Saturday, June 7, 2008

Post No. 17: Why Hope Matters.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

The dictionary defines “hope” as a “feeling that what is wanted will actually happen or occur.” Another definition is “a desire accompanied by expectation or anticipation.”

When I first started teaching community college adults seeking their GEDs, I immediately informed them that they needed to temper the clichéd message that they “could be anything that they wanted to be,” with the reality of the geographic and economic marketplace, in conjunction with a realistic appraisal of their skill set.

So how did a guy like me manage to go from a position that hope is a bunch of malarkey, to a position that it matters? It actually occurred in phases.

When I first moved back to the Southeast, after living in Southern California for thirty years, I noticed how many kids of grade school age walked aimlessly with no apparent direction, with their chins in their chests. Their eyes, more than anything, told me what was going on in their hearts and minds.

During my interaction with GED students at a local community college, I observed their frustrations and insecurities associated with improving their lives and the lives of their children. At some point, through a program called “Preparing for Success,” designed by Christina Gibson at the local community college, I noted a glimmer of enthusiasm.

Shortly thereafter, one of the instructors, the Optimizer, who is a part of our “It’s Your Turn ™” Team, indicated that he saw a dramatic and qualitative difference between those new students who had gone through the “Preparing for Success” program, and those who had not. I asked him what was different. He responded, “Hope. They had hope.”

The next step was when Bill Cosby and a Harvard professor appeared on the Sunday news talk show circuit, several months ago, to speak about ways in which people can take charge and improve their lives.

I was so impressed with their message that I uncharacteristically attended my Father’s church, and spoke to the kids about the difference between “faith,” and “hope.” I told them that hope requires some sense that the action taken will at least possibly yield some positive results flowing from one’s efforts. If one feels that nothing will be accomplished, one will not expend the effort. As I have often said, people change when they are sufficiently motivated to change.

The final step occurred when Caroline Kennedy endorsed candidate Obama. Kennedy crystallized a nebulous uncertainty in my mind. Those few, carefully delivered words did the trick for me. Paraphrasing, she essentially said that in her youth, she did not appreciate or comprehend what her Father meant to others. However, listening to the expression of feelings by others who were around when she was a youth, Obama instilled in her the same type of inspiration that those folks claimed her Father did for them.

It was at this point that I realized that hope matters. On a recent History Channel program regarding the year 1968, during which Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated, the narrator also made the point that hope can be dashed.

You could call this an epiphany.

When you stop to think about it, hope is about efficiency. We essentially ask whether it’s worth one’s time, and we assess whether there is sufficient motivation to justify an expenditure of one’s energy.

I’m a changed man. Having always had hope (without actually calling it that), some modicum of confidence, and a sense of choices or options, I never really valued the concept of hope. Having now encountered folks without a similar view of the world, I now appreciate the importance and power of the concept.

In these uncertain times, such a sense looms large in importance. No matter what you may think of Obama’s policies and positions, you must admit that he moves millions of people. Perhaps he has reinvigorated hope in many previously disillusioned citizens. It will have all been worth it, if, as a result of his mere participation, that concept is revived for a larger segment of our citizenry, even if he doesn’t win.

Hope is the difference between what you have to do and what you want to do. It is what gets us up before the alarm goes off and sends us to bed early with tomorrow’s reading. Hope is the difference between spending an hour in the gym and an hour in a gin mill. Hope is the difference between anticipation and avoidance. Hope matters.

Apparently a significant segment of our population is having difficulty sensing this concept within the operating philosophy of our current administration. And thus is my explanation for the groundswell of enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy….

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

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