Saturday, 15 May 2010

Once Again, On Hope

The days seem ever dark'ning; ev'ning sweeps
In earlier without a sign of solstice.
Fluorescent lights in living rooms are poultice,
Perhaps, to growing gloom, but ever weeps
The war-time widow; martyrs' mothers cry,
And oaks fall groaning down, while minds are frayed
And newborns' parts are badly misarrayed
And genes with last and lonely beasts will die.
But if we find a light sufficient strong
To pierce that dulling darkness, would it blind?
Would we who see that beam therefore not find
The horrors still alive, and hope in wrong?
Activity sees clearer worn with care,
But hope's a better star than cold despair.

Karen asked me to write another post on hope, and, lacking much to say about the matter, I decided to write a sonnet on it. The sonnet's structure (octet, volta, sestet; 8-4-2; abbacddcefefgg or variant) often helps me give structure to my own thoughts on a topic. Anyway, what I produced perhaps gives the feel as well as one can hope in an hour's endeavour, but it doesn't much illuminate the logic, which I feel I must go into here. I warn you that my discussions of hope are not as "hopeful" as Karen's or Jon's.

I am of course indebted to Yolanda for my current thoughts on hope; specifically, she linked an article which discussed the pros and cons. The fear I have is three-fold: first, that hope is in the end vain, as we're doomed; second, that hope blinds us to problem errors which we then don't address; third, that if we give too much to hope we rely on it, and on luck, to make things better, and not work ourselves. The trouble is that despair or apathy don't do much good, either. As Karen points out, attempt is a prerequisite to success, and as Jon points out, hope is sometimes all that gets you out of bed in the morning. (A sense of duty, actually, is what gets me out of bed, but I recognize that some people might need something a little less old-fashioned.) Despair is blinding, too; either we give up altruism and become selfish, or we give up entirely and await destruction.

I was discussing this with a friend in Ontario, sitting in the sun and drinking a Chai Latte. In the face of defeat, do we give up? What is our cultural drive? Tolkein thought that we lacked the Scandinavians' determination, the sheer will that allowed Thor and Odin to plunge into Ragnarok, the final war, knowing full well that they would lose. He tried to elaborate on this ethic in The Lord of the Rings. My friend said she thought this was not absent but in the cultural mindset, a persistance inspite of overwhelming odds, and I wonder if perhaps this means that Tolkein succeeded. At any rate, I think that there is something to be said for trying utterly despite entertaining no hope that you will succeed. Trying in spite of defeat. The trouble is that we will survive our defeat; Odin had the luxury of dying at the end of the world. We may live to suffer the consequences of environmental apocalypse, continuing war in the Middle East, continuing tyranny in China, etc. We cannot afford to let hope to blind us to the possibility that we may fail, and we must be prepared to deal with failure when it comes.

But Huston Smith said that heroic fortitude is not something you can prescribe upon the masses, and I must agree. Many of us--myself included--need hope to let us go on each day. What we then must do is be aware that our hope is perhaps misguided, that our hope can blind us to real problems, that our hope can convince us to relax when we can't afford to. If we are aware that hope can do this, if we can hold hope in one hand and urgency in another, perhaps we can manage to do what we need to and remain sane. I'm not sure.

But note that it must hope and urgency, not hope and despair. Despair is destructive. It can therefore destroy our complacency, but just as we mustn't let it keep hold on us. It is only good if it destroys what is deadly to us and allows us to build anew, build with hope.

1 comment:

yolanda said...

thanks for writing on hope again.

i like the pairing of hope and urgency - it's definitely something to think about.

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