As a child, I had heard the story of Pandora’s Box. The poor girl unknowingly opened a forbidden box releasing evil and misery into the world. What lay trapped inside the box was ‘Hope’. Every time I heard this story, I used to wonder if hope was really trapped inside the box. Was it not possible that it found some way to escape and enter our lives?

I mean if hope had not really escaped, how can we explain the functioning of the world? The predator stalks the prey in the hope of catching it unaware. The prey runs as fast as it can, in the hope of outsmarting the predator. The barren tree continues to stand tall in autumn, hoping for spring.

Each of us carries a tiny form of hope within us. Knowingly or unknowingly, it is this hope that makes us function every day.

I have heard a lot of people say that they have given up all hope, whether of themselves or of the world around them. I am sure, that all of us, at some point, saw everything as bleak with a dooming sense of hopelessness. In reality though, were we as hopeless as we thought we were?

So what is hope then? I asked a lot of people what hope meant to them. I didn’t get a single common reply! Hope meant something different to each one of them. It meant the arrival of dawn, or maybe the starting bars of a favourite song. Hope was the baby sleeping through the night or maybe just not getting stuck in traffic jam. Hope could be as big as recovering from an illness to as small as finding matching pair of socks in the morning rush.

The problem with hope is that it has become over-rated. It has become too big for its own shoes. Hope is defined as an anticipation of a positive outcome. Sadly, we have started looking at hope as the exact outcome that we desire. The ideal world scenario. We have started associating hope with something big, like a magical solution to all our despair. Maybe that’s why hope is losing its charm. Unless we get exactly what we had hoped for, we feel that all was lost. Hope was never about getting everything; hope is about getting enough so that we can look forward to more. Hope is not finding the answer key to the final exam paper, it is about finding the answer to the question we were looking for.  It pushes us to look further, to work harder.

Hope is also an expectation that things will not go wrong. Can we hope though, that nothing will ever go wrong? That’s not even hope, that’s a miracle to begin with. Of course things will go wrong. We will make a mess of things or fail miserably at something. Is that reason enough to give up on hope? Imagine if the predator never hunted again because it failed to catch a prey. Or the prey not even trying to run away because one of the members of its herd fell into the jaws of the lion. Maybe closer still, the farmer not sowing seeds this season because his crop failed the last time.

Then there are people who look at hope as a damaging thing altogether. They believe that hoping for something sets you up for disappointment. If you do something without hoping for anything, you have very little to lose if you don’t succeed. According to me, these people have lost even before they started. Hope is the biggest motivator in life. Every small act of ours is a result of a tiny amount of hope. It pushes us to move forward, to try new things or maybe just find an alternate path. Remember the last time you were hungry on the way back from work. The hope of finding food to eat pushed you to move forward. It made you willing to move out of your comfort zone and try a new cuisine or maybe just find a cup of coffee to tide you over till you found what you wanted. If hope can push you to action for such basic things, then a tiny bit of hope can do wonders if only you trust it.

So when does hope become a problem? When does it become a hindrance? When it stops being hope and becomes a demand. Hope is anticipation and not a compulsion. It is a possibility of things going the way you want them to be and not a guarantee of the same. Hope as an anticipation is a motivator, hope as a compulsion can only make you anxious.

Another problem with hope is when it is based on false beliefs. Hope is not irrational, it is not a delusion. Hope is based on facts and logic. One cannot not study for an exam and then hope to pass. A car driver cannot speed on a crowded street and then hope that there will be no accident. Hope takes into consideration the reality and all possibilities. It doesn’t make us reckless; it helps us take calculated risks.

Hope is also not a generalization. It is not about saying, ‘everything will be fine’. It is understanding that some parts will get better. It’s knowing that even if ‘everything’ doesn’t get better, I will learn how to deal with it. Hope is not denial; it is acceptance.

The world is not divided into hope and hopelessness. Our lives are on a continuum between hope and hopelessness; and we often move back and forth. Life is about working to better something but also knowing when to let go.

Hope is about the slowly increasing moon; it is also about accepting the slowly waning moon.

Hope is never big and obvious. It is in places and people you never thought of looking.  All we need to do is recognise the sign.

What does hope then mean to me. Hope to me is about faith. A faith that come what may ‘we shall overcome’.

 

 

Dr. Gauri Nadkarni Choudhary
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