The myth, Hesiod’s telling of it and Bruce MacLennan’s translation, goes that Pandora was the first woman on Earth. She was given gifts by all of the gods, including a jar that contained all the evils in the world, which had one, “‘evil thing that all shall cherish in their hearts, embracing their own scourge.’” As we know, she opened the jar and let loose all the evils and vices upon the world except for one, Elpis, known as Hope. Hope wasn’t let loose in the world. Hope was kept inside. Hope remained.
For many people, hope, in the lower case, is the humane quality that is used to battle the evils and hardships of the world. Hope exists because we need to have a vision of things being better so that we can fight for that better world. Poverty, hunger, sickness, grief, torment, torture, war, and all of its vicissitudes, are but a few of the hardships let loose upon the world that hope, supposedly, allows us to battle against. Hope allows us to want the hurt to end, to want a better world, and to want to effect change.
That’s not how I see hope. I see it as a shadowy prison, of our own making. I see hope as the vice that was not let loose in the world, but secreted away in the depths of our hearts. Still problematic. Still full of hurt.
There is hurt in hope, because things that aren’t desirable, or really wanted, are happening. Things are not going the way that you or I would like, and so we hope that things change. We hope for change, for progress, for something else. Should we be happy with our lives and the world as it is? Should we be happy with all of the suffering and hurt? I dislike “should” questions, because they easily distract from the premise. Hope remaining is the topic, and happiness is another topic. Although, in relation to happiness, hoping that our lives will always be happy, that we will always get what we want, and not have pain, is an expectation that hurts.
Do I think feeling hopeless is better than having a sense of hope? I do not. As an aside, I don’t see the use of ranking emotions; I try to feel out the contours and particularities of emotions as they rise. Hopelessness, for me, comes in those moments when I can’t foresee any options, can’t see things improving, and when I see the world as becoming progressively more painful. It has the same flavor as hope; the same lack. I think the opposite of hope isn’t hopelessness; it is contentment.
Personally, when I hear someone, with all earnestness and longing, hope that things will get better, I hear the lack of contentment with the way that things are. I hear the lack. I hear the hurt. I hear the places where contentment would provide the most comfort, but hope imprisons, and keeps contentment away.
Returning to the myth, I do wonder: what would it be like if Pandora let go of hope as well? How would our world be different if hope wasn’t in our hearts? Would we remain, as we are?