Blogcast: Hope vs. Toxic Positivity

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“Hope is about looking at the world as it is and realizing the potential of you and your community members to make it a better place.” – Abhayjeet Singh Sachal

Abhayjeet (Abhay) Singh Sachal is an 19-year-old Canadian humanitarian, environmentalist, and activist who believes that engagement in dialogue and conversation can serve to spark change around the world. After a trip to the Arctic in 2016, Abhay co-founded Break The Divide Foundation, a non-profit organization that connects youth around the world with one another. Based on principles of environmentalism, sustainability, and reconciliation, Break The Divide focuses on fostering empathy and understanding to inspire action projects in communities. Abhay has been a key presenter at numerous international conferences in his efforts to share environmental and educational knowledge. Abhay was recently named one of Canada’s Top 25 Under 25 Environmentalists and featured as one of 10 International Youth Changemakers in Canada. He is also an avid ice hockey player and pianist. Abhay is a student at the University of Toronto, studying Global Health and Peace & Conflict Studies.

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I start this with a story about September 2020. I remember being at home with my family here in the suburb of Vancouver, BC, Canada – somewhere where I’ve grown. I’ve grown up loving the nature around here, but I remember waking up one morning and wanting to go outside for a run, but I couldn’t.

I looked outside and all I could see was smoke from the California wildfires – wildfires that were actually ravaging across the entirety of the West Coast of the United States. 

I remember feeling quite hopeless in that moment – feeling like there’s going to be more and more wildfires every single year, that there’s nothing I can do to stop it, and that climate change is accelerating the rate of this rapid change. Going through all those emotions at a time when school was completely online, when COVID was hitting people hard – it was tough. I remember again feeling quite hopeless and wondering what I could do.

Now, to answer the question about the difference between hope and toxic positivity, we really need to delve deep into what the purpose of these different things is. The purpose of hope or positivity is to be better tomorrow than you are today. It’s to realize that life can be better, and your present moment does not define the existence of your current reality. Your present moment does not define what your life will always be. 

Faith, itself, can be a great way of looking at hope and concepts of positivity. For me, as a practicing Sikh, in the Sikh tradition, there’s a concept known as “Chardi Kala”, which refers to eternal optimism. It refers to the fact that despite what’s going on in the world, you must be eternally optimistic, always looking forward to the future. This does not mean to ignore any problems that are going on in the world. Rather, it is to embrace those problems, rise to the challenges. 

That’s where I really see the difference between hope and toxic positivity in my own life. Toxic positivity is a means of looking at a problem, thinking that it’ll be alright without actually doing anything substantial about it. It’s what we see often happens when we see problems going on around the world. Politicians tend to say “we have prayers for this”, “we hope that things will be alright”, but when you are in a position of power to create change, the narrative must change from being one about mindless positivity to one of hope.

What differentiates toxic positivity from hope is that hope must be grounded in action. As individuals, we must embody this idea of eternal optimism by hoping for a better future and taking active steps to create that future. We must go beyond being naive or ignorant about the challenges our communities face. As we see problems around us, we must rise to the occasion and hope that tomorrow will be better – because we are working on the path to create positive change. 

Hope is about looking at the world as it is and realizing the potential of you and your community members to make it a better place. Hope is something that keeps us all going, and it is critical as we navigate the layering crises of our time.

As I experienced hopelessness as I saw fires raging across California and smoke in my own community in September of 2020, I paused for a second. I remembered all the important things that were being done to combat climate change. I thought of the people I knew that were taking action. And I recognized my own potential to be a part of the change I wanted to see. 

I realized that I was not in this alone. And that realization allowed me to be hopeful and move forward with optimism grounded in action. It’s up to every single one of us to kindle our own eternal optimism to see beyond chaos, to witness the beauty that the future has to offer and to fight to create the realities we want to see.