New Year’s resolutions and the triumph of hope over experience

It’s that time of year again and I’m resolving, as I did last year (and possibly the year before) to do more exercise, improve my diet and finish an album of songs I’ve been working on since 2002. My New Year’s resolutions could fittingly be described as ‘The triumph of hope over experience’ (Samuel Johnson’s comment on the prospects of a second marriage).

Although Johnson’s remark was intended to be cutting, I do believe that hope can triumph over experience.

There is proof around us every day that this can be the case. We all know people who’ve struggled through bad times and experiences to make their way out of the tunnel towards a lighter and better existence.

There is a lot of debate about what enables people to keep going in adversity, and what helps them to get through the hard times. Some people call it resilience, and many believe that the ability to pick oneself up and start again is an essential ingredient for a life well-lived.

Prof. Martin Seligman’s fascinating research into ‘learned helplessness’ showed (firstly in animals and then in humans) that repeated exposure to problems over which we have little control can lead to despondency. This shows what happens when experience triumphs over hope. The debate about resilience, what it is exactly and how it helps or hinders our lives, continues.

But the fact is that most children will face problems and difficulties that are outside of the locus of their control. If these are significant and long-term it can lead to ‘learned helplessness’, a belief that it is not possible to effect change and improve one’s circumstances.

If children can have just one supportive adult in their lives to help them understand the challenges they face, it can help them believe that, despite difficult experiences, they still have the ability to solve problems and improve their lives. Often this adult will be a parent or other close family member. But for children who don’t have this support at home, a mentor from Friendship Works can make all the difference.

We hope that many Londoners will add ‘becoming a mentor at Friendship Works’ to their list of New Year’s resolutions. As we continue to expand our service in 2012 we will certainly need lots of good adults to come forward and volunteer. We have a large number of children on our waiting list, all of whom could really benefit from a few hours extra support a week.

In my next blog I’m going to outline some of our plans for 2012. It’s going to be an exciting year for Friendship Works. It’s our first year as a Bank of America Merrill Lynch Neighbourhood Builder Award winner and we’re looking forward to attending leadership training in the US.

We’re also getting involved in Beatbullying’s Big March at the end of January to campaign for the rights of children to be healthy, happy and safe from the fear of bullying – more on that next week.

Until then, please feel free to send us your resolutions for changing the world in 2012. We’d love to hear them. And may your hope continue to triumph over your experience!