Moving Toward a Rhetoric of Hope

Good Saturday Morning,

It has been a bit of a crazy week. At this point last weekend, my HP tablet, the university computer, decided (for the second time) to pop the plastic clips that hold one side of the case closed. I believe it is the case of an overheated battery again, causing the case to warp or bow. The long and short of it, I have a computer which    is not functioning. While I did have enough foresight to put iCloud capabilities on my HP to be able to push things back and forth to my Mac Book Pro, I had not taken the time to put the last couple weeks work into iCloud, thereby making my planning irrelevant. Foolish boy!! There were things I needed on the HP to help me finish my semester. Thanks to a tech person at the university I was able to get my Mac Book to work as if it was my university computer and I am able to access the files, but that did not happen until Wednesday. My HP is in getting fixed. I also have a somewhat ancient Surface III, which I have not used for a while. In fact, when I fired it back up, the calendar said August 28, 2018. It is not a big computer/tablet and I had less than a GB of storage left, and it needed some serious updating. All in all, to get both the Mac Book and the Surface working optimally took about 24 hours of updating and revising (cleaning up space, making sure what I was deleting was still somewhere). So I am back up and running. While I am pretty  technologically savvy for a 60+ person, there is still the need to manage all of it and to make sure you are doing the appropriate updating. More importantly, it is yet another reminder of the complicated necessity of being able to use our technology thoughtfully and effectively. One of the things the past two months has demonstrated all too clearly is the reality of the digital divide we have in our country. For me, it is one more example of the inequity that is present at some many levels of our society, our country, and even in our world. The important part of this realization for me as we have been required to move to remote learning is that students are not able to access things with the same degree of accessibility. This fundamentally changes what we (either them or me) can do to participate in a class. Again, often this disparity is because a student lives in a rural area, a student lives in a household where there are limits on the volume of data they can use, or a student simply does not have the technological know-how to do what is necessary to participate adequately. The consequence (and many times this is a first-generation student) is a feeling of hopelessness, a feeling of fear, and a belief that they have failed. None of these emotions will give that struggling student any sense of hope for their future. 

What is hope? That is something to ponder. How are we convinced that hope is possible? A number of years ago, I was a dinner with my sister-in-law, who was remarried (to a Lutheran pastor) and at the beginning of the meal, my eldest nephew, who was maybe barely pre-teen, was asked to say grace. He was not particularly willing to comply, and when asked why his response was quite amazing. I do not remember his exact words, but the basic idea was “I do not believe praying is very helpful because our world is not going to get better.” That was a profound statement from a 12 year old, perhaps even more than he realized. However, as I remember, it surely caught us off guard. That was in the mid 1980s. I think I was in my first year in seminary. Part of my education at the time was learning how to provide a sense of hope when despair seems to be the only thing possible. It brings us to an important idea: what is hope. What does it mean to be hopeful, to believe there is something better to believe in, to consider possibilities that provide a sense of well-being and positive thoughts toward something that has not yet occurred? Is it grammatically what subjunctive mood is? Perhaps that is the case. Studies show that one of the most important times to be hopeful is during adolescence. An article in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers studied a group of 4H students. If you have any experience with 4H, you are aware of the positive attributes they develop in their participants. Through this profound developmental time in our human growth, those conducting the study consider the group of 5 traits they believe are essential for youth to achieve what they call Positive Youth Development (PYD), which they then connect to the idea of hope. The five traits are competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring (Schmid, Phelps, et al 2011, p.49). These traits are essential if a youth person is to live a life that bends toward a successful and beneficial future. 

Competence often gets a bad rap as someone characterized as merely adequate. It is much more than that, however. It is not only knowing how to do something, but how to do it well; one the other hand is also understanding why one does it. To do both requires critical thinking and careful analysis. Something I regularly tell my students is necessary if they want to be educated. Therefore, competency is much more than merely jumping through a hoop or teaching to a test. It is more than a recipe card or rubric. Indeed, competence is more than academics or vocational ability; it is also cognitive and social (Schmid, et al). If you think about this, it covers all aspects of our being. Being confident is also something we all have a sense of,  but too often we do not understand the depth of it or the intricacies of how confidence is modeled. Confidence is connected to competency, but moves us beyond our individual self-reflection to seeing how we fit among others. How we become a successful social creature. Are we positive in our own feelings about how others might see us? Are we willing to reflect or analyze how we fit into a much larger picture of the world in which we live and function? We use words like self-esteem, self-worth, and others, but confidence comes from something outside ourselves. It is being supported by others regardless our failings. I think for me that was embodied in the person of my grandmother. She was the person who provided me a sense of happiness, a sense of value, no matter my circumstance. She was the person who loved me regardless my failings and through those gifts, she also helped me develop that illusive quality of hope.

The third attribute is being able to feel connected. I believe the ultimate loneliness is being lonely in a crowd. Connection is an unbelievably important element for us to have a positive outlook. It is the thing we are most struggling to maintain during this time of lock down, be it stay-at-home or safe-at-home. Healthy connection to another is about mutuality. It is when the relationship is honestly two-way, and the consequence is positive for all involved. Certainly, this gets more difficult the more individuals involved. It is also the thing we have struggled to maintain over the past decade or more. There is an irony that we are more connected now than ever before, but, even before the pandemic, we are more disconnected. Perhaps the bane of social networking has been a bit remediated in the past two months. I know that connecting with many of my high school friends, and even those older than me, has been an unexpected blessing. It is the mutual or shared experience, which allows the time or distance to be mediated. It is what allows a connection. It is also amazing how five years seems so large when you are in your teens, but in your 60s it is nothing. The next trait is the most intimate, the most telling. I believe character might be the most important of the five, at least for me. I believe I have finally gotten to a point in my life where I am proud of what I have accomplished and who I am. It took me a lot longer than I wish it had. Character is about morals and values, about those things you are taught as a small person. What I realize now is honesty and trust are the things I value most. There were times earlier in my life when I failed at this. Honesty can only happen, however, when one is not afraid. Honesty happens when you have a sense of surety, that in spite of your failings, you will not be rejected or thrown away. I realize now that much of my life I was afraid of that rejection, of being discarded. There were times that the feel I had caused me to create or cause the very thing I feared. This is also integral to being able to trust. Trust can only happen when you know you are valued or loved. Character is also modeled. We learn from what we observe, what we experience. 

I think, as often the case, my life is rather oxymoronic. I had examples of incredible love from a grandmother, but a lack on the other hand from a mother, who told me I would never amount to anything. I had a grandmother, who might have been generous to a fault (perhaps trying to make up for the other side) and a mother who did nothing for free. While I have been able to get beyond much of those dueling examples, I struggle with the fallout from both. My generosity has gotten me used and hurt when I trusted (I will not tell you how much money that has cost me), and yet I would still rather error on that side than the other. Suffice it to say my former bank branch president made me promise to not lend out any more money. I promise I made and have kept. I will always reach out to a person and try to care; I will try to provide some sort of care, making their lives better. Again, sometimes that also gets me in trouble. What happens when the help is not wanted? Or the person you want to help is not ready to accept what is needed? I think rejection is still the thing that cuts me deeper than any other consequence. That is really the last of the attributes above. It is about caring. Caring is what has been stressed at all levels during this past  two-three months. It is about sympathy and empathy. Can you feel the distress of the other person? This is something we need to learn to do as an adolescent if we are to carry it into our future lives. And yet, what if our cultural surroundings at that time of our life does not lend itself to cultivating these qualities? Are we out of luck . . . too bad, so sad? I do not think that has to be the case. Can we persuade the other, the one seemingly bent on despair, to turn toward a possibility of hope? I believe hope requires us to think outside the box, to believe that there is possibility outside the status quo. And yet that will scare people because it requires us to overcome a more sinister problem. To think outside the box as the saying goes means getting beyond and then we must be willing to try it in spite of our fear of the unknown. I believe to adopt a hopeful attitude, it will require a radical transformation from where we are. If we hope to sustain life, society, or a planet that can move forward with a sense of hope, we will need to rethink what it means to be sustainable. Reactionary behavior, much of what I believe we have done since the beginning of the year, will not work. If we are to be a world of hope, we will need to use the various traits we need to learn as adolescents, but we will need to act a bit more thoughtfully than the hormone driven adolescent we would have been. Critical understanding of hope is complex. It is a combination of both thought and action. Pablo Freire, the Brazilian educator and philosopher, looked very critically at the idea of hope from the perspective of the oppressed. He also questioned the idea of banking an education, which means putting away what you learned for a sort of rainy day. I believe this is too often what we do. One of the things I continually impress upon my students is to claim their education, not bank it. To take charge of it, to question, to think, to analyze. Freire would write a sort of sequel to his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In 1994 he wrote Pedagogy of Hope. Might need to order that. So what does it mean to hope? Stay tuned – that will be the next blog. I want to give a call out to all the seniors who would have walked in graduation today. Congratulations! I know this is not what you expected, but it will still happen. Believe and have hope! Often our dreams are about our hopes. Here is one of my favorite Heart songs titled “These Dreams.” I love the sort of surrealism in a sort of Salvador Dali manner. 

To those who have added me from my home neighborhood. Thanks! To all, as always, thank you for reading.

Michael

 

Published by thewritingprofessor55

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

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