The Art of Doing

Hope is Not a Wimp

Josh Gosfield/Illustration


You may hope that your employer won’t be forced to lay you off. Or you may hope that the big project that you were in the middle of—the film that was about to go into pre-production, the product that your client was about to launch, the first year at college that you were looking forward to—happens. Or you may hope that you can sit down with all your loved ones to share a meal. 

The problem is by Day Whatever, you may be starting to wonder if hope will do you any good. 

But, in times like these, hope is exactly what we need. 

Thirty-one years ago, a playwright in Prague, easily could have lost hope. He fought the power of communism in his country, and was imprisoned on and off for two decades because of his actions. The playwright, whose goal was to bring democracy to Czechoslovakia, had a lot of time in his jail cell to think about the concept of hope.

“Hope is not the same as optimism,” he wrote. Hope “is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” 

In other words, the playwright was certain that democracy in his country made sense, and he was still hopeful about it regardless of whether or not he could make it happen.

But hope can be hard, because hope requires something from us. Hope is not passive. Hope requires us to act. With each small act we muster—acts that make sense to us regardless of their outcome—hope draws us on. And as it draws us on we come to realize that hope is a renewable resource that replenishes itself with our small steps of progress. 

The playwright Vaclav Havel saw hope everywhere. Hope was the Czech dissidents copying underground newspapers and passing them around. Hope was the Czech students assembling to march again and again in protest of a government they did not support. Hope was the hundreds and thousands of ordinary citizens making their way to the center of Prague to stand in the crisp Fall air in the square in 1989, jingling their keys to make noise as they chanted for their freedom. 

Havel, who went on to become the country’s president after the bloodless revolution that overturned communism, wrote, “It is hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things.”

At this moment, our hope is being tested. Yet it is in troubled times such as these when we need hope the most. The choice is ours. We can choose to remain in a wishful state, passively hoping that things will return to normal without taking action. Or we can pay lip service to hope, only to snicker cynically behind its back to ward off disappointment. Or we can draw on hope, and its endless supply of energy, to hope something into existence. Something for ourselves, our families, our communities. Something that we take small steps toward each day not because we’re sure of its success, but because we’re in pursuit of something that makes sense to us to do regardless of how it turns out. 

Ask yourself, What am I hoping for? and What actions can I take to make it happen? You may be surprised to find yourself, like the playwright Vaclav Havel, reinventing your place in the world.

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