Photo credit: Paul Sharp. Location: Glencree Reconciliation Centre, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
More than two years ago, many of us applied to attend and participate in Conversations on Hope, a convening in Dublin to be held in 2020. However, COVID-19 happened and conversations on hope went into the deep recesses of many of the minds of people who had applied.
Having gone into what seemed to be a never-ending lockdown, fear of what was to come and the real stories shared of isolation and the effects on mental health and peoples’ moods in general, was visceral and an all-too-common shared experience.
For many, lockdown meant acclimatizing to a "new" way of being: from isolation, vaccinations, masks, social distancing, working from home (for those who could), to retrenchments and job losses. We had all been through a lot.
So when I received news of this convening happening in Dublin two years later than originally planned, there was a slither of hope. To be honest, I was just so tired and there seemed to be no hope with what really felt like apocalyptic times.
Locally, in South Africa, we had been through the 2021 July riots; we had the April 2022 floods which decimated homes and people’s livelihoods. Like so many things we go through, afterwards, we just collectively forget and forge ahead.
So, gathering in Dublin this month, seeing some old faces and getting to meet some new Fellows was powerful for me. The act of gathering is, in itself, powerful and central to the idea of fellowship. I think that is where we learn and glean so much from each other and this forms that sense of a global community and remedies our feelings of isolation.
On hope, there are two major takeaways from the week's convening. Firstly, the term "art is hope" was a recurring theme. Sometimes the ability to think creatively and express deep and real emotions through the arts, creates space for the artists to inspire hope in others. This was made real in one of my favorite sessions with the artist, Brian Maguire, where we had the chance to engage with a canvas and paint, but from a deeply personal space. This was cathartic for me as I had to think about the emotions and feelings, the colors, the spaces on the canvas and how I filled them. This was a practical exercise; listening and learning from the conversations that were had and then actually expressing those thoughts and emotions was really inspiring. I felt hopeful after that particular session, more than after any other I'd attended.
The second takeaway was the ongoing need for deep conversations, for both victims and perpetrators to come into the room. This may not be an immediate fix for the complexities faced when dealing with history, racism, sexism, environmental justice or whatever social ill we are trying to address.
We learned of the complexities of Irish history and the journey to reconciliation and how a former British Colony took the immensely treacherous journey of figuring out its identity and belonging. This was a familiar story for us South Africans and many other former colonized nations. I am left feeling hopeful when I think about the incredible amount of work, organizing, studying that is happening and about the conversations that are being held at a local and national level about how to inspire and bring about hope in figuring out identity and belonging.
As I think of the future and how the convening impacts my work, I think there's a clear indication that hope is cultivated through constantly engaging with the work of reaching for equality. At the same time, finding people engaging in activities such as the arts and conversations that build hope helps maintain a sense of hope and keeps the fire alive.