By Emily Keller, Ph.D., LPC, RPT

Recent tragic events invite an exploration of hope and courage as presented years ago by the late Martin Groder, M.D., at the Southeast Institute for Group and Family Therapy.

When tragedy strikes, many of us offer hopeful “thoughts and prayers.” These seem to be well-intended.  Yet, I wonder if they are enough. I wonder this even as I believe that positive thoughts can help transform the world, and as I believe in the power of prayer.

Hope and Courage are Different

I will begin this exploration by sharing Dr. Groder’s thoughts on hope.

  • Having it all. Hope is often held out for getting 100% of what we want. Hope is often associated with fantasies of perfection, unconditional love, and happily-ever-after endings.
  • Active and passive forms of hope.
    • Active forms of hope are searching, pretending, and monomania. Hope involves actively searching for perfection (the perfect man, woman, solution, etc.). It also involves actively pretending. The belief is if we pretend everything is OK, eventually it will be. A final form of active hope is called “monomania,” which is being manic about finding the one answer, the one truth, or the one thing that will make everything alright.
    • Passive forms of hope are waiting and giving up. The first is the idea that if we wait long enough everything will get better on its own. The other form of passive hope is to give up. The belief is that by giving up looking for what we want, we will find it.

Now, let’s explore Dr. Groder’s thoughts on courage.  

  • Getting most of what we want. We can’t live in a perfect world — it except the one in our head, which isn’t really living. Getting 100% of what we want isn’t possible. We can, however, get about 98%, which means we can choose to live in an imperfect world, and even thrive there.
  • Courage offers alternatives to active and passive forms of hope.
    • Alternatives to active forms of hope include exploring, being real, and having enthusiasm and commitment. The alternative to searching is exploring to find out what is possible. The alternative to pretending is being real: allowing ourselves to listen, to be vulnerable, open and honest. The alternative to monomania is enthusiasm and commitment for what is possible. It won’t be perfect, but it can be exciting!
    • Alternatives to passive forms of hope are practicing patience and letting go. Patience is allowing time to work things out with people and situations. Change is not instantaneous and requires both patience and a willingness to stay in the process. The alternative to giving up is letting go. There are some people and situations that are not going to change. It is important to release them and move on in life.

When I first heard Dr. Groder’s thoughts about the differences between hope and courage, I thought, “There must be something wrong here.” I spent a lifetime of believing in the power of hope. Just as I still believe in the power of positive thoughts and the power of prayer.

I asked myself, “What is courage without hope?” Surely, I pondered, there must be more to hope than fantasy. There is.

The danger of hope — and thoughts and prayers — is that it stays contained in our hearts and heads. It’s the same as hoping for a magical cure. The benefit of hope is that it inspires action.

Courage is born through inspired action.

My hope is that we all have the courage to explore, to be real with one another, to practice patience, and to let go. Just don’t let go of hoping and working for more — especially when it comes to creating a better world. We won’t all get 100% of what we are wanting, but we may have the courage to work together and create a world in which we all enjoy living — and thriving.

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