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University of Utah
New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman speaks in Salt Lake City in January at the inaugural Kem C. Gardner Policy Symposium

Over the holidays I was introduced to the concept of “applied hope.” The idea is that we shape the future by starting with hope and then acting on it. The process of being hopeful and acting on our desires creates good outcomes. Over time, applied hope creates a better world.

I heard about the concept from New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman. He was in Salt Lake City last week as the headliner for the inaugural Kem C. Gardner Policy Symposium. He shared dozens of fascinating insights from his new book, "Thank You for Being Late," with a room full of community leaders. His insights about applied hope struck a harmonic chord with me.

In the book, Friedman describes applied hope by sharing a conversation with prominent American physicist Amory Lovins. Lovins refuses to be labeled as an optimist or a pessimist. He views both labels as different forms of fatalism — a submissive mental attitude that the future is predetermined. Lovins favors a mindset where people take responsibility for creating the future they want to live in. He says, “I believe in applied hope.”

This concept fits right in line with my world view. I’m fond of the saying, “The future is not a gift, but an achievement.” Indeed, it is through our own purposeful actions that we realize our potential as people, communities and nations.

Many years ago, I was fortunate to meet former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand. He taught English at the University of Utah for 13 years and inspired a generation of students, including me. Strand passed away in 2014, but left behind a remarkable legacy of writing, including one of my favorite poems, “Keeping Things Whole.” The last line of the poem reads:

We all have reasons

for moving.

I move

to keep things whole.

Interpreting poetry does not lend itself well to a short column, but I love the way Strand makes the connection between action and wholeness. When we move, we act. When we act, we make things whole. Applied hope happens.

There is another poem worthy of referencing here. Lovins quoted it in a 2011 commencement speech at the University of Berkeley. The poem titled “Loaves and Fishes,” by David Whyte includes these verses (slightly truncated here):

This is not the age of information …

Forget the news,

and the radio,

and the blurred screen.

This is the time

of loaves

and fishes.

People are hungry,

and one good word is bread

For a thousand.

If you are like me, current events frequently leave you feeling unmoored. There is a dizzying, and even anxious, feeling that comes with life in 2017. Whyte’s poem reminds me that in this “hungry” time, one good act will multiply. The start of a new year provides ample opportunity to share “loaves and fishes” and put into practice applied hope. I made a short list of ideas:

We can hope for peace in our families and act to be better parents.

We can hope for our children to find their way in schooling, a career or a relationship. We act by granting a listening ear.

We can hope for better lives for people who struggle with illness or who are just plain down on their luck. We act by sharing our blessings.

We can hope for less partisan bickering and act to open our minds to others’ ideas.

We can hope for our national and state leaders to make wise decisions and then act by holding them accountable.

In Amory Lovins' same Berkeley commencement speech, he put a fine point on the call for exercising applied hope and good deeds. He said:

“We work to make the world better, not from some airy theoretical hope, but in the pragmatic and grounded conviction that starting with hope and acting out of hope can cultivate a different kind of world worth being hopeful about, reinforcing itself in a virtuous spiral. Applied hope is not about some vague, far-off future but is expressed and created moment by moment by our choices.”

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.