12. Pathways and Motivation
C.R. Snyder’s “hope theory” says that hope consists in two beliefs: that the individual can think of pathways toward desired outcomes and that the individual is motivated to use those pathways. According to the theory, hope is entirely cognitive.
Now I think Snyder’s theory is too simple. The hope syndrome (or positive causal network) includes other elements, such as the way we perceive things and the way we direct our attention to certain features of the world. Further, it seems obvious that some of our actions contribute to the syndrome/causal network of hope. Every time Andy Dufresne dropped bits of masonry in the prison yard, he reinforced his hope of escape.
Nevertheless, if we are asking how to hope, Snyder’s theory directs us to parts of the hope syndrome that may be especially amenable to agential control—at least, in regard to some of the things we hope for. That is, we can see that certain things are true simply by introspection; and when we recognize their truth, hope is strengthened.
Imagine Andre, who wants a new job. He’s been doing the same thing for fifteen years, working in a factory, office, or store. He feels trapped. Andre needs the income, since he and his wife have two children, but without more education he can expect no advancement. Andre’s disappointment with his job seems to color everything in his life. He’s frustrated with his children. He often snaps at his wife, and then feels guilty about it. He drinks too many beers. Andre sees commercials for clinical trials of a new depression medication on television; it occurs to him that he might be depressed, though he would never tell anyone. Andre’s family and religious upbringing strongly discouraged admission of mental illness.
Andre wants a new job, but it wouldn’t be accurate to say he hopes for it. Michael Bishop would describe his state not as a positive causal network but a negative causal network. If things keep going this way, Andre may develop clinical depression. Various negative aspects of his life reinforce other negative aspects of his life—the kids’ medical bills, marking time on the job, his wife’s lack of understanding, the sky-high cost of a college degree, his drinking, his anger at his wife, feeling sad and trapped, the job…
Suppose that somehow Andre learned precepts of C.R. Snyder’s hope theory/therapy. Maybe someone on the pastoral staff of his church lent him an article describing hope theory and met with Andre to talk about it. Andre says the article intrigues him, but he doesn’t see how hope theory could apply to him. He’s stuck; there’s nothing he can do to change his situation. The pastor points out that Andre did read the article, and he did come to meet with the pastor. So there are some things that Andre can do. Perhaps in thinking up pathways to goals (a better job, a college degree, a better relationship with his wife, etc.) Andre doesn’t need to imagine every step of the way. Perhaps he can think of little steps that take him part way to the goal. Encouraged by the pastor, Andre says he could ask whether his company would pay for college classes. Many companies offer such support, says the pastor, and even if Andre’s company doesn’t pay for education, making the inquiry might impress Andre’s managers at the company. There is nothing to keep Andre from asking—if he wants to. Andre realizes that he does want to. By introspection, he sees that he has a possible pathway toward his goal and he is motivated to use it. Andre says he will go to the human resources office tomorrow. The pastor promises to meet with Andre again next week, just to make sure he carries through.
Obviously, this is only one step. Andre will need to invent further pathways and find the motivation to use them. Hope theory holds that such little steps increase a person’s hope. We can readily imagine how Andre may feel more hopeful. C.R. Snyder’s research team claims that positive affect often accompanies increased hope. That is: once clients have the right beliefs about pathways and motivation, positive feelings will follow. In real life hope may increase more slowly than our imagined case, though Snyder’s research team says that even simple interventions may increase hope in measurable ways.
Hope theory does not promise easy solutions for all situations. Therapists may sometimes help clients to redirect their desires. Suppose Andre wanted not simply a better job, but to become president of the company, a multi-billion dollar corporation with branches in ten different countries. Hollywood fantasies sometimes promote the myth that “anything is possible,” but Andre’s pastor friend—precisely because he is a friend—should encourage Andre to focus on genuinely possible goals. On Adrienne Martin’s “incorporation thesis,” we may “license” ourselves to hope for unlikely things if they have sufficient practical import, but it is not rational to hope for impossible things.
A question arises: can we hope for things toward which one sees no pathway? According to my personal journal, in the 1980s I hoped and prayed for peaceful change to come to the Soviet Union. As a private citizen in the United States, there was no pathway I could pursue, other than prayer, to achieve peaceful change in Russia’s government. I don’t know what Snyder’s colleagues would say about such a case. Does prayer for a thing count as a pathway toward achieving that thing? Is it rational to hope for such a thing?
Snyder’s theory focuses on ordinary mundane goals: better jobs, better relationships, success in projects, etc. Examples like hoping for peaceful change in a one-party state raise a different set of questions about hope. Beginning with my next chapter I will explore extreme hopes.