October 12, 2007


Caption: This one's for Emily Dickinson.

Along with links and comments on current events, the theme for this week's Goat Rope is optimism and pessimism. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

A while back, I worked on a project about hope. This was kind of ironic since at the time I didn't have a whole lot on hand.

It wasn't a huge problem for me--I can run pretty well on grim determination and Appalachian fatalism. In fact, the main thing that got me through the Bush years was the story of the hopeless struggle of Leonidas and the Spartans against impossible odds at Thermopylae (this was way before the movie came out).

Moulon labe, baby!

Back to the hope thing...To start with, I tried to look at the literature and research on the subject and found quite a bit. One book that caught my eye was an older study by Ezra Stotland called The Psychology of Hope. His definition of hope spoke to me:

an expectation greater than zero of achieving a goal.

Short and pithy. Spartan even.

It occurred to me that despite my tragic existential streak, I might not be that much of a pessimist after all. Especially if you define hope or optimism in limited and practical rather than cosmic terms.

Pessimism notwithstanding, I've generally found it to be true that if you want to accomplish something that's doable and are willing to put in the effort, then with skill, technique, allies, strategy, intuition, determination and luck you can sometimes do it--even if it's really hard.

(Note: this may require interval training or similar distasteful efforts.)

Even in a universe that often appears indifferent and drifting towards entropy. Go figure.

I especially liked some quotes on the subject of hope by Erich Fromm:

Hope is paradoxical. It is neither passive waiting nor is it unrealistic forcing of circumstances that cannot occur. It is like the crouched tiger, which will jump only when the moment for jumping has come….To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime...

There is no sense in hoping for that which already exists or for that which cannot be. Those whose hope is weak settle down for comfort or for violence; those whose hope is strong see and cherish all signs of new life and are ready every moment to help the birth of that which is ready to be born.

As pessimistic as I sometimes am, from my own experience I can't escape the truth of William James' statement that "Belief creates the actual fact." In other words, the belief or faith that something is possible often leads to the actions that demonstrate for all the world to see that this is indeed the case.

I may be an optimist in spite of myself...

SURVEY SHOWS SKEPTICISM. More working Americans are doubting the attainability of the American Dream.

GOVERNMENT BY CONTRACT. Imagine a whole government provided by private military contractors...



B. in OH said...

Cuz, I am terribly sorry that this is not a comment on your wonderful article of the day, but...we saw on the news here the other day that your oh-so-fair town has a Pumpkin Festival, much like ours next week in Circleville. I had no idea. Did you and LaCabra attend?
(However, I will agree that getting thru the Bush years has been awful.)

El Cabrero said...

Hi Cuz,
We didni't make it this year. It's nowhere near as good as the one in Circleville, though it pains me to admit it.