The value and necessity of hope in the face of a future that can seem bleak.
By E.F Nicholson
Hope is one of those words that can be overused and unfortunately associated with more triteness and propaganda than actual genuine hope. Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, should have been titled The Audacity of Using Hope to Get Elected. I guess that has less of a ring to it. The Obama US presidential campaign of 2008 was one example of the word being used to elicit that most human of feelings, “hope,” but ending up all but meaningless. When taking power, hope was put through the shredder with everything else they promised. What makes the whole book and campaign even more exploitive is the targeting of that feeling in many of us of wanting “to hope,” while manipulating it to gain office. As disingenuous and empty as politicians and advertisers make the word “hope” out to be, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a feeling paramount to how we live our lives and the way we envision our future. I think this is even more the case when we look at the current state of the world and where it seems to be heading. The less hope there seems to be, the more hope is needed.
Of course, there is a distinction between false optimism and genuine hope. The empty platitude of “Don’t worry; things always work out in the end” is an example of the type of thought-terminating cliches that are nothing more than a mechanism we employ to avoid facing painful experiences. “Look on the bright side; the train only cut off both your legs, but it did leave you with your arms” is part of how we numb and distract ourselves from the reality of what’s going on around us. It seems denial and hope do walk a fine line, but we must make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as to dismiss hope on the back of just being “realistic,” we can enter a rather bleak and desolate world. A world without hope is a world in which the darkest of forces have taken over and sealed in for all eternity their inconsolable and cruel reign. Yet, if that hasn’t come to pass (pretty sure I didn’t see the eye of Sauron last time I looked at the sky), then there is still room for hope, a need for hope, and a necessity for hope.
In the dictionary, hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.” In this definition we can hope for good or bad things to come about, yet hope, within reference to how many people see it, is not just the desire for a particular thing to happen, but rather particular “good things” to happen. Better things. When we talk about hope for humanity, we are talking about hope as a belief that we can save ourselves from eminent climate demise. Hope for the residents of Gaza means their lives can get better, not worse. Hope for ourselves means we can emancipate ourselves from our vices and circumstances that hold us back and keep us down.
If we take this kind of hope away, what do we need to deny to do so? If we deny ourselves hope, then we deny ourselves all that comes with it: inspiration, optimism, spontaneity, loving actions, etc. To live without hope is really to say, “Who cares? Why bother? It matters nought anyway.” That sentiment about the pointlessness of it all, I think, is something we all go through personally and collectively. For myself, I have gone through periods where I not only felt hopeless, but also just totally devoid of hope all together, as if my condition and trajectory in life has already been written, and either I stoically accept it or painfully delude myself otherwise. It comes as no surprise that the general sense of bleakness that accompanies this conclusion can feel overwhelming and depressing, yet it’s not just the gloom that sets in. When we take away hope, we take away that space, no matter how small it may feel, that allows things to grow, change and transform.
I believe we all possess an intrinsic drive within us to grow, to evolve and move forward, no matter where that is directed. To take that away and conclude there is no space to grow is to deny a central aspect of our is-ness. The “move to grow” isn’t something we choose, but rather it’s just there, part of who we are. What I discovered is no matter how we may convince ourselves that our lives have “no hope,” we build an argument that goes against the very nature of who we are. Hopelessness will never, in the end, sit right with us. It will never resonate with us in a way that we greet it with unquestioned acceptance. Some deep human and primordial force within us just won’t allow that hope to die. It’s why even in the face of such insurmountable obstacles, people still get out there and try to make a difference. It’s how families endure and get through horrific acts that befall them. It’s why people can eventually heal, no matter how much trauma they have endured. At heart, it’s why we don’t all just lie in bed and let ourselves die.
We know deep down things can get better. This doesn’t mean we magically rid the world of all injustice and suffering, but rather it recognises the value of contributing to that vision of the world being a better place. Hope tells us that anything we do out of love, kindness and care can never be pointless and obsolete. Its mark and measure we may not be able to see, but nonetheless we have to add positively to what matters most. In valuing hope, we value the effort of persisting to love for love’s sake, not the achievement or the end itself. Hope is saying to the world, “Yes, I do give a shit, and so should you.” This life we have been gifted is worth using to counterbalance all the wrong in the world. If that has no value, then what does?
Hope tells us, even if we don’t have the answer within reach or the solution near, wherever there are people willing to put love, justice and compassion at the forefront of their actions, all things become possible. In our loving hearts, in our kindness, in our generosity or fairness, each time we act from the bigger place inside ourselves, we emit hope, even if we don’t see it ourselves. A world filled with hope isn’t a world bent on creating rainbows and unicorns; rather, it’s a world that knows the value and power of what our love for ourselves, each other and the world around us is capable of creating and bringing into life. Hope is the logical conclusion in discovering the indestructibleness of our love and divinity. Even if all humanity annihilates itself in a nuclear winter or Earth ends up as hot as Venus, the invincibility of love continues to be true. Embedded somewhere in the universe’s memory, our loving acts will remain.
So to espouse hopelessness is vainly assuming that all the information is in and this is just the way it is, that we somehow know everything and therefore this is what we conclude. Hope exists in the understanding of how little we know, how little anyone really knows, and how utterly mysterious our lives and the universe really are. If we assume we have just a tiny grain of understanding the nature of life and the universe, across the vast sand dunes of information there is to know, then we have nothing but the space to grow, the room to evolve and good reason to hope.
I know, personally, unless I start my day with the awareness that what I do matters and what I do has meaning, I shield myself from my own impact on myself and others and divorce myself from all these myriad of possibilities life presents, hidden in the clear light of day. Hope is something I really want to give more attention and commitment to. For a long time, I have seen hope as a bit like a carrot we dangle in front of ourselves to just keep us going, that in the end has no relationship to reality itself. However, I have come to see hope as so much more than that. Hope is this tiny spark at the bottom of Pandora’s box, that contains in it all the possibilities and potentials the universe holds, yet is easy to miss in the deluge of terror and horror that first pours from the box. So to access and experience that light of hope, we must first know it’s there to be found. We must have hope first before we get to see the fulfilment of its promises. It starts with hope, and from there it has no end.