If everything runs smoothly, by God’s will… Life is a succession of “ifs” that so often, even with all the ingredients to make it work, it has the dexterity to make everything go wrong - the year 2020 it is an excellent prototype of this unfortunate finding. And if, in theory, we already know this arithmetic by heart, when it comes down to it, it looks harder to digest. But we digest and we overtake and we continue. After all, when the sun rises it does so for everyone.
"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." The quote is from filmmaker Woody Allen. Already knowing that, in fact, life does not happen within the four walls of our powerful - and so fanciful - brain, it starts to be a little ingrained inside all of us. Let’s go back to mid-December 2019. I wonder why, in the last month of that year, the world was counting, immoderately, the days to its grand finale. The year 2020, with the beautiful contours that make up its figures, is placed on a pedestal, like a God who is venerated without ever even seeing it. Even though we had no idea what that year would bring, Humanity, in general, wanted to believe that yes, that 2020 would be - when in doubt, consult the social networks of that month of December. 2020 was the year, par excellence, that would bring to light everything that would have been sown in the years leading up to it. It seems that, for the vast majority of people, the years 2019, 2018 and so on, in a decreasing sense, would have been periods of little to no affability. For this reason, in 2020 a sea of expectations based strictly on nothing in particular, except the will - or even the need - that man has to cling, with nails and teeth, to beautiful plans designed by himself. That’s when the new year arrives accompanied by a virus that would eventually become known worldwide by the name of COVID-19. And just like that, less than three months from the beginning of 2020, life tells us that we know nothing and we do not control anything. The new coronavirus, with all its outlines, breaks into the universe to take us off the ground (and take away lives and jobs and marriages, among other consequences that remain on going), to abandon us, but also to make us understand, once and for all, that the future is unreal and that it doesn't exist, except in our beautiful imagination.
With regard to the current period, sociologist Bernardo Coelho speaks of "defuturization", a kind of "blocked future". And tells us: “Contemporary societies are societies of project - as individuals, we design our lives, we design the future. We wonder how we want to be in X time. At this moment [of pandemic], we do not have the basis to have this planning rationality. There is an inability to predict the future due to reasons external to all people, in a scenario where there is not a kind of culprit. It is an external identity that affects everyone and everything, anyway. Therefore, we adjust. We no longer have a sense of broad future”. For this sociologist, the times are "hopeless". And he clarifies: “Instead of managing expectations, we manage disappointment, we anticipate disappointments. Plans are getting shorter and shorter and we manage permanent frustration. The moment is to manage the potential for disappointment, first of all. We have no planning, only very short-term plans. We live, more than ever, in the present and with very few expectations for the future”. In short, the only certainty we have for the future at the moment is uncertainty. At least, with regard to that future that we swore to know and so well dominate. However, the history of humanity assures us, while there is life there is hope and, however distant it may seem, it is here to make the most of it. Not to say: to save us.
Próxima Estación: Esperanza
Espinosa (1632-1677) said that the two basic emotions of human beings were fear and hope. For that philosopher, hope was defined as an unstable joy, arising from the idea of something future or past whose realization we would doubt. Therefore, there would be no hope without fear, nor fear without hope. Recent research in Positive Psychology has revealed that people with a high level of hope achieve better academic performance (regardless of their IQ), have divergent thinking (the ability to generate many ideas, associations and details) and a high level of awareness. “Hope means to hope and not to wait. It means finding ways for things to happen, it means making plans and setting realistic goals, even in the face of adversity. It is hope, a positive mental attitude, that motivates us and leads us to increase our level of effort, that allows us to find these paths and prevents us from giving ourselves up to despair when things do not go as planned”. The words are by the psychologist Cristina Sousa Ferreira, of the Psychology Workshop. For this specialist, the feeling of hope works as a kind of survival instinct that helps us to prosper and can even help us survive: “And the human being's survival instinct is almost inexhaustible,” he says. However, at the lower end of the hope spectrum are people who have lost the will to live. Research dating back decades has shown that hopelessness is even more associated with suicide than depression. Indeed, however positive and optimistic we may be, despite how many rainbows and unicorns we have to decorate our lives, there are times when the light at the end of the tunnel begins to fade. Yes, sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is nothing more than the headlight of an impetuous train that approaches quickly and runs over us, without mercy. So, where do we rescue a possible glimmer of hope? Throughout confinement, for example, we had hope: “Like any expectation, [hope] was associated with the reasonable possibility that something would happen. It was reasonable to wait! We had found ways and we had behaved in order to achieve our goals of not getting sick and not being contaminated. We had confined early, we had been well behaved and we were recognized by everyone. We were an example to follow! We were proud! Our expectations were not simply an irrational and faith-based hope. In the face of so much uncertainty, our hope was, after all, that we could be free and healthy again. [However] the freedom we hoped for did not come. We go out on the street, where we now find many more people, with some fear and greater stress. In need of greater protection and distance but, at the same time, more difficult to achieve. Routines that had given us security and some tranquility are now altered again without having been able to find others that give us back our concentration and focus, and a sense of predictability, control and security”, explains that psychologist. But what, after all, is hope? According to the British psychologist specialized in Positive Psychology, Charles Snyder (1944-2006), hope would be a “positive cognitive state based on expectation of success in view of the determination to achieve goals and plan to guarantee it.” It is based on three distinct but interconnected components of thinking: thinking about goals (the clear conceptualization of valid objectives); think about the paths (ability to develop specific strategies to reach them); think about the attitude (ability to start and maintain the necessary motivation to use these strategies).
The way is made by walking along it
Despite the assertiveness of sciences, which defend hope as the last cry of survival when everything seems to collapse, there are times when even this is not enough - in fact, sometimes what was left of hope could fit inside that train that would run over us, furiously, when all we saw was a sliver of light. That is why there is a short distance between the hope of science and the acceptance rule advocated by New Age theories. Yes, after hope can only come the acceptance of things as they present themselves - without flowers, rainbows or smiling unicorns of any kind. In a recent interview with a Brazilian website about the launch of his book “Are you anxious?”, Brazilian philosopher and writer Luiz Felipe Pondé, prepared an excellent answer regarding this question: “In the end, where does the hope lie in the 'anxiety era'?”. For the author, hope is found in a place where we are less pretentious about personal fulfillment: “I’ve said before that there is no formula, but I can be very synthetic: I just about wanting to be less happy. Don't be obsessed with happiness. Any serious reflection on happiness made in the last 2,500 years knows that this search must be made with a balanced dosage. Wanting maximum happiness, always, can only lead to problems.” According to the dictionary, the word “accept” means to receive what is offered; to comply with; to admit or even to receive with pleasure. In the thesaurus there are no extra terms for the word acceptance, because it means just that: accepting what is, the present as it is presented to us - that is also why it is called a “present” - and welcoming it as it is all that life has to offer us, at that moment. I’d say that this is where the acceptance law overrides that which strongly defends hope - or else it is here that, when there is no hope possible, we cling - or rather, surrender - to that law of acceptance. It is through acceptance that we put aside utopian scenarios designed with the help of hope. Acceptance can be much more peaceful, because when we live according to it, we are waiting for nothing – which does not mean doing absolutely nothing just waiting for life to happen or that we resign ourselves to the minimum, without any kind of life ambition. It is not about that, just about becoming more realistic and therefore more resilient. The human tendency when faced with the unexpected is to immediately uncover subterfuge and justification for what just is. This, long before it is understood and accepted that ‘it is what it is’. Or that the way is made by walking along it. In the early days of COVID-19, many people saw the virus as a sea of purposes (myself included). It was said that this pandemic had come to alert us to the things that really mattered in life. That this virus came to teach us, to show us that we do not control anything - if there were any doubts. Despite the many hidden truths behind these findings, the reality is that, once again, people who, like me, masked the virus with these well-intentioned ideas, were just not accepting reality: an unknown virus that was here to turn everything upside down, about which nothing is known, let alone what the future will hold for us through the imposed reality. In the same interview, and regarding these ideas, that Brazilian philosopher and author confirmed: "There are some people that believe to be very intelligent, who are saying that humanity will go on valuing what is essential. For the love of God. Is it possible for someone intelligent to fall for that? There is no historical data to support this type of reasoning. A miracle can happen, yes. The pandemic is indeed having an impact, but on politics, on the economy, on work. You stay locked up at home for a long time, suddenly you don't know if you will continue to have a job, you discover that you did not know the person who lives with you so well, living with young children becomes torment. Life can collapse, yes. There is an entire ecosystem, to use a fashionable term, which is impacted. But I think that our learning with this will come in fields such as technology, which will evolve under pressure due to the lack of immediate responses in health, for example. Morally? There is no indicative that we will learn anything at all.” It is important to remember that, in the past, humanity had faced other pandemic crises that were much deadlier, and life, however, continued. The world did not stop after that. As a reminder, Influenza [considered the third influenza pandemic of the 20th century, in 1968, in Hong Kong] whose death toll reached one million, or the Bubonic Plague that, in the 14th century, claimed the lives of approximately 200 millions of men, women and children on three continents. Shortly after that trauma, people were already living madly and without major health concerns. If we look historically, it is proven that major epidemics, or major tragedies, have an impact on public management, in the economic field, in the organization of the workforce, in science and technology. From a moral point of view, they do not change us at all. If we want to find any change in this direction, it will be negative: people have become more suspicious, selfish and aggressive. And professional relationships, more exploratory.
In L'homme révolté, Albert Camus reinforces this idea: “After twenty centuries the sum of evil has not diminished in the world. There was no Parousia, neither divine nor revolutionary”. It is true that the saying goes ‘calm comes after the storm’. And the post-World War I (1914-1918) was a good example of this: the 1920s became crazy, forever known as roaring twenties, because after a moment of great tension, as was the conflict, which caused more than nine million dead, there was also a major decompression. Unbridled euphoria took its place and guaranteed maximum fun after those difficult years. However, what makes us hope, when everything seems to collapse, cannot - or should not - be tied to tomorrow, to the future, because the future, as already written here, does not exist. Thus, the best way to have hope in a time space that does not exist is perhaps, precisely, not to obsess with tomorrow and live the present with everything that it suggests. Accept things as they are and live one day at a time according to what the present has to offer us. Hopelessness can lead us to open our eyes to things that we didn't see before - or that we didn't really appreciate. The cliché that tells us to live in the present, or to recognize The Power of Now, as Eckhart Tolle wrote, takes on new forms when we have nothing but to accept what it is. When we live in the present moment we become more aware and focused. We appreciate the simplest things in life, because we can always count on them. The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun (1969) theme reminds us of exactly this - no matter how dark the scenery, the sun will never stop shining. In fact, this was the most played soundtrack in several hospitals around the world in the days of COVID-19. The idea would be to transmit songs of hope and comfort to all patients affected with the new coronavirus when, finally, they were discharged. Here Comes the Sun, a theme long associated with finding joy in difficult times, worked not only as a tribute to patients' resilience, but also as an affirmation hymn for medical professionals: through long shifts, with few positive moments, they had managed to save another life. The song recalls that, even after the darkest times, the sun ends up arriving and shining, giving a new light to reality. Monteiro Lobato (1882-1948) writer, activist, director and Brazilian producer, wrote that “nothing stops in the world, as everything marches - and to march is to walk forward and not back”. Yes, the way is made by walking along it and forward. Hopefully, we always believe that everything will be fine in the end. And we know that if everything is not right, it is because it was not (it is not) the end.
Translated from Vogue Portugal's Hope issue, out September 2020. All credits in the original articles.
Texto em português na edição em print.