What are #SmallActsOfHope and why do we need them?

By staff writers
November 18, 2019

Last month, as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland got into gear for a general election after many months of wrangling and toxicity over Brexit, Ekklesia launched its #SmallActsOfHope project on social media, encouraging people to share simple ideas to:

  •  Improve your own mental health 
  •  Show kindness and compassion to others
  •  Bring people together 
  •  Improve life in your local community
  •  Support the environment, wildlife and biodiversity
  •   Inject truth, accuracy, perspective, hope and respect back into the political debate and political action

There is more about the project (including an initial 41 "small acts" here. Also seek out and promote #SmallActsOfHope on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

Below, three of us who are closely involved with the work of Ekklesia offer some reflections on what this means and what difference it can make.

You can also find a specifically Christian reflection here (linking to David Atkinson's book, Hope Rediscovered), and there will be another with a more humanistic and interreligious angle up soon. 

Ekklesia associate director JILL SEGGER writes: It is the essential nature of the kind of power which seeks not the common good but the increase and perpetuation of its own privilege, to be ruthless towards those outside its charmed circle. That is most of the population.

When governance is exercised well, the long-standing checks and balances provided – despite its faults – by a codified constitution and by the integrity of decent politicians, keep us from a descent into the moral dystopia we did not expect to see but which is now clouding our vision.

This abuse of power depends upon wearing down those over whom it is exercised to a condition of hopelessness in which people begin to believe that they are without agency. Austerity began it. Brexit, in all its mishandling, mendacity, division and now, in its blatant disregard for parliament and for the rule of law, has continued it, greatly increasing fear and despair. There is a marked diminution in civility, let alone in empathy, solidarity and kindness. Many who seemed strong and resilient are beginning to fear for their mental health. Still more are ceasing to believe in better.

In such times as these, we need to look after ourselves in a way which will keep us whole in our hearts and minds. Without this self-care we are unable to help others. We fall into a negativity which may quickly blind us to the real power of small acts of kindness, community and creativity. These are the connective tissue of personal and community relationships and they feed from each other. The helped becomes the helper as these small acts defuse – even detoxify – acts of unkindness and negativity, helping us to see these as equally small, even if they seemed for a while to fill our field of view with what is hateful.

The ground beneath our feet feels very unstable right now. But if we permit ourselves to think that because we cannot do ‘big’ we can therefore do nothing, then abusive power will indeed defeat us. Let’s believe in the small circle, the quiet process. These are what will give us a firm standing again.

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Ekklesia associate BERNADETTE MEADEN writes: Our current situation, in the UK and the wider world, can at times seem relentlessly negative. Growing division and hostility, dishonest politics, dwindling compassion and empathy for those in need, and the huge threat of the climate emergency, on top of our own personal struggles, can make even the strongest of us feel hopeless, powerless, and anxious.

We are faced with a choice. Confronted by seemingly overwhelming problems, we can succumb and become ever more pessimistic, or we can decide to maintain hope. We can curse the darkness, or we can light a candle.

If enough of us decide to light a candle, the darkness may begin to recede, even if only in our own lives or our own small circles. And as St Francis said, “All the darkness in the universe cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” 

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Ekklesia director SIMON BARROW writes: We live in an age of large-scale problems: the global climate crisis, the rise of the far right and populist authoritarianism, the damage to people and planet wreaked by disordered financial and economic systems, the Brexit shambles, the growth of racism and ethnic nationalism, poverty and inequality, violence and anger, and the stranglehold of wealthy minorities.

These are concerns with deep roots and wide tentacles. They are complex and persistent, and It is very easy (and very dangerous) for people to feel disempowered and hopeless. That is how some of the malign and self-interested forces at work – orchestrated by the likes of Bannon, Surkov and Cummings – seek to undermine democracy, law and accountability. When people give up, opt for a 'strong leader' misunderstand who 'the elite'really are, and start to think that 'breaking the rules' is fine for the powerful, we are in real peril. Fascistic tendencies and thinking have been provided with fertile ground.

Similarly, those who want to stand for peace, justice and equity in the world can feel frustrated, powerless and depressed by the way in which the wealthy, powerful and unaccountable seem to 'get away with it'. Either that, or we can fall prey to the technocratic belief that for every problem there is a technological solution; that big problems require big data, big politics and big ideas which are, somehow, 'beyond us'.

The reality is that change is incremental, scaled and developing before it can be widespread or exponential. Sure, change can have fits and spurts. Things like digitisation, the internet, microtechnology, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotification have changed or will change the way the world works at frightening speed. But cultures are slower to change and human beings need time and room to adapt, learn, relate and understand. “Room to be people”, as the theologian Jose Miguez Bonino once put it. 

What’s more, as the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre points out (in After Virtue, published way back in 1981), we need to rebuild moral communities that can both resist and create. When the Barbarians are not just at the gate, but in many instances have been ruling us for some time, our language and ethics will be in the process of being deeply corrupted and rendered both confusing and confused. 

‘The alternative’ is not to turn the weapons of aggressors against them (which mostly isn’t possible anyway),  but to subvert incivility with civility, hatred with love, revenge with forgiveness, despair with hope, injustice with justice, war with peace, greed with sharing, bad politics with good politics… and to do so from the ground up. This means building civic education, cooperation, resistance and workable alternatives from networks and communities which are durable enough to endure the darkness and to go on cultivating those virtues (like truthfulness in public life) which are blatantly and mockingly trampled upon by those who have grasped power without responsibility to anyone but their own. Churches should be such places of resistance and creativity, but often are nothing like that. 

For all these reasons and many more, we need Small Acts of Hope. Ideas and examples of actions and behaviours which encourage us, strengthen us, enable us to do something when we cannot do everything, create allies, build bridges, break down barriers, create living space, disarm violence, combat oppression, support the disadvantaged, and succour positivity without illusions. 

* Small is, as Schumacher once said, beautiful. It is the human scale. The place of connection. Of course, we need change at more than the personal, familial and local level. But if larger change is to be rooted and sustainable, it requires also a change of direction, heart, attitude and possibility, starting in the most personal and interpersonal ways. What we want to do is to help people spread the ideas and examples that grow these small but significant initiatives and ways of living differently.

 * Acts are required. Not simply good intentions. Some of these will be acts of simple human kindness or sharing, giving and praying. Others will nurture, encourage, correct and amplify places of community – neighbourhood groups, associations, religious or non-religious assemblies, campaigns, schools, workplaces, alliances and more. Others will be more overtly political – petitions, lobbying, dialogue with opponents, marches, street theatre, non-violent actions, symbolic protests, proposals for change, engagements with civic and governing authorities, and more. 

* Hope, meanwhile, is foundational. Not pessimism that abandons people and planet to the worst, nor optimism that refuses to see darkness and destruction, but hope which invests in a world truly worth believing in. Hope is not wishful thinking: it is about being the change you seek, building the change you aspire to, and recognising the future as open. To be able to really re-form (as the climate crisis, among others, requires), people need a degree of security, a sense of home, and a reason to go on living positively. Hope is about seeking, finding and offering these things – not through abstract consideration, mental effort or spiritual practice alone, but through together cultivating the habits, virtues and character which the better world we seek will require.

Small. Acts. Of Hope. 

These will not solve all our problems. Some will appear only to scratch the surface at first. They are not a substitute for more extensive organisation, allying, policy, tactics and strategy required for bigger change – but they are the seedbed for making that healthier and more human, and for presenting to those who are weary, cynical and sceptical, a fresh source of energy and inspiration. 

FURTHER RESOURCES: 

More about #SmallActsOfHope, which you can also follow on social media (@Ekklesia_co_uk). 

Hope Rediscovered and rediscovering #SmallActsOfHope - a reflection for Christians. 

Words Out of Silence and rediscovering #SmallActsOfHope - a reflection for searchers. 

 

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.