Monday, July 27, 2009


A stranger struck up a bus ride conversation. Hearing that I work at a centre for hope studies she asked, “What do you learn in hope studies?”
”Oh,” said I in a desperate grasp for a five-second sound bite, ”I have learned that I can change my day by saying I hope and making sure I feel hope at the same time.”
She was a little surprised, probably more than a little doubtful. That is where it ended, seeing as how she was getting off at the next stop. Not enough time to convince her maybe, but I do hope she was still wondering about it by dinnertime.
Sometimes I look back in wonder at the things I have learned and the points in life at which I learned them. For example, my fortieth birthday had already come and gone before I understood how the simple language of ”I hope” can change things. I can’t say why the recognition came so late. It might be that I simply had never given the matter any thought, or maybe I was a little bit scared to voice my hopes out loud. But whatever the reason, I am over it now, and that is a good thing.
The worst thing—but ultimately the best thing about being a hope specialist is that you pretty much have to be able to do things before you can preach about them, and since I preach a lot about using the language of ”I hope,” I have to work at it. Every morning when I brush my teeth, I try to think one hope for the day in the language of”I hope.” The size of the hope is not important. The hope can be a big and complicated hope: I hope people will be pleased with my workshop. Alternately—and this happens most often—it can be a small hope: I hope the sun will be shining as I walk to work.
The nice thing about saying, ”I hope” is that you get to feel hope. Feeling hope is important. The rule is: whatever the hope may be, I have to feel hope when I say it. That rules out a few things, narrows the field a bit.
Hopes, I have learned, are a little bit like wishes. It feels good to think about them. They are also a little bit like goals, that when you state a hope you have a tendency to move toward that thing, to think of the steps it might take to get there. That’s a good reason to express hopes, to put them out there.
The hard thing about using the language of ”I hope” is that you have to get used to telling the difference between saying hope while feeling hope, and saying hope while feeling fear. Saying ”I hope” when you actually feel hope is a good idea. It takes you in the direction you want to go in. When I say, ”I hope people will be pleased with my workshop,” I imagine smiling faces, flattering comments on evaluation forms, satisfaction expressed over dinner. The images are tantalizing, appealing. I want to move toward them. When I hope the sun will shine on my way to work, I feel like going to work. And if the sun doesn’t shine, well, I’ll cope with the disappointment somehow. Sunny or rainy, the journey to work will be there regardless. I might as well look forward to it for as long as possible.
Saying ”I hope” when you feel something else—fear, for example, is not such a good idea. The difference lies primarily in the images that come to mind. When I say, ”I hope I don’t mess up that workshop,” I am not feeling hope at all. I am feeling fear—the fear of failure. I am envisioning people checking their watches, falling asleep, passing notes to their neighbours. If I say, ”I hope it doesn’t rain,” the chances are pretty good that I am not imagining the warmth of sunshine. I am more apt to be thinking about being soaked, about dripping water off the end of my nose as I rush through the Hope House door. Alas, the upcoming day is something to dread.
Like most things worth doing, saying ”I hope” and matching it with the hopeful feeling takes a little practice, a little discipline. You can’t always hope for things just by saying you do. Sometimes the facts, the history, the undeniable circumstances simply make the language of ”I hope” impossible to use. You can’t reasonably hope for a sunny walk to work if rain is pouring down as you step out the door. But I have found that once you decide to find things to hope for, you tend to find more ways to hope for them. Hope need not lose its grip if it’s pouring rain. I am still allowed to hope for a sunny walk to work tomorrow. It’s the discipline that makes the hoping system work, the commitment to it.
You’ve got to be tough to make an outright commitment to hope language. You have to get used to being the butt of hope jokes. Your friends and relatives will make fun of you. There’s no end to the antics they’ll get up to—expecting you to leap tall buildings with a single hope, daring you to play straight man while they put on hope comedy routines at your expense. No doubt about it, they’re testing you. They’re trying to find out if you really mean it, to see how much risk you are willing to take in hope’s defense.
At least once a week, usually on rainy days, I fervently hope that the world will insist that we hope. When this happens the practice of sneering at hopers will become socially unacceptable. Open hopers will be applauded and the applause will keep on when they have to face the hard stuff. There will be fewer people standing in the wings waiting to say I-told-you-so! the minute there’s a little bit of doubt.
Like any other thing worth doing, the process of getting used to hope language can take a while. Even as I write this article, I wonder how long it took me to really understand the difference between feeling hope and feeling fear. I think it dawned slowly. I started by using the language of “”I hope””. In those days abundance was everything. The more I used it, the better I got at using it. Once I had a nice habit going, I could start refining it. I stopped using hope language when it didn’t feel right. There was a point at which I stopped using that language in sarcasm, and another point at which I stopped using it when I felt afraid.
So I cut the world a little slack in the matter of getting used to hope language. No point insisting that others change until they are ready. Back in the days when smoking was just as irritating to non-smokers but more respectable in society I used to be what my friends called a ”tolerant non-smoker” meaning that I’d choose to sit with them in the smoking section rather than watch them suffer over in non-smoking. But look how things have changed. People used to smoke wherever they chose on airplanes. Now they are hardly permitted to smoke in airports. I figure that a society that can switch so quickly to embracing non-smokers can also make a quick switch to embracing hopers.
Few people dispute that hoping is a good idea. They know it’s a good idea. They just aren’t quite ready to embrace it is a cause. For me, it’s a cause. Just imagine what the world could be if we kept our eye on our hopes for it rather than our fears. Imagine what it could be if we willed ourselves to hope for it and worked at hoping for it. It’s an outcome worth hoping for, worth talking about on the bus—if your listener is two stops away from getting off. If the bell has already been rung, you have to settle for the five-second sound bite and hope that person will still be wondering about it at dinner.

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