There is a Downside to Hope
“Abandon hope” may be the clarion call that leads you to freedom!
Many years – I mean decades – ago I read a laudatory article about a Western missionary who had spent most of his life in a Third World country. The writer gushed that he had ‘given hope’ to millions.
At the time I was inspired.
Now I am not sure.
We live in a culture where giving hope is a noble endeavor. The Corinthians speak glowingly about ‘faith, hope and charity’. There are countless tales about persons in desperate situations who somehow pulled themselves out because they clung on to hope.
On the portal to Dante’s Inferno is a stern injunction that those who enter should ‘Abandon Hope’ and this is meant to be a terrible warning.
So ‘hope’ is indubitably a ‘good thing’.
But is it really so?
By its very definition hope tells you that what you want can be had and ‘tomorrow’ will be better.
It encourages you to live in the future. A ‘better’ future.
This better future may or may not come about. But it gets you to reject the present.
And the present is all that you have or will ever have.
We are inspired by anecdotes about those who came out of terrible times and how ‘hope’ of a better future sustained them during those terrible times.
We do not hear about those who did not get to that better future. We don’t know how many of these there are but I suspect they are far more numerous than their successful brethren.
The purveyors of hope try to address this issue. They caution against giving persons ‘false hope’.
But then we run head on into what is ‘false’ and what is ‘true’ and who gets to decide which is which.
There is a better way beautifully articulated by Longfellow. “Act, act in the living present.”
Kapil was a scavenger.
His ‘workplace’ was the enormous, humongous mound of rubbish that lay on the outskirts of the metropolis he called home.
Each day that mound grew as garbage trucks unloaded an immense amount of waste discarded by a fast growing population.
Kapil would look for plastic – drink and soda containers, shopping bags, torn shrink-wrap. He would remove the metal caps from the bottles and sort the plastic into categories and then sell them to recyclers. He also sorted and sold the metal cans and knew which brands of cola had containers that could be sold and which one’s were contaminated with stray elements that made them worthless.
He worked thigh deep in refuse would sometimes cut himself and the sounds would take time to heal because there was no sanitary cleansing.
He earned less than a dollar a day and kept his money in a leather pouch he tied around his waist.
A social worker reached out to him and he started attending classes at the end of his long days. He learnt to read haltingly and to scrawl his name.
The social worker asked him if he dreamt of a better future. What made him so cheerful all the time.
“Who knows what tomorrow will be like, Memsahib?” he answered. “Maybe I will have more to eat. Maybe I will not. I am saving my money because Rustam bhai has promised to let me join him if I can buy one day’s supply.”
Rustam bhai was a street vendor who sold hot cups of tea in earthen cups and fried snacks.
Kapil continued. “But I don’t know if I can trust Rustam bhai and he may very well disappear to another corner of the city after I give him my money. So I don’t think about tomorrow.
“Today is all I have and I would be a fool if I don’t enjoy it.”
Amazing wisdom from a boy wise beyond his years.
By all means envision a future and work toward it. But don’t pour emotional energy into it. Don’t ‘hope’ for it and imprison yourself in it’s tentacles.
What you envisage may or may not happen. It does not matter because you have not hitched your well being to that uncertain outcome.
Paradoxically, when you operate in this manner, you will enjoy each day AND you will more likely get to your goal.