When Hope Becomes a Strategy
Category : 2020
An over-used axiom and the title of a popular book says, “Hope is not a strategy.” Under normal circumstances, that may be true. In a time of global crisis, hope may be all you have.
How well do you remember what we were talking about in January? A scan of USA Today tells us the Dow was up, the Dow was down, Puerto Rico had an earthquake, and Ricky Gervais did whatever Ricky does at the Golden Globes. That was all in the first week of the year.
When the majority of people in the country are forced to refocus attention on the first two rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy (physiological and safety needs), what caught our attention at the start of the year is quickly eclipsed by matters of, literally, life and death. We’re tired of frightening headlines, quarantines, self-isolation, social distancing, avoiding people who obviously cannot estimate what six feet looks like, and dodging people in stores who believe a mask, gloves, and a grocery cart make them invincible. Millions of people who thought zoom meant to move fast have discovered a virtual lifeline on the meeting platform. Dining rooms all over the country have become make-shift offices or classrooms. On the up-side, families have had more conversations over cooked-at-home meals in the last three weeks than they normally have in months.
While we are happy to see toilet paper and a bag of flour reappearing on grocery shelves, we’re ready for a disease we knew little about four months ago to stop sucking life, energy, and hope out of the economy and our lives. After weeks of small wins and major losses, difficult circumstances, and repeated disappointments, it is tempting to pack hope in a box in the attic of your mind and think that the worst that could happen might be the best that will happen. Doom and Gloom become your jogging buddies as you sadly realize that the pound of chocolate you stress-ate mysteriously turned into five pounds of something when you stepped on the scale.
In 1936, Václav Havel was born into one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Prague. His grandfather was a leader in the arts, and his uncle’s work laid the foundation for the Czech film industry. Following the 1948 communist coup, Havel’s family lost most of its wealth. A gifted author and playwright, Havel was a banned writer after his condemnation of the Warsaw Pact invasion. In 1977, he was charged with trying to subvert the state, and in 1979, sentenced to four years in jail. Ten years later, he was again incarcerated, this time for standing in the street. During long nights in prison, Havel could not have imagined that he would one day emerge as the central figure of the Velvet Revolution and become the first president of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
Repeatedly slammed by discouragement, defeat, and the brusque unfairness of life, Havel continued to pursue his dream of a better future for himself and his nation. He learned to see beyond his current circumstances, refusing to allow the realities of the present to dim his convictions about the future. While speaking at the Hiroshima Memorial in 1995, Havel shared a message that articulated the beliefs that kept him pressing forward after hitting wall after wall of opposition.
“Many times in my life and not just when I was in prison, I found myself in a situation in which everything seemed to conspire against me, when nothing I wished for or worked for seemed likely to succeed … Whenever I found myself immersed in such melancholy thoughts I would ask myself a very simple question over and over again, ‘Why don’t you just give up on everything?’ … Each time, I would eventually realize that hope, in the deepest sense of the word, does not come from the outside, that hope is not something to be found in external indications simply when a course of action may turn out well, nor is it something I have no reason to feel when it is obvious that nothing will turn out well … hope is a state of mind, and we either have it, or we don’t, quite independently of the state of affairs immediately around us … Indeed, only the infinite and the eternal, recognized or surmised, can explain the no less mysterious phenomenon of hope … I do not know of a single case in which there is a genuine acceptance of some bitter personal fate … which can be explained by anything other than humankind’s sense of something that transcends earthly gratification.”
While we haven’t been given the option to choose many recent events and circumstances, we have not lost the opportunity and ability to choose our responses. Positive thinking doesn’t ignore reality in a quest for a sunny view of life. Mature, healthy thinking looks reality in the face and chooses to embrace hope, while taking practical steps to find a way through the immediate crisis.
Difficulties in life are not dispersed through a merit system. Unexpected events often bring unwanted adjustments. As a leader, one of the valuable roles you play in the lives of the people you lead-even when you work from home is demonstrating genuine hope – a hope you choose, that tomorrow will be better than today. Take advantage of every opportunity to provide a realistic and hope-filled assessment of the present and the future.