The Flower of hope

When times get hard, staying hopeful can be our biggest challenge, says Mark Brown

There’s no denying that these are challenging times for many of us. No matter how we might wish to live in isolation from outside events, the times we live in mean that for most of us the outside world has a fairly established habit of crashing in unannounced.

So how do we hold onto hope in the face of adversity? It can be easy to see hope as a kind of wishy-washy, touchy-feely idea, something that is somehow less important than the practical, nuts and bolts work of making the world a better place for ourselves and others. It isn’t. Hope that things can be better is the first step to making things better. Without hope, we take no actions. Without hope we believe that the ways things are now is the way that they will always be, or even more challengingly, without hope we believe the world that comes next will be worse than the world we see now.

Some people describe hope as a flame, either a huge torch or a tiny candle, something we cherish and protect from cold winds. I describe it a flower, a little, tiny beautiful flower. Sometimes it’s growing amongst rubble and decay, sometime planted in a well tended garden, sometimes sprouting unexpected in the most surprising of places.

Having hope in hard times

When we are bombarded by bad news we can often begin to believe the world is bad. Campaigners have given themselves the job of getting the world to change by getting people to do something about it. Often, that involves them making the biggest noise about the worst things that happen because, sadly, we often only take action about a particular issue if we think that there is a crisis or a disaster happening. So often in mental health, the messages that we get are filtered through campaigns, all of which have an interest in making things seem dramatic and frightening. Similarly, the media has an interest in getting viewers or readers, so will often completely ignore things like mental health until something awful happens.

The opposite of hope is despair. When we despair we give up hope, we lose sight of any possibility that things will be better and accept that all will always be futile and hopeless. When we see news stories of people taking their lives because changes to benefits or lack of access to services gets to much for them, we have to be careful that we do not see such horrible events as confirmation for why despair is justified.

For hope to stick, it needs to have one foot in the real world. Sometimes, it’s an effort to find things to be hopeful about, especially when our mental health difficulties get in the way. Hope is something that we can generate in ourselves but a more powerful kind of hope is the kind we pass on to others. If we hold onto hope we can carry it and nurture it for other people who can’t, for whatever reason, carry hope for themselves. In turn, others can give us hope when we find ourselves at the ends of our tether.

Together we are stronger than we are as individuals, but we have to be careful that we don’t crush the hopes of others. We have to make sure that we don’t assume that someone who retains hope that things can be better is naïve or doesn’t understand how hard things can be. Trying to find hope in bad situations is not an admission of defeat, it’s the way that we move forwards.

When we have bad or challenging experiences we need to listen and be listened to, but that’s the first step. The most difficult and most brave step is to find ways that we can find hope. Like a tiny flower, we need to protect it, feed it, make sure that it has the light, water and space to blossom.

That’s where we can help each other.

This article appears in the summer 2012 edition of One in Four magazine

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