In the face of challenge, there is always hope
Samuel Smiles, the famous Scottish author and politician of the 19th century, put it beautifully when he said: ‘Hope is the companion of power and the mother of success, for who so hopes strongly has within them the gift of miracles.’
In many instances, we simply do not give hope a second thought and dismiss it due to the daunting nature of the challenges we are facing at the time.
The body blows dealt by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, and the post-Covid economic and sociopolitical turbulence globally, need little introduction. South Africa’s exquisite inconvenience of having to ride a helter-skelter roller coaster down the disappointment curve of government ineptitude and, often, non-delivery in the darkness of load shedding, leaves us – the people – desperately seeking hope.
The song Holding out for a hero, first sung by Bonnie Tyler and then Ella Mae Bowen in the two versions of the movie Footloose, plays out in my mind as I write. My journey through life has had its fair share of seemingly insurmountable challenges and confrontations – some in which I had varying degrees of control and influence to find solutions and be victorious, and others where I had none. Yet, without exception, hope arose within me, and I prevailed and emerged with deeper levels of insight, humility, resilience and gratitude. South Africans being the “can-do” people we have so often proven to be, seeing that hope is not forthcoming from our so-called elected leaders, let us rise to the occasion and cobble this together for ourselves.
Each of us can play a part, and the more significant our portfolios and positions of influence, the greater our calling. But what is this thing called hope?
Hope is both a fundamental human emotion and powerful cognitive system that can be developed and leveraged to transform lives, societies and economies. It acts as a driving force, fuelling our aspirations and propels us towards a brighter future, serving as the foundation for social well-being and sustainable economic growth and success.
By fuelling optimism, resilience and determination, hope empowers individuals and communities to overcome challenges, drive innovation and create prosperity.
Hope ignites inspiration and motivation among us, which is crucial for the sustained progress of our society – it serves as a catalyst for change.
With hope, we believe in the possibility of a better future which inspires us to dream, set goals and work towards achieving them. Young entrepreneurs are inspired to start innovative businesses, scientists to find solutions to the challenges of the day and activists to fight and strive for social justice.
Hope enables us to face adversity with resilience and determination, and in times of crisis, it acts like a guiding light, giving us the strength and optimism to persevere. Hope helps us to see beyond our current circumstances and envision a brave new world for ourselves and each other.
Resilience, interwoven with hope, empowers societies to positively emerge from economic recessions, natural disasters or social conflicts. Hope helps us to stimulate a resilient mindset, helping us to recover and rebuild.
With hope we fuel innovation and creativity, two essential drivers of economic growth and success. When we believe in the possibility of a better future, we are more likely to think outside the box, take risks and push the boundaries of what is possible.
When we have hope, we are more likely to work together towards common goals and foster a sense of unity and shared purpose. We can build communities forged by empathy, trust and cooperation, allowing for the development of inclusive policies and programmes that benefit everyone. Hope helps to nurture a sense of belonging and collective responsibility.
Hope has deep roots in the chemistry and neuroscience of the human brain and plays a crucial role in our mental and emotional well-being. It is influenced by the intricate interplay of neurotransmitters and hormones within the brain. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, gets released in response to positive expectations; serotonin (mood regulation) is linked to our feelings of optimism and contentment; endorphins, colloquially called the brain’s “natural painkillers”, are released during hopeful states which help with well-being and resilience.
Neuroscience has identified the brain regions associated with hope: the prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive functions and decision-making, is engaged in generating and sustaining hopeful thoughts. The amygdala is a key player in emotional processing, and it evaluates the emotional significance of incoming information and can modulate our hopeful or fearful responses. The hippocampus, crucial for memory and learning, also helps us recall positive experiences and envision a brighter future.
Understanding the neural circuitry of hope enables us to find ways to better develop it. Here are some practical and highly impactful ways of cultivating and strengthening hope.
Start by setting worthwhile and realistic goals – it will allow you to experience small victories, reinforcing belief in one’s ability to shape a positive future. This leads to compartmentalising larger aspirations into manageable and achievable steps, that then instils a sense of accomplishment and progress, thereby boosting hope.
Positive visualisation with vivid mental imagery of desired outcomes, stimulates our brain’s reward systems and enhances feelings of hope. Visualisation techniques help us to envision success, create a positive emotional state and motivate us to act.
Developing resilience is central in maintaining hope during challenging times. Resilience can be cultivated through practices such as mindfulness, self-compassion, and reframing negative experiences, to help us bounce back from setbacks and remain upbeat; human-to-human contact, and connection with others who share similar goals and aspirations, gives a sense of belonging and encouragement. When this is coupled with practical support, one usually finds challenges more manageable.
Winston Churchill is a fabulous example of a champion of hope. He played a pivotal role in leading Britain through the catastrophic period of World War 2 with his unwavering determination, charismatic leadership and exceptional oratory skills, he galvanised the nation and inspired the British people to persevere during their darkest hours.
Churchill’s unyielding optimism was a defining characteristic of his leadership. Despite facing overwhelming challenges, he consistently exuded confidence and belief in victory. His speeches were filled with messages of hope, emphasising the nation’s strength and resilience. His famous declaration, “We shall never surrender”, encapsulated his unwavering belief in the eventual triumph over adversity and instilled a sense of hope and determination that victory was possible.
Hope is deeply personal and subjective, it varies for us based on our experiences, aspirations and circumstances. Hope may be tied to our specific life goals, such as finding love, achieving career success or attaining financial stability. Or our hope may revolve around broader ideals, such as making a positive impact on society or finding personal fulfilment and happiness.
Hope often serves as a source of comfort and strength during times of uncertainty, loss or adversity. It also encourages us to embrace resilience, adaptability and perseverance, reminding us that setbacks and failures are not permanent obstacles but rather opportunities for growth and learning.
Importantly, hope is most often contagious and self-perpetuating. When we express hope and demonstrate a positive outlook, it has the potential to inspire and influence those around us. The positive energy and optimism associated with hope becomes infectious, spreading from person to person, creating a ripple effect of positivity and motivation. The sharing of stories of triumph over adversity or witnessing others achieve their goals can foster a sense of possibility and encourage others to believe in their own potential.
It can also be self-perpetuating: the act of setting goals, acting and witnessing progress or success, fuels a sense of accomplishment and bolsters hope for future endeavours.
The contagious nature of hope can extend to communities and societies too. When a collective group shares a sense of hope, it can create a collective momentum and determination to overcome challenges and work towards a common vision.
Adrian recently wrote on News24 that he has a deep belief in the potential of our country, and it is clear to him that this is not a time for pessimism, despair and inaction. He argues that, on the contrary, we are in desperate need of optimism, hope and action.
Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers, believes that it is often the simple things they do that bring hope to people. He and his amazing team have helped five billion people in more than 45 countries across the globe over 30 years. They are hope in action.
Each of us has the ability to decide how we show up and what we contribute in thought, word and deed – stemming from our chosen base of intentionality, attitude and positive energy. DM