When it comes to matters of the mind (e.g., reading, writing, arithmetic, etc.), we take almost nothing for granted where our children and young adults are concerned. We don’t assume, for example, that a child inherently knows how to solve even the most basic of mathematical equations (e.g., 1+1, 2+2, etc.), let alone that they intuitively grasp the Pythagorean Theorem (a2 + b2 = c2 – where c represents the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle and a and b represent the lengths of the other two sides) or the formula for calculating the volume of a cylinder (V=πr2h). On the contrary, recognizing the complexity of these concepts, we patiently begin with what numbers look like, what their function is and how they interact with one another. We slowly build one concept on another, making sure that each is grasped before moving on to the next. And for good reason: We understand that it’s critical that everyone have at least a working knowledge of math to be able to do many of the tasks that are an integral part of everyday life. Similarly, because we rightly appreciate the importance of being able to read and write, we go to great lengths to teach children the letters to the alphabet – one at a time – before combining them into the simplest of words and then using those to formulate basic sentences and paragraphs. We certainly don’t expect them to pick up these skills on their own, nor do we (or should we) assume that they “just know” how to convey complex thoughts in written or spoken word.
However, it seems to me we tend to take a much different, more “hands-off” approach when it comes to matters of the heart (e.g., love, courage, friendship, trust, perseverance, interpersonal conflict resolution, hope, etc.). Simply put, rather than introduce our children to the basics of these admittedly “less concrete,” but no less critical concepts at an early age and then continuing to build on and nurture those seeds by, among other things, studying the roles they have played in real life and fictional situations and in the lives of real people, we tend to assume that our children are either born with or will “magically” and experientially develop an understanding of such things as they get older and more mature – or both. The net result? Let’s be frank. I’m pretty much willing to bet everything I own (which admittedly is not much at the moment, but you get the point!) that if I were to randomly select 100 young people between the ages of 12 and 18 off the street and ask them the following series of questions: “What is hope?” “What does hope ‘look like’ to you?” “Why is hope important?” “Whose story of hope inspires you the most?” “When was the last time you thought about hope?” at least 99 out of the 100 would look at me like I was from a different planet! In fact, truth be told, if you had asked me many of those same questions 10 years ago, I likely would have had the same response. I am, after all, a product of that same laissez-faire approach to “heart stuff.”
And yet, I’m here to tell you that if, God forbid, one of those 100 young people found themselves in the grip of an eating disorder, addiction or similar form adversity, HOPE (or the absence of it) could quite literally mean the difference between life and death. I know, because I’ve stared into the vacant, tear-stained eyes and listened to the lifeless words of the hopeless. At times, they were the eyes and words of my own daughter. Indeed, if I’m to be completely honest, I’ve seen that same blank stare of hopelessness in my own morning-mirrored reflection more than a time or two. But I’ve also seen the power of HOPE. I’ve watched it start as a barely smoldering ember and grow into a raging fire that has a power unlike almost any other to first afford those struggling to overcome adversity (and their loved ones) with the strength they need to endure and, properly nurtured, ultimately to dispel the darkness that otherwise would suffocate them. As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that we can no longer take things like HOPE for granted (i.e., we can’t assume that a 20 yr. old, let alone a 14 yr. old, knows what it is). We have to introduce it to them (and their parents) as a concept. We have to educate them about it and we have to encourage them to continue to search for and embrace it in their lives. With that in mind, I thought I’s spend the next several days offering some of my own (and others’) thoughts on the subject – to at least start the process.