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  • Writer's pictureAlan Sieler

Is there hope for hope? Part II

By Alan Sieler

Briefly revisiting passive and active hope

From Part I of this article you may recall the important distinction between passive and active hope. To help refresh this distinction, here is a lovely quote from Jane Goodall, the renowned primatologist and anthropologist who closely studied chimpanzee behaviour in Tanzania.

“Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I’m not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement.” *

You may also recall from the previous article the perspective of hope articulated by David Newheiser in his book Hope in a Secular Age, which is that hope is a “a discipline of will and resilience to persist in the face of uncertainty and the possibility that things will not eventuate as we desire”. (Italics added.)

In this article we will:

· look a little further at Newheiser’s perspective on hope, this time how he positions hope in relation to other moods;

· where hope can be positioned in Ontological Coaching’s Some Basic Moods of Life framework; and

· the notion of radical hope.

Hope in relation to other moods

Interestingly, Newheiser positions hope between the moods of despair and complacency. Despair is the opposite of hope and is a version of the mood of Resignation, in which any form of the possibility of a different future is denied.** Despair is giving up and provides no room for envisaging the possibility of a better future.

Complacency and arrogance

Complacency and arrogance can be referred to as “sneaky” versions of Resignation, each providing sometimes subtle sophisticated explanations why envisaging and being committed to creating a different future is not necessary or possible.

Complacency is committed to the status quo, not rocking the boat and maintaining a “steady as she goes perspective”. In the Australian vernacular, “Don’t worry, she’ll be right mate”. This can be a casual and lazy perspective that turns away from engaging in rigorous thinking about what could be possible.

Arrogance is a stance of “I already know and nothing you say will match my intelligent perspective.” If complacency and arrogance are combined they snuff out hope, excluding the possibility of envisaging a different future.

As part of Resignation, complacency and arrogance can become a collective mood that might be present within an organisation or even a nation. Without realising it, those of us living in advanced economies can fall into what renowned US reporter Ed Murrow once said referring to his perception of the USA as a nation in the late 1950’s: “We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent.” You are invited to wonder if this assessment has some relevance to the country that you live in.

Hope and the mood of Ambition

Without active hope we position ourselves to play no role in how the future can unfold. While there will always be events and circumstances we have no control over, from a mood space that has hope as a central component we can have a say in is how we will deal with the unexpected setbacks and contribute to forging a better future.

In the mood of Anxiety, which also precludes hope and may accompany Resignation, we can easily fall into the habit of imagining worst case scenarios, with the possibility of a better future being nowhere on our existential horizon. However, when hope is present it provides us with the ability to imagine best case scenarios - how things would look, sound and feel, even taste and smell, if the improvements we desire came to fruition. This is more than fanciful dreaming – it is about disciplined thinking, especially in conjunction with others, about what a better world would be like and the benefits that can flow from this for many others.

As Newheiser has emphasised, imagination plays a crucial role in hope. The power of imagination has been beautifully articulated by none other than the ground-breaking physicist Albert Einstein.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”

Perhaps we can now say with some conviction that, “Active hope is not the raw material of losers but is the raw material of creativity and innovation and the emotional foundation for creating a better world.”

In a mood of Ambition, we embrace possibility and have a deep commitment to be pro-active in bringing about a future that most likely will not eventuate without our efforts. For hope to be effective it is essential that our efforts are infused with determination and persistence. These two ingredients of Ambition are indispensable for the development to the discipline of will and resilience that Newheiser refers to.

Radical hope

Before closing, one more aspect of hope is worth highlighting, and that is the notion of radical hope. This form of hope has been made prominent in Jonathan Lear’s book Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, in which he focuses on the impending collapse of the Crow Indian nation in North America with the advance of the destructive and acquisitive forces of the white man. Lear expresses radical hope as: “… a peculiar kind of imaginative excellence for new possible ways of going on [that] are called for.” Radical hope calls for going beyond conventional thinking and, in a mood space of Wonder and deep respect, continually engaging in conversations for possibility and genuinely listening to the perspectives of others.

When Wonder is combined with deep Ambition, which includes not only persistence and determination, but also courage, a potent emotional brew can be developed that enables a different orientation to the future. This is an emotional brew that facilitates the imaginative excellence that can lead to the creation of novel and effective ways to meet the individual and collective existential challenges that that confront us in our time in history.

An invitation to personal reflection and action

· Where in your life, and awareness of the world at large, do you observe despair?

· Where in your life, and awareness of the world at large, do you observe complacency?

· Where in your life, and awareness of the world at large, do you observe arrogance?

· Where in your life, and awareness of the world at large, do you observe a mood of deep Ambition? How could you cultivate more of this mood in your life?

· Where in your life, and awareness of the world at large, do you observe a mood of radical hope? How could you cultivate more of this mood in your life?

* In indebted to my South African colleague Karen Nebe for alerting me to this quotation.

** Resignation is part of Ontological Coaching’s framework of Some Basic Moods of Life.

Alan Sieler is the Director of the Ontological Coaching Institute. He has designed and leads the ICF accredited Ontological Coaching and Leadership Program and is the author of the four volumes of Coaching to the Human Soul: Ontological Coaching and Deep Change. He can be contacted at

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