Choosing Hope over Fear

“There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something better tomorrow.” – Orison Marden.

Last Tuesday, 20th January, 2009 I was co-facilitating a social skills group comprised of boys aged 9 to 11 at the NHS and we were fortunate to be in a room where there was a colour TV. Towards the end of the group I switched it on just as President Barack Obama was being sworn into office. I knew that the boys would remember this day in history just as I did when I was a young child watching JFK’s presidential inauguration on a black-and-white television. This time it was thrilling to watch it on a big colour screen and even more earth-shaking to know that this man was the son of an African and an American taking the oath of office. As Obama was captivating millions on TV through his eloquence and brilliance as an orator, it suddenly became very quiet in the room and the boys were spell-bound as they listened to his every word. After his speech the most amazing thing happened: the boys’ topics of conversations changed… they were deeper, more thoughtful… no more talk about Batman. Instead they began sharing spontaneously about their families, their values and their hopes.

I was deeply moved and inspired by Obama’s speech. His positive but realistic outlook was refreshing and so needed. I thought about the kids that I work with and how frightened they can be of change, and how hope is a critical component in giving us courage to make changes. It is just easier and less threatening to stay in the comfort zone. But this president gives us hope! During his election campaign he kept saying “Yes we can!” He invoked it over and over again, which makes it clear to me that we have to do the same thing because it really is effective. We must remind ourselves over and over again “Yes I can!”. We must say to our children… “Yes you can!” Every child has amazing potential… as proven so palpably by Barack Obama.

On a broader perspective, it made me realise how much emphasis our governments have focused on fear. Fear of terrorists, fear of the recession, the haemorrhaging banks, fear of the enemies, fear of other religions, and fear of our differences.

Now there is a new focus. It encourages us to make a commitment to education, hard work, aspiration, and unlimiting thoughts and belief systems. Our fear and our resistance to change is more likely to be overcome when we are equipped with hope. Obama also brought forth the message that we need to be accountable for change and for the hard work ahead and not just leave it up to the government to make those changes. It brought me back to JFK’s request to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. Thus, we can either criticise the climate of our country or we can get up and do our part to make it better somehow. It’s about giving more then we take. Obama’s leadership will encourage all of us to use more of our own ingenuity and resourcefulness. For example, I hope that there will be more volunteering, especially by our youth, increased responsibility on our parts for clean energy, and more tolerance for one another.

Hopeful parents understand and teach their children that when life is fraught with mishaps and misfortunes, hope makes us look forward to a better tomorrow. It gives us a sense of purpose, plays a critical role in motivation, and offers healing and strength both physically and psychologically. Hope is what brings the plants from their seeds and makes us know that spring will follow winter, and that light comes after darkness.

Hopeful parents know they have a responsibility to instil hope in their children. I am inspired by Obama’s steadfast commitment that hopefulness means to dream of a better future, where so much is possible for our children. Even during this current climate, hopeful parents will realise this is actually an ideal time to practice gratitude, to be disciplined, to be creative. It’s a time to invest in ourselves, our children and our families, and to plant the seeds for the future. We must believe that the economy will eventually turn around and role-model this as hopeful parents, not fearful parents.

Vaclav Havel (poet-playwright-activist-leader) describes hope as “An attribute we carry in us always, a state of being that is not dependent on outcomes. Hope is a dimension of the soul. … an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. … It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” I think Obama is saying something very similar — hope is seen in the attitude you take and in how you live, which will in the long run make things turn out well! He has asked us to “Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.

Until next week I will leave you with a segment from the November 2008 issue of Parents Magazine, as I think it is relevant for parents: It was an interview of Barack and Michelle Obama about family values.

Family Values Q. What values do you hope to instil in your children?

Barack: There are a few things that we really care about: We want our children to be kind, compassionate, and respectful of other people. We want them to know that things don’t always come easily, but that if they work hard and put their mind to it, they can achieve anything.

Michelle: We want them to learn to do things for themselves and to take care of themselves and think for themselves.

Barack: And we want them to make their bed every morning and be in bed every night at 8.

Q. They’re in bed by 8?

Michelle: Usually. They can read until 8:30, then it’s lights-out.

Rules & Limits Q. Do you have a lot of rules for them?

Michelle: Not a whole lot, but we believe that kids thrive with a level of structure and stability, so we do have a few. Like TV time — they usually get an hour, after things are done. But we let the girls make choices. Sometimes, they’ll ask for extra TV time, and I’ll say, “Okay, but your bedtime is still the same, so if you watch more TV, don’t pout because you don’t have time to read when you get into bed.”

Barack: They realize our rules aren’t arbitrary. We’ll say, “The reason you have a bedtime is because we don’t want you dragging at school tomorrow.”

Michelle: And at those times when they stay up late and are dragging in the morning, we’ll say, “Notice how you feel more tired today? Do you know why you feel that way?”

Barack: Our goal is to encourage them to do things not because someone is telling you to do them, but because in your heart you know it is right.

Q. Do you have rules about clothing or how they dress?

Michelle: No. Obviously, we buy them the clothing we think is appropriate, but they can pick out their outfits. Sometimes, Sasha will still come downstairs wearing a dress and flip-flops on a snowy day. So I give her a second chance. I’ll say, “Go upstairs and choose something else, but understand that it’s cold, it’s wet, and you need to dress warmly. If you’re wearing the wrong thing again, I’ll have to pick something out for you.” So she gives it a shot, and she usually gets it right the second time.

Q. Do you have any limits on junk food?

Michelle: Yeah, we’ve gotten serious about that lately.

Barack: A couple of years ago — you’d never know it by looking at her now — Malia was getting a little chubby.

Michelle: And her doctor — he really monitors this type of thing — suggested we look at her diet. So we cut out juice boxes, sweets, and processed foods.

Barack: But we’re not hyper about it.

Michelle: Right, because if you eat well most of the time and then go to a birthday party and you lose your mind, it’s not a big deal because the majority of what you’re doing is healthy.

Discipline Q. What do you think is a parent’s most effective discipline tool?

Michelle: Talking to children. I don’t think you can overestimate how important conversations are from the time kids are even 2 and 3. We made our expectations clear early on, so now we’re not talking about rules or arguing about what they have to do. They know what we expect from them, and they’re eager to please us.

Barack: Now, granted, they are not teenagers, so we don’t want to sound like, “Well, aren’t we the clever parents?” and then you talk to us four years from now…

Q. Speaking of teenagers, there’s a lot of pressure on young girls to behave like teenagers — even when they’re as young as Malia and Sasha.

Barack: We’ve talked about that too. And the interesting thing about having those conversations early on is that kids pick up on your values. Now Malia will hear something on the radio or on television and she’ll be the one to say, “I think that this is inappropriate.”

Michelle: The other day she told me, “If there are little kids in the room and somebody says a bad word, I usually go ‘beep!’ over it.”

Religion Q. What about the role of religion in their lives? Do they go to church?

Barack: You know, we’ve been so busy that we haven’t been to church together much recently. We’ve been visiting a lot of churches.

Michelle: We view going to church as a family activity. So the girls don’t go unless we all go, and we’ve been travelling so much lately.

Q. Do they go to Sunday school?

Michelle: No. We view weekends as family time, so if they’re off somewhere part of the day, we’re not together.

Barack: What we do is teach them about values and faith and religion in the context of family life.

Michelle: We believe in prayer. We all take turns saying grace before dinner. It isn’t any designated prayer; we encourage them to pray from their hearts about what they’re thankful for. So we do that, then we all click glasses and say, “Cheerios!”

Q. Will they still make their beds if they live in the White House?

Michelle: Absolutely. And they’ll have to clean up their space. And they’ll still have a bedtime. We don’t want their lives to be completely overshadowed; keeping their routines will be my biggest priority.

Family Time Q. Let’s talk about your family time. What kinds of things do you enjoy doing together?

Michelle: My favourite is watching Barack play charades with the kids, because he’s really bad at it.

Barack: I’m not that bad. But she’s a lot better because she’s played with them more than I have, and she can get their clues. When they’re doing this flapping thing, she’ll say, “Bee!” And I’ll say, “How could you tell that was a bee, and not a bat or a bird?”

Q. What other fun stuff do you do?

Barack: Malia and I read the whole Harry Potter series together out loud. We finished all seven books. It was fun, and it was great bonding

Q. We’ve met your girls, and they seem delightful. You must be very good parents.

Barack: We’re very lucky.

Thanks for taking the time to read this Monday’s Motivational article.

Please feel free to send me any comments or your own stories you wish to share, or post them on this site by leaving a comment below.

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