Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.
By Thich Nhat Hanh
I disagree with this statement. It panders too much to the stickiness that lies behind hope. The longing for a future that may not come. The desire for something comfortable and stable to rely on. The fear that things will "get worse." I have written on this blog before, and continue to believe, that hope is mostly a hindrance. Thus my disagreement.
Given that many of us live in places where hope narratives are really strong, using the word "hope" can be a skillful means. Telling someone "I hope you feel better soon" can be skillfully supporting them, as can offering optimistic views of the future. That's where comments like Thich Nhat Hanh's above might be pointing us in a useful direction, but you have to reflect on where that might be.
We can come from a place of offering that is open, and not caught up in the futurizing of hope. I can imagine hospice workers and chaplains have to work with such language all the time, and must consider the people before them and what is most skillful in the given situation. But I think there are ways to work with really difficult situations like families facing terminal illnesses that are both realistic in the now, but also optimistic about life as a whole.
Optimism is different from hope in my opinion. Although it tends to be linked with hope, I think optimism is grounded in confidence and a trust in the boundlessness of the world.
My mother is a pretty optimistic person. And although she gets caught up in misleading hope narratives like the rest of us, what I tend to see from her is a great trust that things will unfold in the way they need to unfold. The other day, her car broke down on a freeway ramp. She was initially irritated about it, and worried about having to get a new car. However, within a few hours, she had shifted all of this. With a friend of hers, she'd considered some of the possible outcomes, and then let it go to the mechanics to deal with. And although she had a hunch that it wouldn't be too bad (which it wasn't), what I mostly saw was that she trusted that what needed to happen would happen.
Optimism also, in my view, is seeing everything as an opportunity to learn, to become more fully yourself. That whatever comes, there's a way to integrate it into the whole of your life. I don't see hope doing that. Hope is usually about a desired outcome or set of outcomes. And a rejection or avoidance of other outcomes.
Now, even the word optimism is tied to a binary: pessimism. It feels a little clunky to me as I write this, but I'll opt to use it anyway.
As a final thought, I'd like to ask people who feel hope is essential a few questions. When you say hope, what exactly do you mean? How does it actually function in your body and mind when you hope for something? And what happens in your body and mind when you don't get what you hope for?