It is argued that hope is not a useful concept. When one considers what people are regularly faced with day in day out – chronic pain, disease, loss, grief, abuse, war, captivity, famine, natural disaster, doubt, uncertainty, insecurity, depression, and so much more; if one marries the view that wisdom is what allows us to look into the chain of causes and conditions that produces the events we experience, so that, in the words of Jesus, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John, 8:32); when one then considers the impossibility of foreseeing and thereby controlling all future causes and conditions, the infinitude of possible causes and conditions that might affect us at any moment of our lives, without forewarning, without explanation, then for sure to speak of hope would seem trivial. Why hope when it is to wisdom that we should look for support in this wanchancy world?
The problem with this view, quite apart from the fact that it is a view, seems to be that it suggests a conversation with an idea of wisdom that most of us glimpse but rarely. With a great deal of training and support and mistakes along the way, some of us may master the art of looking into causes and conditions so that wisdom, along with its entourage of desirable qualities (love, compassion, empathy, joyfulness, insight, concentration), can enter our lives and make there a beautiful garden for us and our loved ones to reside in. But – was there ever such a feisty word as ‘but’? – what about that long hard walk on the rocky path towards wisdom, that valley of tears immortalised by Dante and the Yom Kippur War? Before we even come within sniffing distance of wisdom we have typically endured years of hard graft. The story of Gautama’s life, of how he came to be a buddha, is a case in point. Indeed, if wisdom was the goal all along, we might have to conclude that the tempering effect of the journey was a necessary evil we had to endure in order for wisdom to be achieved at all. Per aspera ad astra – but what keeps us going on that path? What is it that drives us to persist on such a journey once we are catapulted into the neon-lit madness of the maternity ward? What on this green earth is it that drives us to keep putting one foot in front of the other when the evidence, the circumstances, the events, the responses of those around us, the outcomes of our endeavours, the setbacks and hard knocks of life, all point to our annihilation?
Abandon hope all ye who enter here, enjoined the inscription above the gates of Hell in Dante’s masterpiece. Wisdom lies ahead if you ignore the injunction and jauntily pass through anyway, but it does not yield itself to you without persistence and a lot of moral support along the way. Hope is the last piece of the human puzzle that must be removed for the work of dehumanisation to be complete. Some would call it survival instinct, but there is intelligence in it, too. Hope knows that things can change, that in fact they are bound to change, no matter how insurmountable they may seem. That might even be seen as wisdom. When all else is lost, we can still hope that nature will take its course in time for us to make it through to another day. In that defiance there is perhaps some degree of salvaged dignity, too.
Please join us for our workshop, ‘Clear Thinking, Wise Action’ in Germany, Sept 12-15 2019, Sonsbeck, Germany. To visit the event page, click here .
Photo by Fabrice Villard on Unsplash