Meditations: Is There Such a Thing as True Hope?
Is There Such a Thing as True Hope?
I saw a bumper sticker that read, “I feel so much better now that I’ve given up hope.” Hope is usually considered a desirable quality, but it is often a harmful condition, setting up pain when its flip side, despair, inevitably ensues.
Is there such a thing as true hope? Or is hope inherently false and misleading, the perpetual fantasy of fools?
Indeed, most of the time hope is a form of wishful thinking, a semi-desperate desire that one’s life will, at some point, turn out differently. Or one hopes for a different world, with the groundless expectation that the world will eventually, somehow get better.
Hope in this sense is disconnected from one’s own responsibility and participation in the creation of the future. People holding out this kind of hope fail to realize that without real change, the future will be like the past and the present, only more so. It’s like a smoker who hopes they don’t get cancer.
There is an optimistic predisposition that is hopeful no matter what the circumstances. This is the kind of person who sees events, especially personal events, in a positive light no matter how black the times or their condition. Sometimes such people command a certain kind of respect, like an inmate in a concentration camp who never doubts they’ll be free.
Optimistic or pessimistic dispositions seem to be almost genetic traits. Optimists are undoubtedly happier people, but the price is seeing things as they are. An optimist will see the glass half full even when it’s nearly empty, while a pessimist will see the water as draining out even when the glass is more than half full. Can one see the world as it is and be optimistic? No, but one can see things as they are and not lose hope.
Of course, for the person who believes the world is getting better, rather than worse, then hope is the triumph of belief over evidence, reason, and observation.
In exploring various kinds of ‘false hope,’ they all have one thing in common: time. Not time by the clock, but time as a goal or conviction constantly receding into the future. All false hope is based on the element of psychological time; and all psychological time is based on the premise of false hope.
It’s a tragic irony that while wishful thinking and optimism can still be found in abundance in America, the feeling of possibility in the “land of opportunity” is gone. Where does that feeling, that space of possibility, still exist? Despite its immense problems, it apparently exists in Africa. Perhaps that space of possibility is what Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are really after on the Continent, since culturally and spiritually England has gone the way of America.
So I return to the question: is there such a thing as true hope? I think so. True hope is the feeling of possibility, based on seeing what is and what can be, involving one’s relationship to both.
Without the feeling of hope as possibility, the overwhelming tendency is to grow cynical and self-serving. Without the possibility of a better world, life becomes some kind of cosmic joke. There’s a concerted, though not conspiratorial, effort by the powers that be to destroy the hope for a better world, for a just and reasonably fair society.
That urge is intrinsic to the human spirit. It’s not a matter of wishful thinking or even optimism, just possibility. So true hope is synonymous with the space of possibility. But hope is meaningless and false without being instrumental in making possibility a reality.
Most people, at least in the West, are struggling, whether they admit it or not, with despair. Despite regularly awakening meditative states, I’m not beyond the dichotomy of hope and despair. We all swim in the same stultifying soup, and there doesn’t seem much hope for humanity.
But the fat lady hasn’t sung on humankind yet, so there is still hope. But even if the possibility of changing course is lost (and it certainly can be lost), and there is no longer any hope for humanity, one need not either sink into despair, or become a zombie.
As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said in the 19th century:
“And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell…
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.