How to be hopeful in Washington--a 12-step program

With the electorate growing impatient with President Obama and his message of hope and change (witness the Massachusetts surprise, Sen. Scott Brown), author Anthony Scioli has some advice for a leader -- and a nation -- trying to keep hope alive in the face of adversity. In "Hope in the Age of Anxiety: A Guide to Understanding and Strengthening Our Most Important Virtue," published by Oxford University Press, Scioli and co-author Henry Biller dig into the religious, psychological, philosophical traditions of hope to help steer the anxious toward ways of coping with hard times. Scioli is a professor of clinical psychology at Keene State College. Biller is a professor of clinical psychology at The University of Rhode Island.

GUEST BLOGGER: Anthony Scioli

For more than two decades I have been studying hope. Before Barack Obama and all that he embodies in terms of hope and change, I was already fixated on this great virtue. Although trained as a clinical psychologist, it was apparent to me that hope was a universal matter, one that transcended the therapy office, cancer ward, prison cell, chapel, or temple. The need for hope was a core facet of human nature which found expression in art, literature, science, and yes, even politics.

Napoleon, whom I would consider more optimistic than hopeful, believed that "every leader is a dealer in hope." I would modify his dictum slightly to suggest that great leaders are strong hope providers. Here, I outline my theory of hope, and offer a different kind of twelve-step program for President Obama and other would-be leaders.

Each of the twelve steps represents a layer of hope. I intersperse some thoughts, suggestions, and historical examples to go with each step. I conclude with an admittedly informal, but not entirely tongue-in-cheek, assessment of President Obama's hope profile.

Hope is a complex emotion. It can vary in expression from one person to another, by culture and nation as well across different religious or spiritual beliefs systems. And yet hope can always be traced back to one or more of these four basic needs; mastery, attachment, survival, and spirituality. A good hope provider will, in the course of their leadership, address most, if not all, of these needs.

The three mastery steps
1 -- Focus on higher goals, offer a vision. John F. Kennedy: "We will put a man on the moon by this decade's end."
2 -- Empower the masses; set achievable goals. Suggestion: More job training to cut unemployment.
3 -- Create collaborative ventures. Martin Luther King: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

The three attachment steps
4 -- Build appropriate trust, don't oversell transparency. Thomas Jefferson: "I ask so much confidence only as may give firmness and effect to the legal administration of your affairs."
5 -- Cultivate openness. Suggestion: Copy the British: Offer more public, less scripted debates.
6 -- Promise a continued presence. Suggestion: Do not abandon the veterans. Even the Roman legions knew enough to request contributions to insure the proper burial of fallen comrades.

The three survival steps
7 -- Reduce fear. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
8 -- Promise protection. Suggestion: Katrina must never happen again.
9 -- Inspire resiliency. Winston Churchill: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields. ... We shall fight in the hills; We shall never surrender."

The three spiritual steps
10 -- Cultivate spiritual empowerment. Abraham Lincoln: "... from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion."
11 -- Spiritual presence. Mahatma Gandhi: "Those who submit will have forsaken their God."
12 -- Provide spiritual assurance. Suggestion: Counter extremist interpretations of "jihad" by emphasizing its root meaning as a form of struggle for good, a universal religious theme.

Grading President Obama: How does President Obama stack up in terms of the mastery, attachment, survival, and spiritual dimensions of hope? By my estimation, he gets high marks for Intelligence (90 for mastery), Sincerity (90 for Attachment), Calmness (95 for survival), and Spiritual Assurance (90 for spirituality). But he needs to improve his Vision (75 for mastery), Emotional Range (75 for attachment), Toughness (80 for survival), and spiritually-focused inspiration (80 for spirituality). If I average these ratings, it would yield a solid B (84). As spring will follow winter, there is still hope for hope.

Go to the comments section and tell us your grading of President Obama.

By Steven E. Levingston |  February 8, 2010; 5:30 AM ET Politics , Steven Levingston
Previous: Obama and the deficit: lessons from history | Next: Book World's editors on what to read during Snowmageddon


Please email us to report offensive comments.

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company