Why Hope Isn’t As Good As You Think It Is

What is hope?

The dictionary defines it as

A belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.

The Greeks even have stories about hope (and about the first woman) called “The Creation of Pandora” and “The Opening of the Box”. It’s like a Greek version of “The Creation of Eve” and “The Eating of the Apple”. Briefly, the stories are told like so:

Prometheus was a Titan who really liked humans. He helped them in any way he could. When he saw them shivering at night and eating raw meat, he knew they needed fire. But the gods did not allow man to have fire. They knew that man would misuse it and destroy with it. Prometheus was sure that the good man did with fire would outweigh the bad, so he stole fire from the gods and gave it to man.

Zeus decided to punish Prometheus with trickery. He called Aphrodite to pose while Hephaestus made a clay figure of a woman. Then he brought the statue to life. The gods granted the woman with many gifts including beauty, charm, cunning, wit, eloquence, deceit, skill, and curiosity. Then Zeus gave her a box and told her she was never to open it. Zeus then offered Pandora as a wife to Prometheus.

The Titan wanted her, but he refused because he knew it must be a trick of the gods. Zeus became angry and punished Prometheus. The Titan was chained to a rock. There, a vulture came daily to feed on his flesh. Prometheus’s brother, Epimetheus, accepted Pandora as his wife, and the couple settled down for a happy life. But Pandora always wondered what was in the box Zeus gave her. Finally she couldn’t hold her curiosity down anymore. She opened the box, and from it flew hate, anger, sickness, poverty, and every bad thing in the world. She slammed the lid down and managed to trap the final evil still in the box: hopelessness. So today, even when the going gets tough, every human still has hope.

Do you know something. I hate this story. Not only because I’ve come to realize that men throughout history have desired women and came to resent them for it (look for the hints in the story), but because I think hope, not hopelessness, is also an evil.

Yes, hope is an evil, and probably one of the worst because it deceives us into thinking that it’s not one. Hopelessness on the other hand is a blessing in disguise.

Think about it. Isn’t hope one of the most stressful things bestowed upon you?

When you find yourself constantly checking your email, Facebook, and/or Twitter account every five minutes isn’t it because you’re hoping some wonderful or life changing email, message, or tweet will come in? When you find yourself mad that your flight is cancelled isn’t it because you were hoping that you’d arrive at your destination on time? When you find yourself angry at yourself because you failed at something isn’t your anger derived from the fact that you saw (hoped) yourself succeeding? And when you find yourself angry at your boss because your pay-check is drastically lower than you expected isn’t it because you hoped they would pay you fairly for your hard-work?

I’ll say it again:

Hope is an evil. And  hopelessness is a blessing in disguise.

At first it doesn’t look like a blessing, it causes despair after all (I disagree with this, but I explain later on). But what happens after you fall into despair? What happens when you eventually get to that stage where you’ve lived in the despair long enough to realize that bad things exist in the world and are in fact a natural part of it?

What happens is acceptance. Hopelessness leads to acceptance. After you’ve learned that bad things happen on a more constant basis that good things do, you accept this. Once you accept this, guess what happens the next time your flight is cancelled? You’re not angry anymore. You’ve accepted that flights gets cancelled and that this is just a natural part of life. Guess what happens the next time you fail at something? You accept it. You accept that constant failure is a natural part of life, especially when you want to succeed at something, and that there is nothing gained from being angry at yourself.

As Seth Godin said in his new book Linchpin

Hope is an attachment to a future that’s already perfect.

You’ve already planned in your head that your flight will come in on time. You’ve already planned the flight going smoothly. And, you’ve probably already planned what you’re going to do once you get off the flight.

When the flight get’s cancelled what happens is that your mind starts going in shock because the future you’ve laid out perfectly is now gone, and for a while your mind can’t comprehend that.

Now, what if you were filled with hopelessness the moment the flight was cancelled? Well, for one thing you would be acceptant of the fact that flights do get cancelled. And, in your hopelessness you might have even presumed the flight would be cancelled and maybe already have a plan B laid out. Ironically, leading you to actually get to your destination on time faster than having hope did.

And don’t think that this can only be applied to “flights being cancelled”. This can be applied to your relationships, your friendships, your career… anything!

I see hope as one of the worsts things one can have. An attachment to a planned out future which you have no control of (and which has a high probability of never happening the exact way you planned) is wrong. Just plain wrong.

In fact, if you think about it, hope (not hopelessness) is the true cause of despair. How could you be filled with despair if you already accepted that bad things happen?

Wouldn’t you rather be surprised that something fantastic happened, than be let down every-time it doesn’t happen.

Probability wise it makes more sense.

And don’t tell me that hope is what allows us humans to go on even when everything bad happens. Something does a better job at that than hope, and that’s acceptance.

Hope will allow you to perceive good things happening in your future, but when they don’t guess what happens; despair. You’re filled with despair because the wonderful world you laid out in your mind, isn’t going as planned. Then you just get back to hoping for an even more wonderful future (a never ending self-destructive cycle).

Acceptance on the other hand lets you go on in life, but not by letting you imagine your life turning out all nice and dandy, but by letting you realize that you can’t predict the future, that bad things happen in this world, and that through past experience you’ve survived all the bad things that have already happened, thus you can live another day to face the evils of tomorrow.

Acceptance let’s you see the world for what it is. Acceptance gets rid of despair (leading to a happier life). And acceptance can only be gained by first experiencing hopelessness.


Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

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