Hope, the last evil?

I remember a classroom lecture during my doctoral studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute when archetypal psychologist James Hillman spoke of what he called the naivete of hope. Hope was, after all, he said, the one evil left in Pandora’s box when she snapped the lid back shut. His point as I understood it, was that hope is a reliance upon an unknown future that distracts us from the present, from dealing with what is here, right now.

Hillman spoke of the psychology of our nation, the United States of America, describing that it was founded upon hope. People came here with big hopes and dreams to create a not-yet-realized future. He spends much of his time in Europe and was able to offer a perspective  describing that most nations don’t suffer from this hope problem; they are focused differently than we are, more realistic perhaps. I heard the lecture about 14 years ago and retain the sense of what he was saying, but do not quote him directly.

While listening to the news these days, our political disappointments, dealing with people in their private situations, and listening into my own thoughts I have been thinking about this subject again and again. Barack Obama’s campaign was based upon the notion of hope – an “evil” in Hillman’s words.

I cannot argue with James Hillman’s meaning because I can’t know it truly, I am only dealing with words, impressions and inner tensions around the ideas he sharply suggests and what they give rise to in me.

Part of me now wants, truly, to give up on hope, to confront present reality for what it suggests to me for better and for worse. We have entered another country yet again in the spirit of war. And I too feel at war with parts of myself and my history that I can’t seem to resolve. Is it possible to imagine that as a species we are capable evolutionarily of getting it right, that the malevolent forces within the human spirit have not already doomed us beyond the possibility of repair?My tired heart does some days want to give up and settle for what is in the now without imagining an end to it.

That feeling, I find, leads to despair. And I wonder, is despair not the same thing as Hillman suggests that hope is, the belief in an unknown future? Isn’t despair also the imagining of a future, in this case not a brighter one but a failed one.

I believe we all as a species live somewhere on the spectrum of this dilemma, I hear it everywhere I turn. It is not a simple one, whether to chose hope or despair, or figure out where to live in between them. Evidence accumulates on both ends of the spectrum consistently. It is naive to chose one or the other. But I do think we have a choice about what elements of now we chose believe more and give energy to.

I have in my life had hope for the wrong things. I understand the evil of it that sense. But I still believe in hope. Loosening concepts around what is hoped for is necessary, but hope itself is pure, not evil. I choose hope to give my heart to.


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4 Responses to “Hope, the last evil?”

  1. Joy Parker Says:

    As usual, you have asked a key question. Maybe “evil” is too strong a word for what goes wrong with hope. I might start with the word “passivity.” I don’t think real hope is ever a matter of passivity–closing your eyes, clicking your ruby slippers together, and waiting. I think hope can be used instead to help us identify what is really essential in our lives, what our hearts yearn for, what we need, what we would like to see more of in our lives–and what we would be willing to explore and do to get there. And then we can choose to act, to build on that, to explore. As Ghandi said, we can be the change we want to see, which is an active, ongoing process.

    I’m writing a blog right now that I will find time to finish within a couple of days about “Going the Distance” as far as healing my voice. As you know, I had a paralyzed left vocal cord, and two weeks ago I finally had the surgery to inject a substance into the cord to move it over to the midpoint so that I could speak again. But so far, while my voice is better, it’s not yet as good as I had hoped it would be. I’m still hoarse much of the time, although my voice is louder. And this really scares me. Because I had expected the results of the surgery to be much, much better.

    But do I just accept that? Or do I find ways to keep improving by hard work and searching for ways to make it better? That’s hope to me, not giving up, not settling for never being able to sing again. Think of it–I’m a classically trained singer and I can’t sing, not even a Christmas carol. I had lung cancer and am very deconditioned as far as cardiovascular fitness goes. But I am not giving up hope that there are many, many things that I can do to make my voice stronger and my breath support stronger, to reconnect my brain with my voice.

    Keeping that kind of hope alive is saying, “I will not lose heart. I will not allow myself to be disempowered. I will not sink into depression. I will rise up and act from the heart, from the center of my passion and my need to communicate my gifts to others.

    Well, that’s what I think anyway. Like I said, it’s a good question, the right question. You ask great questions about things worth thinking about, and I thank you for that. That’s a real service.

  2. Tayria Ward Says:

    Joy, I feel your spirit so strongly every time I read your writing. It inspires, without fail. The hope we feel is the power in the moment that is right under our nose, rather than imagined futures of success or gloom. I feel the vast energy of hope you are able to tap in this present moment. You have lived and understood it like few others. You always have my support, however I can offer it. You are awesome.

  3. Pieter Says:

    A hope that projects into some future “maybe”, “if only” passivity creates its own despair and so its own need becomes stuck is an endless cycle.

    Hope I have found is a skill that few master.

    Skillful Hope keeps open the door to possibility in the moment; it is the tiger invisible in the grass ready to pounce.

    One of the better books I have read on the subject of hope is “The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology” by Erich Fromm

  4. Hope, Hillman and the Pitfalls of Intellectualism | Dr. Jeff Howlin, Ed.D. Says:

    […] Tayria Ward, Ph.D., written in Doctortayria’s Blog, in an article dated 04/06/2011, and titled, Hope, the last evil?  She recalled a classroom lecture by Hillman in which he spoke of “the naiveté of hope,” in […]

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