My previous essay looked at fear. Hope, like fear, takes its power from confidence in a future possibility or expectation. Individually or collectively we are energized by the anticipation of pleasure and satisfaction in a positive outcome that we can envision. Hope and fear are both expectations, with an opposite component of attitude and emotion. Both motivate, but fear tends to trigger extreme and reflexive survival behaviors of fight or flight. Hope is soothing and by nature less immediate in the emotions it evokes. People unite to address their hopes and fears.
The fruits of the two attitudes are very different, indeed almost opposite.
|Fruits of Hope||Fruits of Fear|
|Compassion, Support||Cruelty, Indifference|
Hope nourishes and sooths us, where fear fatigues and upsets us. It’s much harder to create and sustain hope than it is to trigger fear. (When was the last time you heard the phrase “hope monger” used?) It seems that we are hard-wired to be fearful, but we have to learn to hope, to have compassion, and ultimately to trust appropriately. Fear is a more primitive emotion than hope.
To hold a vision of a future possibility you must imagine it with clarity and confidence. The possibility must be strong enough to overcome obstacles and endure disappointments. I don’t have to look far in my personal experience to find examples. My trepidations, as a teen, about calling a girl for a date come to mind. For a long time the vision of pleasurable possibilities was overwhelmed by the fear of being foolish or rejected. Countless opportunities came and went because I couldn’t bring myself to make a phone call. From the perspective of a mature adult, all that seems amusing, but at the time it was anything but.
If you have ever had to hunt for a job, you’ve doubtless faced similar angst. I’ve agonized over words and phrases in writing a resume for myself, but easily whipped them out for others. Hopes and fears can coexist. How we function in the mixed emotional environment they impose is a measure of character.
My late father-in-law, Edward Chandler was a successful entrepreneur. He saw himself as lucky and those who knew him easily agreed because they had seen him gable boldly and win to the envy all. In reality it was not luck, but a winning combination of other attitudes that led to his achievements. He saw opportunities and was prepared to risk everything to realize his vision. He was certainly not unaware of the risks he took, but he had consummate confidence that he could and would work through the difficulties to realize his goals. He also did not blindly hang on to a failed idea. As the popular Kenny Rogers song ‘The Gambler’ says, “you got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” Ed Chandler knew when to fold. There were several business situations that nearly cost him his fortune. At the end of his life, the wins substantially outweighed the losses. Often he persisted when others would have quit, when the odds seemed to be against him.
Was he unafraid? Probably not. He sustained a hopeful outlook, confident that he would recover from any possible loss. What others dreaded as potentially ruinous, he perceived only as setback. He was a child of the depression, and he’d bootstrapped himself and his family out of hard times by recognizing and seizing opportunities and taking chances. He could always start over.
Behaviors Reflect Attitudes
Optimism is a predilection to see opportunity, to be hopeful. As with my father-in-law, great things are possible when undertaken with a hopeful optimistic attitude. I’m not advocating wildly manic behavior or the idea that nothing is impossible. Discernment, healthy skepticism, and staying grounded with a keen sense of reality inform hope without imprisoning it.
Cynicism, or pervasive pessimism, entraps hope and optimism[i] replacing them with contempt and anger. The cynic cares passionately, and responds by striking out at the prospect he fears to be hopeless. Skepticism challenges, cynicism attacks. The payoff to pessimism and cynicism is to escape risk and responsibility. By declaring “It can’t be done,” and then demeaning both the idea and its advocates as fools a cynic avoids having to act on his or her passion.
Hope fosters joy, creative action and vision; cynicism fosters anger, destructive action and despair. If your goal is to achieve you opt for and attitude of hope, if it’s to thwart you take a cynical attitude.
Hope is proactive and empowers us. Cynicism like fear is reactive and disempowering. Both these attitudes are directed forward; they arise from expectations of things yet to come. It’s easy to see that to build one needs optimism and hope; but to obstruct, pessimism, fear, and cynicism suffice.
Hope and Democracy
In 2008 Obama was elected running on a platform that promised change. A second great depression loomed, middle class wealth was being wiped out, banks were in trouble, the country was mired in unwinnable and needless wars, and the outlook was bleak indeed. Obama inspired progressive hope that the political and business environment that led to economic disaster could and would be fixed.
Even before the inauguration, cynicism began to manifest among all the political factions. The GOP actively fostered it with the obstructionist behaviors that earned it the “party of ‘no’” moniker. On the left, the many factions that unified to elect Obama, divided again. He was too centrist for some, too rightist for others, etc. Instead of working with vision and hope, cynical inaction, resignation, and carping became the norm.
The opposition was and is relentless in fueling the cynical attitudes among the liberal/progressive base. There is a big payoff in the strategy. The GOP itself is fragmented. With extreme elements of Libertarian, Radical Christian, Tea Party each essential elements of the base, and with sub-rosa racist sentiments, the party can’t generate a cohesive vision to rally pivotal non-aligned voters. Fostering cynicism suppresses progressive hope, demotivates progressive voters, and encourages them to stay home on Election Day.
It is vastly easier to encourage people to be apathetic, and to accept the status quo with resignation and disgust than it is to inspire them to sacrifice time and money to follow a vision of a better world. If Democracy is to thrive, it must have a compelling vision and hope.