Navigating Hope in Uncertainty

Lost tourists were a common childhood occurrence. Folks in big vehicles towing campers and boats hopelessly attempting to navigate a community that had no addresses and the “town” on the map consisted of one rambling log building that housed the post office, the store, the bar, and the café. Miles from where they needed to be, confused tourists on dead-end dirt roads would enquire of kids on horseback. “Where is the lake?” or “How do I find Mason’s resort”. Faced with visitors who had no cellphones, no GPS, no compass, and no sense of direction, we would patiently recite the directions that had become part of our DNA. “Go back to the highway, turn left, go 11 miles till you see a big sign that says Van’s Corner. Turn left, go 3 miles to the dead-end T and turn right. Go 2 miles and Mason’s will be on the left. You can’t miss it.”

We lived in complete confidence in our current location, our destination, and unwavering trust that if we could not get there on our own, we had an army of moms and dads organized and ready to drive us where we needed to go. Our ten-year-old selves lack driver’s licenses and eighth-grade diplomas, yet we stood in the security of knowing where we were, we where we wanted to go, and how we would get there.

In the language of researcher and psychologist C.R. Snyder, we had hope. How can we tell what hope is and whether or not we have hope? Sometimes we can confuse hope with optimism. With hope, according to Adam Kadlac, comes realism, courage, and solidarity. A hopeful person is not so much convinced the future will be good or bad but instead focuses on the probabilities of good things ahead. This is where courage comes in. A courageous person embraces their longings and desires, yet lives with the knowledge that those longings and desires may go unfulfilled. Solidarity comes with a commitment to realism. Realism requires that we acknowledge both the possibility of our successes as well as the possibility of disappointments. Vulnerability in the face of contingencies beyond our control is what makes solidarity of vital importance. Hope, which acknowledges an uncertain future, has an important connection to solidarity and requires community. Moving into an uncertain future becomes possible when we join with valued others working towards a common goal. In the early 1990’s Snyder identified three main components of the hope as a learned skill: 1. goal setting, 2. developing strategies or achieve those goals, and 3. the freedom build and sustain actions to execute those strategies known as the agency to act on your own behalf.

We all navigate our lives with a shared experience of landmarks and signposts that tell us when to go back, when start again, and when we have reached a new beginning. Today, at least for a little while, we have lost our landmarks and signposts that tell us where we have been and where we should be going. Graduations, proms, weddings, reunions, first full- time jobs, and going off to college are the landmarks and signposts that announce where we have been and where we should be going are lost to us, at least for now. We are no different than those visitors lost on the backroads near my childhood home. We grieve the loss of shared celebrations and the excitement of preparing for the next step. We feel confused because we don’t know how to prepare for the next step because we simply don’t know when we will be able to take it. We can still have hope.

Where do we start to find our way to hope in our future? How about knowing how hopeful we are? The University of Pennsylvania’s  Positive Psychology Center offers the a description and access to a downloadable copy of Snyder’s Adult Hope Scale. The scale consists of 12 items and can be completed in just a few minutes. With an idea of our own level of hopefulness we can begin to examine where we are, where we want to go and create our own map of how we can get there and, in the process, creating new signposts and markers to guide us forward.

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