Maxim Monday: Praise Hope

Expectation, desire, wishes, ambition – these are words associated with hope (so Google tells me). As with most things, these words can express extremes. They can conjure up a fantasy world disconnected with the harsh realities of life, the worst of ‘magical thinking.’ Or they can be expressions of a positive attitude, high expectations, and the best of magical thinking.

This ancient oracle encourages us to praise hope, so let’s look to the second, more positive take on this word. I’m an optimist by nature. I think hope is important for individuals, groups, and societies as a whole. I also think that reading headlines and listening to the news can be incredibly anxiety provoking and outright depressing, so feeling a sense of hope and finding instances of hope to praise are vital if I’m going to avoid locking myself and my children in the house and never opening my laptop again.

The sun rises, even in winter in Alaska. By ra64 from nome, usa (sunrise 12:45pm 12/22/06) via Wikimedia Commons

I am incredibly ambitious, yet my personal flavor of ambition does not fit the capitalist model. Even as a child I never wanted to be a doctor or lawyer or any specific occupation; I did, however, want to be the smartest girl in the world and have conversations with God. I’m still aiming for both of the latter goals, and I still don’t know what job I want when I ‘grow up.’

I have high expectations of myself and those around me. This often causes interpersonal strife, because I haven’t found a lot of people like the challenge of working toward their dreams, asking for or receiving help (I suck at these two myself), or saying they are sorry when necessary. But I remain hopeful for people and humanity! And myself! I have hope that I’ll get better at being in relationship with others and that I’ll do better at asking for help next time I need it.

I feel less hopeful for humans as a species. When I think about the dramatic environmental shifts coming and the consequences these will have on societies for my kids’ generation and the ones after it, I admit I feel less than hopeful. Sometimes I feel hope’s opposite: despair.

Rather than let this particular post sway too much into discussion of despair or drift too far into perky cheerleading, I have decided to list a series of links that capture what makes me feel hopeful. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

John Beckett’s recent post on Pagans getting together gives me hope. The blogosphere, important and helpful though I think it is, can often be more isolating and divisive than need be. When we get together we can see one another face to face, learn from our differences, and find our commonalities. John’s blog is generally hopeful. When I want to know what’s good about Paganism I know I can count on him to help me feel that not all is lost for the wider Pagan movement.

Home births are on the rise. Yes, this report is two years old. Yes, the increase is really very tiny. But I think the increase of home births (for healthy, low-risk women) is a good thing. It reduces costs for the family (in many, though not all, cases), reduces hospital costs and costs to insurance, and can be a good way of promoting midwife-led and woman-driven pre-natal care. In my opinion, anything that will reduce the pathologizing of birth is a good thing.

Malala Yousafzai. She embodies compassion, passion, determination, and feminism. She uses her fame to work towards education for girls everywhere. She is 22 years my junior, but she is a real-life hero of mine.

This kid has likely invented a test for several forms of cancer. Kids are doing cool stuff. They’re not all sexting and tweeting and doing whatever it is young whippersnappers are said to be doing by hand-wringing old fogeys.

Gay marriage and positive hip-hop. I am happy every time another state legalizes same-sex marriage, even though I am critical of marriage as an institution, the heteronormative, middle-class values that same-sex marriage upholds, and the marginalization of other forms of queerness that often occurs in its wake. (Says the legally married woman.) Say what you will about white hip-hop team Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but I find their social and political commentary combined with catchy hooks absolutely infectious. That their song, Same Love, did so well on the charts, is a testament to what I hope is a crack in the homophobic hip-hop and mainstream pop music world.

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  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    I am not optimistic by nature. There are advantages to being prepared – emotionally as well as tangibly – for the worst. Still, while I tend to ridicule New Age thought, they’re right that what you focus on you will manifest. Being prepared for the worst is good – spending too much time on what is wrong or what could go wrong leads to an unpleasant life.

    There are two reasons I can hope. The first is the combination of experience and reason. While it’s good to be prepared for the worst, the worst rarely happens. This isn’t the cliched “well, things could be worse” (I want to punch people who say that to me when I’m upset). But what we imagine might happen is almost always worse than what actually does happen. And from the other side, we humans are generally stronger and more resilient than we think we are – we can handle more than we think we can and come out OK, even if we’d rather not. Again, the cliched “everything’s going to be OK” infuriates me, but experience tells us it usually is, because we make it so.

    But there are times when I have hope not supported by experience and reason, because the situation is so important I _have_ to believe things will work out. I have to believe humans will eventually come to respect Nature, because if we don’t, our species will not continue. Experience makes me unhopeful this change will be quick or easy or painless, but I cannot allow myself to imagine the extinction of humanity due to our own greed and stupidity.

    A few years ago I went to a “living green” workshop led by a major environmental organization. They spent 90% of the workshop talking about all the bad things we’re doing. I left feeling “what’s the use?” They didn’t make me want to change my lifestyle, they made me want to buy a Porsche, drive to Las Vegas, and live it up while I could.

    In the short term, things may get better or they may get worse. But in the long term, I believe things will get better (not bigger, not richer, but better) because I have to, if I’m going to do what I need to do to help make them better.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      I agree. I don’t want gloom and doom without a few suggestions on how to improve or handle the situation. I think it’s part of my fierce DIY personality (not in a crafting sense, but in a ‘I want to move forward’ sense). I’m a problem solver by nature. Maybe this isn’t optimism? But I think that when I feel I can do something or take initiative I feel more positive. Even if the only thing I can do is wait or meditate.

      I agree that when the environmentalists focus too much on the negative I too just want to say ‘fuck it, what’s the use’ and cave in. I believe that things will get harder – maybe even MUCH harder for me – but that humans are wildly adaptable and will adjust. We are infinitely creative. That gives me hope.


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