Hope, fear and some good reads (wherein Barbara argues with herself)

December 27, 2007 by barbara

barbara writes

I’m dragging up from the comments in the previous post about the (apparently) arguable power of hope encapsulated in the word “yet.” Commenter Neo Lotus had this to say about that post.:

"Beyond Hope" by Derrick Jensen is a very good read. I came by (it) from an article posted at www.carolynbaker.net. Personally, I'm less interested in having “hope” than I am in finding a means to act.

Well, that kind of knocked me on my metaphorical keister. And not because I totally disagreed with Neo. I followed the link above and, as advertised, Jensen’s piece is a good read. Made me think. Hard. What is the real place of “hope” in healing the United States government, the battered environment, David’s body, etc.? Where does hope leave off and action begin? Is hope bogus? I think not; read on.

Here's the answer I posted for Neo’s consideration and now for yours:

Hey, there, NeoL. Thanks for the link to the Orion piece. Actually moved me to finally follow through on gifting a couple of folks with it (Orion), post-Christmas.

Very thought-provoking article on hope. But you know what? I don't see hope and action as being mutually exclusive. For starters, it's a pretty fuzzy line between hope and faith. Not certain where I am on that, frankly, but maybe that's the essence of human struggle.

I view hope as forward-looking and not necessarily linked to fear. I get the part about the potential to become so mired in the theoretical (hope) that one can be immobilized. And yeah, there's a lot of that going on re Democrats recapturing Congress and the White House (ergo, the DOJ, the DOD, the State Department, Camp David, Air Force One and Barney's kennel).

I also get that hoping isn't sufficient to ameliorate environmental threat and damage. That's a very now situation.

Cancer? That's harder. Because once the diagnosis is in place, much (though not all) of it is/seems out of one's agency, as the Orion article refers to it. Yes, there are things to be done. Exercise, nutrition, seeking best possible caregivers, complying with what makes sense, questioning what doesn't, trying to step outside the box of one's own life to view any missed possibilities. But there is much of this struggle that falls into such a great unknown in a condensed time period (tick tock) that it is tempting, and perhaps imperative, to throw it out to the universe for an assist.

Hope is not always for miracles. It is for wisdom, insight, bright ideas, novel approaches, strength to persevere, to crack the code and make something positive happen. The hope is for what we cannot see, i.e., medical researchers who are bold and inventive and creative and positioned in such a way that their ideas have clout. New ways of looking at old things. BTW, an excellent book with applications beyond the world of medicine is Groopman's "How Doctors Think."

Surely all of this applies equally to environmental issues. And in my own small way, I do consider myself an environmentalist. Much of what I know about that I have learned from David. So I hope his story continues to unfold. That's the passive part. I am kicking ass every way I can think to and even those I can't to ensure that that happens. . . .

Every year when Christmas and other December holidays roll around, we speak rather glibly of broad-based concepts like joy, peace, hope. Neo’s comment brought me up short. I feel challenged to define (at least to myself) what I mean when I say those things. And sure enough, some of it is rote.

I misplaced a book I bought a year or more ago and bought it again, guaranteeing that I’ll unearth the first copy. The book is titled, “The Impossible Will Take a Little While.” Its subtitle is “A citizen’s guide to hope in a time of fear.” The book is an anthology of essays edited by Paul Rogat Loeb. Essayists include Maya Angelou, Wendell Berry, Jim Hightower, Nelson Mandela, Henri Nouwen, Vaclav Havel and more and more and more. Even now, in the midst of my hope for solutions to a wide range of troubles, I have not yet read this book. But I will.

I keep hoping for hope, I guess. So, like, got hope or is that a futile pursuit, do you think?

Posted in


NeoLotus (not verified) | January 1, 2008 - 5:09am

Thanks for your honesty.

I didn't really say much in my original response to indicate a background on my feelings. Jensen's article has made me think as well and be more mindful about the nature of hope in its various permutations.

I see two basic kinds of hope. One is the kind where you give up any agency in the desired outcome. The other is acting in the direction of the desired outcome. In either case however, hope is not really about now. It is about some future time that may never come.

For example, to use the cancer analogy, one can do all the things you stated about dealing with it and hope it is enough to beat the cancer. If one beats the cancer that gives one more time between now and one's final days. If one doesn't, then one's final days are much closer. In either case, none of us can ever escape the day when our lives will finally end.

Whether the time we are given is long or short is really not important. What matters is what we do with the time we have.

Something I encountered when my dad died a few weeks ago is the way we live with each other, and that our loving should be in the living we do. It does not come at any special time in the year, though they do provide a way to express it more overtly. More often than not however, these special times are where we eke out the time for paying attention to it rather than being mindful of it in daily life. It is too easy to get caught up in time crunches, financial issues, problems at or with work, and then wonder why our lives seem so unfulfilled. We ignore the very things that would give us that fulfillment--fulfillment that can only come from paying attention to the people in our lives that are closest to us and to have kindness for those who cross our paths in our journey through life.

It is in this way that hope has only a limited scope in the sense that although we can "hope" for a better future or we can "hope" that humans will learn to treat each other better, Charles Dickens in "A Christmas Carol" shows that what we actually hope for is for each of us to be humane and kind and to live in such a way that our love is expressed in the very way we live. As Gandhi said, we must "be the change we wish to see in the world."

I won't ignore the role of hope to change the world, even if it is our own little corner of it. But, the reality of life is that each of us has but a tiny bit of time in which to make that difference. We can use that time to give others love, compassion, and dignity and thereby create the world we wish to live in, or we can pretend such things are outside our influence but use hope as an excuse to shy away from living in the "now." In the words of the Great Oz, "love is not measured by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others."

I suppose I consider hoping to have as much power as wishing in terms of affecting the conditions people are subject to. And yet, I have no allergies to using the word hope in the sense that I hope you understand what I'm trying get at.


rockstar (not verified) | April 17, 2008 - 2:38am

great post, thank you