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COMMENTARY: Hope is an excellent strategy

Has it ever happened to you? You were having a conversation with another person who just posed a question. You took a deep breath, paused, and slowly replied, "Well, I hope so." To which the person on the other side of the table or telephone line

Has it ever happened to you? You were having a conversation with another person who just posed a question. You took a deep breath, paused, and slowly replied, "Well, I hope so."

To which the person on the other side of the table or telephone line abruptly said, "Pfft. Well, hope is not a strategy."

A bitter cloud of silence then hung between the two of you. You may have wondered if the other person was offended or angry or truly full of despair. You also knew the conversation was over. 

If you have been in that situation and never had a good reply, take heart.

In her book, Hope Matters, Elin Kelsey offers evidence that hope, and a hopeful mindset are critically important as we recommit to facing our overwhelming circumstances, most notably climate change, social justice and life after COVID-19. The book's tagline reads: "Why Changing the Way we Think is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis."

That "hope is not a strategy" retort has taken the stuffing out of my courage more than once, but I am choosing to commit and recommit to an ideology that is grounded in hope and gratitude. Clearly, we cannot keep approaching our doomsday scenarios and overwhelming odds with attitudes that spiral us into states of paralysis and despair. Rather than frame every conversation with cynicism and a negativity, take inspiration from some of the research titles cited in Hope Matters:

  • "Hope is a Key Factor in Recovering from Anxiety Disorders"
  • "Doom and Gloom: The Role of the Media in Public Disengagement on Climate Change"
  • "The Science of Optimism and Hope" a compilation of research essays
  • "The Science of How Mindset Transforms the Human Experience"
  • "Being Hopeful: Exploring the Dynamics of Post-traumatic Growth and Hope in Refugees"

Imagine! Hope has the potential to help people move into a condition of "Post-traumatic Growth," even after experiencing extreme adversity and trauma. Hope can help people feel less victimized, more empowered when anchored in hopeful self-awareness. With an optimistic mindset, strategic plans gain positivity and inspire possibility.

Ms. Kelsey describes hope as "a genetically encoded element" that thrives when babies are nurtured in a positive environment. "Hope is innate," she writes. Nurturing children is a good start, but our adult hopes also need compassionate care and encouragement. In our vulnerable moments, we must be very careful to not quash hope with an abrupt comment or clichéd quip. Without care, hopes can whither and die.

Opposed to what the contrarians might have you believe – hope does not increase complacency but is rocket fuel for the mind and can accelerate action. Unlike wishful thinking, hope elevates our spirits and helps us rise above apathy, cynicism or despair.

The next time you hear someone suggest "Hope is not strategy," challenge that person to think again. With solid science backing you, continue the conversation by asserting hope is part of good planning because it inspires positivity, confidence, and self-awareness. Next time, challenge the glib response by asking, "You kidding me? Hope is an excellent strategy. It means I am aware of what is at stake, and I am willing to roll up my sleeves and help good things to happen." 

Leading environmental thinker David Orr may have said it best: "Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up." Hope is a verb; it is an action word. 

Hope is about protecting the things we truly value, appreciate and care about. You know – things like clean air, clean water, strong networks of support and a fierce optimism for a vision of Canada anchored in peace, order, good governance – and compassionate kindness.  

With the full power of positive thinking, grit, open-mindedness and genuine gratitude, Lorraine's book is now on the desk of an editor. Launch date: Fall 2021. To learn more about Grassroots Gratitude, contact lorraine@grassrootsgratitude.ca  Follow her on Instagram: lorraine_widmer_carson