Friday, August 20, 2010


A single story can be hopeful or not-so-hopeful. It all depends on where you put the emphasis.

Part 1
Create hope in a story you tell by making sure you know in your heart where the hope is. Feel it first.

Part 2
Create hope by playing with time. Make the time span as long as it needs to be.

3) Create hope in one context by telling a hopeful story about another.

W. F. Lynch: Hope is “the fundamental knowledge and feeling that there is a way out of difficulty, that things can work out ...”
In Part 2 of this series we referred to the victory speech delivered by Barack Obama on November 4, 2008, showing how he sought to inspire hope by telling his listeners a story of American history and triumph spanning a period of more than 150 years. By using a long time span, he was able to show resolution of certain issues, thus raising hope that current issues could be resolved. Now we turn to the issue of context, closely related to the idea of time and ask: Can a hopeful story about one thing give us hope for another?
Hopeful stories capture our imagination and attention. Have you ever stopped to wonder why romantic comedies have remained popular since Shakespeare’s time? It’s certainly not because we don’t know the ending. In fact, if we know a story is described as romantic comedy, we can predict with reasonable accuracy very near the beginning which of the characters will be coupled at the end. We attend to these stories because we like them. We like them because they give us hope.
Our work in counselling psychology at the Hope Foundation of Alberta, a centre for hope studies, is rooted in the belief that hope generated in one story can inspire hope in a context that has little to do with the hopeful story that is being told. To put it another way, we get hope from stories that have hope in them and we carry the hope over to other stories. The hope we carry over generates a set of possibilities for how the new story might end. In the work of counselling, this theory is important when working with people who have little hope. It means that we can use stories to generate hope for them, a hope that might possibly change their actions.
This work has taught me that it is important for me to have a large repertoire of hopeful stories—stories that give me hope. My repertoire of stories has become quite diverse, featuring big stories, small stories, stories about me, stories about others, folk tales and new stories. All of them have a place in my heart.
Some of these stories can be told at a crucial moment to people whose hope is seriously undermined by depression or seemingly unsolvable problems. The context does not necessarily have to be a good match for the person’s problems and circumstances. It’s the emphasis that counts, a hopeful emphasis. People change. Things exceed our expectations. Things surprise us. Though we may not see it in our own picture, stories can inspire us to imagine that there just might be a way out of difficulty. Things might possibly work out. We know that romantic comedies aren’t about us. They aren’t meant to teach us a lesson. Yet they still give us hope, and that matters.

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