There’s a famous story about twin 5-year-old boys with opposite personalities that perfectly fits today’s times and our seemingly never-ending battle to find contentment and calm in today’s America.
Of the twins, one of them is chronically pessimistic, while the other is annoyingly optimistic. The latter of the two seems almost delusionally happy in even the most dour of circumstances. In an attempt to dampen his outlook, just to show him that the world isn’t always great, his dad took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimistic little punk emitted a yelp of delight as he climbed to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the father asked, baffled “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
With that as a backdrop, here is an excerpt from an email the RAD show received last week. While the note was about something specific, the end paragraph has appeared, in various forms, an endless number of times recently and seems to reflect the mood of so many:
It just feels like doom is all around us right now…it seems like since 2020 everything has escalated so quickly. I don’t know what to think or believe anymore.”
America is a manure pile right now, and we’re far past the point of discussing the difficulty of finding the pony, as most of us seem to have no desire to even believe he’s in there any longer.
While I firmly stand by my creed that hope leads to despair, we must distinguish between having hope and losing hope, for they are far different things, despite their seeming similarity.
Having hope applies to expectations, which will almost always send you crashing upon the shores of defeat and devastation. This form of hope is an intense yearning for something specific to happen: You hope to conquer anxiety or depression. You hope to get into your favorite college. You hope to find love one day. You hope to overcome the pesky problem that’s weighing you down. You hope your football team will just win one Super Bowl. These forms of hope are not only destined to end in despair, but they are also self-defeating. Hope vis a vis specific outcomes are paralyzing and worthless. Hopes like these are the epitome of the adage that one should hope in one hand and piss in the other and see which one fills up first. “Hoping,” to conquer your anxiety is loser talk; taking active steps towards doing so is the only way to actually achieve the outcome you desire.
Having hope is also about anticipation, which is life’s ultimate buzz killer. We do this most commonly with first dates, major events, and vacations. We gin ourselves up into a frenzy as we visualize exactly how perfect things are going to be, sometimes going as far as planning every single step along the way, only to be reminded that life happens, and that twists and turns and changes are all a part of life, even when, yes, you’re on your one and only break from life and the weather was supposed to be perfect today because you planned on it being so three months ago when you booked this trip. Decision time; do you adapt and overcome, or do as most and wilt into depression, blaming the universe for being so unkind?
Hope leads to despair when you use hope as a method through which you stop living in the present. That’s what hope is…it’s the thing that pulls us away from the here and now; we think it’s healthy, if not cathartic, but it’s neither. It’s devastatingly unhealthy. People use hope as a way to distract themselves from their miserable lives by looking forward to whatever the next “good” thing in their life is. Whether it be the weekend, a vacation, a concert, a holiday, or a dinner out. When they do that, they put all of the pressure on that event to alleviate all of the suffering they’re experiencing in their day-to-day lives, which is why those events never live up to the hype. Not only can NO event be as good as we make it up to be ahead of time, but once the event is over, those same people find themselves back in their previous reality…and more miserable than ever. And so, they begin to look forward to the next big thing, and the cycle never ends…and neither does their misery. Hope leads to despair not just because life happens and things go wrong, but also because it does its job; it distracts us from right now. We think that’s good because it “gets us through,” but it’s not good. What it does, instead, is cheat us the day. We miss so much, most of it good, because we’re so hell-bent on not dealing with our problems and issues; and we only compound those problems and issues by refusing to meet them head-on, instead ignoring them under the guise of being “hopeful.”
Losing hope is an entirely different animal, and far more destructive.
Ironically, despair is defined as the feeling of not having any hope left. I believe we have just entered into hope-ception. If hope leads to despair, and despair is defined as not having any hope left, you’d think that this would be the answer and the cure; lose all hope, and never feel despair…for, despair is the absence of all hope. What kind of insanity is this?
It’s actually, as most things in life are, quite simple, and far less complicated than we humans make them. Having hope, as it relates to things that haven’t happened yet, or are out of your control in the sense that you childishly just wish upon a star that things will go or turn out well, is a recipe for a doomed life. Meanwhile, a doomed life is one in which you have lost all hope.
What do you mean that’s not simple?!?!?
Let’s try it this way…
We use hope as an escape/distraction usually from our daily, mundane lives. Right now, today, it seems and feels as though pretty much everything, in all directions, is so overwhelmingly negative, that we need to be distracted just to maintain our sanity.
The pandemic never ends, floods and fires rage, hurricanes pummel, American soldiers needlessly die, inflation soars, racial tensions boil, stores are out of more and more, it’s taking months to get furniture and appliances, and everyone is pissed off at everything, and most notably, each other.
Because of that, we do what we can to escape, which is healthy and understandable. What we shouldn’t do, is hope that a concert or baseball game or a trip to the coast will end any of those things, because they won’t. We should still do them, we just shouldn’t give them the unattainable goal of alleviating our burdens and worries…which brings us to losing hope. Perhaps we’d do better to change the word “hope” to “faith.”
When needing to escape from the endless daily barrage of horrible that is 2021, we hope that an event will make everything all better, and that’s what leads to the despair of leaving that event, and still swimming in the toxicity of reality. When trying to find hope in ALL of this ending, we realize that it’s just too much, and it’s never going to end…and we lose faith. We lose faith in ourselves, each other, our leaders, our institutions, and perhaps most notably, we lose faith in whatever we placed our ultimate faith in. For some, that’s a God…for others, it’s humanity, the universe, or a belief in a basic premise that “everything will work out.” In fact, that’s what we all hope/have faith in…everything will work out…with all evidence to the contrary every day for the last many days, we’re all losing hope and faith. And with that, come truly asinine, fear-based proclamations involving martial law, civil war, concentration camps, and a literal end to our existence as a country.
Seriously? This is how it ends? This is how the greatest country in the history of the planet Earth dissolves? Not likely…but without hope and faith, absolutely; and that’s the irony…it will be that so many of us lose faith in America and Americans that will end America. This country has been through far worse than what we’re experiencing now and has not only survived but thrived.
Does it seem dark and insurmountable right now? Absolutely
Does it feel like we’re being gaslit endlessly? You bet
Does it appear as though the generations of today lack what it takes to lead us out of this morass? It sure does.
Are we stuck in a cycle of seemingly never-ending bad news and bad events that pile on top of each of other, one by one, creating a mountain of gloom so high that we’ll never be able to scale it? Yes
Do I hate people who ask questions out loud and then answer them? More than you know.
None of it is real…it’s perception, which leads us to one of the most true statements every uttered, and one of my most hated:
Perception is reality”
No, reality is reality.
You can perceive that I am lying to you, but if I am telling the truth, you’re just wrong…and yet, I can’t do anything to change your reality because your perception is your experience, and therein lies the cause of and solution to all of our problems…people need to change their perceptions.
Life isn’t that bad…in fact, in America 2021, it’s still better than any other nation on earth by far. There isn’t even a close second, despite what various media outlets and college professors will tell you. We’re as free as we can be, even though we’re less free than we’ve ever been. We’re more free than anyone else, even though we should never gauge our success on the failings of others. We have more access to more stuff than anywhere else on Earth, and our worst days are better than the rest of the world’s best days.
This isn’t about America, though, it’s about you…and me, and each of us. Despite all of the wonderful platitudes about democracy and voting and doing your part, none of us individually can make much of a difference, and those of us who could are living too great of a life to try…my apologies.
What we can do is…God help me, I’m going to quote a Millennial phrase; live our best life. Control what you can control and stop with the endless Eeyore act; it’s old and tired; and there’s a reason Eeyore is a jackass, because so are you. The pony is in there…believe it, and go find it…just don’t get your hopes up.