Although it may seem frail, hope is in fact powerful, tenacious, and enduring. When people are prepared to give up a fruitless task or stop fighting a failing conflict, hope enables them to continue. Hope is trusting in a promise, believing in progress, and not stopping until that progress is attained. Without hope men would never have outlasted the Black Death, would never have explored the oceans, deserts, and jungles of the world, and would never have walked on the moon. Hope empowers mankind to achieve great things.
According to the dictionary, hope can be a verb and a noun. As a verb, hope means “to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment” or “to have confidence.” As a noun, it means “a wish or desire accompanied by confident expectation of its fulfillment,” “trust,” or “the desire and search for a future good, difficult but not impossible to attain with God’s help” (“Hope” 622). Many idioms talk about hope, such as “hoping against hope” and “hoping for the best.” Hope also has many synonyms: expectation, desire, longing, want, wish, trust, faith. The word hope is derived from the Middle English word hopen, which comes from the Old English word hopian.
Many writings expound upon the dictionary definition of hope. A Scottish proverb declares, “He who lives on hope lives on a very lean diet.” This proverb emphasizes the deficient aspect of hope; hope by its very nature is always accompanied by lack. In An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope mentions hope multiple times, writing, “Wait the great teacher Death, and God adore!/What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,/But gives that Hope to be thy blessing now…Hope springs eternal in the human breast” (“Alexander Pope”). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow puts his finger on an important aspect of hope in this description: “Hope has as many lifes [sic] as a cat or a king.” In Letters to Atticus, Cicero states that “While there’s life, there’s hope,” which is similar to the Latin phrase “Dum spiro, spero,” or “while I breathe, I hope.” The Book of Proverbs appears to agree with Cicero’s connection of hope and life when it says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life” (13:12). Another part of Proverbs declares, “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death” (14:32).
Even though it is a part of most stories in history, hope rarely appears in a definite form. One of the most famous stories directly involving hope is a Greek myth about Pandora, a beautiful maiden created by the gods, to whom Zeus gave an insatiable curiosity and a sealed jar, which he forbade her to open. After being sent to live on earth, Pandora’s curiosity overcomes her, and she peeks into the jar, inadvertently releasing a multitude of miseries on mankind: greed, vanity, slander, envy. Horrified, Pandora shuts the jar, and hope, which is at the bottom of the jar, remains safe from the monsters Pandora has loosed upon the world (D’Aulaire 74).
In both Christian and pagan cultures, hope has always played an important role. The Pilgrims’ voyage to America exemplifies this very well. If these devout Christians had not possessed hope for a better land where they could worship God freely, they would never have set sail across the turbulent Atlantic Ocean or survived the savage wilderness that met them when they landed. Without hope the Egyptians might never have constructed their great pyramids, for they built these gargantuan tombs out of belief in a life after death and the possibility of future happiness.
However, hope is not only important in great matters, like building monuments and settling new lands, but it is also significant in everyday life. If a student has no hope of benefiting from education, he will not bother trying to do well. Likewise, if a teacher does not hope that his students will learn the material he teaches, or improve because of his instruction, he will almost undoubtedly quit his job. When people lack hope, they stop believing that good things will happen, and when they stop believing this, they will not try to make good things happen: why bother trying, if something is impossible? Hope is belief in possibility and its attainability.
The Scottish proverb that “He who lives on hope lives on a very lean diet” may be correct in one sense, but it is even truer that “He who lives without hope lives on a very lean diet.” Without hope progress appears out of reach. Hopelessness would lead all men to commit suicide, for what is the point of living if there is no hope of success or a better life or an afterlife? Hope is vital to mankind. This small, unseen power enables men to complete the ordinary tasks of life, suffer the insufferable, overcome mountains, win battles, build wonders, and accomplish the impossible.
D’Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar Parin. Book of Greek Myths. New York City: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1962.
“Hope.” The American Heritage Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1985.
Pope, Alexander. The Complete Poetical Works of Alexander Pope. Ed. Henry W. Boynton. Cambridge Edition. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1903. 13 November 2013. <http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/2278>.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Oxford Edition: 1769; King James Bible Online, 2008. 13 November 2013. <http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/>.