The world can be a very bad place. Or, to attribute culpability where culpability is due, the people in the world can be. From scales too large to comprehend, to those so tiny they’re able to pierce the most vulnerable reaches of the heart, there is callousness, violence and deprivation; there are failures of humanity.

To some extent, we all suffer these and we all perpetrate them. (The failures in particular seem almost as human a trait as could be, the inevitable companion of free will.) At times, the world feels awash in offences to justice both appallingly overt and insidious.

While “bad” seems undeniably to exist, “good” remains ambiguous and “doing good” a concept filled with uncertainty.

If you’ve made it this far without running the other way, or turning to a less taxing topic, it might be because you have hope: hope for a better world, hope for better conditions, a belief in humanity. It’s hope, after all, that allows us to live in this world, to work for change, to trust again where trust has been broken. It’s easy to lose hope and even easier to dismiss it. There’s a line of thinking strung through Western culture that equates a kind of loss of hope with maturity: “If you are not a socialist at 20, you have no heart; if you are still a socialist at 40, you have no head.” To be an idealist is to be naive.

But I would argue that to have hope in the face of setbacks, disappointments, recurring difficulties and heartbreaking loss is not only courageous but a smart thing to strive for. Having hope, in this context, means living with the possibility of deep disillusionments that rattle you to the core. But something helpful can happen down at that core. A loss can sweep away confusing debris and leave moments of clarity about how to best give our time on Earth meaning.

I’m not talking about bury-your-head-in-the sand hope, a Pollyanna-ish glossing over. What I mean is the kind of hope that holds in the face of complicated truths: The ability to break down that false dichotomy of heart and head, and to live in the difficult place in between.

Hope is personal — it flickers and rises and dies within an individual — but it can have profound political consequences. (That’s part of why manipulating people’s sense of possibility is a tool of repression.)

Long-time feminist Judy Rebick has pointed out that when women began to organize against sexism in the ’70s they felt they could change the world. That hope, a sense of expansive possibility, was the foundation for second-wave struggles.

In a recent interview with NDP house leader Libby Davies, she spoke to me about hope in the face of big challenges. “I couldn’t survive if I didn’t believe that somewhere, somehow, we will approach revolutionary change,” she said.

In contrast, in her recent article in This Magazine, third-wave feminist Audra Williams wrote about young women’s pervasive “feminist insecurity” and her fear that third wavers have “post-moderned ourselves into paralysis.” Williams is articulating something key to younger women’s relationships to feminism — the difficulty of hope. It’s a result of things like the backlash; entering feminism at a time when gains were being rolled back; inheriting a movement and its troubles; and a lack of clarity about how to meet the next goals or how to truly achieve equality for all. A period of crucial internal critique within feminism has left younger women better equipped to break down than to build, better able to pull apart than to connect.

The idea that we can engage with communities large or small to make anything better can seem distant and unreal without the experience of change, of collective struggles and collectively held hope. It’s an irony that it is through such struggles that we can come to believe in the undeniability of good.

The world can only be better if we believe it can be, if we can picture what that better could look like — if we think about it, talk about it, invest in it, believe in it. It’s our best hope, and a worthy gamble.