I’m a natural optimist, and possibly as a result, I carry a lot of hope around with me. It’s not that I don’t see anything wrong in the world or in my life, but I tend to try to find the hope in a situation. Sometimes that means thinking of the best case scenario as well as the worst case one. Sometimes it means brainstorming what I might be able to control myself in order to turn things around. Other times it’s more of a blind hope–things might suck now, but things do change. (Tuesday’s blog post is a great example: We might not have a strong space program now, but that doesn’t mean there will never be one in the future.)The problem with hope is that it sometimes persists past the point of reasonable returns. We have such an ethos in our culture of not being a quitter, of persistence as a virtue, of not giving up. Many times these are beliefs that hold us in good stead and keep us going when things become difficult. But there is a line that we don’t want to cross, beyond which is the Sea of Wishful Thinking.
The difficulty, then, is determining whether we are indeed in the Sea of Wishful Thinking, or whether we’re still dwelling in the Realm of the Possible and have merely fallen victim to a passing Dark Despair Cloud. If the latter, then by holding fast, we can wait out the cloud and still have the potential of a positive outcome. And indeed, in most ambitious endeavors, there will be times when we have to hang on even though things seem bleak. If the former, then at some point we will need to cut hope loose and move on to some more promising possibilities.
Hope can be a beautiful sentiment, but ultimately it is a tool we can use for both the good and the not so good. It can trick people into thinking they don’t need a practical plan, or it can keep someone going until they reach the next stage of mastery. It can bring the strength needed to survive, or it can offer someone an excuse not to take responsibility for themselves. I think as soon as we become aware that hope can both help and hinder us, we are better able to recognize how we’re using it. But sometimes its promise will burn too brightly for us to see clearly, and sometimes it will gutter and die too soon. Perhaps that is part of what it is to be human.
Hope springs eternal, the saying goes. But it is up to us to decide how we are going to use it.