Is there a connection between motivation and hope? And do we need to know about it?
Let’s immediately dismiss ideas like that found in a Russian proverb: “In the kingdom of hope there is no winter.” We needn’t talk about hope as being mere wishful thinking. Let’s talk about something much more powerful and essential. The Greek myth of Pandora had it just about right: When Pandora disobeyed and opened the box (or jar) letting out all the evils of the world, only—after she had shut the box—did hope remain.
The word ancient Greek poet Hesiod uses for “hope” is “elpis,” which can mean hope but is often also translated as “expectation.” We will come back to this point.
“Pandora,” 1873, by Alexandre Cabanel. Oil on canvas. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. (Public Domain)
Hope is something essential to human life according to this myth, for without it we would be lost in despair and depression; we would give up on life. This scenario is not merely fanciful. The world expert on optimism, American psychologist Martin Seligman, the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in his book, “Authentic Happiness”: “Optimism and hope cause better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work, particularly in challenging jobs, and better physical health.”
Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic observed that “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” In other words, meaning is central to having hope, for if there is not meaning, then what do we hope for?
Also, hope is positive, as even the left-wing political philosopher Ernst Bloch noted in his “The Principle of Hope” (1959/1986): “Hope is in love with success rather than failure.”
And if we consider fiction (keeping in mind Professor Charles Singleton’s astute observation that the greatest fiction of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is that it is not fiction), we recall that the gate to hell has a sign above it that includes the following message: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Hell is a place where there is no hope.
If we have read the whole of the “Inferno” and met all the characters that Dante encounters there, we see that the damned have no meaning to their lives and no motivation, either. Instead, each person is locked in self-destructive and repetitive behaviors. These behaviors reflect how they lived, only now without the possibility of change. Their existence is robotic in the extreme: All possible human joy has been completely lost to them.
St. Paul describes the three greatest virtues as faith, hope and love. Love is the greatest of these, but we notice that in describing the qualities of love, he says: love “bears all things, believes all …….