Hope as a Choice?

Hope as a Choice?

British clergyman G. Campbell Morgan told the story of a man whose shop had been burned in the great Chicago fire of 1871. The man arrived at the ruins the next morning carrying a table. He set up the table in the midst of the charred debris, and above it placed a sign that said, “Everything lost except wife, children, and hope. Business will be resumed as usual tomorrow morning.”

hopeAfter such a heavy loss, where did he get his hope?  If this man saw a future for himself and his family, was it because he made a choice to have hope?

I started reflecting on the nature of hope some weeks ago with the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. He captured the hope for a better future for those marginalised through suppression of their civic rights.  That hope for the future has proven remarkably enduring for all of us engaged in social justice.

But what is hope? How often do we say “I hope …”? It is a human experience that can be described as a warm and vague feeling.

Psychological theories are not certain if hope is a central personality characteristic or emotional attitude towards a situation.  But what psychology does recognise is the power of hope to protect and to heal both the physical and psyche.  Resilient children are recognised as better able to cope with traumatic events.  In counselling people with life issues, we look to set achievable goals to give hope and people with spiritual beliefs and community support as recognised as recovering faster from medical interventions.  Research following on the work of Profession Rick Synder in ‘Hope therapy’ shows that hope is instrumental in fighting the symptoms of depression. Moreover hope can be taught and developed. “Many of the people who seek therapy are not mentally ill – they don’t meet criteria for depression or other illnesses,” Cheavens said. “So if you focus primarily on what is wrong with them, there may not be much progress. Hope therapy seeks to build on strengths people have, or teach them how to develop those strengths. We focus not on what is wrong, but on ways to help people live up to their potential”

Figure 1 Photo: Kate Geraghty

Figure 1 Photo: Kate Geraghty

Rather than looking at hope as an individual trait, is it possible to teach and build hope in the context of community relationships and broader culture? We certainly consider hope in this manner. Communities without hope become dysfunctional and suffer poorer wellbeing outcomes. To our shame, the traditional owners of our land are example of this.  Following the outcomes of our Federal election last week, many in the social justice community seem to be lacking hope for better outcomes for the marginalised.  The Australian Catholic Bishops have raised concerns about the planned cuts to foreign aid and the outcomes for those as risk in our region.

Rather than focussing on what is wrong in community relationships and the broader society perhaps we need to find ways to build upon the strengths that are already there and help Australia to live up to its potential.

There are many organisations who build hope locally and globally. Start with supporting them and donate to organisations such as Caritas, buy Fairtrade products, join in solidarity with the worlds Indigenous peoples, inform ourselves and support asylum seekers and refugees.  These are just some of the steps the Bishops are calling upon us to take in the 2013 Social Justice Statement: Lazarus at our Gate: A Critical Moment in the Fight Against World Poverty.

As Christians our hope in the Gospel message “lends great energy to commitment in the social field, because it generates confidence in the possibility of building a better world, even if there will never exist a paradise of earth”  St Paul in his letter to the Church at Ephesus comments that “this maybe a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it” (Eph 5:16)

We have a choice to hope.

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Nigel Hayward

Updated: October 10, 2013 — 1:43 pm
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