Can Hope Be Dangerous?

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There’s a beautiful moment in the movie, “Shawshank Redemption” when Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbin), who has been wrongly sentenced to prison for the murder of his wife, speaks to Red (Morgan Freeman) an old inmate who has already served thirty years, about hope. Red shakes his head and says these words: “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

Have you ever noticed how easily and glibly that little word “hope” is often thrown around? You’ve just got to have hope, it is said, and all will be well. And so it’s simply and nonchalantly sprinkled around like salt on our meals.

I become decidedly uncomfortable with this. Too often the word “hope” is expressed without any real sensitivity to the context. How, for instance, do you speak about hope looking in to the vacant eyes of a Sudanese mother outside her small shack in a refugee camp, with a starved and fly-infested baby on her breast? To glibly announce hope in to such a context is an act of downright insensitivity. Does that mean we don’t do it?

Let Andy Dufresne have the last word: “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Surely, then, a deep sensitivity to context will always govern the way we speak and act hope in to any given situation.

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About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
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26 Responses to Can Hope Be Dangerous?

  1. smilecalm says:

    Wonderful to actively keep hope alive!

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  2. anon says:

    Yea maybe hope is sometimes just a blinker used by the fortunate few in order to legitimately ignore the hopeless. If there’s possibly a brighter tomorrow for that Sudanese mother then we don’t need to feel quite so bad about ignoring her today. So we give her hope, to allow ourselves to sleep at night.
    Interestingly, isn’t that the same lie we tell ourselves when we talk about the Will of God? Are our religious beliefs just hope wrapped up in a package that allows us to believe in the lie of a better tomorrow when today just isn’t cutting it? A vast generalisation, but still…

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    • Don says:

      Anon, I think hidden in that “vast generalisation” is a seed of truth. There are aspects in religion that certainly do what you say. I have no doubt about that. I also agree with you that false forms of hope enable us to escape our responsibilities in the present. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – really appreciate it.

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  3. My hope is built on nothing less than __________? Fill in the blank. however you choose. I’ve heard it said that Hope springs eternal but maybe not all Hope.

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    • Don says:

      I enjoy mystery, Shiela. What should appear in the blank? I suspect certain kinds of hope don’t spring eternally. I’m with you on that. Thanks for your comment.

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  4. Hudson Howl says:

    First the lighthouse image…..fitting image but full of so meaning by itself without the context of words.
    But used with the post and your thoughts, What immediately comes to mind is ‘beacons of hope’. Also there is the cautionary aspect to it as well.

    Disparity runs rampant on this earth, thanks for the reminder to take pause when it comes considering the hopes of others.

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  5. dmgartphoto says:

    Maybe hope is “take action”s worst enemy. I almost never think or speak in terms of hope because to me hope means that someone/something else is going to fix it for me. I like to think that its my own efforts in cooperation with others that creates my success/failure. The only time I have hope is when I play the lottery but it turns out that thats not much to hope for 🙂 On the other hand that kind of hope fits into the category describe in your second paragraph.

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    • Don says:

      I like what you say. Hope, for many, has that intervention aspect about it. Someone or something must intervene on my behalf. I suppose there is the dimension of standing back and waiting, but this has to be balanced with, “taking action” as you say – you’ve got to buy the ticket and then the only thing you can do is wait for the result.-Lol. Thank you for your thoughts

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  6. Great entry, Don, and great comments too, that bring out a variety of dimensions to the concept of hope. I lean towards the idea, as alluded to above, that hope is what the inactive cling to; the belief that someone else will fix it. But it is also the last thing to be lost – after all known avenues have been tried – before fatalism – or acceptance (which are themselves two different things).

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    • Don says:

      Interesting point you make Linda – fatalism and acceptance being different things. Would be interested to hear your distinction between fatalism and acceptance.

      I too lean towards the same idea. I think hope has a lot more to do with the action we take. But as you say, there is a time when all avenues are exhausted. It’s the commitment to doing all we can, I think. Good thoughts, Linda. Thank you

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  7. nrhatch says:

    Good post, Don. I’ve seen many people drown in unrealistic expectations (i.e., false hope) because they are completely out of touch with reality.

    They hope to get good grades . . . without studying.
    They hope to lose weight without proper diet and exercise.
    They hope that others will change so they won’t have to.
    Etc.

    We need to live life with EYES wide open. 😯

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    • nrhatch says:

      LOVE that lighthouse. 💡

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      • Don says:

        Thanks Nancy. I love the connection you make between unrealistic expectations and false hope. That’s precisely it. Hope certainly doesn’t just drop what we want in to our laps. I like what you say about living life with eyes wide open. Dare I add one more, “taking responsibility.”

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  8. ladyfi says:

    Beautiful shot.

    I guess we need to feel that there is hope because we can’t bear the alternative. Yet – as you point out – hope is so very dependent on circumstances – and action and aid would be better than empty words about hope.

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  9. katy says:

    What a thought provoking post Don! Shawshank Redemtion is one of our top ten movies. I agree “somewhat”with Red – hope can be a dangerous thing but if the opposite of hope is hopeless I think that is even more dangerous. Hope to me speaks of energy to change things, to fight and not just accept, to look forward and not down. I suppose there are many “shades of hope”but dangerous or not I prefer to be hopeful.

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    • Don says:

      Thanks Katy. Also one of my favourite movies. Strange how we always have those poles of polarity. Remember Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” – “on the one hand, but then, on the other.” Loved the way he always said that. Your description of hope as energy is a beautiful one – I absolutely warm to that. I suppose being hopeful means different things to different people, but Yes, I too remain hopeful. Thanks for sharing – good thoughts.

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  10. Greg. says:

    Hope allied to “unknowing” is a kind of comfort when applied to the meaning of life. Hope in the “divine idea” is a broad hope. The power of hope is conveyed to me when I feel hopeless.
    But somehow the little hopes have great power too. In the poem “On his blindness” by Milton,
    one final line states .”…..they also serve who only stand and wait’ Hauntingly hopeful.

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    • Don says:

      What struck me Greg as I read your post, especially that line from Milton, and by the way what a magnificent poem that is, is this: Standing and waiting finally comes when, as Linda says in her comment, all avenues are exhausted and everything humanly possible has been done. It’s that kind of waiting and helplessness that ultimately provides space for a Transcendence to take hold of all we have offered and done and work it into whatever – the realm of the Divine as you say. Thanks Greg. Your thoughts are always challenging.

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  11. That’s such an interesting take on hope Don. I think hope, especially in a situation such as the Sudanese mother, is the only thing that keeps her alive. Realistically, what can she do about her situation? Not much. It is only hope of a better tomorrow for her child that gives her a reason to go on. Certainly, it would not be wise for me to give up my job and hope for the best that I win the lotto – however tempting it may be 🙂

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    • Don says:

      Thanks Jacquie. I agree with you about hope being the thing that keeps us going. I think our understanding of hope is often tied to our own particular context and it may be different to the hope which others experience in their particular context, thus the cautiousness in seeking to give others hope without really trying to understand their context. Don’t give up your job – Lol. Great comment – thanks

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  12. I love the lighthouse picture and that certainly is a symbol of hope to all the sailors hoping to find safety on land. My choir sings a beautiful song ‘Lower lights’ to be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TW9-EQDQX5g

    I understand what you say about the trite way the word ‘hope’ is used sometimes by those who don’t understand the particular situation but it surely is a most powerful emotion, one that keeps people moving on, finding a reason even if in reality there is none.
    As Alexander Pope says ‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast’

    All the best and thank you for another thought provoking post 🙂

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    • Don says:

      Really enjoyed the choir. Lovely song and words. Thank you.

      Absolutely true. It is a powerful emotion and it does spring eternal in the human breast. Thanks for your comment and the link. Appreciate it.

      Like

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