Monday, January 2, 2012

Hope, Not the Bob kind

There’s an interesting discussion at The Arch Druid Report about hope and optimism and pessimism and whether wishing on a star is a good thing or a bad one. I touched upon this subject a while back, but it deserves another go-round. These are words that are used daily and yet there seems to be no universal understanding of the concepts they represent.

John Michael Greer offers one definition of hope:
“ . . . hope doesn’t depend on a sense of entitlement that insists the universe is obligated to provide us with whatever happy ending we think we want, and in any real sense, it’s incompatible with notions of that kind. Hope is the quality of character and the act of will that finds some good that can be achieved, no matter what the circumstances, and then strives to achieve it.”

On the first part, we are agreed. “Hope” has nothing to do with a sense of entitlement, nor with the kind of wishful thinking around which we have built a cult of Positivity. But neither is hope a quality of character that works to make the best of a bad situation. I’m not sure what the term for that quality would be -- courageous, perhaps . . . resilient, or resourceful, or some combination of the three. We are arguing semantics here, but it does seem that semantics matters.

Hope can be a verb or a noun, but not an adjective. As a verb, ‘to hope’ is to recognize that there is more than one outcome possible and that some of those outcomes are more desirable than others. ‘To hope’ is to focus one’s imaginative power on the more positive outcomes. ‘Hope’ as a noun refers to the belief that a positive outcome is still possible even when it is unlikely.

It seems to me that hope is most appropriate for those events in life that are beyond our power to effect -- we hope that a friend who has cancer may be cured; we hope that the Saints will make it to the Super Bowl; we hope that the lost child in the news will be found whole and happy. Hope is a wish for the best and yet a recognition that our wishes are not always fulfilled. Hope implies the possibility of an undesirable outcome and is an attempt to ward it off with the power of positive thinking. Hope, at best, is weak and ineffectual, but it can keep a light burning where otherwise there would be darkness. It can also prevent one from accepting and dealing with reality. On the one hand is a person who boards up the house, evacuates, and hopes that the hurricane loses strength before it makes landfall, and on the other is a person who sits stubbornly at home while the waves come crashing ashore and yet entertains the weird notion that hope will suffice.

Hope, to me, is not one of the great virtues. Courage is, as are resourcefulness and resilience. But hope . . . I’d rather have a clear-eyed reality check any day. After I’ve prepared for the worst, then, and only then, will I hope for the best. And if the worst comes anyway, I hope that I may have the courage, resourcefulness and resilience to make the best of a bad situation and to inspire others to do the same.

Language is funny, isn’t it?

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