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On Hope, Kindness, and Going Gaga in the Library (Don’t Forget The Databases!)

March 29, 2023

Artwork above by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo who is trained in the rare Buddhist art of silk applique thangkas. His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave his blessings to Leslie’s work and encouraged her to make images that speak to the spiritual aspirations of people across religions and cultures. Read Leslie’s blog here and learn more about her work.

Making the world a better place isn’t exactly easy. But as Aristotle says, we become builders by building. We change the world by doing. Naming and describing problems, finding solutions, and taking action takes time– and it takes guts, as well as kindness to yourself in the process. Finding the spark and figuring out how to solve a problem can seem hopeless– it can seem way too big, too overwhelming; be kind to yourself on the journey and take it “bird by bird” to paraphrase Anne Lamott from her famous text on writing of the same same. In an October 2018 issue of National Geographic, Lamott writes about having hope when addressing the challenges facing the world:

You would almost have to be nuts to be filled with hope in a world so rife with hunger, hatred, climate change, pollution, and pestilence, let alone the self-destructive or severely annoying behavior of certain people, both famous and just down the hall, none of whom we will name by name.

“Yet I have boundless hope, most of the time,” Lamott writes. “Hope is a sometimes cranky optimism, trust, and confidence that those I love will be OK—that they will come through, whatever life holds in store. Hope is the belief that no matter how dire things look or how long rescue or healing takes, modern science in tandem with people’s goodness and caring will boggle our minds, in the best way.” Lamott continues by writing:

By showing up with hope to help others, I’m guaranteed that hope is present. Then my own hope increases. By creating hope for others, I end up awash in the stuff.

Lamott points out that students “pour out of school labs equipped with the science and passion to help restore estuaries and watersheds” — and that gives her hope. Me too.  My students also pour out of my community college each semester and they make the world a better place in a group “Earth Action Project” and in their research projects. For their research paper, I tell students there are three steps in solving a problem, to become change-agents in the world, as Paulo Freire explains in Pedagogy of the Oppressed –with each step requiring research and evaluation. 

  1. Name the problem. Conduct primary and secondary research to learn more about the problem; evaluate the information so that you can name the problem and describe it in detail.
  2. Reflect on possible solutions. Now that you understand the nature of the problem, conduct primary and secondary research into possible solutions, and then evaluate the solutions for which one/s you want to try for your action.
  3. Act. Use the primary and secondary research you’ve found about the problem and the solution to determine your course of action. What action will you take to solve the problem? Once you do take action, evaluate how the process and what you should do differently next time.

I suggest using this question as a guide: What action can I take to solve this problem?

As research is conducted, how can you know whether the information is legitimate or not? College students have access to much of the world’s research via the college’s databases; check out this video which reminds us of the importance of the databases and provides a model for how to conduct research. These academic databases vet and fact-check content. While advocacy groups like Surfrider and PETA and even blogs like this one can offer some great information, remember they are just that–advocacy groups or people offering personal opinions advocating for a specific point of view to convince you of a particular perspective. These academic databases offer a lot more to someone doing academic research. 

But there’s more to research than books in a library or papers from a database. This is where advice about being an artist from John Halcyon Styn comes in: being an artist, he says, is to see “the world as an opportunity to actively engage. To participate!”


The writing process is an art– taking what we’ve learned, synthesizing it, putting our own spin on it, and being willing to be vulnerable in the process because strong writing, persuasive writing, captures not just the mind but the heart and the soul, using ethos, logos, pathos. 

But how do we take facts and do this? For example, look at Chris Jordan’s work like Running the Numbers in the video above or in this link. 

Lamott says to be vulnerable. Why do we care about this topic? What’s the impact on us personally? What have we seen or experienced with out own eyes and bodies that has had an impact? Tell those stories. 

“You could say that river cleanup was child’s play compared with the melting of the ice caps—and I would thank you for sharing and get back to doing what is possible. Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it,” writes Lamott.

We’ve got this. Let’s do it.

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