or saving the Earth and join the family of all beings as willing, humble participants. Opened by awe and gratitude, we feel held, supported, and loved in return. We belong here.

This intervention will be led by Margaret Wheatley on Zoom, either on December 2nd or December 4th



How to participate

The cost for participating is $150. If you would like financial support to attend, please fill out this form. If you or your organisation is able to, you can also sponsor a participant by paying a contribution of $300. More information here.

The Rights Studio is offering two scholarships to our readers. To get a chance to win a place, please answer the following question in a maximum of one hundred words: “In a post-hope world, I can finally …” Email it to us at: info@rights-studio.org.

Further resources

‘Freeing Ourselves From The Addiction To Hope,’ Margaret Wheatley, Warriors for the Human Spirit, October 2021.

‘A Place Beyond Hope and Fear,’ Margaret Wheatley, Shambala Sun, March 2009. Download the pdf here.

Find out more about the Berkana Institute, where Margaret teaches. Berkana has worked globally with dedicated, creative, spirit-grounded leaders & activists: https://berkana.org/home/


Since 1966, Margaret Wheatley has worked globally in many different roles: a speaker, teacher, community worker, consultant, advisor, formal leader. From these deep and varied experiences, she has developed the unshakable conviction that leaders must learn how to evoke people’s inherent generosity, creativity, and need for community. As this world tears us apart, sane leadership on behalf of the human spirit is the only way forward.

She is a best-selling author of nine books, from the classic Leadership and the New Science in 1992 and Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity in June 2017. Her latest work is The Warrior’s Songline, a multi-sensory experience of the journey Warriors for the Human Spirit take to become the presence of insight and compassion–no matter what is going on around them. This new form melds together voice and sound creating an evocative and transcendent listening experience. More here: https://margaretwheatley.com/ 

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