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"The Lifesaving Virtue of Hopelessness"

Hopelessness as a virtue? Wait, wait, Universalism is "The Larger Hope," and we (wrongly attributed to John Murray) exhort people to "Give them, not Hell, but hope and courage," and we sing about bringing hope, when hope is hard to find.

Hopelessness can be a virtue?

Yes.

In Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud writes:
If you are looking for the formula that can get you motivated and fearless, here it is: you must finally see reality for what it is—in other words, that what is not working is not going to magically begin working. If something isn’t working , you must admit that what you are doing to get it to work is hopeless. This chapter is about the lifesaving virtue of hopelessness. The awareness of hopelessness is what finally brings people to the reality of the pruning moment. It is the moment when they wake up, realize that an ending must occur, and finally feel energized to do it. Nothing mobilizes us like a firm dose of reality. Whether it is finally getting an addict to hit bottom and end a destructive pattern or getting a CEO in front of a bankruptcy judge to force the restructuring that he has been avoiding, only reality gets us to do difficult things.1
I have to admit that when I read this, this summer, it was like a big ole smack upside the head. Yes! First step in making a big change, whether it's personal or organizational, is losing hope. Losing hope can be exactly what we need!

And yet, how often are we the well-meaning friend who does, indeed, bring hope when hope is hard to find? Because hopelessness doesn't feel good. At best, it's uncomfortable. More likely, it's downright painful. And so here we come, with a rose in the wintertime and a beautiful basket of hope, all tied up with a bow. We don't stop to consider that maybe this isn't the season for roses, and hmm, there might be some denial mixed in with all that hope.

Wow, you are such a downer, Rev. Jo!

But what if we actually see hopelessness for what it is -- a necessary step, a tool, a motivator -- for getting us where we need to go?

In that same book, Cloud tells about Julie Shimer, CEO of Welch Allyn, a medical device company. That company is doing very well indeed, because she was able to lose hope that the way they operated would continue to work. To quote Cloud, "she lost hope in the old way, even when it was succeeding."2

She had learned that lesson through watching the mistake of her previous employer, Motorola. In the mid-nineties, they were the market leader in analog phones. AT&T came to them and asked them to make a digital phone. Nah, they said. Not good quality, and besides, they were the leader. Why change? So AT&T went to Nokia. And the world changed. And Motorola was no longer the leader. Because they hadn't lost their hope that things would continue just as they had been.

Hopelessness may just be an opportunity. Perhaps we should consider carefully before we run from it ... or block it from others.





1 Cloud, Henry (2011-01-18). Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward (p. 74). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 
2 Ibid., 78.

Comments

  1. I like the idea behind this, but I am also aware that there are different kinds of hope. There is the realistic view, and then there is the opposite of despair. I think this advocating not being a pie-in-the-sky optimist, which I am totally down with. But despair means losing hope that something can even change to make it better, and that makes most people curl up into a ball.

    So I will still take hope, but a real, grounded one. And yes, roses are good, too!

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