Hope Actually

Hope can be hard to see these days. When large segments of us yearn for different or opposing outcomes, our efforts manifest as conflict and argument. It looks like hatred. It doesn’t look hopeful at all.

But hope is actually everywhere.

Beneath our labels — ‘believers’ and ‘skeptics’, ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’, ‘traditionalists’ and ‘progressives’ — we share one thing in common: we are all hoping for something. The simple notion that our existence can be improved from the status quo compels us all. Where does the motivation to speak out, stand up, protest, fight, or voice opinions come from, if not hope? Hope is our impetus.

If we believed that nothing mattered, we would not do anything. Despair is the soul of inactivity. But we argue about EU memberships, American political figures, religious radicalization, ecological policy, and refugee responses. Regardless of which ‘side’ of the debates we align ourselves, we see the potential future through the lens of our hopes.

And we are all hoping for remarkably similar things: security, peace, predictability, and happiness. Whether we are striving to achieve these ends through Sharia law, the Four Noble Truths, the Ten Commandments, or a particular political constitution, is all merely a point of detail. Go anywhere the world, listen to what people say they want, and you will hear the same sentiment: “I want to live in a society that reflects and reinforces my values.” This hope is universal. It is everywhere.

Hope is our final hope: hope that a critical threshold of us will realize we are all animated by hope; hope that in spite of our radically different values and visions we will discover a hope shared in common; hope that we will be one of the generations that make the necessary concessions and compromises so that multiple, diverse hopes can flourish together. At least, this is my hope.

What is the alternative? What is left if we lose this hope? What do we have left to hope otherwise?

Hope is the one good god still left on earth;
The rest forsake us and have gone to live
On Mount Olympus. Gone is the great god Trust
And Wisdom’s gone; my friend, the Graces have
Abandoned earth. Firm oaths no longer stand,
And no one worships the immortal gods.
The race of pious men has died away
And no one knows reverence or law.
Yet, while a man’s alive and sees the sun,
Let him still worship Hope among the gods
And let him pray, and burn rich offerings
To the gods, and let him sacrifice to Hope
The first and last.
(Elegies 1135-47, trans. Wender 1973:137)

We might say that hope is, in effect, the universal religion of humankind. But, like every religion, it is divided into sects and denominations of variant and diametric interpretation. Many deities, prophets, and philosophers enliven our consciousness, yes, but ultimately every single one of us can articulate a vision for a better world. “Faith,” writes the epistoler, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KVJ). What is conviction and commitment, if not operationalized confidence in what we hope for?

Yes, hope is actually everywhere. And, more than that, hope is all we have, as Aesop said, “hope alone remains” — even in a world where every other good thing has been lost. (Fable 123, trans. Temple 1998:93).

Do not be discouraged with humanity — we are a very hopeful bunch.

7 thoughts on “Hope Actually

  1. I have as much hope in humanity as Moses did after his people broke the Ten Commandments Covenant and started worshiping idols again. “I hope I would find my way if I were lost; I did. I re established my covenants and am guided by God, and faith. I believe hope is fleeting and I pray for my my place in heaven”.

  2. This discussion of hope reminds me of a passage by Philo of Alexandria in his On Rewards and Punishments (§10 and following), in which he remarks similarly of hope serving as the primary motivator behind all human action. Hope, writes Philo, is “that most vital form of seed which the Creator sowed in the rich soil of the rational soul” and motivates all human action, regardless of one’s intended aim: one hopes for glory achieved in political life; in the hope of successful voyage a skipper sails across the sea; hope of prizes moves the training athlete to endure the contests of the arena. For Philo, this “vital seed” in the human rational soul is best employed in the quest for virtue and wisdom: “the hope of happiness incites also the devotees of virtue to study wisdom, believing that thus they will be able to discern the nature of all that exists and to act in accordance with nature and so bring to their fullness the best types of life, the contemplative and the practical, which necessarily make their possessor a happy man” (p.319 in the Loeb edition).

    • Thanks for bringing this to the discussion, Nathan. I haven’t read Philo yet, and this passage was not on my radar at all. As you note, it is highly resonate with the theme. Thanks for bringing it to bear here.

  3. So the human race is driven
    By fate. Of what comes from Zeus
    We have no sure sign, and yet
    We set foot upon great endeavours
    And hanker for many things.
    Our bodies are chained to wanton hope,
    And the waters of foresight lie far away.
    We must hunt for the mean in our profits —
    Loves beyond reach sting too sharply to madness.
    (Pindar, *Nemean XI* 42-46; in Trans C.M. Bowra, 1969:231, Penguin)

  4. Prometheus: I stopped mortals from seeing their death.
    Chorus: What remedy did you find for that affliction?
    Prometheus: I planted blind hopes within them.

    *Prometheus Bound* 248-250 (Trans. Alan Sommerstein, 2009)

  5. “You know I cannot save them. I am not here to save anybody or to save the world. All I can do — what I am called to do — is to plant myself at the gates of Hope. Sometimes they come in; sometimes they walk by. But I stand there every day and I call out till my lungs are sore with calling, and beckon and urge them in toward beautiful life and love…”
    (The Small Work in the Great Work, by Victoria Safford – http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/383693/11060207/1299256260473/JOS+2011+Small+Work+in+the+Great+Work.pdf)

  6. But while a man still lives and sees the sun still shine,
    if he’s religious, let him look to Hope.
    Let him pray to the gods and burn his offerings
    honouring Hope in first place and in last.
    (Anonymous Theognidea, in frag. 1135-50; trans. West, M. L. 2008[1993]:149)

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