And Yet I Dare to Hope

Reflections on Hope

As the New Year approaches, my thoughts have turned to the idea of hope. With some irony, I recalled how modern popular culture has incorrectly come to reify the ideas of the “ego,” the “self” and “identity,” mistakenly thinking of them as real, concrete objects. Further, I considered that we may well have deceptively done the same thing with the idea of hope. The following considerations may serve to illustrate some, though certainly not all, of the complications attending the idea of “hope.” For example, the meaning of hope is not exhausted by the distinction between hope as a conscious quality of emotion that is associated with our actions (realistic hope) and magical hope. In addition, there are all kinds of mixtures between realistic hope and magical hope.

Hope cannot be fully described and its role in the individual not fully understood without at the time describing its relation to acceptance (of reality, of the world, of one’s own situation, of others). The strength (or depletion) of the influence of hope cannot be fully described without at the same time accounting for the presence or absence, and quality, of disappointment during times of frustrated hope. It can be claimed that hope is always hope for improvement of one’s own, someone else’s or mankind’s condition. From this perspective, it becomes particularly vital as an emotional influence that can provide nourishment to the pursuit of our goals. However, the more certain one needs to be that hope will not be disappointed, the more one is functioning in the realm of the idea of hope in which there is reward for effort, and one begins to engage in (either less or more extreme) magical hope.

At the extreme point of magical hope are those reformers, revolutionaries and prophets who are convinced that ultimately they will succeed, that their paths alone are the right ones and that only those paths can lead to ultimate salvation. A polar position is pessimism, a view that nothing can be done to relieve man’s painful state in this world. Even the position of pessimism can take different forms. For example, ideological and contemporary political conservatives feed the masses a magical, fantastic sense of hope, in which they themselves do not actually believe. Another, surely more preferable form of pessimism, is perhaps best represented by Camus’ Sisyphus. In this case, the fact is accepted that we cannot know and yet we still have to make the effort. This is acceptance of reality, of man’s finite situation, without abandoning effort despite being unable to rely upon hope as a resource. It is a position where the effort is still maintained, but because we want to make it, even if it will turn out to have been in vain. This is very difficult and courageous, because it calls for giving up all hope for reward.

Finally, to complicate matters further in trying to clearly specify the meaning of hope, the issue of degree of certainty inevitably becomes involved. For example, if I could not expect with some degree of certainty that by taking the subway or bus I will arrive at a certain chosen destination (or goal), I well might give up the effort altogether. In others words, the attempt to specify the meaning of hope is even further complicated by the need to clarify the many relationships between hope and expectations.

And yet I dare to hope.

Josh Groban: You Raise Me Up

Happy New Year!!

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