Read an Excerpt
We live in a world that is in desperate need of hope. You cannot turn on the television, click on the radio, or browse the Internet without being inundated with more doom and gloom about the economy, renewed hostilities in the Middle East, violence at home and abroad, another scandal involving a religious leader or a politician, or further warnings about food safety, fuel supplies, or global warming. In short, there seems to be increasingly little chance of securing the feelings of community, prosperity, and peace that make life worth living. In the past, one could find comfort and trust in a cloistered village or a well-established neighborhood, empowerment through the monarchy or government, and security in the fold of an ever-present savior. For those living in oppression or poverty, there was always the possibility of traveling to greener pastures. In contrast, today it seems that there are few, if any, safe harbors.
In this darkest of times, a true sense of belonging is hard to find,
governments and other institutions appear increasingly impotent, and faith in a higher power has seriously eroded. Even in the most industrialized nations, many people have achieved great affluence without deriving any clear sense of purpose in life. Instant messages are sent around the globe, yet so many remain lonely and isolated. Occasional medical and political advances provide brief glimmers of hope. However, these scattered signs of light are dwarfed by ominous reports of resistant and deadly microbes and increasingly brazen acts of global terrorism. In short, the signs of hopelessness are everywhere.
Hope is about mastery, a feeling of empowerment, and a sense of purpose that is collaborative and focused on higher goals. In stark contrast, millions of adults are now losing their jobs. High school graduates and their parents are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for a college education. Others possess skills that are undervalued and undercompensated. Even for those who manage to remain in the workforce, many feel trapped in despised jobs or careers they cannot leave, worried that they may suffer an even worse fate.
Hope is about attachment, a belief in the continued presence of a loved one, a mentor, or an ally who fosters a sense of connection, trust, and openness. Clearly, such bonds of hope were not available to Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers, or Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter. For countless other brooding youth who are simmering with hopeless rage, 'hope providers' are badly needed. Many teens and young adults who are devoid of healthy role models will often join a gang as a way of securing a sense of belonging and mastery, however distorted and dangerous. The same crisis of connection defines the life of a forsaken individual with HIV or AIDS who is living on the streets or is relegated to a dark and lonely hospital bed.
Hope is about survival, a belief that you will be liberated from harm, that options will always be available to you, and that you can rest assured that everything will be fine. This dimension of hope is particularly elusive for the trauma survivor. Perhaps you are a war veteran, a victim of a violent crime, or an adult who was seriously hurt as a child. You might feel traumatized and trapped by an abusive or a controlling partner. Maybe you are facing retirement or can no longer live completely on your own.
Hope is often spiritual, not necessarily in the religious sense, but in terms of having faith, a sense of meaning in life, a connection to something greater, or a belief in a benign universe. In this period of great unrest, it is understandable if you or a loved one is suffering from a crisis of faith. If you have a religious inclination but find yourself stricken with a serious illness, a divorce, or being fired or laid off, you may be wondering where is God? If you are not religious but consider yourself spiritual, yet are now facing the foreclosure of your home, lack of funds to send your child to college, betrayal by your spouse, a close friend, or a business associate, your belief in a well-ordered cosmos may be shattered.
More than ever, the world needs hope, still the best medicine for overcoming feelings of helplessness, alienation, and fear. Unfortunately, we seem to be living in a hope-challenged world. You might even describe our current state of affairs as the culmination of a perfect storm that has been brewing for years to undermine every aspect of hope: mastery, attachment, survival, and spirituality.
The freedoms that have come with single parenting, no-fault divorce, air shuttles, and the Internet have their downsides, most notably in the realm of relationships. Our bonds with family and friends are not what they were in the past. Half of our marriages fail. Job and career opportunities scatter us across the country. Few, if any, of our families will invest several decades in the same neighborhood, cementing a sense of community. Sunday dinners have given way to e-mail and Facebook updates. We find ourselves squeezing in hurried visits to relatives and close friends a few times a year, for Thanksgiving or New Year's.
Hopeful mastery comes from a sense of empowerment and purpose. How many of us feel supported in our work, and how many of us can truly say that our work represents a calling or a life mission? Too many of us feel underappreciated, that our skills and our talents are being wasted and that our dreams are being forestalled. Too many of us plod toward retirement, our hope narrowed into building a large enough portfolio to weather our final years with some semblance of dignity.
For the present generation of young people, it has become exceedingly difficult to feel any degree of inspiration. In some cases, their parents have let them down by failing to empower them with a strong but loving presence as well as a foundation of values to sustain a life of mastery. In other cases, it is their teachers, school officials, or coaches who have dropped the ball, allowing personal ambitions or shifting political winds to come before the real needs and interests of the child.
The ever-dwindling supply of heroes hurts all our children. Athletes, for instance, are no longer the worshipped heroes they once were but are seen as greedy negotiators, mercenaries for hire, or steroid cheats. In a media-driven world fed by lightning-fast communication, children are aware of every celebrity scandal or dark cloud on the horizon. In this age of dwindling hope, we have robbed our young of the protected innocence that allows tender hopes to grow.
True hope diminishes fear and brings a bounty of options, but today we are living in a frightened world that seems to be growing uncomfortably constrained. Terror is the catchword of the new millennium. Since 9/11 we have received daily updates in the form of a color code that ranges from green (which, coincidentally, is the color of hope) for a low risk of a terrorist attack to red for a severe risk. For the greater part of the past eight years, this terror meter has been at either yellow (elevated or significant risk) or orange (high risk). Will we ever see green again?
We are in the midst of the worst economic cycle since the Great Depression. Even if we manage to pull ourselves out of the current financial mess, is there any guarantee that our jobs, our homes, or our pension plans will be safe in a world increasingly filled with corrupt CEOs and a political system that seems mired in either complicity or incompetence?
Some kind of faith is necessary for hope. Your faith does not have to involve a deity or a higher power. However, we have found that hopeful individuals tend to have one or more centers of value: cherished people, objects or institutions that they trust and from which they derive a feeling of empowerment, an experience of connection, and a sense of safety and liberation from pain and suffering. Unfortunately, many of our potential centers of value are under siege.
Can you put your faith in God? Why does God permit the evils we see today? Can you trust organized religion and its officials to weed out the bad apples and keep your family safe from predators? Can you put your faith in the government? Why don't our political leaders actually lead by balancing the budget, eliminating wasteful spending, and staying clear of corruption or scandal? Can you put your faith in nature? Scientists argue that global warming is a reality, that nature can no longer be trusted to absorb and support our modern ways. Can you put your faith in science and technology? We once believed that MRIs, lasers, computers, and the Internet would empower, connect, and liberate us. The explosion in AIDS, Internet pornography, and identity theft has shaken our faith in even these modern marvels.
©2010. Henry Biller, Ph.D. & Anthony Scioli, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Power of Hope. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442