When hope is lost

February 26, 2023

Hopeful thinking is one of the biggest determinants of success — bigger than intelligence, skill or previous success

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Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops - at all

— Emile Dickenson


he great Nelson Mandela once said, “Our human compassion binds us, the one to the other, not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” It is said that a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do and something to hope for. The current situation in Pakistan makes the third starkly significant. It has been fading away.

When there is political instability; the economy is in a tailspin; and sectarian and ethnic fissures create divisions, the only antidote is hope. When the hope vanishes, the doom casts its grotesque shadows.

Hope mitigates the feelings of helplessness, enhances happiness, reduces stress and improves our quality of life. As the famous author, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Victor Frankel, noted during the World War II, it was a simple sign: when a fellow prisoner started smoking their cigarettes, they would be dead in a few weeks. It wasn’t that the concentration camp guards treated these prisoners any different, they didn’t. But once the glimmer of a better life (hope) left them, they would puff away on the camp’s currency of exchange, a smoke. Once hope faded, so did their life.

A depressing situation obtains in Pakistan as elite capture accomplishes a near complete hold on the people and the resources of the country. The elite of the country monopolise power and it is deployed with utmost profusion to curb freedom, a fundamental right of the people. The class divide has widened substantially and bridging it appears to be a lost cause.

Hope is a curious sentiment. At its peak, it offers joy and ecstasy. When it is deficient, hope can be the bringer of sadness, despair and depression. If hope is extinguished, then, its deficit can be lethal. Hope is said to be the nature talking to us. If it seems that we can do what it needs of us, it gives us a great big carrot: a huge incentive, and the energy to do what it wants us to do: motivation. To be hopeless is to lose all motivation to do what we need to live.

According to another psychologist and proponent of the theory of hope, Charles Richard Rick Snyder (1944-2006), the people employing hope tend to achieve more and are physically and psychologically healthier than less hopeful people. The hope theory argues that there are three main things that make up hopeful thinking: (a) goals: approaching life in a goal-oriented way; (b) pathways: finding the ways to achieve one’s goals; and (c) agency: believing that you can instigate change and achieve these goals.

These things are indeed vital to realising the latent potential among the individual. Together, many of such individuals constitute a critical mass that may address the problem. Snyder characterised hopeful thinkers as people who could establish clear goals, imagine multiple workable pathways towards those goals and persevere, even when obstacles got in their way. He found that hopeful thinking was one of the biggest determinants of success – bigger even than intelligence, skill or previous success. It was an attribute everybody could benefit from having more of.

The best thing about hope is that it is a learned response, so anyone can improve their hopeful thinking by using the right goal setting, planning and motivational approaches.

I really value what Snyder prescribes. However, it proposes a prognosis for the individual. If one has set a task of instilling hope in a multitude of people, then I am not sure that Snyder’s recipe will always deliver. When most of the people in a nation have lost hope then it needs a set of leaders with a different skill set: those who can inspire people into action. They need to be leaders equipped with a theoretical paradigm and exceptional ability to communicate. Finally, such people need to have the ability to execute the policies.

The possibility of these attributes converging in a single person can’t be ruled out. In the Western modern history, Otto Von Bismarck, the first German chancellor (from 1871 onwards) was one such individual. Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) was another leader of the same ilk. He was a statesman par excellence, who served as the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949 to 1963.

After World War II, Germany was totally ravaged. Adenauer picked up the pieces and began the process of reconstruction for the war-torn country. He not only instilled inspiration in the crest-fallen nation but also provided a vision and the practical methods for its affective execution. He switched focus from de-nazification to recovery, and led his country from the ruins of the World War II to becoming a productive and prosperous nation that forged close relations with France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

During his years in power, West Germany achieved democracy, stability, international respect and economic prosperity, undergoing the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). He also had to encounter the hubris of the representatives of France, United Kingdom and the United States who oversaw all that was happening in the vanquished country. Konrad Adenauer must be a subject of instruction for our political leaders.

Lee Kuan Yew (1923–2015), a Singaporean lawyer, politician and statesman who served as the inaugural prime minister of Singapore (1959-1990) can be yet another case study for our leaders to learn from; so can Charles de Gaulle of France.

The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

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