How to Find Hope in a Hopeless Place

And why it’s often more complicated than you think

Carley Centen
Star in Starting Over
7 min readOct 13, 2020

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A road in a forest with a single beam of sunlight breaking through the trees
Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

And I say to myself:
a moon will rise
from my darkness.

— MAHMOUD DARWISH

Hope is what remains in Pandora’s box after, despite Zeus warning her not to, she succumbs to her curiosity and lifts the lid.

Opening the box unleashes all the evils into the world: hate, greed, envy, war, poverty, death… But as she realizes what she’s done and slams the lid shut, hope is caught. Hope, says the myth, is left for humans to weather what has been unleashed, a bulwark against all the negative and horrible experiences they will now have to face.

There’s another interpretation of the tale, however. After all why, in a box full of only awful things, is hope there at all? This alternative idea is that hope is just as dreadful as the other evils; it remains for humans as more of a curse than a blessing.

So, which is it?

This summer, my publisher commissioned me to write a book about hope. Before this, I hadn’t given the concept that much thought. What I soon found is that it is not as straightforward as it seems.

What I learned is that hope is best explained as both interpretations of the Pandora myth being true at the same time. It’s a paradox. A contradiction. Something both necessary and pernicious, critical to our flourishing when times are tough and yet also capable of holding us hostage. It might be less “the thing with feathers,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, and more a double-edged sword. Let me explain.

Hope is not benignly ‘good’

Hope is essentially a neutral thing; the object of what you hope for matters.

You can hope for terrible things, like for someone you dislike to fail.

You can place your hope in shallow values, dreaming of a yacht or more followers or any number of vanity metrics in the bottomless pit that is external validation and materialism.

More darkly, you can become entrapped by your hopes rather than freed by them. You can despair at a dream denied while still clinging on to the impossible. Or, you can have…

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Carley Centen
Star in Starting Over

Exploring why we do what we do in love and work for those curious to understand more about themselves, others, and the world. More: http://lnk.bio/aNXQ