Updated: Mar 8, 2020
If you’re like me, Kobe Bryant’s sudden death was jarring. When public figures we grew up with die unexpectedly and tragically, it can call attention to our own vulnerabilities and feelings of powerlessness. Even beyond Kobe’s death, it’s been a difficult start to the year. For this reason, I thought it would be good to share again an article that I wrote in 2018 about hope. May it bring you a bit of inspiration!
Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit and one of the leaders of liberation theology, said, “Hope is the seed of liberation.” From this perspective, hope is a revolutionary act that is essential for surviving oppression because when you become consumed by weariness, apathy, and despair, the result is that fear, powerless, hopelessness, and oppression win!
Countless books and articles have been written about the importance of hope in recovery—from physical illness, of course, but also as an essential part of recovering our mental health. One treatment approach that lies at the foundation of many therapeutic interventions is called positive psychology, which tells us that hope is essential to recovery. Hope is essential for life. It is life-giving.
Unfortunately, it is easy to internalize—and externalize—messages of powerless and despair. How many times have you heard, or even said, things like these?
§ I don’t vote because my vote doesn’t matter.
§ I can’t leave because I don’t have other options. This is the best I can do.
§ It’s a tough job market, and I have to just grin and bear it.
§ It doesn’t matter what you do, the cards are stacked against you.
§ There are too many problems, and there’s nothing we can do to make things better.
§ We’ve already tried x, y, or z, and nothing works.
These insidious messages can get into your spirit and cause deep feelings of powerlessness and futility in individuals, families, and communities. When you believe that you have no options and your efforts don’t matter, you give up, and sometimes you become complicit in your own oppression. There’s an old saying that’s often attributed to Henry Ford: “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.” What you say about yourself matters.
How can we rediscover hope in the midst of hopelessness?
§ Pay attention to what you tell yourself and focus on what you can control. Think about what you can do and where your power lies. Believe that you can make a difference.
§ Know that we all need support: friends, family, community members, and mental health professionals can affirm us and help us rediscover our powers and possibilities.
§ Get “out of yourself”: volunteer, give back, and connect with others. Generativity and giving back can broaden our lens – incite gratitude.
§ Have faith, trust that there is good in the world, & engage in spiritual practices.
§ Celebrate your wins—and look for wins to celebrate.
§ Be willing to preserve. Know that change requires time and effort. Setbacks are a part of the process. You must decide that you will keep going no matter how many obstacles you face (which is why you need support to keep going).
Growing up, I heard my elders talk about how long they had to walk to school, horrendous working conditions, or overwhelming periods of lack. Sometimes these tales took on a life of their own—especially when they were held up as evidence of the teller’s strength, fortitude, or resilience, and by contrast, my own generation’s fallibility. But now I’m starting to see those stories in a different light, especially when I notice the despair, powerlessness, and hopelessness around me. Maybe those tales were meant to strengthen us, guide us, and show us the way. The people who came before us fought and survived so that we might have the chance to do the same, and when we lose hope we can remember how far we’ve come and the work that is yet to be done. This message of hope is summarized in Scripture: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).