In his recent single “Hope For The Future,” Sir Paul McCartney sings the following choruses:
Some hope for the future,
Some wait for the call
To say that the days ahead
Will be the best of all.
Some hope for the future,
Some wait for the call
To say that our destiny
Will be the best of all .
However you look at this chorus, it is an optimistic one. This ought not to be surprising, as Sir Paul McCartney has always been known for a certain sunny disposition in his music, his basic sense of optimism, his ability to work well with others in multiple collaborations as diverse as Michael Jackson and Kanye West . There is a question though: do hopeful deeds depend on a hopeful disposition, does the hopeful disposition depend on hopeful deeds, or is there a more complicated relationship between confidence and disposition?
Earlier today a coworker of mine who is somewhere between an acquaintance and a friend felt the need to express to me an absence of hope in the future. She was torn between a desire to make a life here, or to go back home to Hawaii and live with her elderly grandparents until they died. She expressed that she did not feel close to anyone but that she had grown to love her grandparents (although apparently not her parents), and she had a live-in but somewhat casual boyfriend who she did not love or respect and had an abortion last year that left her distraught for months. Although she explicitly said she was not suicidal, here we have a clear case of someone who lives without a great deal of hope, faith, and love. She openly wonders what happened to her when she was young for her to grow up this way, and she is right to wonder, but in some ways it is irrelevant. After all, regardless what happens to us, we still have a life that we must live as best as we can, no matter how badly we are handicapped in the search for happiness and success. In many ways it appears like virtuous and vicious circles are in operation, by which success breeds confidence, and confidence breeds success, in which faith that is rewarded increases trust and faith, which feed off of each other, but which failure breeds pessimism and pessimism breeds failure, and doubt and suspicion breed each other just as easily. In wishing to encourage my coworker, I saw clearly that condemnation was not the answer, as her behavior was born out of despair, but how is one to act so that one is able to overcome despair, so that one’s timid and hesitate steps taken in fragile hope are rewarded enough to encourage growth and repetition.
Certain actions in life are often taken that can themselves provide evidence of a hope for the future, even if that hope may be unrecognized by the person who is acting in hope. Any action taken that requires short-term sacrifice but that offers a fair chance of long-term success is an action that is taken in hope. Some people may take foolish risks because they love the thrill of living on the edge and gambling, but far more common is someone who plants some seeds, cares for the soil over the intervening months by pulling weeds and trying to get rid of vermin, and hopes for enough rain and sun so that there will be a good harvest. Farming is an activity that can only be done by those who hope, because someone who is pessimistic about conditions will never undertake the front-loaded actions that are necessary to succeed at farming, because the harvest comes long after the work is done. The work of family and relationships may take years or even generations to pay off, and again it must be done in hope. Working hard on one’s education is an act of hope as well, because the cost in debt and effort continues to rack up for years before one can hopefully harvest from one’s efforts with hope and faith rewarded, or not. To be sure, one can hope and faith more wisely or foolishly, but one can never entirely remove risk from these endeavors because not all of the factors that go into a successful life are within our control. We do the best we can, but we must still hope and believe and trust anyway.
And so I reflect sadly on the fact that my coworker did not have enough hope in the future to raise up her child, or even to let someone else raise him up. Far too often in life despair is at the basis of what looks like laziness or a lack of care and concern. Far too often despair is a self-fulfilling prophecy: our lives will not get better without a lot of effort, but it takes much effort before life starts to pay off, and we have to be stubborn enough and hopeful enough to work before we receive the reward. Where that hope is missing no action will be taken that does not offer immediate gratification, which virtually ensures that behavior will be short-sided and wicked. How do we cultivate hope, though? How do we reverse a vicious circle and develop the habits that lead to increased happiness and well-being, knowing that not every hope will be rewarded, but that only a life lived with hope will be rewarded at all. One may hear it and know it intellectually, but like much in life it must be felt in the heart and must show in our experiences. Perhaps we can begin by recognizing what of our actions at present are motivated by hope that we may not recognize or appreciate. To be sure, our steps may be halting and slow and timid, but we do not often work with ideal situations, but must make the best out of the resources that we have available to us, including the resources of our own reserves of persistence and faith and trust and courage, and start from where we are. After all, we do not fault babies for learning how to walk slowly and timidly and awkwardly, but neither do we expect anyone to remain a baby forever.