On hope

Whether we watch old footage from WW II concentration camps, news flashes from refugee camps in our own time. Whether it’s about poverty ridden towns in India, Mexico or Brasil or about starving children in Darfur, it doesn’t matter. One can always tell those who still have some hope left from those who have given up. You can see it in the eyes. The ones that have given up all hope have bland eyes, even the last tiny flicker of light seems quenched. They still move, talk, breathe, but when it comes down to it they are living dead.
And those that still do have some hope, are they better off? Surely not! They are as sick, exhausted, emaciated as the rest, except for this little difference: there is still this tiny light glistening in their eyes. Weak and hardly visible, yet strong enough for us to recognize what is stands for: the will to live, spirit, resilience, hope. Not much, but enough to keep them going, no matter how hopeless and devastating the circumstances are.
Hope, I guess, could well be described as the ability to see through things as they are and imagine things as they could be, and hopefully will be some day. Hope as the ability to envision a future in a present that lacks literally every reason to do so. And yet you do. You hope and you envision whatever it is that meets your deepest needs. Prison doors that will open one day, illnesses cured, pain healed, peace that comes after war, cities rebuilt, rains that set a desert in bloom, lost ones found, an afterlife where loved ones will be reunited again.
That is what hope does for us, or better, what we do for ourselves and each other by hoping. We envision a future that, no matter the specifics, keeps us going amidst the deepest dark and misery. That is how we survive, because we imagine a life where there is none. Bereft of every reason to hold on, we seek our reason in some not-yet future.
That is hope, and it is not just any way to keep us going when everything is lost. It is the only thing left, for everything else is lost. Precisely because of this life enhancing quality we call hope a virtue. And precisely that is why cynicism is the sin that opposes it full stop.
Ask a random person what the opposite of hope is and they will probably come up with despair or hopelessness, which is quite understandable. Except that hopelessness is exactly what it says: the absence of hope. And despair rather a condition without hope than an active force with essential powers that can be executed and put whatever change in motion. That’s cynicism’s job.
Whereas despair and hopelessness are merely empty vessels that can be filled with hope or trust or comfort or whatever the good Samaritan is willing to pour into it, cynicism is an active force on its own account and it strives with aim and purpose to certain goals. These goals are, needless to say, quite opposite from hope’s strivings. As a matter of fact, eradicating hope is cynicism’s main goal. That is its prime motive and precisely that makes it the lowest and ugliest of all sins. Above that, it is not about messing up one’s own live, as is the case with many other sins, and accidentally messing up the lives of others in the slipstream. No, this one is about deliberately ruining somebody else’s life.
And being a mean and sneaky weapon by itself, cynicism doesn’t need much to do so. All cynicism has to do is being its own low and vicious self and just keep on darting its poisonous arrows until hope can’t take it any longer and gives up and gives in.
No other weapon or armed force is needed for that, the sneers, insults, unsupportive comments, demeaning grins, the sowing of doubt, the constant ridiculing will do the trick. ‘Stop fooling yourself, it’s never gonna work. – Loser, did you really think it will ever get any better? – You can walk out of here but you’re never gonna make it on your own.’
I’m sure we can all add some examples of our own, because even the best of us sometimes give in to cynicism. When somehow someone else’s hope and optimism annoys us, because we don’t feel so hopeful and confident ourselves at that moment. That’s when we slip in the state of cynicism and start saying cynical things, instead of reaching out and admitting that we really feel a bit lost right now and could do with some hope and trust and optimism. And you know what, even in the darkest and desperate situations hope will be shared, because somehow those who have hope know that it is not theirs to have and to hold, and they know that there’s plenty more where that came from.

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