(p. xxvii) Memoriam: Remembering C. R. Snyder: A Humble Legacy of Hope
(p. xxvii) Memoriam: Remembering C. R. Snyder: A Humble Legacy of Hope
C. R. Snyder was a professor of Psychology and the M. Erik Wright Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. Dr. Snyder passed away on January 17, 2006. The event was held on the beautiful campus of the University of Kansas, Rick's professional home for 34 years. In fact, the hall where we gathered stood only a few thousand feet from both Rick's academic home, Fraser Hall, and his beloved family home, a beautiful white colonial where he and his wife, Becky, welcomed friends, students, and colleagues. Stories about Rick's professional, personal, and downright hilarious exploits flowed between family, friends, students, and colleagues. We were a crowd sharing funny memories, giggling through sobs, and honoring Rick for his public and private contributions to psychology, society, and our lives. In this remembrance of my dear mentor and friend, I attempt to explain how one uncommonly good man tirelessly worked to help many others become the uncommonly good people he foresaw that they could be.
Rick Snyder had an uncanny talent for emotionally connecting with people through short, sincere interactions that could easily have become nothing more than small talk. Friends say he developed this skill out of necessity because, as the son of a salesman, his family moved nearly every year during his childhood and adolescence. In his adulthood, Rick's gift for emotional connections brought him warm relationships through which he seemed to happily do more giving than taking. His years of loving generosity for his family, colleagues, and students often left a transformative legacy. Indeed, Rick had a knack for giving what we needed, when we needed it. In my case, Rick took me under his wing the summer before my job at KU officially started. He treated me as an equal, and he never let me allow self-doubts to get in the way of my success as a professor. He often saw possibilities before I did, and he shared opportunities that both excited and daunted me. This was Rick's way, and it's a story I've heard repeatedly from his many mentees and colleagues.
Visiting with his other mentees at the memorial service made me realize that dozens of people had benefited similarly from what Rick called the “lifetime guarantee” on his mentoring. And as recent graduate Jennifer Cheavens reminded us, although we may have thought this guarantee would be fulfilled through personal visits, over the phone, and through e-mail notes, Rick's passing did not nullify the warranty. It simply means that Rick's positive influence will extend in ways we had not had to consider. We carry within us his teachings, to guide us in our efforts to live up to the example he set for us, to help us actually be the people he said he saw inside each of us. Indeed, his teachings make his guarantee good across our lifetimes.
(p. xxviii) The memorial service was moving and appropriately understated, as Rick was no fan of pomp or piety. Perhaps this is why he continually tried to teach the importance of having fun and the quiet dignity of maintaining our humility. Rick loved to say, “If you can't laugh at yourself, you have missed the biggest joke of all.” He practiced what he preached; he laughed at his own gaffs just about daily. Through his own, quirky behavior, Rick made it safe to say, “I don't know” and “I messed up,” and of course, he never let me take myself too seriously. Most importantly, he made me laugh, all the time. Whether Rick was dive-bombing me during a research meeting with one of the model planes in his office or he was breaking campus rules and a few laws by driving my wife's scooter across hallowed ground and squealing “Wheeee!” as he did it, that lovely man cracked me up.
During the memorial, colleagues remembered Rick as both King Midas and a working stiff. Both descriptions are apt. One of my favorite memories captures both facets of Rick. In 2000, along with several other leading contemporaries in positive psychology, Rick appeared on a two-hour Good Morning America special dedicated to sharing the social science on the good life. Rick chose to conduct a live experiment to demonstrate hope theory in action. So, on national network television, Rick had three of the cast members—the host, the medical expert, and the weather guy—participate in the cold pressor task, dunking their right fists to the bottom of a tank of freezing water for as long as they could stand it. After a short time, the weather guy removed his hand and shook some life back into it. A battle of wills ensued between the host and the medical expert and, as the segment was ending so the show could go to commercial, the medical expert had enough. The host, seemingly oblivious to the pain, vowed to keep his hand in the freezing water through the break. Upon returning from the commercial, the host asked Rick what the cold pressor task had to do with hope. Rick calmly detailed for the audience the basics of hope theory and the connection between hope and pain tolerance. He then revealed that the cast members had taken the hope scale prior to the show and that the ranking of their scores had accurately predicted how long each would be able to withstand the numbing pain of the cold water before calling it quits. To a casual observer, his results might have been viewed as “lucky” and to Rick's friends, this might have been construed as more evidence of his Midas touch. But I believe the success of his live, national demonstration was attributable to the “working stiff” mentality that Rick had for his research. His passion for his work led him to spend thousands of hours in his Hope Lab, and his hard work resulted in a deep understanding of how hope manifested in daily life. This allowed the award-winning teacher in Rick to take a risk to show an audience of millions one of the many ways hope manifests itself in their lives.
Unfortunately, Rick had an intimate knowledge of the relationship between hope and pain tolerance beyond what he learned through his scholarly work. Unbeknownst to many colleagues and students, Rick suffered from chronic, nearly debilitating chest and abdominal pain for the last 15 years of his life. The origin of the pain was never determined, and risky surgeries and aggressive treatments did little to curb his burning, daily hurt. Nevertheless, Rick coped. And coped. And coped. Even when diagnosed with transitional cell cancer in late (p. xxix) December 2005 (which was seemingly unrelated to his chronic illness), he coped as best he could, with Becky by his side the whole time.
Rick Snyder's scholarship demystified the concepts of excuse making, forgiveness, and hope for the world. The work he left behind shows us how to disconnect from past negative experiences through excuse making, how to free ourselves for future possibilities through forgiveness, and how to connect to positive future opportunities through hope. Along the way, Rick used his time to teach scores of us how to love and be loved, how to laugh at ourselves, how to work with passion, and how to cope. He taught me and many others how to be better people. I believe I speak for many when I say that, although I miss him terribly and every day I still wish I could talk to him, Rick's legacy in my life will be hope for our journey. His wise and loving lessons will carry me through challenges and adventures that I don't even know are coming, to the very last day of my own life. This is the hopeful legacy of a great teacher and a truly good man.
Shane J. Lopez
Omaha, Nebraska (p. xxx)