Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mark Vernon on hope:

Hope against Hope:

Hope is a central virtue in much self-help. It’s a key strength in the science of happiness too, defined as being optimistic and having a positive attitude towards the future. It helps maintain your cheer in the here and now. But this conception of hope, though comforting, is almost entirely wrong.

Not much I would disagree with here. By definition we hope for objects or events which are beyond our control. Under this understanding, hope is at best useless and we should (try to) devote our thoughts to other matters.

Hope as courage is wholly unlike optimism and good cheer. ‘I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,’ we say. That’s a travesty of the verb. We might all vow never to use hope in that way again! For there is nothing determined or committed in wishing about the weather. You can’t hope away grey skies in hope’s real sense.
[...]
Hope is a decision, a form of courage, a commitment.
[..]
Hope is a stance taken towards something or someone that is worth committing to – like Ballard does towards his children. It comes from the guts. And hope against hope is powerful enough to change the world.

Ummm. I don't buy it.

In the scenarios Mark mentions, 'hope' belongs in a different category: We may need courage and/or determination to make a difficult decision but we hope our decision is for the best. It takes courage to fight against the odds but we hope we will prevail. A determined person will pick himself up when life knocks him flat but he might hope life will treat him better in the future. So to my mind hope is born from desperation and helplessness; it belongs in a different category than determination or courage. Despair is useless but so is hope.

As mentioned in this post, hope is encouraged within the Christian tradition contrary to most other schools of thought.

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