The Power of Hope or: How Community, Love & Compassion can Change Our World
Reading Kon Karapanagiotidis’ recent memoir The Power of Hope or: How Community, Love & Compassion can Change Our World is a startling reminder of the ways in which a sense of community can shape or break our spirits. The Founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) and a passionate advocate for human rights, Karapanagiotidis recounts some of the darkest moments of his life and how – through the power of community, love and hope – he was able to rise to the challenge of overcoming his personal struggles whilst creating one of Australia’s largest human rights organisations.
As he explains in the book, the ASRC was borne out of a humble desire to make positive changes to the lives of asylum seekers and refugees living in Australia. Having opened mere months before the Tampa crisis, the ASRC’s mantra was to make a conscientious effort to support asylum seekers, regardless of whether they came by boat or plane – a decision in stark contrast with the political discourse that was rife at the time. However, it is his personal stories which shine the brightest in the book, showing a fierce tenacity and drive.
Karapanagiotidis writes powerfully in a style that is at once deeply personal but also representative of the experiences of many others. His story is deeply rooted in family, with a focus on his Greek migrant parents’ experience of Australia. According to Karapanagiotidis, it was their hard work and self-sacrifice which enabled him and his sister to live fulfilling and successful lives. Although his experiences are unique in their own right, they are also a grim reminder of an Australia that was, at times, undeniably racist. Shunned and bullied at school for being a “wog”, his experiences taught him to respect all others, but especially those who had left their home countries.
In addition to his writing on asylum seekers and refugees – which are consistently profound – The Power of Hope also deftly covers issues of masculinity and rape culture in Australia: “We need a seismic change in what we expect of men and how we raise them […] As a society we need to believe in men, we need to end the stigma and refuse to accept long-standing myths about what it is to be a man,” he writes with a passion that transcends the page.
Reading this book was difficult for a number of reasons, though worth it for even more. In The Power of Hope, Karapanagiotidis delves into some of his most challenging personal struggles, from body image issues to dealing with racism. His writing resonates in ways that are unexpected, pulling at the heartstrings with every turn of a page. However, perhaps the book’s greatest strength is that through each challenge, he explains how this led him back to hope and how it fostered a deep sense of understanding and compassion.
One of the most effective parts of the book is a letter that Karapanagiotidis writes to his eighteen-year-old self. Having lived a tumultuous life but coming out on the other side, he writes to himself with a compassion that shows years of resilience. In doing so, he also reminds young readers that the immense pressure adolescents face is only temporary and that things will evolve and change as you grow.
“You don’t need to have anything figured out at eighteen, or at thirty-five. The pressure to know what you want to do with your life and have it all sorted is a lie […] Be kind and gentle on yourself, for no one will be a fiercer critic of you than you,” he explains. “You are enough as you are, always.”
In the final chapters of the book, Karapanagiotidis offers concrete suggestions to readers for how to make practical changes to help others and themselves. Having lived through a traumatic childhood of racism, bullying and loneliness, Karapanagiotidis’ words take special meaning: if he, having faced so many challenges, can prioritise compassion above all else, then why shouldn’t we all?
“I hope you take from this book the message that we all matter. That there is a place for all of us. That once we know our own voice, live the values close to our hearts and follow our dreams, we can be unstoppable,” he writes. “Go gently and with passion, purpose and hope.”