Why I Promote the Science of Hope over Resilience

Why I Promote the Science of Hope over Resilience

When I first began studying childhood trauma, particularly its connection with leadership, I would search numerous news articles for certain keywords. One of those words was "resilience."

At the time, between 2018 and 2019, almost every article on resilience dealt with climate change. In other words, how the earth was resilient and was capable of recovering from damage if humans changed their ways - today.

Everyone spoke about "bouncing back" through the process of being mindful or compassionate; taking up journaling or a hobby; or thinking positively or setting goals.

I will readily admit I'm no expert on resilience. Perhaps some or all of these suggestions are helpful in some manner. However, I could never seem to get my head wrapped around these ideas completely because how people defined resiliency seemed to be all over the map.

So I did what I regularly do: I started reading scientific articles on the subject.

The first thing I learned was that "resilience has been described as a trait, a process, an outcome, or an all-encompassing combination of all three."

In fact, resilience has been described by some as "an empty word that can be filled with almost any meaning" (Munoz, R. T., Hanks, H., & Hellman, C. M., "Hope and resilience as distinct contributors to psychological flourishing among childhood trauma survivors," Traumatology, 26(2), 177–184, 2020.)

Well, that's not good. How do you measure someone's resilience? Can you really teach resilience if we can't agree on what it really is? Do we teach a variety of techniques and just pray that someone becomes resilient? 

The second thing I learned was that instead of trying to measure the amorphous attributes of resilience we should instead use science to measure hope.

I wrote about my introduction to hope back in October 2020. You can read my full article here.

I said then what I believe even more strongly now:  "Hope is the belief that your future can be brighter and better than your past and that you actually have a role to play in making it better" (as defined by Dr. Hellman).

That's really what we are seeking when we tell someone to be resilient; we want them to realize that things will be better in the future if they only follow these techniques. The trouble is resilience doesn't really provide a framework for how to develop measurable techniques.

Hope, on the other hand, does provide a framework.

Hope is a "cognitive-based motivational theory in which [people] learn to create strategies as a means to attain their desired goals. Hope theory has two fundamental cognitive processes termed "pathways' and "agency." (Hellman, C.M., Gwinn, C., "Camp HOPE as an Intervention for Children Exposed to Domestic Violence: A Program Evaluation of Hope, and Strength of Character," Child Adolesc Soc Work J 34, 269–276 (2017)).

Think of pathways as "willpower" and agency as "way power." If it helps: "where there's a will there's a way."

Dr. Chan Hellman, the leading researcher in the science of hope, visited the Mississippi Commission on Children's Justice (MCCJ) on January 26-27, 2021. He presented for two days and trained over 150 people on how to be Hope Navigators.

I'd like to leave you with these six traits of hope which he shared with us. I'm sure I'll have more to say on hope during 2021. As I study the topic the more convinced I am that it is part of the answer I've been seeking; the answer to how to teach people to be trauma-informed employees, leaders, and communities.

Dr. Hellman's six principles on Hope:

  1. Hope is a way of thinking, not an emotion.
  2. Imagination is the instrument of Hope.
  3. Hope is not wishful thinking.
  4. Hope begets Hope.
  5. Hope is a social gift.
  6. Hope can be taught.

If you would like to learn more directly from Dr. Hellman's work, please visit his website.

Next time someone tells you they hope things get better, tell them, "I know they will and I have the power to make them better."