Friday, 5 December 2008

The Opposite of Hope

Last night PJ and I went to Z's end of year school concert even though Z had a fever and stayed home with his mum. I'm so glad we decided to go anyway as it was a great night: a colour-filled, hodge-podge programme followed by supper made by the parents.

Last year when we were considering what kind of school to send Z to, this is exactly the kind of school we hoped for. Sitting in the hall last night I was very aware of how, as parents, we have such high hopes for our kids. I was also very conscious of my usage of the word hope and how many times it was spoken or sung during the night.

I hope you enjoy tonight's performance. I hope you have a great Xmas. I hope my muffins turned out OK.

I like PJ's definition of hope. That to say I hope is to negate accountability and presume that things will change by external means.

When we say I hope, we are really saying that we are powerless, that we have already given up. Hoping that things turn out a certain way is like believing in God or like being superstitious. It is rejecting responsibility. It is a passive aspiration.

And of course I don't feel passively about Z or about any of the other kids at his school or about any of the other things in my life that I feel hopeful for.

In Eastern philosophy they say embrace hopelessness; that we need to smell the shit, know the shit, and stop deluding ourselves.

Am I deluding myself? Am I ready to live without hope? Is the opposite of hope really despair?


ToneMasterTone said...

Not sure which Eastern philosophy you're referring to, but in Buddhism and Hinduism at least hopelessness or removing all desire is tied up with their metaphysics.

In Hinduism, desire and striving is believing in the delusion of there being a self, which is a sort of divorcing yourself from the essential unity that lies underneath the maya or illusion of separate existences.

Buddhism is more stark: there is nothing at all, not even an essential unity, and any striving is suffering because it will never be sated.

Then there's Roman stoicism, where it's more about knowing the limits of your own powers and understanding that you can just be unlucky about how things turn out. Because of this element of luck, or the wheel of fortune, all you've got is control over your own behaviour, so instead of hoping for the wheel of fortune to turn in your favour, which is completely out of your control, you should live so that your position in life, whether you're a slave or an emperor, should not dictate how happy you are. Stoicism is about cultivating a self-reliance and virtuous inner life that can stand tall against whatever the world might serve up to you, which means one should not hope because that means one is staking one's happiness on things that are essentially beyond one's control.

Nietzsche is the complete antithesis of Hinduism, Buddhism and stoicism. His philosophy is not so much about hope, rather a tenacious embrace of self-fulfillment and the self's imprinting itself on the world.

Meg said...

What a great comment! Thank you for taking the time to leave it.

I was thinking about the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön's teachings on hopelessness and death.