Hope Can Open Our Minds & Change Our Lives

Early in our careers as journalists, we discovered that we both loved writing about family business, and each wanted to write a book on the subject. We agreed to join forces to make the project more realistic. 

We knew each other but not well, so we needed a big dose of hope to believe that we’d get along writing together, sometimes in close quarters. We also hoped our sample chapter and outline would appeal to a literary agent and eventually to a publisher who would give us a go-ahead and generous advance. 


All our hopes became reality when the first book we wrote together, Corporate Bloodlines: The Future of the Family Firm, was released in 1989. We crisscrossed the country interviewing multigenerational family businesses at their workplaces and homes. In the process, our hope combined with hours of research and hard work we put in changed the trajectory of both our careers. We loved being a twosome and hoped to publish more books and articles together on a variety of topics. Through the years, we have done so. Our hope that we would get along morphed into the surprise of a close friendship away from out computers. 

What exactly is hope? A bridge from the present to the future, and a belief that circumstances and outcomes will be positive. Under the banner of hope, which is not a wish but a belief even when there is no evidence to support it, there are many different kinds and levels.

To live without hope is to barely live at all, says Julie E. Neraas, author of “Apprenticed to Hope: A Sourcebook for Difficult Times.  Neraas, an ordained minister, spiritual director and associate professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., writes about her personal relationship with hope as she lives with a chronic illness. She addresses what is hope, where it can guide you, where we can look for sources of hope in turbulent times and how it can sustain you. She also delves into the relationship of hope to faith, imagination and community, and distinguishes between the various levels of hope drawing from what she has learned from circumstances where hope is tested or even lost. 

“Hope must deliver; it eventually must give birth to something otherwise it sours dissolving into discouragement, anger, resentment, even depression,” Neraas writes. Poor people, for example, don’t want hope, they want jobs and housing. This begs the question: Can we lose hope and find it again? Yes, she says. For her, hope is a lifeline and her relationship with it has been challenged at times. But she acknowledges when this happens, “…hope rises to the top like cream and at other times it is silently beneath the surface doing its work in the background.”  

Though we cannot control our destiny, we still can have hope, writes Jerome Groopman, M.D., in his iconic book, The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness.

Groopman, who frequently writes for The New Yorker magazine, describes hope as “the very heart of healing” and is convinced that the “biology of hope” forms a connection between mind and body that can aid in recovery. 

Dr. Groopman has had patients with hope, and incorrectly believed they had no reason for such optimism. He says that they held on to hope when he could not, and some even survived. He acknowledges that “When there is no hope for the body, there is always hope for the soul,” but is quick to draw the line between "false hope," which fails to acknowledge the seriousness of a disease and to cooperate fully in its treatment, and "true hope," which understands that mind and medicine may be powerful enough to delay or derail what appears to be a certain death sentence. 

Some might question whether what he’s talking about represents hope or simply optimism, and if there’s any difference? Dr. Groopman clarifies the difference: “Hope doesn’t rise from being told to think positively, or from hearing an overly rosy forecast. Hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in unalloyed reality. Hope can form a path to a better future but acknowledges the pitfalls along the way.” 

Neraas weighs in more and considers optimism an outlook or attitude. “Who would want to pour rain on the optimist? But it’s not hope. For hope to really be hope, our eyes must be wide open to the reality of the situation at hand,” she says. Hope provides a pathway forward, offering a sense that things will work out or we will find the resources we need to deal with a problem. “If the problem doesn’t go away, such as a long illness, hope helps us find a way to live in relation to that challenge,” Neraas says. 

And the true importance of hope is that it can be our greatest asset in times of trouble and uncertainly in today’s turbulent world, as Neraas suggests. “A small dose, like adding salt to a recipe, is just what’s needed,” she says.        

Many Faces of Hope
Here are some of different types of hope.   

  1. Inborn Hope.We all have it; it’s innate.  
  2. Casual Hope. This is hope that often comes with a quick result with such phrases as: 
  • “I hope I do well in science class today. “
  • “I hope I don’t get stuck in this snowstorm.”
  • “I hope the doctor doesn’t find anything wrong with me during my check up.”
  • “I hope my house sells quickly.”
  • “I hope that new dress I ordered online, arrivesat my doorstep today so I can wear it tonight.” 
  • “I hope that you have a very happy birthday.” 
  1. Authentic hope.This is hope that’s honest and often with action, says Neraas. We hope and then make something happen like the hard work we put into getting our first book published. We hoped it would, but we did everything in our power to make it happen. We might know an outcome but hope for something better in the interim. Barbara hopes her nearly 100-year-old mother lives several more years and has the best quality of life possible. Barbara hopes also to spend as much time with her as she can. 
  2. Radical hope. This is hope in difficult times that Dr. Groopman alludes to. It’s hope in the face of the facts, of overriding evidence to the contrary, of having not the slightest clue how it might be realized, but choosing hope nonetheless, says Neraas.When Barbara’s marriage was unraveling, she had hope that she could repair it. It was something she needed to believe in order to try to keep her family intact, yet it also helped her extricate herself from the relationship and see her way clear to her singlehood and new life. Margaret also called upon hope to regain her strength and stability to get through the loss of her husband eight years ago and her sad, difficult journey to a new optimistic single life. 
  3. Chosen Hope.“I cannot have children, so I hope to adopt.” Here hope helps us shift our thinking to something positive and possible. Neraas gives this example. “The content of hope can change, from the hope for a long life to a gracious end.” 
  4. Borrowed Hope.This is hope when another person sees hope that you cannot fathom. It’s okay to borrow their hope, says Neraas. “I love your voice and hope you’ll audition for the next community musical.”
  5. Bargainer’s Hope. How often have we said to ourselves: Maybe, if I do this and that, what I want will happen. We face a crisis and think, if I go to church every Sunday and pray hard, then maybe my daughter will finally get well. If I change my diet and exercise at the gym, perhaps, I’ll lose weight, strengthen my bones and live longer. When there is even the slightest indication of progress, hope can flourish and sometimes get us through a challenge. 
  6. Unrealistic Hope.This is hoping for something that could happen with little chance it will, Neraas points out. If I star in every high school musical production, I will go on to become the next big Broadway star. We hope but it’s usually a long shot.
  7. False Hope. This is a close cousin to unrealistic hope. It’s hope that’s overconfident, says Neraas. These hopes can be absurd like thinking you’re going to win the lottery, or someone is going to knock on your door and offer you $1 million.  
  8. Fragile hope. This is hope that opens a small movement forward. Perhaps you have an aching shoulder. You hope it can be corrected with physical therapy and by doing exercises at home rather than having surgery. 
  9. Mature or Chosen hope.This is enduring hope based on believing that things are worthwhile regardless of how they turn out. “I hope that I have the strength to take care of my spouse who is dying,” is a comment a caregiver might make. Margaret, who volunteers to work with underserved kids of various ages, hopes that she can make a difference in their lives. Chosen hope is a life stance, says Neraas.  
  10. Provisional hope. This hope gets you to the next goal. It works this way. We think, if this happens then this might lead to the next step. Neraas uses the analogy of a spare tire which is not a long-term solution but gets us to the gas station to get a permanent one. It’s a way of coping with anxiety. 
  11. Humanistic hope. This is hope where we rely on our own human resources rather than religious faith to get us through tough times, explains Neraas. “We rely on ourselves, our ingenuity and resourcefulness, our resilience and capacity for good.” Someone donates an organ to a stranger. A homeless person sees someone drop their wallet on the street and returns it to the owner. Neraas ticks off a long list of those who have shown generosity and nobility of character who make you proud to be a human being such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. These are people who could be resentful and angry but have chosen forgiveness and, in some cases, changed the world in the process. 

In the end, does it matter what type of hope we call upon to get us through different challenges? Of course not, but knowing the various levels may give us a bit of protective armor that we can keep in perspective of its likelihood. And we certainly hope that reading and thinking about the topic will be useful over time.

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