Tuesday, May 31, 2011


People who ask this question usually have an answer in mind. Though the answers they give would seem to be contradictory, occupying the entire range of possibilities extending from “hope makes all things possible” to “hope sets you up for disappointment because you can never have the things you hope for”, each answer, given from the heart, rings with an element of truth for that person. This complicated truth presents a particular challenge when we strive to make hope explicit.
To be honest, I like some of the answers better than others. The ones I prefer are—you guessed it—the positive answers. What, after all, could please THE HOPE LADY more than a story about how hope triumphed over a host of terrible predictions, enabling people to try things they never would have tried without it?
In the earliest days of the Hope Foundation, when hope as a concept garnered little respect in professional circles, researchers combed the literature for studies that would demonstrate the ways in which hope helped people. They came up with plenty of evidence to support the worthiness of practices and strategies designed to foster and enhance hope. I am grateful for their efforts, and have used their findings on many occasions. Still, there remains one essential truth for THE HOPE LADY and that is this: If you are going to ask people to tell you about their experience of hope in a world where they are not solely in control, you have to be willing to live with whatever truth they give you.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Here is what some experts say. First some definitions from the famous hope writiers, then some quotes from other experts--the people in our Hope Foundation chronic pain groups.
Hope is: “A process of anticipation that involves the interaction of thinking, acting, feeling and relating, and is directed toward a future fulfillment that is personally meaningful”
(Charlotte Stephenson, 1991, p. 1459)

Hope is: “… the fundamental knowledge and feeling that there is a way out of difficulty, that things can work out, that we as human persons can somehow handle and manage internal and external reality…”
(Lynch, W. F., 1965, p. 32)

Hope is the “yes” to life.
(Ronna Jevne, 1999, p. 59)

Hope is the thing that: “enables individuals to envision a future in which they are willing to participate”
(Ronna Jevne, 1994, p. 8)

Hope is: “a cognitive set that is based on a reciprocally derived sense of successful agency (goal-directed determination) and pathways (planning to meet goals)” (Snyder et al, 1991, p. 572).

People with chronic pain say:
Hope is...
... fun to work with
... positive
... good health
... makes getting up in the morning easier
... chocolate
... a dream
... vital
... children’s laugher
... fun
... energizing
... being able to attain something that you dream of
... to live pain-free
... believing it will work out, even with bumps in the path
... being able to retain the strengths that I have
... focusing on what I can do, not what I can’t
... sometimes difficult to see
.. courage
... a thing that goes up and down
... faith
... believing in yourself
... tomorrow
... birds singing
... a pathway
... lost
... life force that keeps us going
... creative
... sunshine
... having good family and relationships
... spring
...worth working to find
... not giving up
... found in family ties
... working through negatives to get to positives
... a foundation

Friday, May 27, 2011


The most useful thing I have learned about bringing hope to others is this: I have to keep a huge inventory of stories, symbols and language that grounds my own hope. I do this so that I can still find my hope at the times when I don't appear to be successful at bringing hope to others. Far from being a well ordered searchable catalogue, my inventory is a random assortment of positive societal changes I have noticed, things that turned out better than I expected, times when I was okay but didn’t know it, and physical reminders of pivotal life events. I polish this collection regularly and
keep it firmly centred in my mind. When I need them, I choose items from the inventory to remind me that I can hope even when the world refuses to change at my behest. I need them more often than I ever could have imagined.
Yesterday I found myself trying to jot a simple answer to a question asked by Loraine, a psychologist who works with troubled teens. She wrote:”How can I help bring hope back to those who have hoped and been repeatedly disappointed and with good reason do not believe in hoping for anything?”
It’s a good question, one faced by so many of us in the helping professions. As Karen W. Saakvitne so aptly states in an article entitled How to Avoid the Occupational Hazards of Being a Psychotherapist, “psychotherapists hear that which society wishes to silence.” Society wishes to silence it for good reason. Hearing it makes us feel terrible!
The act of opening ourselves to hearing terrible things presents us with two important challenges, the obligation to do our best for the people we are helping, and the duty to be all right after we have done the work. As we strive to improve our professional practice, we tend to search for better tools we can use to help others, losing sight of the things we might need to do so that we ourselves can be healthy.
Loraine had mentioned hope to a troubled teen. He had said,”When you hope for something it never happens. Chances of it succeeding are 0.7 million zeros, no, infinite zeros!" You can bet that every one of those zeros represented a disappointment, a time when adults and friends had failed him. No wonder Loraine felt stuck. I felt stuck also when I first read his words. Why should such a boy be expected to hope again?
I myself rarely work with troubled teens. On the matter of dealing with them, I have very little advice to give. Yet even as I read her question, characters from my hope inventory were lining up, ready to parade along the road of my consciousness. Among them was the teacher who once lived under a large tree in the far corner of the grounds of the school where he now teaches. Following close behind was a woman who told me that her life was changed by foster parents who took her in when she was 16. These leaderly adults, now the prize of our society, came to me, real and clear, raising my hope by their very presence. They had been through hard times. They had not turned out as expected. What could I do but thank them for reminding me that, when I get to thinking that nothing good can come of a situation, it’s time to start doubting myself?
To Loraine I wrote: “Implicitly your very presence and interest likely brings hope because you are a caring, reliable adult. This is the most important thing to keep in mind when you are working. You are already bringing hope. It is all too easy to forget this when you get bogged down in agreeing that they have no reason to hope because they have been disappointed.” When I wrote this I was imagining the adults who, in years to come, would remember Loraine’s caring. I was hearing the stories they would tell.

Saakvitne, Karen W., (2001). How to Avoid the Occupational Hazards of Being a Psychotherapist, Innovations in Clinical Practice: A Source Book (Vol. 20) P329.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


”You ride again when you’ve been bucked off, but not necessarily on the same horse that threw you.”

Friday, May 13, 2011


I planned a trip to Leduc with a curious sense of anticipation. Though my work at the Hope Foundation takes me lots of places, it is most unusual for me to visit a group of visually impaired seniors. But that is the thing I would be doing in Leduc. Sometimes a thing in your future will take you right back to your past.
The first full time professional job I ever had was with the CNIB in Edmonton. I was the area representative for northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. The year was 1977 and I had been hired to travel thousands of miles along dusty country roads offering CNIB services to blind people in their homes. The CNIB employed drivers to assist those of us who could not drive ourselves. Monday mornings would find my driver and me heading out of the city. Between us on the front bench seat stood a box of file cards containing client information organized alphabetically by town. All the blind people living in Smoky Lake, for example, would be filed under S. Each card would contain specific directions for finding the house or farm we were seeking. Behind us were boxes of goods that our clients might want. There were players for talking books, magnifying glasses, white canes, braille watches, and tubes of silicon we could use to make tactile marks on the dials of appliances that were designed solely for the use of sighted people.
The country clients, living as they did among the sighted, were glad of our visits. And I, remembering a childhood spent on a farm 9 miles south of a village most people never heard of, felt at home on the dusty roads running along the railroad tracks where the crocuses unfolded their flowers in early May. Hour after hour we’d sit sipping coffee at kitchen tables in sunny farmhouses and tiny villages discussing the problems posed by vision loss. At some point in the discussion I would produce the technological wonders designed to solve them. Friday afternoons would find us back in the city, us tired, the boxes half empty, the car caked with mud.
On the whole it was a great job. On the whole, I figured I was a most suitable candidate for the position. Born with very little vision, I was raised in the British tradition—the stiff upper lip, don’t wine, take on your goals, overcome barriers tradition. There had been times when I despaired as I tried to compete on an unlevel playing field. There had been unmentionable worries about my future. But now, with this great new job, I was making a contribution, earning money, using my professional skills, setting an example. Who, better than I, could offer something of value to these isolated country folk?
I did not know, when I took to the road for the first long trips of early May, how different from me my clients would be. Because most vision loss happens in response to diseases associated with aging, the clients tended to be older—70 was a young age on my case list. Most of them had lost their vision late in life, and the adjustment was difficult to make. This did not surprise me. What did take me by surprise though—me with a narrow viewpoint of my British raising—was the manner in which people from other backgrounds responded to their circumstances.
Take, for example, the Ukrainian grandmothers. The Ukrainian settlement towns of northern Alberta had dozens of them. Beckoning us to enter tiny warm homes fragrant with garlic, they would throw their arms around me and burst into a flood of tears. “Oh, oh!” they would cry in thickly accented English. “You are so young! You are blind! It is a tragedy! So sad! You are so beautiful and so afflicted! It is so sad, so so sad!”
My first impulse, on receiving this unexpected onslaught of unreserved pity, was to jump into the car and lock the doors, for the rules of professional conduct, with their focus on confidentiality and boundaries gave no helpful direction. But there was a job to do. There were braille alarm clocks these women would never see if I did not show them. So I would do it.
Into their kitchens I would slink, wet-shouldered and protesting. “I am fine,” I would say.
This, however, was not the message they wanted to hear. They had no ears for it. “It is so sad,” they would wail. “So sad, you are so young.” As they moaned in sympathy for my plight, it was clear that they were feeling better than they had in some time. Here was rehabilitation turned on its head. Finding somebody in worse condition makes you feel better.
In the first year I conducted a hundred human experiments, trial responses to keep my shoulders dry and my pride intact. I kept my arms primly crossed to ward off their hugs. I brought pictures of my husband to prove that I could get a man. I took to introducing myself as a social worker. But all of it was a waste of time. I could show them how to mark their spices with large print. I could teach them to tell when a cup was full by placing a finger a little below its edge. These things they might learn from me, but what they loved most was to feel better by feeling sorry for me. Eventually I got used to it, even grew to welcome it in some strange way. It was they, more than anyone else, that I missed when I moved on to other jobs.
It was these passionate women who came to mind the day Mary called to ask if I would speak to the Sight-Seekers support group for visually impaired seniors in Leduc. She said, “We need somebody to come and tell us not to feel sorry for ourselves.” She promised me that transportation would be provided. When the day arrived, and Leona from the CNIB came to pick me up, it was the memory of them that stirred my thoughts.
The Sight-Seekers meet in a church hall. They were sipping coffee and chatting when Leona and I entered the room. I was careful not to cross my arms. Boundaries are not nearly as important to me as they used to be.
So maybe I was a little disappointed when hands were politely extended, greetings were cordial and nobody rushed forward to enfold me in a watery embrace. I was thinking of this, and that’s when the force of a new reality hit me. Even if there were any Ukrainian grandmothers in the room, things would be different. That was 1977, this is 2011. And I—no longer a girl in the bloom of early 20’s--am so much closer to being one of them that I might not even qualify for their sympathy.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


A shout out and thanks for a few good laughs in a lively chat about hoping, coping and moping after a vision loss. I was invited to your monthly get-together by Mary, who said, “We need somebody to tell us not to feel sorry for ourselves.”
But even though all of us need a bit of encouragement once in a while, there really was no need for a lecture on self-pity. You hadn’t the time for such a thing because you were busy signing up your members to help with the CNIB’s upcoming vision awareness project.

Saturday, May 07, 2011


There are certain things I do—or should I say don’t do—for the sake of my hope: I don’t spend much time griping in groups of cynical people; I don’t watch the late night news before bed; I don’t read books that predict a terrible future—not usually anyway. But last week—when the mailman delivered the CD copy of Nevil Shute’s On The Beach, the CD packaged tidily by someone at the CNIB Library in Toronto, a scary book tucked snug and secure in an envelope bearing my name, I crushed the impulse to return the thing, and waited for the final act of reading to begin.
The first act of reading On The Beach opened in the mid 1960’s, opened in the aisles that separated the stacks of braille volumes that comprised the tiny library at the Jericho Hill School for the Blind in Vancouver. Braille had opened a new world for me, a world where I could browse a colleciton of—let’s be generous here—a hundred books and think I had the key to the knowledge of the world. On The Beach was on one of those shelves, three thick braillle volumes comprised it, I think. I would wander among the stacks, touching all the titles, pulling out the books, reading the first page. On The Beach, they said, was a book about the death of the human race after a nuclear war. Fifty times I put the book back on the shelf. Twice I checked it out and read the first 5 pages, the way you read the first five of so many books, over and over, starting over each time and never going forward—never breaking through. On The Beach was still on the shelves when I left Jericho in 1968. What happened to its fine braille volumes, and all the others that I did read, is something I have never found out. Thus ended the opening act, the act of not reading Nevil Shute’s On The Beach.
Still, I never forgot about that book, never felt quite comfortable with the failure of courage that kept me from finishing it. I have a friend who works tirelessly for disarmament and the advent of peace to replace the habit of war. He is The Honourable Douglas Roche In recognition of his efforts as a statesman, activist and author, he has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. “Surely,” I said, taking myself in hand, “Surely if Doug could stick with the cause all these years, advocating and educating an apathetic public in times of relative peace and times of relative fear, surely you, Wendy, could summon the courage to read one hope-sucking, fear-raising book. After all, that book only describes a predicted disastrous future that didn’t come to pass--a terrible chain of events that started in 1961 and ended definitively in 1963. If you’d bothered to read beyond the first 5 pages back in the library at Jericho Hill, you’d have known that the time had already come and gone. Read the book, Wendy, for Doug, and get it over with.”
I started slowly, carefully, picking at it the way you pick at a hot potato. Would I send it back unread? Would I justify my actions by saying I had no need to read a book that would scare me half to death? For a while it appeared that this would be the story. This is no way to make it past the first 5 pages of a hope-sucking book.
Then Friday came—that was yesterday--a day off—a day for catching up on things. “What did you do with your Friday off?” David asked when he got home from work.
“Not much,” I said. As for the truth, well, I got up early and read On The Beach after breakfast and after coffee and after lunch and after the mid-afternoon break. I interrupted the reading briefly for some conversations and a few chores and I read it while I waited for supper to cook. By suppertime I was done.
As for today, Saturday, well, I’m still here, here with mixed feelings, trying to sort them out on a keyboard. I don’t know what I would have said of the book had I read it back in the days of early adolescence. I wanted then to grow up happy, to have a life, to find a husband, to have some children, to work at something I would love. I didn’t want to contemplate a future in which these things could not come to me.
Today—a woman who has all these things and more--I ponder the hope-sucking book Nevil Shute

Nevil Shute published back in 1957. I poke at it, dig in it—mining its depths for hope. The hope, of course, is there. It’s there all right, just where I’d expect to find it, in the people. Shute was a wise man when it came to writing a story. Somehow he knew that if you set up a bad enough situation, you don’t need any antagonistic characters. You can make them all lovable, put them through the paces of daily life and still have a great story. Here they are, lovable characters in Australia, a country where no shots were fired, a place unsullied by bombs. Here they are, accepting some responsibility for not acting to stop the war, waiting to die in a world where we cannot stop the air from circulating, from bringing on its breezes the dust that killed the people of the northern hemisphere. Here they are, calculating the time left to them, and wondering what to do while they wait.
And what do they do while they wait? They make new friends. They take care of each other. They encourage each other. They buy gifts. They go home to be with the ones they love. In honour of hope Shute seems to be promising that if the worst happens, the best of humanity will rise to the occasion. And I like that.
Tomorrow will be Sunday. The next day will be Monday. Something unusual may happen to scare me. Maybe the days will be ordinary. But something has been gained. Now, more than ever, I am grateful to Doug Roche for his efforts to prevent the worst from happening.

Friday, May 06, 2011


Dawn was only moments away when I awoke to behold my very favourite kind of May morning. Light had not yet touched the horizon. Robins were advertising for mates. A slight breeze was teasing the drapery strings and then—here was something new—I rolled over and found myself face to face with the guy who won the Good Neighbour award for Edmonton’s Ward 6. You might say that I’m his very closest neighbour. Perhaps he was thinking that also.
“You must have helped them with the nomination,” he said on the day when he first heard about the coming honour.
“Actually, I didn’t,” I confessed sheepishly. The nominator was another woman, Lorna Thomas, vice-president of the Riverdale Community League. I would have helped if she’d asked, but she didn’t need me. Her information, limited as it was, was comprehensive enough to clinch the case.
Last night we attended a gathering to celebrate the contributions of 12 good neighbours and a vigorous band of Snow Angels. The Snow Angels shovel snow for people who need help—a lot of help this past winter. The Good Neighbours are nominated for all sorts of reasons. Each of the 2011 award winners undoubtedly does a few dozen neighbourly things that were not mentioned on the application. Last night we heard about the dedicated staff of a neighbourhood grocery store, a committee that refurbished a playground, a community league that started a special program for low income children, a community garden founder, a helpful handyman, safety patrollers, party planners, a generous jack-of-all-trades, and people who make their neighbourhoods feel like friendly caring places.
When it was time to celebrate my own closest good neighbour, the host read a short paragraph to the assembled crowd. Among other things, the host said, “His nominator Lorna Thomas noted not just what David does for his neighbourhood but how
he does it. He goes about things quietly and diligently, getting the job done, getting people involved and simply making Riverdale the best it can be.” She did, of course mention a few of the things he does. He’s been Community League secretary, planning committee co-chair, and facilitator of multiple processes, some controversial, some dull-but-necessary. He sells League memberships and makes connections while he collects. He organizes teams and plans parties.
Life quickly returned to normal for the Ward 6 Good Neighbour after last night’s celebration drew to a close. He drove me to choir practice, did the grocery shopping and walked the dog.
“Good choice, Wendy,” I said to myself, turning to face the sleeping guy in the last few seconds before the dawning of today. “You sure do know how to pick a close neighbour.”

Sunday, May 01, 2011


Here’s a shout out to the 30 social workers who shared two full learning days in Calgary with me at the Alberta College of Social Workers annual confrence. I had a lot of fun laughing and singing and addressing painful issues with all of you. It was truly amazing that you came from so many different interest areas, kids in care, kids with disabilities, troubled teens, long term care, palliative care, adult psychotherapy, and probably a few others I have neglected to mention—truly amazing given our varying backgrounds that we could all be on the same page much of the time in a conversation about hope. I sincerely hope that some of the hope and strengths tools in our collection will find a happy home in your work.
An additional shout out to the ACSW for crediting those social workers who chose the hope and strengths workshop with 12 continuing education credits in Category A. In the days when our work did not have this recognition, social workers had to make other time for hope workshops after they had completed their Category A requirements.
The social work literature is beginning to reflect an interest in the practical application of hope theory to social work practice. With my thought still lingering in the social work context, I leave you with two quotes that say a lot.

Schwartz et Al, 2007: “We believe that social work administrators who find ways to create work contexts that have a positive effect on social workers might not only reduce the incidence of staff burnout, but also increase something that is intrinsic to social worker effectiveness: hope.”

Koenig & Spano, 2008: “Unfortunately, many professionals have relied on predominant practice models that are based on client pathology and problems instead of hope in client potential and possibilities.”