The Wisdom of Hope

‘Hope’ is an impractical idea that turns out to be useful, especially in painful times like these.

Hope is often misunderstood, underestimated, ignored and belittled, not least because it has separate, seemingly contradictory modes. You want Hope to be there in moments of despair when the best you can do is appeal for relief. And you want to be able to earn Hope, to deserve it, to work for it. It is easy to be confused about the nature of Hope. 

Understanding that Hope behaves in ways both mysterious and predictable is the secret to unlocking Hope’s wisdom - wisdom available to anyone, wisdom useful every day. 

Hope-in-despair resembles personal or collective grace. At the end of life, hope can appear, unbidden, able to make meaning out of mortality. And during societal crises marked by widespread anguish and discord, Hope can lead the way to solidarity and healing. “In these moments of rupture, people find themselves members of a ‘we’ that did not until then exist, at least not as an entity with agency and identity and potency”, Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark.i

Conscious, choice-filled Hope is another matter. When faced with hardship, you are free to act in ways that garner Hope. When you do whatever you can to save the day, you may discover you have enlisted Hope to bolster your energy and heighten your sense of purpose. But in order for you to realize these benefits, you must act on your own behalf.

This essay explores Hope’s channels: active ones, where you make choices and receive rewards, and wondrous ones, where autonomous forces seem to have intervened on your behalf. My aim is to frame ways of thinking about Hope that have practical implications for how you think and what you do.

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