The complexity of hope

Last night one of my favorite writers, Sarah Kendzior, posted a series of tweets that started with the statement, “I do not know what is more damaging to young people in this economy: fear, or hope.”  I Storified some of the conversation here; my feelings are complicated.

There are so many different kinds of hope.

There’s the kind that keeps people passive, the kind Kendzior is talking about: the kind that says “maybe someday I’ll get a good job, so I’ll keep my head down, accept my exploitation, not criticize the system.” (Which is in its own way a survival strategy, and there’s a fine line between analyzing it at the societal level and looking down on the people who use it.)

But there’s also the kind of hope that keeps people alive and engaged, the kind that wards off paralyzing despair: the kind that says, “I’m going to keep putting one foot in front of the other, because there’s a chance things will get better someday.” The kind that has seen the alternative, and isn’t willing to fall down that hole.

There’s the kind that goes hand-in-hand with compassion and resistance. The kind that says, “I believe the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. I know in my bones that we can make a difference, even if the odds are against us. I believe in the power of love, of community, of connection. We will rise up.”

There’s nothing inherently naive or passive about hope.

Hope isn’t necessarily dependent on fantasies of an external savior. It isn’t mutually exclusive with thinking critically, facing fear, and acting for justice.

Hope is just one tool in the human emotional/philosophical toolbox.

For some people it’s useful, even necessary.

Other people find that it holds them back–that they can only act effectively when they feel, deep down, that there’s nothing left to lose. That they need something more concrete than hope, more grounded in the present.

Both–all–reactions are ok.

It’s ok to feel however you feel.

What matters is how you act.

Hold onto whatever you need to.

Let go of whatever you need to.

Just keep your fire burning–whether that means fighting, surviving, or something in between.

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10 thoughts on “The complexity of hope

  1. I agree with you. This speaks to thoughts and feelings I’ve had for awhile. Hope can be powerful, in both positive and sometimes negative ways. For me though, if I don’t have at least some hope that things can and will change as a result of my actions, then I won’t act. It’s easy, especially if you have a tendency toward depression, to give in to feelings of “what’s the point?” and just give up. Hope keeps me going, both in my activism and in my own personal goals. Also, it’s ok to not always (or ever) be critiquing. We need critique, but no one person can serve all roles in society. We need optimism just as much. We need people to point out all the progress we’ve made and what we’re already doing so *right*.

    • For me though, if I don’t have at least some hope that things can and will change as a result of my actions, then I won’t act. It’s easy, especially if you have a tendency toward depression, to give in to feelings of “what’s the point?” and just give up.

      EXACTLY.

  2. I very much agree with you that each individual must find their own path with this – sometimes hope works, sometimes not, but we can’t judge what works for us as a rule which everyone else must then accept as mandate. For me, cynicism often works – then I am nicely surprised when things turn trumps! But I would not recommend that approach to anyone else. We are all diverse, beautiful beings dancing our own way through life, the less we tread on eachothers toes the better. 🙂

  3. This reminds me of the ending of the Pandora’s Box story — after she opened the box and let loose all the evils onto the world, the last thing to crawl out of the box was hope.

    You can read this as a sign that the gods had some pity on mankind — to include hope along with evil, so that things would be bearable and mankind could persevere and maybe one day even vanquish evil — or that hope is just the last of the evils, making mankind complacent in the face of all the others, so that they “adjust to a new normal” rather than fighting.

    I think I’m with you, in that I don’t think hope *has* to be a passive emotion, and also I think you need some amount of hope to be motivated to do anything at all.

  4. Hope is often underrated, or reduced to mere optimism. Thanks for this more complex perspective.

    I’m not a particular fan of St. Augustine, but I do like this quote of his:

    Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

  5. Pingback: Sunday links, 12/22/13 | Tutus And Tiny Hats

  6. Pingback: Things that give me hope | Tutus And Tiny Hats

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