Mere days before I met Dr. Ronna Jevne, I attended a church with a flamboyant minister. She advocated following one’s bliss, insisted it was possible to make a living doing whatever one genuinely loved.
So when I looked at the title of our upcoming faculty presentation and saw it was about hope, I remember thinking, “People get money to study this stuff? Cool. Reverend Kaye would get such a kick out of this.”
Well, the kick was actually mine, and it was directed at my posterior, albeit in a good way. 🙂
Yes, I discovered, people earned their living studying hope. But they did it on a shoestring budget, in a formerly condemned house and with the tenacity of people who had found their calling. (And weren’t about to lose it over mere trifles, like heat and electricity. )
They employed rigorous scientific method too, so that the Hope Foundation of Alberta was – and is to this day – a world-renowned center for the study and application of hope, spawning books, articles in peer-reviewed journals, television specials, and university courses. And that’s just a fraction of their accomplishments.
What is hope, exactly? There are many definitions, but at its essence, hope is the ability to see a future in which one wishes to participate.
Why is it important? Well, by the time of Ronna’s presentation to our department, the Foundation had already proven that the higher an individual’s hope level, the more likely they are to:
- achieve academic success
- solve problems without resorting to violence
- get through crises without resorting to suicide
- seek outside resources and stick with plans leading to success (this includes the ability to find good caregivers and implement a course of treatment)
Quite simply – and obviously relevant to the medical profession – hopeful people live longer and report a higher quality of life.
Why should that be? Perhaps Nietzsche said it best in this quotation: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”
So given all the above, you’d think the human race would be expert at hoping. Not quite. At least not in Western society. When it comes to dealing with life’s difficulties, we’re far more likely to reach for the strategies Ronna refers to as the other “Ping” Sisters: moping and coping.
Until this point, I’d been listening, taking notes, and I’d been convinced of both Ronna’s intelligence and her gift as a lecturer. (You don’t find Ph.D’s in a Cracker Jack box, guys. At least not any I’ve purchased, and certainly not twice.) But the magic for me hadn’t quite happened. I hadn’t yet understood the implications of hope for myself, nor for my practice. Then Ronna clinched the deal.
To paraphrase her words at the time, when people go to their medical providers seeking help, only 12% of the time do they emerge with their hope having been nurtured or sustained. But in more than 50% of clinical visits, their “caregivers” actually contribute to despair.
“Well, yeah,” I said, possessed by one of those rare moments of grace, where you can know things from such a deep place that there is no need for analysis. “That’s because doctors don’t have any hope themselves, so how can we pass it on to others?”
Then the lecture ended. I don’t think the other attendees had even reached the door before I was on Ronna like Nancy Grace on a missing-white-child case, asking her to help us turn things around.
She just gave a mysterious smile, said something like, “That’s what we do.”
Thus began one of the most exciting times of my medical career, which I’ll detail further in Part III of this series, when you learn how my colleagues reacted.