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In our times there has been a lot of commentary about the aftermath of COVID. It is reported that young people and adults are expressing unusual levels of loneliness and disconnectedness, in spite of …
In our times there has been a lot of commentary about the aftermath of COVID. It is reported that young people and adults are expressing unusual levels of loneliness and disconnectedness, in spite of extensive social media connections. During the earlier days of COVID when we were still figuring out what was happening, we were cast in a very odd drama where we needed to keep separate from other people. I can remember being in the grocery store and noticing my feelings of avoidance, distrustful, not knowing if other people were infected. Ordinary strangers became dangerous. I and others avoided eye contact, as if needing to avoid even that level of connection; as if others weren’t really there if we didn’t notice them. We were all perplexed by being in the middle of the unknown, wondering whether to trust the authorities who were keeping us updated. It was sort of like swimming alone in a lake after dark where the stars provide the only light. The water feels denser than during daylight. Your limbs are invisible and may feel stranger, heavier. With familiar landmarks hidden, it’s hard to know if you’re making any progress or if you even exist in the same form.
It was said that many people succumbed to depression during that extended period of time without our usual routines and contact with people providing the structure in our lives. Although some people enjoyed being able to work from home, when it was possible to return to workplaces, many chose to do that, recognizing the need to interact with others on work projects and around the water cooler. Years ago, when I was doing contract work at 3M, I wondered how the internal climate would change if we were forbidden to talk about that weather. It was a safe topic, an easy conversation starter with no commitment to go deeper. It provided a glue that connected us together, regardless of our roles as secretary, engineers, or manager. On one flawless summer day, I was eating lunch outside, and a custodian said, “Boy, I just hate a day like today.” “Why?” I asked?
“It’s perfect.” “Exactly,” he said. “Nothing to complain about.” Yes, even our shared complaints provide a bond.
As does our hope. Regardless of how difficult life can be, if there is a glimmer of hope, it seems like that’s enough to keep us going. In fact, the difficulties and challenges are what bring up the need for hope, which acts as an equalizer. In a Psychology Today article, How to Cultivate Hope, Dan Tomasulo, Ph.D, states that people who are hopeful tend to be happier and healthier. They set goals and action steps or micro goals to keep focused with a sense of accomplishment. “High-hope people have passion and zest that fuels their energy. They surround themselves with positive people who have a proactive attitude.”
Barack Obama wrote about hope on a national level in his book, “The Audacity of Hope.” He said he experienced the common decency of Americans on the campaign trail and recognized that fundamental to the American experience is a “common set of values that binds us together despite our differences; a running thread of hope that makes our improbable experiment in democracy work.” He recognized the interweaving of hope and action in our personal lives and as a nation. He wrote, “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
When I have felt discouraged and unmotivated, I have recognized the simple truth of this advice and feel better when I’m wise enough to follow it. I may not have the oomph to start a big project, but I can organize the sock drawer, vacuum the living room, take a meal to a friend, or help them vacuum their living room.
We often say that young people are the hope of the future, but there has been a significant increase in suicides when they have lost hope. It’s not an easy world to be living in right now with the political polarization, threats to the environment, and multiple challenges of daily living. But was it ever easy? Certainly, some time periods have been easier than others, but throughout history humans have lived through wars, plagues, damaging storms, unemployment, discrimination, and domination by those in power. What keeps us going? A complex feeling called hope. We hold out hope that we will find the next meal, survive the illness, welcome loved ones back from the war, and find more happiness around the corner. There doesn’t need to be a blaze of hope; often just a spark is enough.
It has been said that human beings are hard-wired for optimism, and I think that must be true. It is what enables our survival, for most of us would not be able to live without some vision of hope for the future.
Nelson Mandela, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his opposition to the ruling forces of apartheid in South Africa, succeeded in using non-violent means to create change, and after 27 years in prison was released. Mandela and President F.W. de Klerk led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid, which resulted in the 1994 multiracial general election. Mandela led the African National Congress to victory and served as president until 1999.
He said, “I am fundamentally an optimist. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” (“Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela.”)
Brene´ Brown agrees in “Atlas of the Heart”, that “hope is a function of struggle. We develop hope not during the easy or comfortable times but through adversity and discomfort. But change must actually be possible.” She says that hopefulness is learned, usually from parents, but also from therapists and coaches. Children must be given the opportunity to struggle for achievable goals so they learn how to believe in their own abilities and develop resilience. She cites researcher C.R. Snyder’s trilogy of setting realistic goals, developing alternative pathways to achieving those goals, and agency, which means believing in ourselves.
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