Like many Americans I am frustrated, annoyed, and saddened by the current Presidential election. A sense of anger and fear seeps into just about every aspect of our daily lives — it lays a shadow over how we interact with our friends, family, and fellow citizens. The daily news is almost unbearable to read. Perhaps the best description of the state of the nation is wounded.
This is not a post about who should or should not win but rather a lament and wish for what we do next. What we all need is hope. We need a sense of longing to be better. Someone or something to push us towards the better “us” that we can become. There was a national embodiment of this in 2008 when President Obama was seeking his first term (recall the “Yes We Can” speech and subsequent music video). Now, whatever you think about Obama or the video, I firmly believe that all of us can agree on the positive nature of such a feeling of optimism, of forwardness, of looking upward—of hope for something better.
I have struggled with the idea of hope. “Hope” can carry a religious connotation, yet I am not religious. I consider myself a secular humanist, and I find comfort in many of the tenets exposed by the existential thinkers such as Kierkegaard, Camus, Sartre, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche. The rejection of superstition, of placing responsibility on something outside ourselves; the importance of facing the absurdity of life, and striving for authenticity. Paradoxically, the existential notion of despair seems to rule out the quest for hope; it is, in a real sense, the loss of hope.
With so much despair, how can we foster a desire for hope?
We should remember, however, that “There is no love of life without despair of life”. And we must not forget the fundamental truth that we are governed by both despair and hope: “We hope. We despair. We hope. We despair…We have a bipolar system.”
The events of this election cycle have focused this fact for me (though, I grant the sense of despair has been the predominant emotion I’ve been feeling). I truly believe that there can be a real collective benefit in having hope. Hope is not a sign of weakness or idealism or naivety. What hope offers is the possibility of moving towards something better even when circumstances are miserable and difficult. Like Sisyphus eternally pushing the rock up the hill only to have it fall back down again — if there is hope the entire dynamic of his action changes. Sisyphus has a smile while moving the rock because he carries the light of hope within himself. Without hope the sense of despair becomes crushing and incapacitating; it corrupts and hardens hearts and minds against cooperation and kindness, empathy and possibility.
That is why this nation needs hope — we need cooperation, kindness, possibility, and, maybe above all, we need empathy. We must acknowledge and own the fact that this country was built on the co-existence of a plurality of individuals with disparate, and often contradictory beliefs. To become a better “us” we have to kindle the flame of hope that has sustained this country through countless valleys of despair. So it does not so much matter who wins on November 8. What matters is what we do when we wake up on November 9 and acknowledge that we have to continue our lives, our conversations, our governing, our relationships.