Despair is a black leather jacket in which everyone looks good, while hope is a frilly pink dress few dare to wear. Rebecca Solnit thinks this virtue needs to be redefined.

Here she takes to our pulpit to deliver a sermon that looks at the remarkable social changes of the past half century, the stories the mainstream media neglects and the big surprises that keep on landing.

She explores why disaster makes us behave better and why it's braver to hope than to hide behind despair's confidence and cynicism's safety.

History is not an army. It's more like a crab scuttling sideways. And we need to be brave enough to hope change is possible in order to have a chance of making it happen.

Rebecca Solnit is a journalist, essayist, environmentalist, historian, art critic and activist. She is author of twelve books including: Wanderlust: A History of Walking, A Field Guide To Getting Lost, Hope in the Dark and most recently, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. She is also a contributing editor to Harper’s and a regular contributor to numerous other publications including L.A. Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the London Review of Books. She is based in San Francisco.

This secular sermon took place at Conway Hall on Sunday 8 May 2011

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