Hope

tears

I have been away for a couple of weeks touring the French and Italian Rivieras, ending with a few days in Florence, Dante’s home. In just a few days I have gone from Paradiso to Purgatorio. One of my faithful followers (R. S.) implored me today to write something hopeful. I am not sure that I can find the right words today. The image on the left reflects my state of mind. Like many of you, I am profoundly sad. But I have been collecting hope-filled quotes for some time. Here are a few of my favorites. I am particularly taken by Václav Havel’s words, as he lived through a lifetime of oppression, but saw his dreams realized eventually. I hope (sic) we never get to the state he had to live through, but the book from which this first quote comes should be on your book shelf just in case.

A genuine, profound and lasting change for the better […] can no longer result from the victory […] of any particular traditional political conception, which can ultimately be only external, that is, a structural or systemic conception. More than ever before, such a change will have to derive from human existence, from the fundamental reconstitution of the position of people in the world, their relationships to each other, and to the universe. If a better economic and political model is to be created, then perhaps […] it must derive from profound existential and moral changes in society. This is not something that can be designed and introduced like a new car. If it is to be more than just a new variation on the old degeneration, it must above all be an expression of life in the process of transforming itself. A better system will not automatically ensure a better life. In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed. (Václav Havel, The Power of the Powerless, p.30)

Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not dependent on some observation of the world. Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond the horizons.…Hope in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.…Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.…It is not the conviction, that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is Hope, above all, which gives the strength to live and continually try new things. (Václav Havel, Disturbing the Peace (1986), Chapter 5: The Politics of Hope)

You have to draw a distinction between hope and optimism. Vaclav Havel put it well when he said “optimism” is the belief that things are going to turn out as you would like, as opposed to “hope,” which is when you are thoroughly convinced something is moral and right and just and therefore you fight regardless of the consequences. In that sense, I’m full of hope but in no way optimistic. (Cornel West, not sure of source)

“Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tends to be based on the notion that there’s enough evidence out there to believe things are gonna be better, much more rational, deeply secular, whereas hope looks at the evidence and says, “It doesn’t look good at all. Doesn’t look good at all. Gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.” That’s hope. I’m a prisoner of hope, though. Gonna die a prisoner of hope.” (Cornel West, not sure of source)

“Last, but not least, there is a need for audacious hope. And it’s not optimism. I’m in no way an optimist. I’ve been black in America for 39 years. No ground for optimism here, given the progress and regress and three steps forward and four steps backward. Optimism is a notion that there’s sufficient evidence that would allow us to infer that if we keep doing what we’re doing, things will get better. I don’t believe that. I’m a prisoner of hope, that’s something else. Cutting against the grain, against the evidence. William James said it so well in that grand and masterful essay of his of 1879 called “The Sentiment of Rationality,” where he talked about faith being the courage to act when doubt is warranted. And that’s what I’m talking about.” (Cornel West, from the 1993 commencement speech at Wesleyan University)

Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to those who lack it…The worst is always what the hopeful are prepared for. Their trust in life would not be worth much if it had not survived disappointments in the past, while the knowledge that the future holds further disappointments demonstrates the continuing need for hope…Improvidence, a blind faith that things will somehow work out for the best, furnishes a poor substitute for the disposition to see things through even when they don’t. (Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Human, p. 81)

“The world, unfortunately, rarely matches our hopes and consistently refuses to behave in a reasonable manner.” (S. J. Gould)

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