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Toward a Hopeful New Year

written by Louis Alloro 28 December 2008

Louis Alloro, M.Ed., MAPP '08, is a cofounder of a 6-month Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology Program, Fellow at the Center for Advancement of Wellbeing at George Mason University, and founder of SOMO Leadership Labs, a community intervention. Web site. Full Bio.

Articles by Louis are here.

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

With so much talk of mavericks this year, I have been reflecting on who really fits that bill. Is it Barack Obama for becoming the first African American president? Harvey Milk for following a civil rights dream? Was it Mother Teresa who touched the lives of people no one else wanted to help? Pope Benedict, whose visit to the US this year re-inspired many Catholics to their faith?

Who are mavericks closer to home? Was it my Nana Teeney, my paternal grandmother, who graduated from New York University in 1939 as part of the first class of coed graduates? Is it my friend Ann who helped me change my belief system and habits about the importance of being environmentally conscious – that it is in fact our responsibility?

believe_change.JPGEach of these people are mavericks – inspirational trailblazers. They are people who exude a graceful agency and inspire others with a contagious energy in the quests for “the good life.”

I call these people Social-Emotional Leaders – people who look out for the well-being of themselves, others, and the world.

Social-Emotional Leaders go forth, at times into uncharted territories, to create positive change for themselves. Because we are such social beings, the positive impact of their efforts surpasses the individual. We are all part of cultures and contexts with enormous histories and traditions that affect our lives in many ways.

Some people accept these circumstances as just the way it is, the way it has always been. But Social-Emotional Leaders look at life the way it could be or ought to be and take intentional steps to get there. They have the vision to achieve their goals, and perhaps most importantly, they have hope.

Hope as an Agent of Change

There are many components to pursuing and achieving goals. Hope is arguably the first of these components. Hope creates the space for new possibilities to exist. According to Shane Lopez and colleagues “hope is a strength that fuels our pursuit of the good life.”

Hope fuels two types of thinking: agency thinking (belief in yourself, and that you can achieve your goals) and pathway thinking (developing the steps you are going to have to take to make it happen).

hopefloats.jpgIt is important to note that goals have internal and external aspects. “Internally, they are ideas (desired ends); externally, they refer to the object or condition sought (e.g., a job, a performance level – a civil right, a degree earned). According to Edwin Locke, “the idea guides action to attain the object”.

Agency, or action, then bridges the gap between the internal and the external – what is desired and what is actually achieved. Without agency, people quite easily fall back into their regular ways of being. Locke’s goal setting theory relates back to Aristotle’s notion of “final causality” insofar as one’s purpose, which is arguably derived from hopeful possibilities, must ultimately lead to action – the pathways to reach the desired goals. Barack Obama, Harvey Milk, and even Nana Teeney exude the epitome of hope. Consider their successes without  their visions, pathways and  agency – or without their support systems helping them get there.

Building Hope: Both Cognitive and Social

To build hope, we can encourage people to identify what it is they really want, align it with what they value, leverage it with their strengths, and achieve it by setting goals (baby steps) in the direction of that vision. With whatever strategy one uses to build hope, the process is both cognitive and social. There is power in learning these tools (the cognitive piece) and then applying them (the social piece) within real life.tellmeyourstory.jpg

One way groups can aim to instill more hope into their cultures is to engage in activities that help members find voice, or positive concepts of self. William Compton’s research shows the power of telling stories in providing hope. It has been shown that people learn the “language of hope by identifying the goals, thoughts, pathway thinking, and agency sources referred to in their narrative.”  Sometimes these stories are called “serious introductions” – of ourselves at our very best.

Lopez and colleagues suggest that “accentuating” hope is most easily accomplished within the context of healthy and supportive relationships. It is never too late to have healthy relationships in our lives. Jon Haidt calls us ultrasocial hive creatures. “Termiteable,” Marty Seligman agrees. Like termites and bees, we human need each other. Remember what Chris Peterson says, “Other people matter.”

Become a Social-Emotional Leader in 2009


While all people possess the ability to have hope, variability – like different grades of fuel – exists from person to person. The good news is that Lopez and colleagues show hope is malleable, which is to suggest we can bring people to more premium grades of hope. Since hope is the “spark for and pathway to change” it is important we are conscious of building it within the contexts of our relationships.

We can help each other build hope by creating space in our families, schools, and communities that allow for infinite possibilities to exist for the many. As in athletic training, enduring hope is built by taking baby-steps towards achieving what is possible; one can’t expect to run a marathon without building up the capacity to do so over time, mile by mile. Remember hopeful thought reflects belief that one can find pathways to achieve desired goals and become motivated, hopefully intrinsically, to use those pathways.

So, let’s help each other find, set, and stay accountable to goals which can help us become our best selves in 2009. Keep the likes of Harvey Milk and Nana Teeney in mind; authentic, hopeful thought is contagious. Being a Social-Emotional Leader starts  with a vision and a conversation. So, be bold and invite someone into that dialogue today about becoming better people in the new year.



Alloro, L. J. (2008). Shift happens: Using Social-Emotional Leadership to create positive, sustainable cultural change. University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons.

Compton, W. C. (2005). Positive psychology interventions. In Introduction to Positive Psychology (pp. 182-195). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Locke, E. A. (1996). Motivation through conscious goal setting, Applied & Preventive Psychology, (5) 117-124.

Lopez, S. J., Snyder, C. R., Magyar-Moe, J. L., Edwards, L., Pedrotti, J. T., Janowki, K., Turner, J. L., & Pressgrove, C. (2004). Strategies for accentuating hope. In Linley,P. A. & Joseph, S. (2004). Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 388-404). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Peterson, C. (2007). A Primer in Positive Psychology, Oxford University Press, Pages 158 – 160.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Sean 29 December 2008 - 12:33 am

Thank you Louis for being a Social-Emotional Leader and starting us off with this wonderful vision and goal for the new year!

I am reminded of the final movements of Whitman’s Song of Myself where Whitman speaks directly to reader, hooks us around the waste pointing “to landscapes hence,” and then calls on us to make a difference.

“Shoulder your duds dear son, and I will mine, and let us
hasten forth,
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.

If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your
hand on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me,
For after we start we never lie by again.”

* * * * *

“Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of
every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me,
shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.”

* * * * *

Then in the final unpunctuated line of the poem “I stop somewhere waiting for you”


Senia Maymin 29 December 2008 - 1:09 am

Hi Louis,

Thank you for this article. Sean, I am really glad you put this poem in – I had not known it before.

Louis, I really liked your opening about where to look for SE leaders – both far away and nearby examples.

Louis, I’d love to hear more. Suppose I wanted to become a social-emotional leader, what specific actions should I take? You say to invite people in to talk about their vision and goal. Suppose I want to do this with my brother or my close friend… should I give that person a call, and say “what do you say if we talk about what you want to move forward in your life in 2009?”

Are there other, better questions you’d recommend? Would emailing someone to talk about their dreams be better than calling – more routinizable, more predictable regular reminders may be possible from email.

Should I start by asking a friend’s vision, or should I ask a friend to help with mine? – if I agree with your premise – which I do – that I want to take intentional steps, develop contagious energy, etc.

Thanks much,
Best best! And best of 09 to you!

Louis Alloro 29 December 2008 - 10:56 am


Thanks for such a lovely example of what Social-Emotional Leadership is all about. Long enough is right!

Whitman’s poem reminds me of French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, who said:

“Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
They came. He pushed them and they flew.”

Best wishes for an amazing new year,

Louis Alloro 29 December 2008 - 11:12 am


Thanks for pushing me to be more specific on the HOWs of being a Social-Emotional Leader. The task you give me is difficult, because as Sonja Lyubomirsky warns us, positive interventions are all about “fit.”

I encourage you to be an “action scientist” — to think about how your brother or close friend would respond best to your invitation. Face-to-face? Phone? Email? Authentic, transparent, and exciting communication is key.

Perhaps you may choose to elicit positive emotion as a first step. Do something fun with your brother that will open him up to hearing you offer the possibility of helping each other. I think that is the key — a “bi-directional flow” of accountability — so that he does not feel like you are putting him on the spot. From that place of “broadening and building,” together you can help each other envision the positive future and then create the pathways to get there. You can then help each other stay accountable to those pathways.

In my life, I’m helping my Aunt Julie build resilience and optimism in her life (my strength)– and she’s helping me organize my finances (her strength). It’s a lovely arrangement and a complete win-win.

Senia, thank you for giving us PPND — and thank you for being an editor extraordinaire. You say, “Suppose I want to become a Social-Emotional Leader,” but I would suggest you already are.

You are a gem and I am grateful,


Christine Duvivier 29 December 2008 - 3:31 pm

Louis, Thanks for the great article! Thanks too for reminding us of the importance of helping ourselves and others to have hope –and especially for paying attention to the stories we tell. All wonderful reminders at any time, but particularly good at this time of year.

Wishing you continued hope and s-e leadership in 2009,


Louis Alloro 30 December 2008 - 8:01 am


Thanks for the warm feedback. I agree that the reminder is good for all of us. I know for me, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in my own life that sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important — my life in relationship to other people.

Wishing you all good things in the new year, too-

Senia 30 December 2008 - 1:55 pm

Wow, much thanks for such incredible words.

Louis, in addition to SE leadership, this post is a really welcome intro to small-step goals and asking for help from friends. I’m going to take your advice and do an exchange type thing with close friends who want to grow. There are some coaching things friends start to reach out for, and it’s nice when I’m mindful enough to catch them at those times. And there’s a ton I need help with – my research, tech things for PPND, marketing to grow PPND. And I have done exchanges before for coaching because I love coaching anyway. I may try that with a close friend too. I have sometimes on and off, but I think what’s nice is consistency – saying, “let’s try this for four weeks back and forth.”

I’m really liking the Louis-Sean-Christine comments in this thread.

Best, and almost the new year…

Louis Alloro 30 December 2008 - 6:14 pm

Yes! Senia, that’s what Social-Emotional Leadership is all about — “small-step goals and asking for help from friends.” It’s about leveraging our friends, bartering our strengths, and staying accountable to our goals. This is something we all need and something we all can provide. ‘Nonzerosumness’ at its finest.

It worked really well for me an Nick Hall during the past few months as we were both preparing our applications to graduate school. We both stayed on target as true Aristotelian Friends! Let me know how it goes with you and yours, please.


Iris Marie Bloom 4 January 2009 - 3:16 pm

Wow, Louis, I was so happy to see you mention Harvey Milk early in your article on Hope! Funny, I’d already drafted a column drawing in part on Harvey’s special ability to create an atmosphere of renewed hope exactly at those times when people all around him were feeling defeated, even crushed. His hope, combined with commitment and charisma, energized tens of thousands of people, increasing gay people’s commitment to actions intensely personal — coming out — and overtly political: organizing for change! It’s such an important story, and good to see it referred to in PPND.
I also especially appreciated your reference to your friend Ann… and I’m very curious HOW she helped you shift your environmental belief system to the idea that it’s all “our” responsibility? WHAT did she say, and what happened in your shift? Are you more hopeful about environmental issues as a result of your shift, or just more tuned in and engaged? (I would very much like to help the 14 million people who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to make that shift… so I would really love to hear as long & detailed an answer as you can make!)
I’ve enjoyed this whole thread very much, and Sean, I never get tired of seeing that poem. If anyone wants to keep going on this hope thread, here are my more general questions: One, what different tools do we need, individually and collectively, to generate hope under dire circumstances compared to calm everyday circumstances? Two, when it comes to painful big-picture issues like war or endangered species, is there a direct connection between despair and hope… in other words, does it sometimes help to actively move through, express and connect to the real sense of loss which is usually ignored or denied… in order to get to the empowering hope? This has been a theory and process promoted specifically by Joanna Macy, a brilliant social emotional leader herself (she coined the term “despair and empowerment work” long ago, which sounds like a downer; but her workshops on environmental and social change issues are deeply strength-cultivating and hope-generating). What do you all think, either theoretically or based on personal experience?
Very grateful for everyone’s contributions, and happy new year y’all!

Louis Alloro 7 January 2009 - 12:09 pm

Ann (not her real name) is very good at being green. It’s one of her strengths and certainly one of her passions. She has even suggested to me that we look at being green as a game we play. More fun that way!

One day, during a break in class, Ann and I went downstairs to the deli to get iced teas. It was one of those self-serve situations, where we poured our own, and then took them to the cash register to pay.

By instinct, I reached for a plastic lid and straw for my cup of tea when she asked, “Do you really need those?”

When I realized what she was inferring—that we were going right back up the escalators to sit in another few hours of lecture, I realized that I didn’t need to waste the plastic lid and straw. I could simply drink from the cup.

At that moment, Ann served as a Social-Emotional Leader for me. She helped me see something that I had “failed to notice” and perhaps habitually so. This is not to suggest that I will never use a plastic lid or straw again; that is ridiculous. I am just more conscious of when lids and straws are necessary and when perhaps they are not.

We need more “Anns” in our lives to help us gain consciousness (one of the first steps in any change process) of what we may fail to notice. I suppose the power in her role as SEL was in her question–“Do you really need those, Louis?”. SELs help us get in tune with what we need vs. what we want. Especially during this time of economic despair, I think these “appreciative” inquiries are really necessary in building hope for our ever-changing realities.

To address your question about the role of despair with hope, I do think (from my own experience) that it’s necessary to get real with loss before, during, even sometimes after, we build hope. Reminds me of Chris Feutdner’s work in palliative care. Tattooed on my back is a Latin phrase, “Per Aspera Ad Astra” which means “Through the thorns, to the stars.”

I truly believe that Social-Emotional Leaders help us peel the layers of our emotional selves and introduce us to some of the tools (see Salovey, P., Mayer, J. D., & Caruso, D. (2005)) that can be beneficial in the process of really getting to that empowering place of infinite pathways and intrinsic agency. Reminds me a bit of Harvey Milk’s ability to inspire hope – so I’ll sign off with his own call to action —

“I’m here to recruit you” — and other Social-Emotional Leaders. Let’s work together to build hope and inspire people to become their best selves.

Thank you, Iris, for your contribution to this thread and for your continued passion to inspire positive change.


waynej 7 January 2009 - 3:33 pm

Louis – I just read an article by a futurist who speculated that being green was (past tense) the flavour of the month. He suggested that “green nazi’s” were turning people off. Sometimes passion can go a little too far.

Louis Alloro 7 January 2009 - 4:42 pm

I agree — everything can go “too far” as you say. Just look at what happened on Wall Street.

But still, being environmentally conscious is something that has not gone far enough — especially on Main Street, America. Not sure how it is by you, abroad. How many people do you know who choose not to recycle? It irks me to no end that companies like Starbucks, for example, have not yet made this a priority.

Perhaps smaller companies can be more easily influenced. Right around Thanksgiving, I was in a local deli having lunch. When I finished my bottle of water and looked around for a recycle bin, I was disheartened not to find one. I made it my point, then, to find the manager, explain how necessary (and easy!) it is that he put out recycling bins. I told him how much I enjoy eating at his establishment, but that this would be a deal-breaker. Haven’t been back yet to see if it made a difference, but at least I spoke up. It’s important that we speak up…and now.


waynej 7 January 2009 - 5:23 pm

Louis, I agree – but its the way you speak up. Zealots rub people up the wrong way.

Louis Alloro 7 January 2009 - 5:59 pm

I couldn’t agree more — it is all in the execution. That’s why I explained to Senia in this thread that Social-Emotional Leaders need to be “action scientists” — to determine what would work best given the unique variables of a given (relational) situation. An appreciative and positive approach is always most desirable, but not always possible. Such is life!

Iris Marie Bloom 13 January 2009 - 6:38 pm

Louis, thank you for your specific, thoughtful, complete response. I really appreciate it. You’ve made a very rich thread even richer.

Words like “zealots” and “nazis” are strong words. Wayne, I’m wondering why you choose to focus on this? Any particular experiences you have had?

It seems to me that if we have a deep understanding and a thoughtful approach to the habits we all need to change, then we would be centered on that, and running into an unpleasant nazi or zealot here or there would be merely a distraction rather than something that somehow defines the whole issue of our relationship to clean air, clean water, what we put into our bodies, species extinction, etc. It’s easy for all of us to agree that zealots “rub people up the wrong way,” but agreeing about that doesn’t add a lot to our inspiration!

My own guess is that, on the one hand, many truly great leaders, from Harvey Milk to Martin Luther King to Gandhi — were absolutely dismissed as zealots (the term “Nazi” thrown about casually wasn’t “in” then) by many or most of their contemporaries who disagreed with them. So, we should be careful who we throw into the trash can. Even Wharton Business School right now has signs in the bathrooms asking, “do you really need to use that extra sheet of tissue?” which I love. Zealotry, nazism, in the toilet stalls of Wharton? I don’t think so. I think it’s on everybody’s mind, including lots of sociologists and psychologists, who are constantly researching what works to create pro-environmental behavioral change. (Hotels, it turns out, are best off if they leave signs saying “many of our guests prefer to leave only the towels they have used on the floor, so that not all towels need to be washed,” or something like that, indicating the popularity of this water-saving, electricity-saving behavior.)

And that gets back to the point of doing what works. Yes, I’ve heard stories of “vegan nazis” who lecture a complete stranger for putting cream in their coffee when soy milk is available… that is a turn-off, a petty negative hostile behavior instead of a constructive, engaging, social leadership behavior. But, there is a HUGE array of constructive and engaging leadership to be explored, and hey — with my own very favorite body of water, the Chesapeake Bay, so badly compromised right now, I for one don’t want to delay.
I’m planning to start with some Chesapeake Bay Lovers brunches, coming right up, because I’ve always witnessed that food and drink makes just about everything more fun…

Louis, I love the playfulness aspect you raise, too. I’ve been incorporating that into my own pro-environmental work a lot, especially lately, and it was great to see that affirmed. There are so many examples out there, too; but will have to write about that another time. All for now…


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