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Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

Hope is the only thing stronger than fear

Hope is the only thing stronger than fear

Listening to the news on the radio recently, I was interested to hear a commentator talk about the fact that, as a result of the recession and consequent employment and financial difficulties, large numbers of people have got to the point in their lives where they are now in a position of hopelessness. They have lost pretty much everything and then, just when it doesn’t seem it could worse, the last bastion has crumbled: hope.

Why have they lost hope?

I personally can’t think of anything more terrifying.

You and I both know of situations where hope is the one thing that keeps us going. Hope that things will get better – because they can only get better. But what if that hope is lost?

We live by hope – or faith, if you want to use that expression. Nothing is certain (apart from death and taxes) so hope is essential to our existence.

Being amongst children for most of my working day, I frequently come across children for whom there seems to be little hope – but what is worse is when I occasionally witness a lack of hope expressed by their adult mentors (be they parents or school staff). When adults have no expectation of a child, that is more worrying than the child’s own sense of hopelessness: a child can be restored if hope is put into them by an adult mentor but, if that is lacking, there really is very little hope.

Never deprive someone of hope – it might be all they have.  (H. Jackson Brown, Jr)

I try to imagine what it must be like to be a child who has little hope. It must be very scary: as children, we need security, love, warmth, compassion – but if those are in short supply, a child must live in perpetual fear, scraping an existence from what little exists in the form of healthy self-esteem. You’ve met them, I’m sure: scared on the inside (but they won’t show it) and manifesting all kinds of worrying behaviours on the outside, be it withdrawal, frustration, lack of engagement, defensiveness or  just plain and simple anger. How terrifying to have to live with that  – constantly trying to establish one’s own identity and worth but failing miserably. Fortunately, we have moved on from the time when children were simply labelled as ‘naughty’ and we now know that external behaviour is an indicator of what’s going on inside – a coping mechanism, if you like.

How reliant are children in your care on the hope that you can give them?

How do you look beyond the behaviour and see a child crying for help?

How do you instill hope within a child?

How do you help a child to overcome fear?

I could go on about fear in our own lives as educators and those who lead in education but I think that requires a different space. Suffice to say that there aren’t many of us who can face fear and hopelessness on our own own: each of us needs someone to believe in us, to encourage us, to instill hope within us when fear looms large.

For there really is nothing worse to fear than fear itself – the absence of hope.

Because ‘Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.’ (Suzanne Collins)

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Why We Pin Our Hopes on Christmas

Christmas Tree Design: Feelart / Free Digital Photos

Christmas Tree Design: Feelart / Free Digital Photos

I attended my son’s school Christmas Carol concert at our local parish church earlier this week and was struck by the brief but poignant message delivered by the vicar. It was both inclusive and pointed. He talked of hope springing up at Christmastime. He acknowledged that not everyone shares the same faith at Christmastime but everyone expresses a kind of hope.

We spend eleven months of the year dealing with the messiness of life and, during December, we turn our thoughts to the hope that Christmas brings: hope for dreams fulfilled, hope for relationships restored, hope for happiness, hope for a Christmas better than the one we had last year, hope for a miracle arising out of life’s messiness, hope for something at Christmas that makes sense of the mess we experience throughout the rest of the year. And, let’s face it, Christmas itself is messy – as is The Nativity, the story behind Christmas.

But is this hope realistic?

Isn’t the hope we pin on Christmas likely to disappoint? Very much like trying to pin the tail on the donkey whilst blindfolded, we try to pin our hopes where we believe we may find answers. But so much of Christmas is hopeless: the commercialism, the tacky decorations, the regurgitated music, the excesses of food, drink and spending. And, in the New Year, we look back bleakly and realise that our hopes for the season have evaporated as quickly as the festival was over. Gifts are left unused or, worse still, listed on an online auction site. Our waistlines have expanded but our bank balances have contracted.

But there is hope. The vicar at the carol service pointed out that Christmas brings us together to discover afresh the hope we draw from each other and, if we are persuaded, the hope we draw from God. We need Christmas. We need to rediscover the hope that inspires us and reignites us. We need to share that hope with each other – God knows how hard we each fight our own battles and how much we need those around us to hold us up.

Christmas is a time to put right much of what we get wrong throughout the rest of the year – it is a time of restoration and reconciliation and regeneration. It really is a time of hope. No wonder the angels talk of ‘goodwill to everyone’.

And we should all try to put into practice Plato’s exhortation:

‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’