It’s Our Hope That Will End This Recession

Seems like folks are feel­ing cau­tiously opti­mistic these days, what with the DJIA peek­ing above 10,000 for a few moments this last week and Google, one of the barom­e­ters of the New Econ­omy, back up in the stratos­pheric 500’s.  Dur­ing the far-darker days of almost a year ago a lot of us Amer­i­cans voted for Hope, a moment immor­tal­ized in poster form by Shep­ard Fairey, and in some ways its name a reminder of the Book The Audac­ity of Hope that our now-president had penned.  And as much as our young pres­i­dent is hop­ing to lead us out of reces­sion while we are at the same time hop­ing that he and the Con­gress aren’t just deliv­er­ing more budget-busting pol­i­tics as usual, there is a dif­fer­ent Hope that will lead us there, the Other Hope, the one that has been with us for­ever and upon which our great soci­ety has been built: Our Hope.

Hope is one of those words that we don’t really stop to think about – it is so essen­tial and inte­gral to our lives, yet we don’t rec­og­nize it for what it is: the sin­gle great­est defin­ing attribute of our human­ity. Big claim, yes.  And I can back that up.

The verb “hope” means to “wish or feel that some­thing desired may hap­pen.”  So hope is about the future.

But what do we know about the future?  Not much.  We may all be dead tomor­row.  Things may be worse, they may be bet­ter, but we really don’t know.  That’s sort of how the future works.

So we hope.  We wish and even feel that some­thing desired may hap­pen.  And we are largely alone in the Ani­mal King­dom in this respect.  Our abil­ity to imag­ine a future that is both dif­fer­ent from the present and that incor­po­rates our mem­o­ries of the past both good and bad, is unique to our species.  Sure, oth­ers in our branch of the genetic tree have some of these skills.  But we didn’t ascend this evo­lu­tion­ary lad­der on good looks alone.  No, we hoped our way here.

We aspire.  Espe­cially in the West, but pretty much every­where in the world, our dia­log is per­me­ated with ref­er­ences to what could be (the pos­si­bil­i­ties), what can be (our hopes), and how the present or past does or doesn’t con­form to what we had hoped for (our dis­ap­point­ment or joy).  It seems to be pretty much accepted fact at this point that few of us are capa­ble of observ­ing the present, past or future with­out refer­ring to our hope of what they could-of been or could be.

At the core of this is our  amaz­ing abil­ity to under­stand that many tomor­rows exist and con­tem­plate what could be like.  We use this abil­ity to con­tem­plate our future to help us plan, to pre­pare, to scheme, and yes, to hope.  We will work hard now and today and for many days that fol­low, all in the hope that some day far-distant from today will turn out in a way that we desire.  All that, in the face of the fact that the hoped-for day may never hap­pen; by the time that tomor­row comes, we may have died, or failed, or life and chance just com­bined in some way and our dear hoped-for was never to be.  We fail more often than we suc­ceed in this endeavor.  We know this, and yet we per­sist.  That’s some seri­ous hoping.

And look where it has got­ten us – we have dreamed up some pretty won­der­ful things.  Our stan­dard of liv­ing is very high.  Poverty and mal­nu­tri­tion are lower dur­ing this era than in any other time in recorded his­tory.  We have free­doms and oppor­tu­ni­ties that lib­er­ate us from a rest-of-the-animals-like exis­tence into some­thing close to gods.  We can “change the course of his­tory” – and real­ize that we are doing it at the same time.  Amazing.

Hope has a dark side as well – that same striv­ing, plan­ning and hop­ing in the face of uncer­tainty about the future has another face: risk-taking.  Not nec­es­sar­ily bad, but as we have seen recently, exces­sive risk-taking can be bad, and when com­bined with greed and some highly-optimistic hop­ing (try say­ing: “Home prices will never go down” three times) Hope seems to be cul­pa­ble in get­ting us into the reces­sion in the first place.  At some point on the “Hope con­tin­uum”, this risk-taking behav­ior becomes gam­bling, an addic­tion that can destroy your life and your future, and yes, even your hope.

Bud­dhists will claim that a supreme enlight­en­ment occurs when one has aban­doned all sense of hope – of need­ing the future to be some­thing in par­tic­u­lar.  But for the rest of us, the com­plete loss of hope is pretty much the end of the game, as if our very life-force has been drained out of us.  Many, actu­ally lack­ing hope, will in fact make that life-end a real­ity.  We fight wars to lib­er­ate peo­ple who have lost hope, even when they are us.  That’s how impor­tant hope is to us.

Let’s get back to the good news on hope.  We seem to have an end­less sup­ply.  We are born with it and on aver­age have enough for our­selves and often for all of those around us through­out our entire life­time.  We can give it to each other freely.  We can share hope and dis­cover new­found hope, and even bet­ter, hop­ing itself is free.  We even hope just for the fun of it…what if I won the Lot­tery? One need only look back a cou­ple of hun­dred years to under­stand the hope that filled hearts and minds when our Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence was first shared.  Look what happened.

Even in our dark­est hours, hope is what ral­lies us.   Here is one of the most hope­ful procla­ma­tions ever made:

“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

In these pow­er­ful ten words the case is suc­cinctly made that the fear of a far less desir­able future is, in fact, the great­est bar­rier to Hope.  Hope is the anti­dote to fear, our elixir, the irre­sistible force that will actu­ally beget a more desir­able future.  If you have never read the com­plete text from pres­i­dent Franklin Roosevelt’s first inau­gural speech I encour­age you to do so – a short read, but stun­ning in terms of its use of hope and vision.

Our abil­ity to hope dri­ves our econ­omy.  Like it or not, that’s the way Cap­i­tal­ism works.  We work a bit harder in the hope that we will be bet­ter off or finan­cially safer.  We buy a new prod­uct in the hope that it will be bet­ter for us.  We invest and take risks in the hope that we will gain from them.   We invent things in the hope that we will become famous, rich or both.  Pro­duc­tiv­ity, Con­sump­tion, Invest­ment and Inno­va­tion.  These off­spring of our cease­less hop­ing have fueled our cur­rent level of pros­per­ity and freedom.

And in the end, the hope for our econ­omy lies not in our Pres­i­dent, nor any­thing that the Con­gress nor The Fed can do, but rather, it lies in our abil­ity to reclaim hope.  One could argue that the best thing that those in Wash­ing­ton can do right now is to make sure that we can all feel hope, more so with each pass­ing day.  That investors can feel hope­ful about invest­ing,  busi­ness own­ers feel hope­ful in hir­ing, con­sumers feel hope­ful in sav­ing and buy­ing, and every­one feels that together, the strength of our hope makes tomor­row a wel­come day.

As to Pres­i­dent “Auda­cious Hope” Obama, let us all pause for a moment and rec­og­nize the Nobel Committee’s award of the Nobel Peace (aka Hope) Prize to our Pres­i­dent for what it is – col­lec­tive hope, albeit unre­al­ized as of yet.  And in doing so we rec­og­nize him as sym­bol­iz­ing our need for a brighter future.  The world has again noted that the USA is a source of Hope for much of the world.  Nice.

And in that way, let’s not think of Hope as being Auda­cious.  Nor as some­thing that belongs to Nobel Peace Prize Win­ner Obama.  Let’s cel­e­brate it as Ubiq­ui­tous.   It belongs to all of us. We’re hope­lessly infected with it and there is no vac­cine.  It may drive us to do some­what silly or even down­right stu­pid things — even Shep­ard Fairey let Hope get in the way of bet­ter judg­ment — but at the end of the day, it always seems to be our hope, no, I mean Our Hope, that saves us.

Through­out human his­tory and still true today, the only thing that we need ever to hope for is Hope itself.  Hope will lead us out of reces­sion this time, as it has in the past.  Just watch.

Did I men­tion that Hope is infec­tious?  Pass it on.

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — name­less, unrea­son­ing, unjus­ti­fied ter­ror which par­a­lyzes needed efforts to con­vert retreat into advance.”

- Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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