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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Emrys


Hope is a very potent word in most societies. Like every other word, it’s a symbol– a dead thing, waiting to be brought to life. Once someone infuses it with meaning, it has the ability to move us. Once it is spoken, it has power.

Hope enjoys quite a bit of power in the human dream. Through the ages, the word has been an inspiration to millions. It’s even been said that without hope humans can’t survive. Hope means something positive to most of us; but in many of our oldest myths, its implications have been ambiguous, to say the least.

Take the mythical story of Pandora’s box, for instance. There’s more than one way to interpret the tale of an angry god who offers a mysterious box (or jar) as a gift. As it happens, the gift itself is a deceitful trick– a way to exact revenge on the recipient. It contains a specific assortment of evils meant to cause untold human misery. And, significantly, hope is the last thing to come out of that particular gift box.

So, what lessons should we take from the story? Does hope offer redemption– some kind of compensation for all those evils? Or is it the worst thing lying at the bottom of a box full of deadly plagues? Does hope represent salvation…or the biggest demon each us will ever have to face?

The simplest definition of hope is this: a feeling of expectation. Hope points the way to an imagined future. A child hopes to be someone special when he grows up. Children have “high hopes” of becoming movie stars, astronauts, or sports heroes. Grown-ups hope to be successful in work and in love. Hope pushes all of us in certain directions at a key moments in our lives. Hope guides us and gives us a vision of something that hasn’t yet occurred– without actually taking us there.

At the same time, hope is an excuse not to act. The ancient storytellers may have intended the myth to be a warning. They may have seen how hope translates as “deceptive expectation,” and, if so, they weren’t wrong. Hope paralyzes us. It holds us back– telling us that someone else, or something else, will save us. It tells us to “hang on and hope for the best.” For all the faith we invest in it, hope gives mankind very little in return.

The word faith means one-hundred percent belief. Hope is something different. Hope waits indefinitely on the whims of others. It forces us to surrender our fate to outside forces. We rarely ask ourselves if “hoping” helps us deal with life’s big challenges. Do we really believe in hope’s power to save us, or were we never taught how to have faith in ourselves?

It’s important to adapt to life’s twists and turns. We can change as fast as life changes; but for that to happen, we might want to depend less on hope and more on our inherent power to affect the future. We can “keep on hoping," or allow our words and actions to reflect an enduring faith in what we are.

Putting myths aside, hope is just a word. Like all words, it’s a dead thing until someone magically imbues it with meaning. Magic is life in action, and you’re the sorcerer who uses symbols to make things happen in your reality. For you, the word hope can serve as an instrument of enlightenment…or more self-deception.

Putting all myths aside (please), the choice is yours.

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