When we talk about sustainable institutions, we must also think about loss. Most people end up experiencing some type of loss during their lifetime. A fairly common loss is the death of a loved one. Other losses may include the loss of a job, the dream of getting an expected diploma, a loss of a beloved part of one’s culture or natural habitat, dealing with disability, illness, the sense that life has passed one by, or that one has made moral mistakes that cannot be repaired, or for some their own mortality.
Thinking about these things may bring up feelings of emptiness, a type of void. Some of these things are natural. For example, we naturally may feel grief at the death of someone we are emotionally close to or feel regret. Some losses may be somewhat unavoidable, but may also be rooted in social consciousness. Some examples may include not being able to achieve a desired result in one’s life, losing a job, breaking up with a spouse or significant other, having to deal with the loss of bodily function or appearance, and so forth. These things are difficult emotionally, but they are also not totally devoid of a cultural context.
In this post, I would like to concentrate on the latter. What we seem to feel when we feel grief for losses of a sociologically constructed manner is trauma rooted in our grief for how things used to be, how we expected our lives to turn out, how we might like to look and be able to respond to others, dreams that may never come true. These things fill us with emotional grief because of anxieties about what happens next or even how to live on. These are serious questions and should not be taken lightly. For some in these situations, hope may seem very far away.
The good news is that these are sociologically constructed barriers, not ones that cannot totally be met. This does not necessarily mean that life is going to turn out the way we want it to, our institutions will go back to being the way they always were, or that we will necessarily be able to regain what we once had. Where we can look for hope is through the lens of creating alternative spaces for our lives. This means that we may have to examine the meaning behind our humanity. What about ourselves makes us fully human? This question, of course, is an old one in the discipline of philosophy, but it also has an applicable applied sociological sense.
When we examine our society through this lens, we can create societies that work better for ourselves and for other people. This question needs to be asked and answered continually. As humans, we seek to make sense of ourselves and our relation to other human beings (Berger & Luckmann, 1966, among others). As we seek out these answers, we might ask what things are really essential for a full life. We ask this question of ourselves from the vantage point of where we are at the moment and where we want to go.
Of course, we have the reference point of the past as well, but I would suggest that the past can only be a reference point, not an end point. At a certain point, the past is the past. It informs the present and the future, but it need not always be fully applicable to the present or future situation. The essential point is where we are now. For some situations, the past may inform this and offer helpful or non-helpful advice about what to do, but it does not always create the present or the future.
What we need to concentrate on, therefore, is what we need to do to maintain a hopeful existence. Maybe we need a new process of doing something. Perhaps we need to adjust our expectations of our own lives or those of others higher or lower. Perhaps we find that something just is not working for us and, so, we have to do something different. Maybe we do the same thing, but in a new way of engagement that allows us to meet the challenges that come our way. Maybe we need more resources to address an issue. Sometimes, we may find that material things do not fill a void that creates hope and that we need a new way to advance our own humanity to others.
However we address and solve our socially constructed grief, our goal ought to be the construction of hope. Even in situations where we grieve, we seek out hope. To quote the Psalmist “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11).
When we grieve for things natural or unnatural, we must have the courage to know that this is not the end, that the void can be filled or changed. I would say God provides this courage and love. Sometimes, God may utilize our ingenuity, emotional reaction, or empathy or those of others to fill this void. We shouldn’t ignore this call when that happens. The message is unmistakable. Having and maintaining hope are necessary for our lives, especially in tough times.