“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” So said Alexander Pope, whose dictum is still as profound as it is poetic.
Hope is, of course, the belief one holds during difficult circumstances that things will get better. It is unique to our species because it requires words and thoughts to contemplate possible future events. (Some animals may sense impending events but obviously cannot conceptualize the future.)
There are countless dramatic stories of hope existing in people even in the most dire of circumstances. My late father was raised in destitute circumstances, yet never lost hope, which enabled him to withstand, overcome, heal, and grow as a person.
Physicians present encouraging possibilities when breaking bad news to patients because hope during serious illness fosters healing and recovery. Hope helps to envision that a challenge or threat can ameliorate, and that there will be a “better tomorrow.”
Hope is by its very nature optimistic and encourages us to work towards goals of overcoming. It has religious meaning for believers in God, who through prayer trust that their future will be protected by their deity. But the presence of hope is secular and universal, and serves as a personal beacon, much like a lighthouse beckoning us during periods of darkness and stormy seas.
Even in ancient prescientific times and also currently, people have felt/feel that the spirit of hope has the power to heal afflictions, reverse bad luck, and stave off evil spirits. Charms and amulets, extremely popular in all cultures, act as “security blankets” and symbols of hopes (and wishes) for good fortune.
Hope also contributes to the human propensity to help others who are in distress, including loved ones as well as strangers. Heroism is thus frequently spawned by the presence of hope during times of danger and destitution. It is one of the great human motivators, engendering a sense of purpose and aspirations during desperate times.
Even when there are seemingly few possibilities of escape from misery, human beings have persevered and persisted in holding onto slim threads of hope.
Of course, there are ‘false hopes,’ which can be misguided or even destructive. False hopes are based on faulty assumptions or misinformation, or on the hubris or delusions of a charismatic but crazed individual. (See David Koresh, Bob Jones, Mussolini, etc).
Merely waiting for an impossible situation to resolve can be demoralizing and self-defeating, as vividly captured in the play “Waiting For Godot” by Samuel Beckett.
Hope in the face of unpleasant fates enables people to create important works and to help others. Stories of hope and fortitude abound: Anne Frank, Florence Nightingale, Londoners during the Blitz, slaves during the Jim Crowe years, survivors of natural disasters, East Germans under Stasi, and so many others.
Hope has been expressed by orators and artists: Martin Luther King’s eloquent “I Have A Dream” speech inspired many to carry his hopeful message forward, as did Marion Anderson’s singing of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” both iconic events in Washington, D.C. Picasso’s remarkable painting “Guernica,” painted during the Spanish Civil War, expresses the brutality and futility of war, and is a metaphor for humanity’s hope for peaceful coexistence between people all over the world. Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man,” composed in the middle of World War II, and Beethoven’s inspiring “Ode To Joy” in his Ninth Symphony both express the fervent hope for humankind to live in harmony.
When we are in deep turmoil, we all “light our internal candles” of hope. There have surely been times in your own life when your problems seemed insurmountable, yet you retained your inner hope that enabled you to overcome, turn things around, and grow in personal wisdom and as a person.