A Different Kind of Hope

If you make it to the fifth paragraph here you might see my point without getting too upset with me. I have a take on commitment that may not suit you or resonate for _you_ but I’m willing to admit that all of this “hopefulness” does nothing for me. I find the “yes, we can” inspiration a distraction rather than a help. I prefer another way to commit.

“If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.”
—Henry Vth, Act 4, Scene 3d

How does telling yourself what you want to happen help make things happen? I see why people need this kind of narrative to do the work, to be motivated and inspired. You know, the whole power of positive thinking thing. It’s real enough if it’s real for you. I just checked the Google Gods and you win, there are hundreds of books and videos. But I’m telling you, there’s an entirely different way of approaching life.

I think because I don’t subscribe to this emotional strategy that I’m mistaken for defeatist or a cynic. But “positive thinking” and the hopefulness tact is not the only way one can be motivated to do that right things and to do hard work that may or may not succeed. It’s particularly hard for Americans, well maybe for anyone, to see the point that we can work, want, and urge ourselves forward without the discourse of the emotional salve of hopefulness. We Americans are the can-do society, or we used to be. But while that may help you, for me it’s less help or even part of the problem.

When Krishna admonishes Arjuna at the opening of the Gita and even then closes the discourse, he does not encourage the warrior to feel or to hope or to indulge in a “can do” attitude. He urges him to do his duty and, in fact, not to let his hope, pessimism, or _any other_ kind of emotional state to govern his actions or intentions. In effect, he tells him to be as Spock as possible: calm, cool, determined, focused, resolute, committed. He doesn’t tell him he needs to feel like he can win to win. In fact, he tells him the chips will fall, he might fail, and there will be consequences to that.

The emotional salves, the emotional inspirations, pep talks, all the rest might help some but they are not necessarily the cause of effective action. Effective action means doing the work, like it or not, no matter how you feel or what you want, or what you wish. Just do it is the message. I am a creature of duty. How quaint. But when it’s my job, I show up, I do it with all my heart, I care because I am supposed to be that person. Sure I _feel_. I love somethings, dislike others. I care about people, about life, about politics and culture. But how I feel on that given day or in that given situation can be irrelevant because I must do my duty, my Dharma. That is _enough_ for me. I want to do what’s right more than anything else I want. It’s _that_ feeling that I love best of all. Do you really think I love teaching every class or that my being hopeful or positive matters to the quality of my teaching? I certainly do not.

In other words, you can “put your heart into it”, that is have śraddhā or “faith” without the least bit of wishful thinking, hope, or claim you can win in the face of the facts. When the Bard creates the voice of Henry Vth before the Battle of Agnicourt the King doesn’t give the troops a can-do, we can win this talk. Instead he tells them how lucky they are to be there, to fight the fight, and how those who sleep in their comfortable beds are missing their chance to do what is good and right, missing the gifts of effort and friendship, that there is something good about doing what is right. That is the same sentiment that Krishna makes in the Gita. Winning and losing are not irrelevant—it’s better to win. But what you need to be in the fight is the desire for the right, the rest is emotional salve.

So if hope is how _you_ do it, that’s fine with me. But there are other ways to think, to feel, and to be committed to the work. I prefer the numbers, the study of history, I prefer a cool, sometimes dark realism. I’m sure I don’t love any less. In truth, for me, I’m sure it reminds me why I love so much. I want to feel without fictions. I may work harder because the facts tell me we won’t win. But I will do the work no matter whether we can win because it’s what’s right. I want to do the right, that’s enough. Nothing about thinking we are not likely going to win makes me work less hard to win. YMMV. Really. It might vary. Do your needful. I will do mine. But this too,

“Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
…For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition…”

Carry on.

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