The Hollowness of Hope

July 8, 2012 § 26 Comments

Success is as dangerous as failure.  Hope is as hollow as fear.

Tao te Ching, Chap. 13 (Stephen Mitchell translation)

Of all the Tao passages, this one may be the most difficult to embrace.  The rejection of what Kipling called the “twin imposters,” success and failure, is not so hard.  And to banish fear is a common aspiration.  But hope?  Hope seems so indispensible, so positive.

Most of us labor under the illusion that through our choices, we determine our consequences.  Good choices yield good outcomes.  Bad choices, bad outcomes.  We also imagine that these outcomes are static.  We register our success- or failure- and close the ledger book.

This is all a mistake.

The only thing that we can hope to control is our own actions and choices.  What follows from those choices spins instantly out of our grasp.  What we do matters, certainly.  But we don’t have the power to control or even know what will come.

The very idea of an “outcome” can reflect the parallel illusion that we can freeze our circumstances at one moment in time and know that we succeeded- or failed.  Each success, each failure, of our lives becomes simply part of an infinitely complex and evolving tapestry.  Change is our only constant.

So what does this have to do with hope and its hollow quality?

To embrace hope is to embrace these same illusions.  We say that we hope for some outcome- good health for a loved one, good fortune for us.  We can hope and hope but we can never know what’s coming.  And whatever form the future takes, we cannot suspend time’s arrow in its path and in that frozen moment seek to pin down our hoped for outcome.

No need to mourn the hollowness of hope though.  It’s true that we can’t see or control what is to come.  But we can see what is right here, right now, and we can choose how to be, and how to act, in our moment.  We can choose to be present, strong, open, and ready.

Success, failure, fear, and even hope, we can set aside because all we have- and all we need- is ours in this moment.

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