Hope: A Cord of Three Strands

By John Wittler (Vilas, Colorado)

A few years ago, I came across the work of C. R. Snyder, a well-known psychologist (Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind). According to Snyder, “hope is defined as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and to motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways.” I decided to adopt Snyder’s framework for thinking about and building hope – for myself and for others. This philosophy of hope requires: 1) Vision 2) Pathways and 3) Agency — a triad that allows us to build or reinforce hope intentionally and to support it in others.

To reiterate, we need a dream or a goal, plus a credible pathway from where we are to that desired future, as well as the personal agency to navigate that path. If even one of these three is missing, we are left stranded and hopeless. Each element is a prerequisite for hope and each can be acquired independently of the others. While hope must be internalized and requires personal belief, we can borrow or receive elements of hope from others.

Vision entails a belief that better days are in front of us, regardless of our station or age–to be hopeful, we must believe that something better is available in our future. Our society often seems obsessed with the concept of goals–idolizing those who achieve audacious goals, while we pester our youth about their “future plans.” Yet, to have a dream is not synonymous with having hope.

A goal is the easy part – we all can dream. If, however, our vision lacks a credible pathway we will experience “goal neglect” and drift further away from that desired future rather than closer to it. We need to see not just a next step, but an entire believable pathway from our present to our desired future. We must also believe that we possess the tools and ability to travel the path. Agency (or personal capacity) is like a muscle that grows and develops as we exercise it.

How then can we grow our hope and that of those around us? First, we should acknowledge the two most prevalent hope killers: trauma and entitlement. Trauma is an experience that exceeds our ability to cope, usually experienced as an external force that overwhelms us. Entitlement, on the other hand, is an internal condition that corrodes our ability to engage. Entitlement is the belief that we are owed something…or that we should be immune to struggle or challenge. Removing all barriers and paving a way to a desired future creates an easier future, but not a better one. Ignoring or overlooking trauma isolates people and further erodes hope. In some cases, we just don’t see a brighter tomorrow, and we need someone to paint us a picture, expose us to new opportunities, or simply notice us and care.

Meanwhile, our sense of agency or personal capacity is built one action at a time…after stumbling or falling, simply standing is a show of resilience and exercise of agency. These actions or the ability to stand again are just as meaningful when others encourage us, accompany us, or help us.

Just as the three aspects of hope flow together in a continuous cycle, so does the hope in our communities. One day, you may be the one in need of a little hope, or maybe you’re already there, or maybe you know someone who is — that’s okay. Hope is fluid, flowing between people and events so that we may support or be supported as is necessary. Hope is more than a frame of mind–it’s more accurately a state of being, requiring a few integral pieces. Which makes it also an action we can take to ensure a better tomorrow.

Hope isn’t denial, nor is it blind to realities of the moment. Hope isn’t impenetrable happiness immune to pain or suffering. Hope is durable and it preserves while it perseveres. Hope is transmissible. Hope transcends.

John Wittler is OC Regional Coordinator and OC Director of Development. He is the founder, chief strategist, and lead consultant of Vanguard Strategic, a consulting firm that helps small organizations launch, stabilize, and achieve sustainable growth. John, his wife Trina, and their three children reside in Vilas, CO.

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