The universality of hope

Lana Payne
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It was there amid the tears of a nation, the rasp of a cancer-stricken political leader’s voice, and in the words of a nurse at an East African refugee camp.


It has been said that once you choose hope, anything is possible. Or as Alexander Pope once wrote: “hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Grim numbers

The United Nations is estimating that more 11 million people in East Africa are affected by this the first famine in the region in the 21st century.

War-torn Somalia has been hit the hardest with some 3.7 million people suffering.

Nearly a million children could die across the region if aid doesn’t arrive in time.

Oxfam, an international development agency, says “there has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world's collective responsibility to act. Food, water and emergency aid are desperately needed. We must now ensure that aid comes quickly to prevent people dying in massive numbers.”

Canada has pledged $50 million and will match every dollar donated by Canadians until Sept. 16.

A nurse, working in a refugee camp in Kenya, said of the steady influx of severely malnourished children: “We never tell the mother, of course, that their baby might not make it. We try to give them hope.”

Hope: that incredible expression of the human spirit, alive and breathing in the middle of the worst famine in six decades and alive in heart of a father whose son was gunned down by a right-wing extremist on a tiny island in western Norway.

Utoya, the home of an annual summer camp for young leaders — already committed to making a difference in their world — was a gift to the youth wing of Norway’s Labour Party from the Oslo Trade Union Confederation.


It was there in the grief, tears and collective mourning of a nation struggling to come to grips with an atrocity so shocking for a country that works every day to promote its values of tolerance, open democracy and equality.

One example

Gunnar Linkaler was 23. He has been hailed as one of the many “heroes of Utoya” because he protected younger campers from the murderer’s “dum-dum” bullets, sacrificing his own life in the process.

His father, an army chaplain, said: “I have asked God many times why did this happen? I don't know whether he will give me an answer. I can't think about forgiveness yet, but I won't let hate grow in me because then (the murderer) will have won.”

And it is this collective desire expressed by so many Norwegians in the days following the horror that has perhaps captured the world’s attention in such a profound manner.

Yes, we share their grief, but we are inspired by their yearning, their solidarity and deep commitment to the values of democracy and equality.

As Norway’s prime minister said in the hours following the murder of 76 of its citizens, the country will not allow the killer to take Utoya from them; they will take back the island.

Nor will the Norwegian people, he said, allow the killer’s hate-filled actions to change Norway’s commitment to the kind of society it wishes to continue to build.

In the days following the Utoya massacre, some commentators have tried to blame the horror on the madness of one individual, condoning and dismissing the politics of hate and fear preached by so many right-wing extremists.

But when society tolerates this kind of hate, when people like U.S. Tea Partier Glenn Beck are given a daily platform to spread his venom and ignorance (he actually claimed that the Norwegian Labour Party youth camp on the island was “disturbing” because it sounded like “a little like the Hitler Youth”) then it is naïve to think no one will take up the cause.

History is full of such examples.

It would have been easy for the leaders and citizens of Norway to resort to the politics of fear and hate.

They did not.

Instead, they encouraged citizens to gather by the tens of thousands, to march with roses, to say a “resounding yes to democracy.” And they did.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called it a “march for democracy, a march for tolerance, a march for unity. Evil can kill one person, but it can never defeat a whole people,” he said.

The Norwegian people responded with non-violence, with hope.

And it is hope — hope that a better world is possible — that has exemplified the political career of NDP Leader Jack Layton, who last week announced that a second cancer has invaded his body and he must take leave to fight it.

Mr. Layton has inspired Canadians with his personal courage and yes with his undeniable political optimism.

He has chosen hope.

And in the days ahead as he and his family together fight this battle, thousands of Canadians are sending good wishes and hoping for the best. We wish him all the strength and courage he will need to get better.

We hope.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at

Her column returns Aug. 13.

Organizations: United Nations, Labour Party, Oxfam Oslo Trade Union Confederation Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Norway, East Africa, Somalia Canada Kenya

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