The naivety of hope


The word “naïve” kept floating into my world last week. As they say, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend so when I found the word in at least two articles and one personal email, my curiosity kicked in. What was it about “naïve” that was swirling in the world?

Naïve, as in lacking in judgment or wisdom, as in inexperienced or unsophisticated, as in ignoring what is for what is hoped for.

Only, what others were calling naïve, I was reading as hopeful, as optimistic in the gritty, determined, stubborn way – as part of the bigger arc of all that is rather than the immediate gratification that drives so much of our behavior and sense of satisfaction.

Which got me thinking about other acts that might easily been considered naïve at the point of inception. A very short and vastly incomplete list likely includes:

  • The initial idea of America becoming an independent nation rather than a British colony
  • Mechanical travel (and, good golly, air travel?!)
  • The decision for four Black A&T students to sit down at a whites-only Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and try to order on February 1, 1960
  • Loved-based marriage

In big and small ways, I see us choosing behaviors based on our best guess at the outcomes, labeling the less obvious, the more daring, the more innovative – and, often, the more positive – as naïve. Time and again, I have coaching sessions centered around some iteration of the question, “How do I ensure I choose a plan of action where my efforts will be worth it?” That is, where I get the outcome I want.

The Magic 8 Ball is a solid and unyielding “Cannot predict now” on that one.

When asked years later about their decision to stage the first Woolworth’s sit-in, one of the A&T Four*, Dr. Joseph McNeil, said they “were just doing what was right.

Right, as in fitting with their ethics, as in aligned with their nonviolent training, as in both acknowledging the world they were living in and living into the world they most wanted to inhabit.

Your bigger self and badder life – our bigger, badder world – live in the decidedly uncertain outcomes that are laced with deep hopefulness, with gritty, determined, stubborn optimism about the biggest picture.

You can call it naïve if it brings you comfort. I’m going to choose to call it the way forward.

*You may have read of them as the Greensboro Four but as one of the three living members noted during a talk I attended somewhere around 2007, they were the A&T Four until history caught up with them and the bulk of the city embraced their actions. They continued to self-identify as the A&T Four.

If your fixation on outcome is preventing you from living into what you believe to be right, coaching could be just the thing to get you moving. As the A&T Four also found, a little community goes a long way, too – find more of yours in The Bigger Badder Crew.