Hope Criticism

Hope is Not a Panacea

Obviously, Hope has quite the impressive slew of related benefits.  Keep in mind, however, that like many of the wonderful strategies on this website, it is not a panacea for all the challenges in your life.  Hope is a powerful way of being in the world and an empowering approach to adversity, and it is one of many ways to cultivate purpose.  It has impacted people in significant ways and is a strong predictor of resilience and success in many aspects of life, but certainly not the only one!

Other Practices That Have Been Shown to Contribute to Success and Well-Being:

Research has come from a limited pool

It is also important to note that while research on the topic of Hope indicates remarkable trends in physical, mental, emotional and relational health, there is notable, although limited, criticism on the nature of the research.  Critics point out that Hope research has been drawn too narrowly from focusing on American college students, a population that has narrow margins for economic, ethnic, and age diversity.

We Don’t Know a Lot About What Determines Hope

Research on Hope, regarding what can affect its presence or cultivation, lacks ample focus on the impacts of socio-systemic components such as economic class, demographics, culture, or health.  Hope as it is framed on this website naturally lends itself to comparison with the American Dream: the notion that anyone can attain success if they work hard enough for it (the caveats for Hope living in the distinctions regarding Optimism, Agency, and Pathways).  Common criticisms of the American Dream focus on disparity in access to opportunities and resources to develop and follow various pathways to such success.  While Dr. Shane Lopez claims that “there is no relationship between hope and income,” and “recent research has found no consistent findings pointing to one racial or ethnic group being more hopeful than any other,” the research supporting these statements is sparse18.  The field of Hope research could benefit from more investigation into these relationships.

Hope Could Be Misused Like Grit or Growth Mindset Theories

One could extrapolate some of the criticism of the concept of Grit, from Angela Duckworth, onto Hope at the present state of research.  From her website, she defines Grit in the following manner:

“My research focuses on two traits that predict achievement: grit and self-control. Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals (Duckworth et al., 2007). Self-control is the voluntary regulation of impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Duckworth & Steinberg, 2015).”

And claims:

“Angela has found that grit—a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal—is the hallmark of high achievers in every domain.”

With the intention of instilling a capacity for Grit in students while supporting them as individuals, Grit helped shift the educational conversation from talent to effort.   However, it does not account for how developmental trauma can negatively impact an individual’s inherent ability to focus, self-regulate, or develop a strong immune system- abilities essential to grittiness.  People can have layers of hindrances in their lives beyond those typically defined as traumatic; such as being wealthy but having uninvolved parents, or being middle-class and having a strong peer-network with negative influences.

The popularity of Grit has led to problematic ‘victim-blaming’ in the educational system, in that those who struggle can be blamed for their inability to apply effort, something accepted under this theory as an innate capacity and therefore a personal responsibility to control.  This victim-blaming lends itself to student discouragement and system-imposed self-fulfilling expectations of failure, which is ironically what Grit is being wielded to avoid.  It can result in students believing they are characteristically flawed versus innately incapable.

However, unlike Hope research, Duckworth’s experimental designs have been criticized as poor and biased, leaving her conclusions that passion and perseverance are the foundation for success partly unsubstantiated.  Hope research has drawn similar conclusions about the impact of passion and perseverance as key to success from a slightly different angle.  Hope gets it “right” in that it considers the cultivation of agency and pathways, which Grit inherently does not.   While these deductions are exciting and encouraging, it is important to stay cautious of how these conclusions can be misunderstood and thus misused in the educational arena.

See “The Limits of Grit” from the New Yorker for a balanced review of the rise and criticism of this idea.  “The Problem with Grit,” from Education Week also explores the nuances of the theory.

Having a Growth Mindset is to operate under the assumption that abilities are not fixed but can be improved through effort and application.  Dr. Carol Dweck, the psychologist who introduced Growth Mindset, argued that our belief as to whether or not our abilities are fixed can influence the decisions we make and the effort we apply.  Her work is supported by neural plasticity: because our brains can grow new neural connections, we can affect the growth of such neural pathways ourselves based on various practices and strategies.

The concept is criticized as having questionable impact on grades where it has been applied in schools and has received similar criticism to the concept of Grit, in that people often misunderstand the role of effort in these theories.  With Grit, effort is lauded as the most important factor in success.  In Growth Mindset, people misinterpret effort as the main pathway to growth, when the effectiveness of the strategy effort is being applied to needs to be evaluated as well.

Example: Learning to play the piano
Grit Growth Mindset
Concept implies that failure is a result of: Lack of commitment to practice or interest Lack of resilience.
Doesn’t consider factors like: Circumstantial impacts on ability to practice or be interested:
Family cannot afford a piano and student is limited to practices on weekends for an hour at their grandma’s home.
Family environment is unstable and student isn’t getting adequate nutrition or sleep for various reasons. This impacts student’s ability to focus on learning.
The efficacy of implemented learning strategies:
Piano teacher is using a learning style the student doesn’t resonate with (ex. Rote memorization of a song versus experimental play with mimicry)
Student continues to practice right before bed when they are personally more tired than any other time of the day

There is still much work to be done in the arena of how we apply Growth Mindset theory in classrooms as a great deal can get lost in its application outside of the laboratory.   This does not yet mean that the theory does not hold water, rather that figuring out how to use it at a large scale has proven complicated.

This article from Aeon, “Schools Love the Idea of Growth Mindset, But Does it Work?” dives into the nitty gritty of how employing Mindset research in schools has not garnered hoped-for results.

What Is the Value of Resolute Hope?

There is also criticism of Hope as we frame it on this site: the pragmatic and individualistic version of Hope termed “Resolute Hope” by Darren Webb.  Resolute Hope focuses on personal goals, and its value is questioned in comparison to what Webb refers to as “Transformative Hope:” Hope that concerns itself with the collective power of humanity and progress as a whole.  This comes down to an ethical argument regarding the worthiness of personal causes versus collective causes.

Is Hope Pacifying?

Also circulating are criticisms of Hope as pacifying, in that it may encourage inaction through fostering the sedating habit of fantasizing.  We talk about fantasy here, distinguishing it specifically from Resolute Hope.  This criticism regards Hope in its conventionally-used sense, as a desire for something and an expectation in its fulfillment.  Hope as we explore on this website is different, in that Resolute Hope is inherently action-oriented.

“Nothing we can do will give us complete control. If history has taught us anything, it should have taught us that. Hoping and despairing about what we can’t control only distracts us from what we can: our actions in the present. Right now.” – Miguel Clark Mallet in OnBeing: We’ve Hoped Our Way Into Our Current Crisis

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