Sanity May Be Madness but the Maddest of All Is to See Life as It Is and Not as It Should Be *

April 10, 2010

We use the word “hope” perhaps more often than any other word in the vocabulary. “I hope it’s a nice day.” “Hopefully, you’re doing well.” “So how are things going along? Pretty good. Going to be good tomorrow? Hope so.”
• Studs Terkel

It’s been quite a while since I nagged about adding new words to your vocabulary, but I will spare you such bloviation (speaking or writing boastfully or pompously) and instead share one of my favorite words. There are words I just like to say: Congoleum® and thistle and murmur, for example. There are other words I am fond of because they evoke worlds of memories: Oz and toddler and Disneyland.

And then there is my favorite word: hope. I am a relentless optimist. This does not mean that I am never pessimistic. I am. More than I might wish to be. I do see life’s realities. I do not live in a magical dream world of my own creation. (Well, okay, The House of Stuff and The Office that Makes Me Smile ARE magical places, but that’s not what I’m talking about here!) But I also know that the world goes on and life happens and that my perspective on possibilities—my optimism or pessimism—colors every moment of that life.

Hope (n.): the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Antonyms: despair, hopelessness, pessimism, discouragement, disbelief (dictionary.com).

I can live in hope or I can live in despair. Neither is constant, but despair is easier. Hope is a deliberate decision and is a difficult attitude to maintain. particularly when you’re surrounded by people who want to enlighten you by providing all the reasons why you should not hope.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing the dawn will come.
• Anne Lamott

As a teacher and a teacher educator, I sometimes feel as though I am adrift in a sea of hopelessness as I read and hear ongoing accounts of the failures of education. Yet I continue to hope. I continue to do my job. I continue to try to inspire hope in others who will also teach and go on to inspire hope in their students. Why teach if you do not believe that your work can make a difference for someone? The uncontrollable variables of teaching sometimes seem insurmountable and the calls for accountability grow so strident that being a hope•full teacher is a daily challenge.

Hope is but the dream of those who wake.
• Matthew Prior

I often frame things I want or plan to do using the word “hope:” I hope to finish my grading this weekend. I hope to organize materials for summer courses by the end of next week. I hope to do all of the things on my endless lists eventually. And I will. But I am not my own stern taskmaster. I am prone to guilty feelings no matter how long and hard I work, and using the gentler kind of goal-setting that frames my aspirations in terms of hope helps me remember my own human limitations.

To say “I will do x by y” and tape it to the mirror in my bathroom as a constant nagging reminder of the things I must do, or even those I simply want to do, has never appealed to me. I can do this–teachers have to do this–it’s called writing objectives, but it’s not my natural mode of expression even though I am just as determined to make things happen.

Hope is like a road in the country; there never was a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.
• Lin Yutang

I am uncomfortable promising things I cannot necessarily deliver on. I prefer to plant seeds and hope that they will come to fruition if I diligently nurture them. However, there are some things that I cannot will to bloom no matter how much I might wish that they would, particularly if they are dependent on the actions of others.

Relentless optimism is often required of anyone who hopes to engage others in anything. Our lives are so busy that even the best of intentions of others can be overwhelmed by the sheer busyness of life. Hope allows for the possibility of success even when it seems as though the pessimist would say enough and walk away.

It is the around-the-corner brand of hope that prompts people to action. . .
• Eric Hoffer

I hope always to be hopeful.

What do you hope for?

The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.
• Marian Zimmer Bradley

* Thanks to Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote for the title quotation.


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