19 Sep Here’s Hoping
Let’s begin with a quote
“To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly…
“Despair is a form of certainty, certainty that the future will be a lot like the present or will decline from it; despair is a confident memory of the future, in Gonzalez’s resonant phrase. Optimism is similarly confident about what will happen. Both are grounds for not acting. Hope can be the knowledge that we don’t have that memory [of the future]…”
The “me” from the quote above is Rebecca Solnit, in her essay Woolf’s Darkness published in her collection of essays Men Explain Things to Me and available to read at the link above.
What do you think? About hope, despair, and optimism?
Hope, Despair, & Optimism
I’ve been contemplating hope for a while now. Intellectually, I think it’s something I don’t have much of that I would like to cultivate more of. In action, I’m hopeful much of the time. My behavior, learning and teaching and making plans for the future, indicates that I have hope. My opinion suggests the opposite: the future is bleak. What I think about things and what I do about them aren’t speaking to one another. My thoughts are muddied with despair. My actions are floating on hope.
Coming across Rebecca Solnit’s take on hope, however, put the concept in a light I hadn’t considered before (as so much of her writing does). She’s saying that hope is knowing we don’t know what’s going to happen, and remembering how often we’re surprised by what winds up taking place. She contrasts hope with the concepts of despair and optimism, foolhardy yet confident forecasts of the future.
Despair says: It’s going to be shit. Full stop.
Optimism says: It’s going to be great! Full stop.
Hope says: I don’t know how it’s going to be, so what’s the best way we can move forward towards the outcome we most desire?
Inspired by the essay, I got to thinking that maybe despair and optimism are the more superficial, or surface-level emotions associated with the discomfort of not knowing. And, if we leave it at that, we’ve done ourselves a disservice not only in mind, but in effort.
Ending the conversation at depressing despair or blind optimism is like stopping the digging when we hit something hard and suspiciously hollow with our shovel. Despair says “Don’t keep going, it’s a Pandora’s box. It’s going to suck. Just…put the shovel away and live your life the best you can.” Optimism says “Oh it must be magical treasure! Let’s not look, the magic goes away if you look too closely, and isn’t magic fun and exciting? Cover it back up and leave it for someone else to find!”
Hope, on the other hand, is strengthened by remembering that we can’t know before we get there, it’s not always the worst, and there’s plenty of cause to take value-led action that assumes even the most improbable positive outcome could transpire, with or without our ever coming to find out. In fact, we don’t have to know the outcome to try our best anyway. What is it, the butterfly effect? That’s the whole game. We live with no memory of the future.
Photo by Pixabay