by May Lim
Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre
I really do feel encouraged and hungry to know more every time someone introduces me to Hope. This thing called Hope – it’s amazing and powerful. I’ve seen it when it’s full and generous; when it’s fragile and fading and also when it’s been lost and found.
When I encounter people who have experienced suffering in their lives, I like to be respectfully curious about what has encouraged them to persevere. My experiences supporting asylum seekers and refugees living and waiting in detention has further allowed me to witness the significance of hope in keeping life alive. I would invite them to consider, “If you are a candle and your hope is your flame, what would your flame look like now?” Many responses communicated that their flames were weak and faint. Despite the condition of their flames, one thing was for sure – though their flames were often flickering unsteadily, they certainly were not extinguished. Though their hope was not at its strongest and at grand heights, it was still alive and served a purpose.
Despite living through trauma and torture, witnessing atrocities and death, being displaced from their homes, enduring separation from family as well as facing an uncertain future for an unknown length of time, just how did Hope manage to stay alive and keep its job?
From my conversations with people I’ve met, it was love.
A strong and steadfast love for their family and all of its members – children, their spouse, parents, siblings and grandparents. A hope for a future filled with safety, promise and new beginnings for themselves and their loved ones. How powerful is love in its ability to protect and engineer hope? I witnessed how individuals can grow and strengthen their hope as a result of deriving meaning from suffering. It is truly encouraging to experience the positive changes that occur when one’s relationship with suffering shifts into a purposeful one.
Friedrich Nietzsche stated “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”.
“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears towards a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how” ” , Viktor Frankl outlined in Man’s Search for Meaning (2006), detailing descriptions of life and spiritual survival in Nazi concentration camps.
Frankl continues to describe, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which would determine whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become moulded into the form of the typical inmate”.
“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity- even under the most difficult circumstances- to add a deeper meaning to his life” (Frankl, 2006).
I am inspired and encouraged by people who have met adversity and suffering with a deliberate attitude of hope. Moreover, it is of such value when experiences of suffering become much more than just a narrative – when there is meaning accompanying it. This distinction often makes the difference in the growth of hope for the person as well as others who later learn from this.
It is also noteworthy to highlight that suffering is not necessary to find meaning, only that “meaning is possible in spite of suffering” (Frankl, 2006).
Hope has a beautiful recipe of turning challenges into triumphs. It can propel us to choose how to cope with difficulties, draw meaning from it and coax us in a forward facing direction. Hope can be instrumental in the formation of helpful attitudes and can also be contagious.
When we reflect on the “why” and our purpose for travelling through hard times, this may be unique for every person. Perhaps it’s out of love and commitment to loved ones, a promise made to ourselves, a test of our spiritual faith, a relentless goal for the future, a need to experience positive changes, a lesson longing to be passed down to the next generation, a desire to acquaint ourselves with a stronger developed self, a hope for healing and restoration, a want for reconnection to others or maybe a search for a deeper meaning in life.
Whatever your reasons are for persisting through hardship, may they arm you and fuel you with Hope and more of it.
Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Massachusetts: Beacon Press.
May Lim is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre.
Read more about her @maylim