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Mon Jun 10, 2019, 09:53 AM

We Need Hope, Not Optimism - by Doug Muder

(I highly recommend signing up for Doug's The Weekly Sift newsletter in which he delves into the political and current events developments of the week. I thought this post was insightful and worth sharing here at DU given the eternal tug-of-war between optimism and pessimism, and especially for the those among us who are baffled by anyone who seems to have hope. Emphasis below is mine; permission to share full post.)


As regular readers probably know, when Iím not writing this blog Iím writing for a religious magazine and giving talks at churches. When you have that much religious exposure, sooner or later you end up thinking about hope, because hope is religionís central product.

Humanistic religions offer hope for human progress, while salvation-oriented religions offer hope for a better world to come, but pretty much every flavor of religion deals in some kind of hope: for miracles, for eternal life, for an escape from suffering, for strength to change, for the eventual triumph of the better angels of our nature, or some other desirable outcome.

Once you start thinking about hope, your reading will fairly quickly bring you to a useful distinction that (for reasons I donít understand) never catches on with the general public: Hope is not optimism.

The two words often get used interchangeably in conversation, and you do often find them together in real life: Hopeful people tend to be optimistic, and vice versa. But once in a while the difference between them is important. I feel like thatís true now in American politics, so Iím pointing it out in this secular context.

Optimism and pessimism are beliefs about the future. Optimists expect the future to turn out well; pessimists expect it to turn out badly.

Hope and its opposite (despair) are attitudes towards the present. Hope holds that efforts to make life better are worthwhile, while despair asserts their pointlessness. Hope says, ďLetís try itĒ and despair answers ďDonít bother.Ē

So an optimistic person plants a garden because the rains will come and the plants will grow and the harvest will be bountiful. But a hopeful person plants without knowing what will happen, because the possibility of a harvest is worth creating.

Since we seldom actually know whatís going to happen (even when we think we do), optimism is more brittle than hope. After a hot, dry week, favorable assumptions about the future can flip to unfavorable ones, and our optimism can crash: A drought has started, the crops are doomed, weíre all going to starve. The garden might go untended while the formerly optimistic person searches the horizon for signs of rain.

Meanwhile, the hopeful person just keeps gardening. The harvest was uncertain when everything looked fine, and itís still uncertain now. Itís worthwhile to keep going.

I trust that the application to the current political situation is already clear to you: An enormous amount of political discussion these days is of the optimism-versus-pessimism variety: Will we manage to get rid of Trump, either by impeachment or election? Is democracy already so damaged that it wonít recover in our lifetimes? Assuming we have a next leader, will he or she be able to heal the partisan divisions, or will America keep spiraling towards division or civil war?

And what about climate change? Are we past the point of no return? Will we pass it soon? Is civilization as we have known it already fated for ruin?

Truthfully, I have no idea.

I know most of my readers donít want to hear that. Every now and then I find myself conversing with someone who has cast me in a Guardian of Optimism role. I think they cast me that way because I keep paying attention to the news and writing this blog every week. Surely all that would be too depressing if I didnít think everything was going to work out eventually.

So they want me to pass along my optimistic secret: ďTell me itís going to be OK. Tell me we fix this.Ē

I canít. Maybe we do, maybe we donít. To be either an optimist or a pessimist requires a level of hubris I donít have. For good or ill, reality has a way of doing whatever it damn well pleases, no matter how tightly we think we have it tied down.

So my advice at this point in history is to get comfortable with not knowing and try to stay hopeful. Keep tending the garden and let the rain do whatever it does.

Which means: Try not to waste too much of your time and energy searching poll results for evidence that Trump will or wonít be re-elected. Donít agonize over who the Democrats will nominate. Donít watch panels where pundits argue over their predictions. Donít try to pick the exact year when the climate catastrophe will hit.

Just do something. Campaign, demonstrate, give money, write letters, mobilize your friends. Whatever you can think of.

Will it work? Who knows? We donít need to know. Someday, maybe, weíll look back and see that whatever we did either worked or didnít work. Between now and then, a lot of unforeseeable stuff is going to happen.

So donít waste a lot of time trying to foresee it. The harvest ó as rich or barren as it might eventually be ó will get here soon enough. Until then, just keep working. Itís worthwhile to create possibilities.


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Reply We Need Hope, Not Optimism - by Doug Muder (Original post)
OneGrassRoot Jun 2019 OP
delisen Jun 2019 #1
OneGrassRoot Jun 2019 #2
delisen Jun 2019 #4
OneGrassRoot Jun 2019 #5
CrispyQ Jun 2019 #3
OneGrassRoot Jun 2019 #6

Response to OneGrassRoot (Original post)

Mon Jun 10, 2019, 10:57 AM

1. Actually I found this quite depressing but I may be mis-reading

I do work on getting as many facts as I can to people I know and I work on projects I believe have a good change of making a difference.

To me developing the vision is important and this can only be done by the people- not by aiting for some leader to come along with his or agenda and then "inspire" us to adopt that agenda or to "bring us together" as though we are a flock of baa-ing mindless sheep.

Yes I do have some impatience for citizens who want me to not engage in thinking but instead want me to become a"fan" of their chosen leader. They confuse citizenship with membership in a cult.

The role of citizen or voter in a democracy is the opposite of that of "fan." We are required to be critical thinkers, fact-based evaluators.

I am guided some principles:

Without a vision the people perish (or at least their democracy does).

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

A nation must be run for the good of its people-not its rich or she supposed ruler-class, or its politicians, or its military, or its fake citizens (corporations), or its religious or economic cultists.

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Response to delisen (Reply #1)

Mon Jun 10, 2019, 11:17 AM

2. I don't see any conflict...

between what you wrote and the blog post I've shared.

I see a lot of pessimism and cynicism, especially on sites like DU; I've perceived this as a prevalent "vibe" for as long as I've been here which is a long time. I see it elsewhere as well, of course.

The cynicism can be demoralizing, with the message coming across to me as being: Those of you who embrace optimism, let alone hope, are naive idiots.

Of course, if one does embrace being hopeful as a way of life, it doesn't stop us. Still, it would be helpful if the people criticizing hopeful actions and work, however small it may seem to some, would get the hell out of the way of the people doing the work.

You're doing the work, taking positive action based on what you believe is the best course. I don't understand why you found this post quite depressing.

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Response to OneGrassRoot (Reply #2)

Mon Jun 10, 2019, 01:35 PM

4. I think I was mis-reading and am glad you shared it

I made me think-which is always good.

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Response to delisen (Reply #4)

Mon Jun 10, 2019, 02:28 PM

5. Thanks, delisen. :) n/t

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Response to OneGrassRoot (Original post)

Mon Jun 10, 2019, 12:59 PM

3. Pick one:

My friend says this is missing the narcissist - an empty shot glass with an orange bouffant & the contents spilled beside it.

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Response to CrispyQ (Reply #3)

Mon Jun 10, 2019, 02:29 PM

6. Excellent! lol n/t

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