In the book of Ecclesiastes, we read, “But anyone still alive has hope; even a live dog is better off than a dead lion.” Ecclesiastes 9:4
As a child, I was wary of dogs. I recall a time I visited my uncle’s dairy farm and one on his cattle dogs latched on to my wrist and wouldn’t let go. I have a small scar as a memento.
I have since come to understand and appreciate dogs. They are good company, especially for people living on their own. They can also be trained to assist the visually impaired, to work alongside farmers managing their stock, and to help customs officials uncover illegal drugs.
But a lion is a powerful, majestic animal, deserving of our awe and respect. When observed in the wild, a lion is supreme, unchallenged and assured, the king of the jungle.
Death changes everything. Death is the final act. It provides no opportunity to undo what has been done. The dead are without hope.
It matters not whether you are a dog or a lion. Hope is for the living.
Christian leader Dutch Sheets says, “Without hope life is sterile, unfruitful. Without it dreams won’t be conceived; destinies won’t be realised.”
Hope is not fragile but it can slip from our grasp. Given the uncertainty of life it is vital we hold on to hope. Hope is to be honoured and celebrated. It is ours to nurture and to share. A world without hope is a world descending into chaos.
Our son Adam died on the 26th April 2011. It was Easter Tuesday. I was painting the laundry of our house in Tyabb. My wife was visiting friends in Mornington.
Adam took his life. His hope had been extinguished. The flame had died.
The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that life is unknowable; we can never be certain what awaits us. He says, “People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a snare, people are often caught by sudden tragedy.” Ecclesiastes 9:16
We hadn’t considered the possibility that one of our children might take their life. We weren’t attuned to the warning signs that suggest a personal crisis of this magnitude. We were unprepared, not knowing what to say or where to look for help.
Psychologist Dr Edward Dunne says, “Suicide is like a meteorite. It crashes into a family, leaving each person to circle in his or her orbit of grief.”
Suicide often occurs in private but its devastating impact is felt by many. It is like throwing a pebble into a still pond. The ripple effect can be seen. The death of one person by suicide can affect an entire community; from family to friends, to classmates or co-workers, and beyond.
Hopelessness and self-doubt are often the catalysts for suicidal thoughts. They are corrosive, eating into a person’s resolve.
How do we address hopelessness and self-doubt?
One writer defined hopelessness as ‘a system of negative beliefs and expectancies concerning oneself and one’s future.’ Hopelessness is a sense that nothing will ever change and the future will never amount to anything.
There are two strategies we can use to encourage hope.
1. Telling stories:
Storytelling shapes how we think about life. If we are to live hopeful lives we need to hear stories that inspire courage and determination. We need to know that in times of hardship and loss we can survive, we can make it through.
Some years ago I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography ‘Long Road to Freedom.’ He was 46 when he was handed a life sentence for attempting to overthrow South Africa’s apartheid rule. He spent many long days smashing rocks at the limestone quarry on the notorious Robben Island. He lived on the island for 18 of the 27 years he spent in prison.
Mandela could have become bitter and resentful, disillusioned and despairing. Instead, he nurtured in his heart a vision for South Africa, a nation free of hatred, free of injustice, free of discrimination. A hope of a better future sustained him. His generous spirit allowed him to write these words.
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Narratives of hope empower the faint-hearted to rise up and seize the day.
2. Teaching principles:
C. R. Snyder has focused on the topic of hope in his research. He makes this telling observation. “Hope is not an emotion. It is a way of thinking or a cognitive process.”
Hope can be taught:
Snyder says, “Hope is a thought process made up of a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency.”
• We have the ability to set realistic goals – I know where I want to go.
• We are able to figure out how to achieve these goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternate routes – I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again.
• We believe in ourselves – I can do this.
Hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities.
One of my goals for my retirement years was to write a weekly blog. Despite what some people might think, writing a blog requires physical energy and emotional investment. It doesn’t just happen. Being an orderly person I need structure. This is what it looks like.
• Monday/Tuesday – Decide on a title; conduct initial research.
• Wednesday/Thursday – Write a draft; edit using apps Hemingway and Grammarly; select quotes to highlight.
• Friday/Saturday – Final revision; publish the post.
While the process is straightforward, writing a blog provides meaning and purpose and enriches my life.
Suicide prevention strategies need to emphasise hope building. Hope is something that can be taught at any age. Hope provides the foundation for resilience. Hope guarantees our future.
Rebecca Solnit says,
“To hope is to give yourself to the future and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.”
Sometimes our hope is ambushed by self-doubt. Self-doubt undermines the process of finding our gifts and sharing them with the world. Everyone has a gift, something they are good at. We have an obligation to find our gift and care for it. Our gift not only contributes to our wholeness, it touches the lives of those we love and interact with. Our gift is transformative. It can be a source of challenge, even irritation to some. But that’s how we grow. Welcoming the gift that others bring to our life.
Overcoming self-doubt is about believing we are enough. There may be disappointment, even failure. It takes courage to endure, to believe in tomorrow.
As Mary Ann Radmacher says,
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’