Tunnel of Hope: A Way of Living

You may not have noticed it, but at the very bottom of this website, there are 4 words I had since day one. Hope · Inspire · Dream · Live. I believe these are the 4 most important words to live by. I decided to do a blog entry on each, and why these words matter. I already did an entry on ‘live’: Game of Life so I won’t do that again. I will do an entry on each of other 3, starting with ‘hope’.

What is hope? What does it mean to be hopeful? Why must we cling onto hope? What is my belief and philosophy on it? How does hope fit the pursuit of happiness?


Photo by polsifter/ CC BY

What is hope?

Often we don’t realize it, but hope is behind many things we all do. Much like the ‘invisible hand’ concept in economics, hope is one of the guiding ideas behind different philosophies, whether it is religious, personal, spiritual, or general philosophy. Usually, we don’t directly consciously impose hope into the life decisions we make, but it is there somewhere. We want things to turn out a certain way, and hopefully, it is something up-lifting and perhaps optimistic.

Hope is an idea. Hope is a concept. Hope is potential. Hope is a vision. Hope is expectations in life. Hope is a way of living and thinking.

Hope is like a race car swerving in and out of a traffic jam on the boulevard of life trying to get through the obstacles in the immediate path. In the back of your mind, you expect to eventually get beyond the chaotic traffic jam. Hope can also shape how you think – think of the Colorado river that runs through the Grand Canyon in Arizona. You would never expect such a flowing body of water to shape something as massive as the cliffs of the canyon, but constant barrages from trickling water over millions of years has shaped the canyon through crevices and fissures into the cliffs. The way you think can shape you as an individual.

Hope, in the end, may be the most important thing we must hold onto. Hope is light at the end of the tunnel. Without hope, the light is extinguished, and we are thrown into a pit of darkness. Hope is the candle that burns incessantly through the night, but once it is put out, the candle cannot light itself back up. By being hopeful, we can continue to fuel the candle of hope like oxygen fuels the fire.

Photo by ShawnCarpenter / CC BY

Photo by ShawnCarpenter / CC BY

That is hope and what it means to be hopeful.

When does it matter?

It is easy for one to be hopeful when things are going their way. It is easy to be hopeful when the road is lit. It is easy to be hopeful when your journey is defined. It is easy to be hopeful when you are at the top of your game. To a big degree, faith itself is also based on hope. It is very easy to have faith and believe you have special standing in the universe & somebody out there is watching your back when things are going your way. (I won’t get more into the psychology of religion, but you get the point.)

The real challenge begins when things are not going your way, when the road is not lit, and when you’re rock bottom. That is when the real game begins, and you begin to test the limits. That is the point when you truly understand who you are, what drives you, and how hopeful you truly are. When things are going your way, you have no reason to doubt anything (unless if you are a philosopher who ponders everything), and you can safely go with the flow. When things are not going the way you envision them to, that is when the flow stops and you begin to reflect within and without.

Hope is easy to lose if you don’t have a target in life and are simply drifting from moment to moment. First example that comes to mind are drug addicts – I briefly read studies for a medical anthropology elective course I took at Rutgers few years ago. Addiction could become so bad in patients that only thing keeping them going could be the drug itself. For instance, heroin addicts become so desperate during withdrawal that without heroin, they begin to shake vehemently, become extremely depressed/agitated/etc, and often become suicidal. These folks end up at the bottom of the barrel and simply begin to drift. For them, hope becomes heroin, and when that stops, they lose their mental capacity to think because they can only think of the drug their body and mind desperately wants. They lose all semblance of rationality and lose any targets/goals in life. With that gone, they may lose their human side and hope evaporates in a snap.

Just think about soldiers returning from wars with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or those dealing with extreme depression or cancer or any number of things. Hope is tested when the fire begins to be extinguished piece-by-piece. At some point, hope comes down to what it is that drives you and what it is that you live for. Survival itself becomes hope. Hope only lasts when one has a reason to live.

Photo by Yandle / CC BY

Photo by Yandle / CC BY

Risks of Hope

I drew a picture so far that having hope can only be good. There is a ‘double-edged sword’ aspect of hope that people don’t think about: there is the need to believe things will end up as we always want and the way we expect them to, which could be inspiring but also deadly. False hope can be dangerous to both your health and mental fortitude.

One example is people who believe in faith medicine over regular medicine. I have seen many examples of folks who refuse actual medicine that could save their lives and instead opt for voodoo medicine, astrological rituals, prayer to save them. The biggest danger are those who may have treatable diseases but still refuse medicine & end up suffering in the end. No amount of praying will end certain treatable cancers in a patient – if it did, there would be no need for any modern medicine for anything! Quite a few people have died from such decisions. There are kids who die every year globally because their parents turn down basic medications and vaccines on the kid’s behalf for religious reasons. It ends up being a harsh wake up call, but by that time, it may be too late – it is truly heart-breaking to read of a baby dying from meningitis, which is treatable, because his parents did not believe in medicine and were against vaccines. They instead opted on hope the disease would go away on its own and home remedies, and they were shocked when it didn’t work.

Another risk is when people rely on hope to solve all their issues or the issues of the world. Firstly, hope has to be somewhat within means of reach. We wish no human ever had to starve, we wish every human had a roof over their head, we wish nobody had any disease, we wish everyone was rich & comfortable, we wish we could travel the stars right now, we wish we could control the laws of physics, we wish we could control death, we wish for all of these things to be true (yes, people out there do worry tremendously about things like death – I will write an entry in the future on why I don’t fear death and why nobody else should either). Unfortunately, hoping and praying won’t automatically solve everything we wish for in life. I can hope and pray for schematics of a fully functional nuclear fusion reactor to suddenly appear in front of me to end the energy crisis, but that’s not going to happen! Obviously, life doesn’t work like that, and some rationality is necessary. We can and must control what we can individually, but maintaining health & mental fortitude is important as well.

Hope is essential in life, but at some point, hope alone is not the answer for everything. It can motivate us, inspire us, push us towards a goal, but it won’t solve an issue or fulfill a goal. I would say hope is a complementary means to an end but not THE means to an end or an end in itself.

Why Does it Matter?

Why care about hope? Why even bother setting yourself up with expectations for life, which may never be truly fulfilled? Why bother with a potential crash that you may never regain yourself from?

The truth is we all already have our expectations in life. We are all seeking meaning in life and pursuing happiness. It is not something we can simply pluck off some happiness tree down the street. It is important to have expectations and vision in life of what we want. Hope is the belief that one day we will fulfill these expectations; whether we do or don’t is a separate story altogether.

We must understand what it is that we seek in life. Ask yourself what your dream is: what do you truly want your life to mean? Sure, we may not fulfill all these visions and dreams, but we must try. My own vision is to help people see that you can overcome anything in life, and maybe, just maybe, have some idea that lives beyond me possibly through writing. Yes, my vision is much bigger than me. I don’t want to go further into ‘dream’ as I am saving it for a future blog entry, but hope is closely intertwined in the journey of life.

Photo by TimGreen / CC BY

Photo by TimGreen / CC BY

It is perfectly okay to have too many expectations in life – perhaps no amount of expectations are too many to have in life. We must target them regardless and have high hopes that we will accomplish them. To hell with potential crash from not fulfilling a bunch of expectations because our vision in life is not like a coffee break that we can crash from after a short burst of energy. Our vision develops over many years along with our worldview and expectations for life.

A life with many unfulfilled expectations is better than a life lived with zero expectations and zero dreams to simply play it safe.

Michael Jordan has a famous quote: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” He didn’t score all his shots, but he had to take them in order to score at all. Obviously, we all now know he is the greatest ever, but he wasn’t winning much early in his career. As he improved, along with his teammates, and coach Phil Jackson came along (he also had a better team around him in 90’s than 80s), he became the greatest winner in basketball history while heavily guarded with rules and entire gameplans made just to slow down Jordan.

Photo by MikeF / CC BY

Photo by MikeF / CC BY

Hope for the very best. Aim for the farthest stars. Yes, Jordan didn’t win all his games, he didn’t make every shot, he didn’t win championship every single year, he didn’t average 90 points a game, he didn’t win alone. Nobody does, but you go in with high hopes regardless. You may only reach the moon or you may reach Proxima Centauri (closest star to Earth beyond our Sun), but at the end of the day you focus on the farthest stars.

This brings me to my last point of this entry. Hope as it pertains to the pursuit of happiness.

For this, I’ll use the example of a movie I watched called Pursuit of Happiness, which is based on a true story. Main character Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith, invests in a high-tech bone density scanner with all the money he had in his bank. Unfortunately, the scanner costs so much that doctors are not willing to buy it and becomes a bad investment. As he gets desperate to sell the scanners, he runs out of money, he loses his apartment, his car, his wife leaves him, and nobody is willing to hire him. All he has left is his son and his scanners. He becomes homeless and sees his son suffering. His last hope is to become a stockbroker, which he already knows a little about, and he fights for an internship. He gets the internship only to find out it is unpaid internship.

I sat there asking myself: how is he going to flip his life around? He keeps losing each and every step of the way. He is at the bottom of the pit and has nothing.

Truth is he never loses hope even with his circumstances. He is able to sell his 6 machines, and the money he makes from it, he pays for his son’s daycare for during the hours he works. He barely has money to buy food to eat, and they sleep in homeless shelters. He often starves just to ensure his son is fed. He keeps working at it, pushing, and trying until he gets hired as a full time stockbroker by the firm.

Inspiring scene from the movie that I still remember from years ago:

Movie shows you must not lose hope in life. As long as you have hope that you will get through whatever it is you face in life, you can overcome anything. It truly does not matter where that hope comes from – it could be faith in something external, such as God, or it could could be something internal, such as philosophy. I look elsewhere for hope – I look for hope in humanity, the intricacies of life, the wonders of the vast cosmos, knowledge, wisdom of those before us, the lessons learned individually, and by searching within through self-reflection.

Just have hope to fuel you and to remember who you are because without hope, there is no tomorrow. Carpe diem – Seize the day today for a better tomorrow.

Harsh Shukla
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