Hope: A Universal Human Need and Powerful Life Force

    Hope: A Human Need and Powerful Life Force

    “Where There’s Life There’s Hope,” said J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings.

     Hope is a universal and powerful human need and Life Force, and an integral part of all our lives.     

     The word “Hope” has been the central name or theme of countless works of art, literature, film, drama and music. Hope is a foundational part of praying in every religion, of many incantations and candle lightings, and of the magical and used, “wishing upon a star.” It is the name of Israel’s national anthem (“Hatikvah”), heard in Jewish ceremonies around the world.

     “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” wrote the English poet Alexander Pope, whose dictum in 1733 still rings true, as profound as it is poetic. 

     Hope is that fervent aspiration we all hold during difficult circumstances that things can/will/should get better, and which enables us to face and overcome major challenges.

    Hope requires words, thoughts and imagination to contemplate possible future events and is thus unique to our species. 

     There are countless true dramatic stories of hope existing even in the most dire circumstances. Our hopes derive from our yearnings and desires that deficiencies, challenges or threats can ameliorate and there may well be a better tomorrow. Hope is by its very nature optimistic and activist, encouraging us to work towards overcoming.

   While hope may have a special meaning for religious believers in a benevolent God who protects them, the crucial presence of hope is secular and universal.

    During periods of major turbulence in our lives, hope serves as a personal beacon, much as a lighthouse beckons sailors during periods of darkness and stormy seas. 

    Even in ancient times people felt that the spirit of hope had the power to reverse bad luck, stave off evil spirits and heal afflictions. In the service of hope, charms and candles, talisman and amulets, incantations and rituals have been employed in every culture and country. They serve as “security blanket” symbols of hopes (and fervent wishes) for the relief from emotional or physical pain.

    Physicians convey to patients and families encouraging news whenever possible because hope during serious illness can improve mood and spirits and actually foster healing and recovery. 

    Hope provides a haven from pessimism, fear and dread. It galvanizes our courage and mobilizes our energy and vitality. It enhances our mood and focuses our creative thinking. 

     Hope also contributes to our propensity to help others who are in distress, including strangers as well as loved ones. Heroism is 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, holding onto slim threads of hope. Hope enables us to muster our courage.

    But misused hope can also prove self-defeating. ‘False hopes’ based on conspiracy theories or misinformation or on demagogic leaders can ultimately prove to misleading or destructive.

     Similarly, waiting passively for a terrible situation to resolve on its own, or conversely, always expecting inevitable disaster (“The sky is falling!” said Chicken Little), can be demoralizing and self-destructive.

    Stories of hope and fortitude abound and move us: Anne Frank, Florence Nightingale, Londoners during the Blitz, living under Fascism, or as slaves during the Jim Crowe years, survivors of natural disasters, and many others, perhaps including people you know.

       Hope has been expressed by inspired orators, artists and writers: Martin Luther Kings’s eloquent “I Have A Dream” speech imbued people with hope at his iconic March on Washington speech in 18963. Picasso’s evocative painting “Guernica” shows the brutality and tragedy of war, a poignant metaphor for humanity’s hope for peace. Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for The Common Man,” composed during World War II, and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in his Ninth Symphony, express the fervent hope for humankind to live in harmony.

     My late father was raised in a destitute and dangerous war-torn shtetl (an Eastern European village with a persecuted Jewish population). He never lost hope, which enabled him to withstand anti-Semitism and other challenges, overcome their effects and grow as a person.

     While we have much to be grateful for, the current times (pandemic, global warming, political instability) have led many people to feel remarkably stressed, vigilant and reactive. We are living in times of heightened anxiety and uncertainty, fear and dread, and mistrust of our political leaders, and worse, of each other. 

       When we are in such profound turmoil, we all need to “light our internal candles” of hope, which serve as a spur for us to overcome. 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 well-being and wisdom.

      With Hope and Courage, We Shall Indeed Overcome.

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