[OPINION] What should you do when hope is elusive?

Jayeel Cornelio
[OPINION] What should you do when hope is elusive?
'That we are not alone is a lesson we must all rediscover'

How does one hope when to do so is difficult? What hope does one have if the future looks bleak? And is hope even worth pursuing when everyone else is in despair?

These are just some of the questions I encountered recently. 

Last week, I spoke before the scholars of DOST’s Science Education Institute (SEI). As undergraduate students in science and engineering, they are among the country’s best and brightest. On a regular basis, SEI gathers its scholars, who are enrolled in different universities, for leadership training. 

SEI, in recent years, has been investing tremendously in leadership programs for their students. They do so because they want them to give back to our society. Often many of their scholars leave the country as they finish their degrees. Aware of this reality, SEI desires to instill in them the values of volunteerism, civic engagement, and commitment to democracy.

There’s a caveat here. These values assume that things can get better. But the students I encountered feel otherwise. True enough, they opened up about politics, their struggles, and their overall sense that Philippine society is in a desperate state.

The uncertainty, I believe, is what underpins the questions I got from them. You see, these students — smart all of them — know that they need to do something for society. They also know that it’s their responsibility as government scholars.

But they wonder if they can ultimately make any difference at all. 


A big reason is that they are surrounded by people who don’t think like them.

This could be, for one, a generational matter.

An undergraduate student, Angel Martinez, has written a piece to help fellow Gen Zs deal with political differences in the family. Her piece, I believe, articulates what many other young people are experiencing in their own households. Dining table discussions about Marcos, Martial Law, and politics in general are bound to be heated and emotional, forcing them to just “shrink away.”

But their isolation is not just a generational matter. We need to recognize that divisions are also evident within generations. This much is true for our youth. 

Just before the elections, I analyzed survey data and found that the overwhelming majority of young people were slated to vote for BBM. This invalidates the stereotype that young people are more inclined to vote for progressive candidates. This is also why I tend to take it with a grain of salt whenever pundits claim that the youth vote will “save” us.

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In this light, the space for critical conversations about politics and democracy is narrow for our young people. The family or their immediate circles may not be safe spaces for them to talk about social and political issues.

And to be honest, I wonder if our universities are any better. To be sure, there are institutions that are genuinely committed to liberal arts education. They invest in competent faculty and support critical discourse about history, society, and politics in their own spaces. 

But not all tertiary institutions are the same. Many universities and colleges pay only lip service to the liberal arts. One only needs to take a look at the composition of their faculty to verify this. Around the country, there are so many who teach service courses in history, philosophy, and the social sciences who have no appropriate training or credentials.

At the same time, we also know that several prominent universities have waged war on “subversive” books, with the approval of state agencies, no less. In basic education, things can only get worse, with a secretary who believes that confidential funds need to be invested in “very good intelligence and surveillance.”

It must be lonely for young people these days, especially for those who are asking critical (and “subversive”) questions.


“To live,” according to the philosopher Cornel West, “is to wrestle with despair.”

In his view, to wrestle is to fight for a just society, one in which people must be patient with one another and aspire to work together. Patience and cooperation are essential because the powers that be are too big for one person to battle alone.

Think about the state of the youth.

Confronting them (and therefore our collective future) is the dismal state of education. Compounding all of it is the proliferation of lies. And yet the very first thing this administration wants is to revive the ROTC.

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So big is the battle that one can simply despair.

The lesson of course is that to wrestle with despair demands solidarity. Our task at a time like this is to discover new relationships and reclaim the future away from hopelessness.

As we do so, we can draw strength from one another and struggle together. Solidarity, in other words, is the antidote to despair.

I say this because I know that none of us should feel alone. The reality is that there are many like-minded people out there. They can see through the smokescreen of lies, disinformation, and propaganda. These are the people who know that we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. 

In the course of their leadership program, the students I interacted with last week discovered that they are not alone, after all. Coming from different walks of life, they soon realized that they are kindred spirits to one another, all bothered by the current political climate.

For the rest of us, maybe these kindred spirits are not in our immediate circles. Perhaps they are somewhere else, but they’re there. We only have to look for them.

That we are not alone is a lesson we must all rediscover. I suspect many of us have become jaded and lonely over time. But this is a reminder to us all that not all is lost.

I do not deny that hope is elusive. But since so much is at stake, this is not the time to give up on truth, democracy, and our collective future.

Only in coming together can we believe once again that despair does not — and will not — have the last word. –

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is the Associate Dean for Research and Creative Work at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is the editor of Rethinking Filipino Millennials: Alternative Perspectives on a Misunderstood Generation (UST Publishing House), which won Best Book in the Social Sciences in the 2022 National Book Awards. For his contributions to education and sociology, he was named among The 2021 Outstanding Young Men/People of the Philippines (TOYM). Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio

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