The Covid-19 pandemic is hitting our communities hard. Doctors, epidemiologists, politicians, as well as ordinary citizens all try to deal with this pandemic in the best way possible. We, as Institute of Leadership and Social Ethics, want to make a modest contribution to this effort, specifically from our research project ‘Driven by Hope’.
It is noteworthy to see how dominant the use of ‘hope’-language is in the societal discourse about the Covid-19 pandemic. This is understandable, because hope is a crisis emotion par excellence – the experience of distress, incompleteness or lack is the starting point of human aspirations. In our research on hope, we have discovered a number of hope-mechanisms, which are pertinent in the context of this crisis.
First, aspirations vary: hope can either be passive (as in hoping that it won’t rain tomorrow), or active. While a passive form of hope can give rise to complacency, an active form of hope stirs us towards action, spurring us on to achieve our goals. We see this form of hope in the medical personnel who are giving their utmost efforts in caring for those infected by the virus, as well as in the scientists who are frantically working on the creation of a vaccine – these efforts are motivated by the hope to lose as few people as possible to this new infectious disease.
Secondly, it is important to realise that hope isn’t simply individual motivation; it is also a social phenomenon. By means of the hopebarometer, which we developed, we have advanced this insight. Our research shows that there is a correlation between social connectedness and hope: people who have more social relations are more hopeful than people with less social contacts. There are vicious circles here: the fewer friends you have, the less hopeful you are, which in turn makes you less likely to try to make new friends – whereas if you have more friends, the more hopeful you are, which in turn stimulates you to reach out for new friendships.
Seen in that light, the current Covid-19 pandemic is especially dangerous: we are actively encouraged to limit our interactions with others. While social distancing is a wise policy, a drop in physical closeness with others has a demonstrably negative side-effect on the strength of our ‘social immune system’. It is especially the most vulnerable and lonely people who run the risk of missing out.
Particularly in that light, it is important to keep looking for ways in which to show care and support to the most vulnerable in our society. Also in this search, ‘hope’ plays an important role; that brings me to the third insight. Hope is the art of formulating ambitious yet achievable goals, as well as in the ability to discern various ways to achieve these goals. In particular, it requires the ability to give up on taking a specific path to the goal, if that path doesn’t bring us to the goal, and the creativity to discern a new path. This creativity is on full display now, such as in initiatives to use videocalling to bring family members in contact with their older relatives, in care homes, instead of physical visits.
There is more to say a about the significance of ‘hope’ in light of the Covid-19 pandemic; this is only a modest beginning. On our projectwebsite, we will formulate more insights relevant to this crisis, from the perspective of hope theory. In this way, we seek to contribute to a more hopeful, resilient society, particularly in this difficult time.
Steven C. van den Heuvel is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at ETF Leuven and leader of the project ‘Driven by Hope’, funded by the Goldschmeding Foundation.