In Defense of Hopelessness

Perhaps it is my field of work or area of interest, but it seems like nearly every day I hear someone proclaim – it’s important to have hope.

Now, as much as the contrarian in me may revel in flippantly calling myself anti-hope, the truth is, I have no qualms with, nor judgements of, people who embrace hope as a core need.

It strikes me as a deeply personal matter: some people have faith, some people don’t. Some people have hope, some people don’t. Some people need that something – whether they call it faith, or hope, or use some other word – some people need that. Many people need that.

But some people don’t.

It’s okay to be hopeless.

I mean, it’s okay to be hopeless if you’re okay with being hopeless. Many people aren’t okay with being hopeless, but find themselves hopeless nonetheless. That is a problem indeed.

But do we need to force hope on everyone? To consider hope a core requirement for whatever moves you as the Good Life?

I don’t think so.

It’s okay to be hopeless.

Of course, a key question here is what it means to have hope.

I often hear the term applied to collective action – to social change. It’s important to have hope that we can make a difference. That we can make the world better.

That sounds a reasonable claim, and yet – this is where I find hopelessness most noble.

Faced with overwhelming injustice and so many wrongs in the world, I select two kinds of battles to fight: those I can win and those worth fighting.

I’ll admit to having a bias for practicality, so I’ve certainly been known to evaluate efforts in terms of probable impacts – to favor a strategy or approach that will work.

But pursuing the fights you can win is not enough. Sometimes it is just as important – perhaps more important – to fight the battles you’ll never win.

Of course, one may hedge here, arguing that even a statement of hopelessness is bolstered by a deeper sense of hope. It’s like the argument that that all altruism is ultimately self-interest.

And yet – is there not something compellingly beautiful in the image of someone fighting for justice, fighting for what’s right, but knowing they’ll never win? Knowing they’ll never move the needle, nor make any difference, nor even be remembered for their efforts? Fighting only because it’s the right thing to do.

There’s something remarkable in passion without hope.

Hope can also be seen at a much more personal level. Hope that your life will have meaning. Hope that you’ll make it through the day.

Questioning the universal need for such individual hope is much less socially acceptable.

And the demand for hope here is reasonable. Terrible things happen to people without hope. They feel terrible things, experience terrible things, perhaps even do terrible things.

Hope should not be denied. No life should be lost to hopelessness.

And yet –

Does a widespread need for hope translate to a universal need for hope? Is hope so essential that hopelessness should be removed as an option? That no person should be welcome to stand up and proudly declare their hopelessness?

It’s the pursuit of that universal hope which worries me.

Hopelessness should always be an option.

Perhaps not the right option for the vast majority of people, but an option nonetheless. There is nothing wrong with people who need hope, and there is nothing wrong with people who need to be without it.

There is, after all, something dangerous in hope. It doesn’t help to proclaim that it gets better if, indeed, it never gets better. Shattered dreams can be worse than no dreams at all.

But I digress. For, really, the conversation about individual hope comes down to one question – imagine that person laying in bed. Staring blankly at the ceiling. Too broken to move and swallowed by that dark cavern of despair. Hopeless.

The real question is what gets that person out of bed. What heals them.

Hope, perhaps.

But, I think, not necessarily. There is power in hopelessness. Not just the power to destroy, but the power to repair. Embracing hopelessness can ease that despair.

Perhaps not for everyone. Perhaps not for the vast majority of people. But, perhaps, for some.

Hopelessness should always be an option.

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