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Why hope still matters

Someone asked me at a recent book talk why I chose to write about hope and children in poverty. They asked whether it was frivolous to write about such a topic at a time when children are experiencing the challenges associated with poverty and economic disadvantage at high rates. As I thought about that question, I began to reflect on the stories of people I know and families I’ve worked with who, despite the challenges they experienced, were managing their lives successfully. I also reflected on popular figures who shared stories in the media about the ways in which they overcame early adversity in their lives.

As I reflected on these stories, it occurred to me that a common theme among these individuals was hope. I began to see the various ways in which hope is a highly influential and motivating force in their lives. This kind of hope is not passive—it is not merely wishing for a better life, but it is active. It involves thinking, planning, and acting on those thoughts and plans to achieve desired outcomes. It is the driving force that keeps us moving despite the adversity and allows us to adapt and to be resilient in the midst of these circumstances. In reflecting on these themes, I decided that I wanted to tell these stories and to link the stories with theoretical frameworks that help illuminate why I believe hope is so important. Most of the theories and ideas I discuss are well known to those of us who study children and families. However, it occurred to me that practitioners and policymakers may not be so familiar with these ideas and may find them useful in planning their work with children and families. My goal is to foster understandings of hope and resilience in practical terms so that together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers alike can help more children and families manage their circumstances and chart pathways toward well-being.

I Hope You Dance. Photo by Lauren Hammond. (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.
I Hope You Dance. Photo by Lauren Hammond. CC BY 2.0 via sleepyjeanie Flickr.

So when I think about a response to the question “Why focus on hope?” — I respond “Why not?” Why not focus on strengths rather than deficits? Why not focus our interventions, legislative activities, and funding priorities on processes that will motivate individuals to strive for the best outcomes for themselves and their children? In so doing, we can formulate an action agenda on behalf of children and families that first assumes they can and will succeed in rising above their circumstances.

As I learned from the families I interviewed, success means different things to different families. For some, success is being able to keep their family together—have dinner together, talk with each other, and support each other. For other families, success means being able to be a good parent– to go to bed at night realizing that you’ve provided for your child emotionally, spiritually as well as materially, and that by doing so, your child might have an even better opportunity than you did to achieve success. These individuals are truly courageous. They have overcome many obstacles and are striving to continue along that path. There are countless other courageous individuals who may never have the opportunity to tell their stories or to have their experiences validated with concepts and theories I discuss from the psychological literature. I hope this volume will represent their lives too. I challenge those of us who work with children and families and who advocate for or legislate on their behalf, to have the courage to “ hope” and to allow that hope to be a motivating and unrelenting force in our efforts to foster resilience and well-being in these families.

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