Do you by any chance have mixed feelings about hope? Is hope something you would like more of? Does it seem like others have hope and perhaps you do not? Or does hope come and go and feel like it’s hard to take emotionally? Does having hope or not create relationship problems?
Culture As Hope
Culture has been a source of hope for human beings for centuries. Since we all need to work together to create a viable support system we do that through culture. Each culture is a project and throughout human history we have created new cultural systems as we have learned more and mastered more aspects of our environment.
However, each culture is like our individual development: one step at a time, developing the skills and tools to make life better for all of us. You could say that culture tracks our individual developmental steps. Early cultures had little understanding of the world and developed stories like The Dreaming or Dreamtime by the Aborigines as a way of making sense of the world. As children we do the same. When we make sense of things we are also finding a way to create hope for ourselves in a world where we are quite vulnerable.
These moments of creating stories are not just a defense against fear but they are also the beginning of developing the skills of engaging with the world. We are developing our perceptual realm in order to engage appropriately with the world. We are creating a story around what we perceive, experience directly and the feedback we get. This becomes an inner library of experiential information.
This is the problem, though. Cultures have life cycles, but they are long ones. So with some cultures it can seem like we are stuck in the terrible twos or a toxic adolescence. Some cultural observers consider our current system like a toxic adolescence. One of the reasons people can lose hope is because cultural lifecycles are much longer than individual ones. The feelings of hopelessness that people can develop are not unfounded. What is needed is a different way.
When we live in dark times, and some say that is this time right now, it can be hard to find a way forward. Sensitive people being so emotionally and energetically attuned can perhaps struggle more than others with the energetic fallout of a toxic culture. But hope like many things is a matter of perspective.
Viktor Frankl writes
The kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul; it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.Brainpickings
As Frankly puts it hope is something we bring to the table, it springs from us. At any point in time, there are those who seek to create hope in the world in spite of their circumstances. This is an active hope, a hope that is a commitment each day to putting out in the world whatever one can to provide sustenance for oneself and others. Life has always been challenging, and some times are more so than others. We are at our best when we find a way to make the best of things and if fortunate to improve quality of life for ourselves and others especially in difficult circumstances.
There is another dimension to this. Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright and president wrote:
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 headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. 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. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from “elsewhere.” It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.Brainpickings
This is a better definition of hope, a workable concept of hope. With this hope, we keep our feet on the ground, attend to what is really happening, and commit ourselves to the beneficial sanity of supporting the good in the world. Our commitment to do so along with the commitment of others make human culture tolerable and sustainable.
Hope when thought of as our commitment to the good is not a saccharine effort to bring us praise and is not pollyanish although a cynical world may see it as such. It is merely doing our part. It is seeing our own good as part of the world’s hope.
You may notice that for the most part animals are hopeful creatures. They seem to easily connect with the good in the world. For some reason, we humans find it more challenging. Perhaps because of the hierarchical structure of human culture, hope can seem elusive. Perhaps because all of our divisions and identities can cause us to feel alone. Perhaps because so many of the resources we need to survive are in private hands and we may feel vulnerable. Whatever the legitimate reasons for our concerns, the more we treat hope as our connection with and offering of the good the more we will have hope and if we are lucky it will be contagious.
It is important to be aware that when what is ‘good’ is predefined for us, we are actually losing control over the good we bring to the world. We are being told what to offer, and if that expectation is not our real and legitimate gift we can feel rightly disempowered.
Many thinkers will tell you that reality is your friend. I happen to agree with that assessment because it is only by connecting with reality that we are able to find the good that is needed and possible. In this way we can each day offer up our good feeling safe in the knowledge that we have done our part. For sensitive people who have been seriously invalidated throughout their lives this is actually a very hopeful way of living.