​A young millennial writer – one whom I’ve come to respect from reading several of her articles – recently opined on the folly and danger of hope.  In her article titled, Pessimism is the Superpower of the Future, she claims that, “Hope is bad for you.  The higher the hope, the deeper the disappointment.”
Among her insights are the following:
Philosophers have known this for a while, going back a few thousand years. There’s a reason why Schopenhauer called hope a “folly of the heart,” and Nietzsche described it as “the worst of all evils.”
The problem with optimism is that it’s not a strategy. It’s just an expectation for things to work out. Nothing about optimism prepares you for setbacks and failures, and definitely not bad luck.
That’s why it doesn’t work, even if people say so.
Pessimists have critical minds, and anticipate negative reactions. We don’t try to block out negative voices. We listen to them.
You’re better off with pessimism.

In a sense, some of her arguments were quite logical.  But then, so were Adolf Hitler’s.  

​I must say, in the absence of belief in a higher power – and one’s own ability to affect outcomes – her argument becomes somewhat compelling.  Why invest in hope when nobody is coming to save you…?  Better to plan for the worst possible outcome; that way, you avoid disappointment and, perhaps, make yourself look smart…if smug.
The fault in her logic seems the inherent belief that optimism is an expression of (for lack of a better phrase) “blind faith.”  Rather than chastise such thinking, however, it’s important to remember that this perspective is nothing new…it was foundational to the Greek stoics both before and after Aristotle.  Through the centuries, a significant number of philosophers have based their writings on the belief that hope is toxic; that it clouds one’s thinking; that it “sets us up” for profound failure, and inability to forge new directions. 
Thus, if you ascribe to any religion that draws strength from hope, you are a target of ridicule to such “high thinkers.”  Ahh, we all have our crosses to bear.
For many years, I ascribed to the stoics…I bought their bullshit.  I believed that we make our own way in the world, and get largely what we deserve, based on our own initiative, work ethic, and persistence in a “realistic” view of the world.  If we wanted success, we must plan assiduously and work feverishly for it…and if we fail, it’s because we failed to account for every variable in a given plan…or, we were just lazy.  After all, it’s the “American way.”  What I failed, in that logic sewer, to grasp was the very real possibility that I didn’t control many, if any, of the variables in my life.  I worked very hard, to be sure; actually, I have my father to thank – good or bad – for that work ethic.  While not lazy, neither was I “deserving” – of anything.  Oh, I thought I was.  But that was delusion…like the notion that I could “control” my use of opioids.
Thus, I left my Christian teachings on the shelf…for years.  Oh, I played along: attended mass regularly, received the sacraments, prayed the prayers, helped raise our child in the same faith – and secretly thought that I had it all together.  Time, failing health and unemployment conspired to prove me not only wrong, but spectacularly naïve about grace.  You know – that divine favor we cannot earn, but for which we hope…?
And then, September 12, 2014 happened.  On that day, I experienced something about which I’ve told nearly no one.  To say it shifted my perspective – about everything – is a gross understatement.  It is why I still breathe, writing this to you now.  It compelled me to write a story…two stories, actually.  The first of those, Charlie’s Ladder, will – with God’s grace – be published in the relatively near future. 
What I want to offer you, in this moment, is a glimpse of the possible, through the impartial lens of a camera.  Look carefully at the image in the following photograph.  

Photograph:  H.J. McEnroe

​To the left is the planet, Jupiter, with two of its moons in rotation.  Slightly down and to the right, you’ll find Saturn, with its iconic rings…approaching a point known among astronomers as the “Great Conjunction” – the closest nighttime alignment of the titan planets in their orbital rotations around the Sun in nearly eight-hundred years.  This sight – viewed from the ground in McKinney, Texas on the evening of December 21, 2020 – while impressive, takes on vastly different symbolic importance when viewed on the same date from Champagne-Ardenne, France…shades of the “Star of Bethlehem.”

The difference between these two images…?  Merely a reference point.  Depending only upon from where you view an event, a completely different experience is possible…and so it is with hope.  Hope is not a blind emotion; it is rooted in experience and informed by awareness of other reference points...and limitations.  Being hopeful – aka “optimistic” – is not just a faith choice; it acknowledges our own unique roles within this universe, tethered as we are by the laws of physics to a planet hurtling through space.  If I want a more just and peaceful world, I must first acknowledge that mine is not the only perspective from which to view events.  By doing so, we engage the world differently, realizing our perspective is no more nor less valid than that of another human.  It enables us, similarly to stoic philosophy, to see possibilities – not limited by our faith traditions, but enhanced by them.  When we consider the vastness of the Cosmos, and acknowledge how little we understand of it, we begin to open our minds to possibilities we’d otherwise miss.  Then, we may validly hope, based on active participation, for a better world.
The same is true here and now…we’ve come through one helluva year.  Most of us have survived a deadly virus…thus far.  Still, many among us refuse to acknowledge the merit of modifying our behaviors to minimize possibilities for that virus to spread.  And so, it spreads.  More will become infected, more will die.  But speak to any naysayers who’ve spent time on a ventilator and survived a battle with Covid-19 in a hospital ICU, and they will tell you – often very humbly – how “real” the danger is.  Their perspective has shifted because of their reference point:  a bed in ICU…and nearness to mortality.
Now, I’m not suggesting that “hope” is a panacea, nor a cure for stupidity.  Stupid still “is as stupid does,” to borrow the overworn phrase from an iconic movie.  Probably the best definition of hope I’ve ever read is a quote from Saint Augustine:
Pray as though everything depended on God.  Work as though everything depended on you.
From this perspective, it’s clear that “Saint Augie” viewed hope as active engagement – based on investing ourselves fully toward whatever we aspire to make reality.  Not only must we pray for virtuous outcomes, we must also work for them.  Doing so, we have valid, logical reason to be optimistic – even in our darkest hours – for a better tomorrow.
Viewed from that perspective, our possibilities – while certainly not limitless – are vastly greater.  Thus, hope is not the absence of cautious planning; it is, rather, the presence of God in our work by invoking Him earnestly while putting ourselves on the line for what we believe.
We live, as you well know, in a cynical world.  Yet, science continues new discoveries that confirm the co-existence of the mystical with the tangible in regard to our existence on this tiny planet.  That which fuels our aspirations as an exploring species, and continues to open possibilities for finding other intelligent life forms in the cosmos, while affirming the miracle of our existence, is…hope.
Humbly, I submit, this is a much more effective, joyful way to live our lives.  My hope for you – in 2021 and beyond – is to discover new perspective and possibilities by changing your reference points, from time to time…and viewing our sisters and brothers more compassionately. 

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