Vicki Squire is Professor of International Politics, at the Department of Politics and International Studies (PaIS) at University of Warwick. She practices Nichiren Buddhism as part of the socially-engaged lay organisation, Soka Gakkai International (SGI-UK).
Hello, I am Vicki Squire.
“Hope is a decision… The most important decision we can make”. This is the declaration of the Buddhist teacher, Daisaku Ikeda, who proclaims that “hope changes everything”.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote recently, particularly as we enter the month of February (when I always forget that the warmth and long days will return soon!).
After a year of Coronavirus and all that comes with it, each of us is struggling one way or another. Sometimes I find it hard just to get through the day, and sometimes I feel powerless about the enormity of challenges that we collectively face. I see pressure building in my family relationships, as well as for my friends and colleagues. Many of us are grieving for loved ones.
So how can we make ‘the decision to hope’ under difficult conditions?
Helpful here is the story of Setsuko Thurlow, who was just 13 years old when she survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. As she was thrown into the air, she thought to herself: “I’m going to die here”. The next thing she remembers was a voice saying: “Don’t give up. Keep pushing. I’m trying to free you”.
Setsuko went on to study in the USA and, despite much criticism, dedicated her life to sharing the stories of atomic bomb survivors – the hibakusha. She is a key campaigner for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) and gave the acceptance lecture in 2017 when the group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On 22 January of this year, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – which ICAN made ground-breaking efforts towards – entered into force. This is the first international treaty prohibiting such weapons.
Setsuko’s story epitomises the power of a life lived on the basis of ‘hope as a decision’. When facing death, she chose life. Her determination to live was sparked by another, who reached out at the darkest moment with encouragement to ‘keep pushing’. Setsuko’s decision to do all she could to rid the world of nuclear weapons and realise the dignity of life kept this spark alight over her many years of struggle.
Buddhism teaches that every person has the potential to set into motion a change in the world, and that this begins with a process of inner transformation or ‘human revolution’. My story is not the same as yours or as Setsuko’s, but I can still make hope ‘my decision’, creating positive changes in my own life and encouraging people around me in my own unique way.
Indeed, it is precisely in those moments when we verge on losing all hope that our capacity to create a better world is strengthened. “Hope that has not been tested is no more than a fragile dream”, Daisaku Ikeda explains. Taking on the challenge of “difficult circumstances” as I “move towards an ideal, no matter how distant it might seem” – this is what living with hope as a decision means to me.