3. 9. 2020

English Version | Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope

by Sara Andrade


When Princess Leia put all her faith in the general, through an encrypted message hidden on the robot R2D2, in the aptly-titled movie Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the cry for help unleashed a mission of epical proportions in the duel between the Force and the Dark side. More or less the same magnitude of effort we’re putting on this article. Why is hope the last to die? We didn't lose hope until we found some answers for this question.

It is said that it was Prometheus the one who created Mankind, in that mythological time of knowledge that was Ancient Greece, the place that brought us gods and thinkers and philosophers. It is also said that, besides that, the titan (in greek mythology, titans are the entities which stood up to Zeus and all divine beings when rising into power - dared in two other offenses: he stole Olimpo’s fire to be used by mankind and locked in a box all things evil, like disease, madness, war and death. But, amongst them, hidden in a corner, was also hope. Zeus, consumed by anger because of the theft, imprisoned Prometheus for the insolence of trying to compare himself to a god and damned to the perpetual punishment of being chained to a rock, so that his liver would be eaten by a ferocious vulture during the day, only to recover throughout the night and suffer the same fate over and over again. Still not enough to appease Zeus’ anger, the god of gods went even further: he created pandora, a beautiful woman he sent to earth to marry Epimetheus, brother of Prometheus. When the beautiful creature found the box that imprisoned all evil, she opened it setting them free, thus allowing this array of curses to live amidst humans since then. That’s why, until today, man suffers from its weak and mortal condition, only bearable because in the box  was also hope, set free as well amongst us all. If that is os, does that mean that hope is the last today because it’s a matter of survival? It needs to be alive so we don’t give in to all the other kinds of evil in Pandora’s box?

Darwin talked about the survival of the fittest to characterize natural selection, assuming that the elements of each species most able to adapt, reproduce and, consequently, continue the species, no matter what the outside threats were, would be the ones surviving and living on. The basic concept of natural selection is based in the idea that favorable characteristics that are inherited become more common in future generations of a population of organisms that reproduce themselves, and the least favorable become less and less common. It was also developed, even, over time, this idea of species diversity, in which individuals of a species would present variations that could either be advantages or disadvantages, depending on environmental conditions or ecological niche. In this process, Darwin took into account obstacles like food (and the ability of not becoming it for predators), climate, epidemics and hereditary factors… only overcoming all of this barriers should also take into account the will to react and not give up. And not giving up is a definite trait for hope. In fact, the starting point to analyze hope is knowing the concept revolves around a desire in a specific outcome and a belief that that outcome is, at the very least, possible, no matter how unlikely it may seem. And that belief and desire, intertwined, create a driving force of visualization of said outcome and, in many cases, success in attaining it, as it allows people to move on, not give in, meaning resilience - a mandatory virtue in surviving. “Hope is like the sun, which, as we move towards it, projects the shadow of our burdens behind us”, said Samuel Smiles, Scottish author from the 19th century, building this idea that survival happens also thanks to the contribution of hope to endure and face the daily grind. “With all that’s happening today in this pandemic, the current times really help us understand this.” Catarina Rosa, clinical psychologist, makes the best modern analogy to help understand this connection between hope and survival (of the most hopeful). “We’ve already understood that not all’s going to be alright, but we’re taking it slowly, rising our hope once again, transforming our expectations along the way. It reminds me a lot of the lyrics from Jorge Palma: ‘As long as there’s a road to travel, we’ll keep on going, as long as there’s a road to travel, as long as there’s winds and sea’. A need to keep on going through life, even though sometimes the winds and sea aren’t favorable at all.” And adds: “The concept of hope was characterized in literature and in Psychology in several ways, which in itself shows how much we’re dealing with a complex and multidimensional theme… we could say hope is part of those characteristics mentioned [an emotion, a behavior, a reflex], because it’s connected to emotions, but it’s a variable that drives you to formulating goals and paths to reach them and allows us to be open to new possibilities in our internal world.”, explains the psychologist about her area’s perspective on the concept. “It’s centered on an individual’s expectation directed to a future in which prevails the belief that a specific situation may have a favorable result. It’s a dynamic variable, enabler for change, motivations and action, which in many moments has a significative part in the way you deal with loss, illness or other stressful factors”. So, let’s ask the question in another way: did Darwin forget to bring up hope, as a psychological predisposition to the success of something, when tackling natural selection? Maybe for the British geologist, biologist and naturalist’s goal, at the time, not at all, but in a society that’s ruled by changes that are subtler and subtler and environments more and more manipulated, with nuances that get more and more demanding, as well as more complex and dissimulated, perhaps. In a society that dumps negative information with the click of a button, that spreads the evils of the world at the speed of optical fiber, that announces the end of the world with each headline, to live is an adventure and believing in a tomorrow that’s both smiling and possible would hardly be done without a daily fix of hope. “You can say sociology, in itself, is a science of hope, hope in the social transformation in a sense of a greater justice and less social inequality”, explains sociologist Diana Maciel, when we ask her what is hope, from a sociological point of view. “you can think of hope as an individual emotion, supported and negotiated socially, which results in behaviors. Meaning society, our cultural, geographical, social, historical, political, economical context, but also age, gender, social class, ethnic descent, gender identity or sexual orientation influence our expectations and projects for the future, If we’re not socialized wanting to be astronauts, it would be very unlikely that we’d develop that dream, we wouldn’t nourish that hope. Thus, doing nothing to accomplish it, Therefore, hope is and emotion that increased socially. Increased, not determined. Because there is social mobility, because there are people that contradict their ‘social fate’. because there are people that, even though their context may not be ideal for it, their agenda, their actions, their way of looking to what’s real is highlighted and allows them the transformation of their biographical journey.” So, hope, as a concept influenced bu society, is also a factor of intervention in the evolution of a society, as the path of the social being - and inevitably of the species - also depends on the hope of achieving a certain objective that seems possible, that it’s believed to be possible because the society also says it is, in its majority. And if it doesn’t, the individual will believe it to be nonetheless. Hope is part of the human being, as their five senses are part of him, and we only realize we possess it when, for some reason, we lose it. It acts as a kind of medicine that, even though it doesn’t heal, it at least diminishes the pain. Hence, its trait as a survival enhancer.

But if hope is an emotion influenced by the surroundings, and above al, by the individual - or its psyche -, and coming from this idea that it is formed by a predisposition to believe that that something is going to happen, can hope be considered some kind of placebo? And, if so, if she doesn’tt die, as it doesn’t exist - is it made up? “In certain cases, hope can help promote the effects of well-being and improvements in certain therapy, but we have to be careful with hopes that are too far from reality or totally unrealistic.”, warns Catarina Rosa. “i don't think that, by itself, is a placebo, because, in itself, hope has real effects, contrary to a placebo, which, bottomline, is inert. But hope can be something to take into account in the placebo effect or in the success of some therapies.” Like some kind of faith? Since we’re talking about a belief? If that is so, does that mean religious people are also more hopeful? “In many cases, hope and faith are intertwined, making it sometimes hard to distinguish one from the other and realize which one comes first. I don’t know if I can say with certainty that religious people are by nature more hopeful, specially because hope is also experienced by people who have no religious beliefs. hope is also connected to a more individual factor, of action over a situation.”, says the psychologist, adding that “hope, I’d say, starts from an emotional place and from it ‘travels’ and adjusts to more rational aspects. For instance, the way we deal with a situation, trying to define goals to achieve what we hope for, finding ways to allow us to act over the situation. In al this journey, it seems to me that hope is always there, even if we don’t notice it…” Particularly because, more often than not, we reject our hopes for something, as we believe there are no reason to believe that something is attainable, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t wish that that something was possible, doesn’tt mean that hope is no longer there. “i believe hope is socially conditioned, but it’s exactly because it’s socially conditioned that I don’t think it’s common to everyone”, argues Maciel. “When you can barely survive, when you can barely get minimal social conditions for living, I don’t know if there’s room for hope. Because hope necessarily implies looking at the future and the present may not be promoting a look into the future and less yet a transforming one over it.” And adds: “Given the social context of hope, I’d say it will tend to die in contexts that are little or not at all favorable. Therefore, I feel that it will tend to - stressing, once again, that there are individuals that may persists in this vision of a future with no solution - not exist without a social and cultural basis.” And when it ceases to exist, it’s probably because we no longer wish for it or believe in it, substituting it by something else (maybe more palpable?). Hope, thus, is (not) the last to die, because it doesn’t fade, but instead evolves?

“I’d say hope is connected to a vital force (the vitality of our psychic reality), to a need of walking through life, to the need of having an internal space open to the possibility of new, of discovery and transformation. Many times, hope is the first to be born… It’s funny that we also use the phrase ‘estar de esperanças’ (bearing hopes) to signify being pregnant, as if life were, on its own, a possibility of hope.”, argues psychologist Catarina Rosa, adding that “it’s a different concept from faith or optimism, because many times it adjusts to specific less positives stages in life and goes through transformations. It makes us believe but many times is also adapts itself to the situation we’re going through (which are not always optimistic situations). Hope is not always the same throughout your life, hence its dynamic and non-constant character.” Diana Maciel weighs in the idea in a sociological context: “as a sociologist, I believe no Individual exits in the void”, she begins, “Since hope is a feeling fed or conditioned socially and culturally, external factors may destroy that outlook and that social action able to transform reality. Consequently, context may promote or kill hope, thought, of course, each of us has its own ability to influence it, which can be bigger and more creative depending on the more economical, social, cultural resources one possesses. In fact, I think society gives you context, but an individual can, in the same circumstances, be able to have a bigger transformation ability than another. Hope is, thus, in my opinion, a negotiation, conscious or unconsciously, between us and the world.” Mia Couto is right, then, when he says in the book What is Obama was African? (2009) that “Hope is the last one to die. It is said. But It’s not true. Hope doesn’t die on its own. Hope gets killed. It’s not a spectacular murder, it’s not on the newspaper. It’s a slow and silent process that shrinks hearts, ages those little boys eyes and teaches us to lose faith in the future.” The psychologist corroborates: this quote reminds me the importance of the transforming power of hope, coming from precocious relationships, childhood relationships. The importante of feeling that someone expects something good of us, that someone lies their hopes on us. I’m not talking of highly idealized expectations that parents have regarding their kids, but more of the idea of that undeniable, secure and given link of love that brings hope and doesn’t “age at the eyes of those little boys’, but instead makes them believe in themselves and their potential. Many times, hope is killed by those external factores (and there are so many…), but hope also rises again, it’s reborn, maybe in other ways, adjusting and adapting to different contexts and changes. Even if in certain situations hope dies, it’s extremely important to have close relationships that are good enough so that those people that have faith in us and for us make that lost hope be reborn.” So, can we say that hope, by evolving to new beliefs and faiths, isn’t the last to die, after all, but in fact, never dies? “I think for this one I’ll have to use another popular saying… ‘as long as there is life, there is hope’.”, says Catarina Rosa.

Hope is (not) the last to die, because when we want to believe in something, the power of suggestion is truly strong, but should the announced death happen, we don’t “die” with it, because we create a new hope. It may become exiting - or better yet, renew itself - but only to bring something new to the table. And, in certain cases, it’s even a good thing that it’s gone - or, better yet, renewed -, because it being immortal is neither certain nor advised. After all, going back to Pandora, if hope was such a good thing, what was it doing in the box trapped with all of the other evil things of the world? One of the explanations for this is the belief that, in mythology, hope is the daughter of lying because it mirrors beliefs and wants, not facts. And therefore is considered even as, for classical thinkers, truth may never be ignored, cruel as it may be. Hope deviates man’s attention, straying them away from reality and weakening them (in this hypothesis, the link between hope and Darwin’s theory loses its strength, we must say). Nietzsche defended a similar point of view: in his book, Human, all too Human (1878), the philosopher argues hope is the worst of all evils, since it refers to the expectation of an uncertain future and, therefore, deceitful. According to him, it was Zeus himself that ordered hope to be amidst human beings, only to prolong their suffering: “you attain truth through disbelief and skepticism, not a childish desire for something to happen in a certain way”, defended the german thinker. Only, all due respect for Nietzsche, hope lies within the human species and it means to much for its existence, even if that existence is more useful when based in reality. Moreover, the more unlikely it is, the more certain - and quick - its death will be. 

Why is hope the last to die? Because, without it, we might succumb to all the ailments that worry us because we would never believe we could overcome them and, thus, we’d go into despair. And is it really the last to die? More or less - it’s the last to die, because as long as we keep believing on a certain hope, we can’t substitute for another. It vanishes, but, it its place, comes another one, as there’s not only one hope, there are several - even though there’s a broad concept about “the” hope as an emotion, or behavior, fundamental to pain and suffering management and even as a mobile to keep on going. Only, sometimes, it’s better not to let it be the last to die, it’s preferable to kill it precociously, otherwise risking worst fates in life - when it makes us believe in an utopia, distanced from reality, an impossible one, not allowing us to move on to something that’s more beneficial to us. “It can be a more negative thing when linked to an expectation that’s too unrealistic, exaggerated or omnipotent, that stays rigid and doesn’t adjust itself to the situation being lived. Facing a situation that has no solution, I can stop believing that it will solve itself and find new ways and paths to live with that new situation. Despair often walks hand in hand with hope and it’s in that game that life keeps going”, warns, Catarina Rosa. But that’s another article altogether. Coming right up.

Translated from Vogue Portugal's Hope issue, out September 2020. All credits in the original articles.
Texto em português na edição em print