The Greek myth says that hope is what’s left at the bottom of Pandora’s box after Troubles and Afflictions have been released into the world. Hope is tiny, fragile, and yet absolutely necessary for human endurance. Hope is beautiful, and good. But at times it can be so painful to hope that we put on cynicism as a defense. The comedian, George Carlin noted, “Scratch a cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” And when we practice disappointment it positions us to slip into despair. Meanwhile, cynicism only makes us more comfortable in the short run, and it changes nothing important. Rebecca Solnit points out, “For comfortably situated people, hopelessness means cynicism and letting oneself off the hook. If everything is doomed, then nothing is required.” And let’s face it; letting ourselves go free from responsibility is not a moral stance to be proud of.
But hope is tenacious; hope persists. And despite what we’re tempted to think in our less optimistic moments when we try to discount hope down to a feeble sentiment, hope is really quite radical. Hope arrives loaded with a hidden but tightly coiled strength that can liberate the possibilities that we don’t quite dare dream are possible. Hope seems to have a bigger imagination, a larger moral vision than we do. As Brazilian Liberation theologian, Rubem A. Alves writes,
“[Hope] is a presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks.
It is a hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.
It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual…”
“The frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual…” Hope is tiny but powerful, and it can open doors to whole new worlds. Far from leading to sentimentality and mindless quietism, hope stirs dissidents to organize and take action not only for themselves but also for the greater good. Hope leads to revolutionary love, the kind based on equity and inclusion, equality and mutuality. The kind of love we hope our children will inherit and pass on to future generations.