How the Science of Hope Can Save A City

How the Science of Hope Can Save A City

Demands from citizens for changes in government.

Demonstrations in the streets.

Destructive behaviors.


For years we have seen this cycle of events play out before our eyes. At best, government leaders hear the pleas and make corrections in policies and procedures before the frustration spills into the streets.

At worst, protests lead to violence and people get hurt, fingers get pointed, and denials get loud.

Sometimes the violence leads to officer-involved shootings which can contribute to the narrative of systemic racism and social injustice which, in turn, can accelerate the decline in trust among all parties.

Yes, our society has a myriad of social issues that need strong leadership, selflessness, and solidarity.

Most importantly, though, our society needs hope.

Specifically, we need an understanding of the science and power of hope and its framework for empowering people, communities, and societies.

In my current hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, the daily news cycle regularly highlights the challenges and failings of local leadership as well as the violence between local residents.

What I don’t often hear is a vision or goals for how things can improve or articulation of pathways for achieving any goals. Instead, there seems to be this wish that problems would just take care of themselves or that someone would swoop in like Superman and heroically save the city.

If there is a goal, it's to get through the next news cycle without any lasting damage.

Recently, the Hope Science Institute of Mississippi was formed to promote throughout Mississippi the science and power of hope based on the work of Dr. Chan Hellman of Oklahoma University - Tulsa. Dr. Hellman’s work builds upon the work of a pioneer in Hope Theory: Dr. Rick Snyder.

Scientific research by both Dr. Hellman and Dr. Snyder found that hope requires three elements: goals, pathways, and willpower. 

High-hope individuals are able to move fluidly between all three elements as they see a better future, set goals, determine pathways, overcome barriers, and are motivated to accomplish their goals.

Low-hope individuals struggle to imagine anything different, they ruminate over the past, their goals are unrealistic, they can’t make any progress because of roadblocks, and they descend into despair and eventually apathy.

Do these descriptions resonate? Can you see how our society can descend into a downward spiral where frustrations, factions, and failings become the norm? Is that the world you want for your children?

Dr. Snyder wrote in 2002 that the science and power of hope can actually contribute to “reducing risks and inoculating segments of society against despair.”[1]

This inoculation (something we should all understand given the COVID pandemic) requires leaders to articulate a vision, pass laws, and implement open and fair policies that allow citizens to pursue their own positive goal-directed activities.

Snyder says that when hope takes hold then “citizens should be less likely to become frustrated and act aggressively against each other.”[2]

Imagine a future where all citizens, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or age, are able to equally pursue their dreams without violence or cruelty from others.

Imagine a future where people have trust in governmental and societal organizations because those agencies have demonstrated fidelity, bravery, and integrity and earned the people’s trust.

Imagine a future where leaders lead with humility, vulnerability, conviction, and respect for all people.

Imagine a future where being trauma informed is embraced by everyone and people are willing to build relationships because they were interested in learning about a person’s past instead of seeing people’s behaviors and lives as “problems that need to be fixed.”

Imagine a future where tomorrow can be better than today and each of us has the power to make it happen.

Dr. Hellman says that hope is a way of thinking, not an emotion, and because hope is a way of thinking, it can be taught. And because hope can be taught, it can be learned.[3] Hope is contagious; no vaccination needed!

What do need, though, is to learn how the power of hope can change and ultimately save a city.

We need leaders who are willing to set a vision that can be shared and embraced by citizens; who are willing to transparently share pathways for reaching those goals; who are willing to ask for help in overcoming barriers during the goal pursuit; and who are willing to motivate people during all phases of the pursuit.

“There is no change without the dream, as there is no dream without a hope.” – Paulo Freire[4]

We need change. We need dreams. We need hope. We need good leadership. We need each other.


[1] C. R. Snyder, “Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind,” Psychological Inquiry, Vol 13, No 4 (2002), pp 249-275,

[2]Ibid, p 261.

[3]Crystal I. Bryce, Ashley M. J. Fraser, Richard A. Fabes, Brittany L. Alexander, “The role of hope in college retention,” Learning and Individual Differences, Volume 89, (2021), 102033,

[4] Chan M. Hellman and Casey Gwinn, “Camp HOPE as an Intervention for Children Exposed to Domestic Violence: A Program Evaluation of Hope and Strength of Character,” Child Adolescent and Social Work Journal, Vol 24 (2017), pp 269-276, quoting Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York, NY: Bloomsbury, p 91.