Look Back at 2019: The Difference Between Hope & Despair

By Frank Sherman

As I reflect on 2019, there was plenty of news to discourage me: wars continue in the Middle East, and nations continue the proliferation of nuclear arms; refugee and migration crisis across multiple continents; rise of nationalism and hate crimes; growing wealth and income gaps; undeniable climate crisis, water scarcity, deforestation, and biodiversity loss…not to mention the rollback of regulations and social safety nets, polarization of political discourse, and impeachment hearings in our own country. A review of the global progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals found that, despite progress in a number of areas, progress on some Goals has been slow or even reversed. “The most vulnerable people and countries continue to suffer the most and the global response has not been ambitious enough.”

But late last night, I was sent a message that woke me up. As I looked through the Capuchin Community Services 2020 calendar, a quote caught my eye. “The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts” (Alain de Botton, The School of Life, London).

I then thought of Greta Thunberg’s (Time Person of the Year) speech at the UN Climate Action Summit in September excoriating world leaders for their inaction in the climate crisis, and the student March For Our Lives demanding more gun control. I recalled watching CNN’s annual Heroes of the Year Awards honoring the top 10 men and women who are making the world a better place by helping families affected by tragedy, cleaning up the environment, protecting neglected animals, and so much more. I read that worldwide terrorist attacks actual fell by 33% compared to 2017, to the lowest level since 2011. This year scientists learned to spot Alzheimer’s earlier and got a step closer to curing diabetes. China, the largest greenhouse gas emitter, is becoming a leader in electric vehicles.  

I also find hope in the work of Seventh Generation Interfaith and ICCR. We added 10 new members with the merger with the Midwest Coalition to our coalition bringing the total to 39. This year our members engaged several companies in the food and apparel sector asking them to conduct human rights impact assessments and to develop a human rights policy. We continued our work with Midwestern electric utility companies to accelerate their decarbonization plans and ensure a just transition for employees and local communities. We leveraged the Business Roundtable’s statement on the Purpose of a Corporation to promote transparency in corporate political spending and lobbying. We challenged pharmaceutical companies to base their executive remuneration policies on innovation and patient outcomes rather than predatory pricing. We challenged companies to trace their supply chains back to the wildfires in the Amazon and asked them to meet their 2020 deforestation targets. We asked food brands and restaurants to improve their nutritional profile and follow marketing-to-children guidelines to fight obesity. We hosted our annual conference, this year on impact investing, in October. Our quarterly webinars, blog articles and weekly newsletters kept our members informed on our issues and trained on our tactics.

How will you tell your story this holiday season?

Blessing to you and your family and a hopeful New Year!

4 thoughts on “Look Back at 2019: The Difference Between Hope & Despair

  • Hi Frank,
    Thanks for your hopeful Blog !
    Also for the thoughtful and affirmative Christmas note and Michael’s book ‘ Fruit of the Spirit’.. does not look like real light reading 😊
    I am soooooo grateful to you for all you do as our Executive and for all your support of me. I thank God for your gifts, and you for sharing them so freely with so many.
    Have a Blessed Joyful Christmas and 2020!
    Love & Prayer
    S. Ruth

    Ruth Geraets, PBVM
    1500 N 2nd St, Aberdeen SD
    [email protected]


  • I appreciate your hopeful message in these challenging times, Frank. It reminds me of the advice Mister Rogers received from his mother when he was a fearful child: “Always look for the helpers.” If you look for the helpers, you will know there is hope. Luckily the world is full of helpers, as you so insightfully pointed out. Thank you for being one of them. Merry Christmas!


  • Thanks Frank. You always bring the positive to the fore even though the negative shouts louder. Have a
    glorious Christmas and some days of deep encounter as you take on a new year to new and ongoing challenges.


  • Thanks, Frank, for your tireless leadership in keeping us informed and pressing us to get on our toes! With leadership like yours and the commitments of the members, there is HOPE.
    Sister Lynn Marie, PBVM


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