Read an interesting column in the Guardian the other day which argued against hope in certain circumstances. The author, Oliver Burkeman, argued that what is often called hope is really deception—hoping for things which are virtually impossible. For example hoping that one wins the lottery or that the victims of an accident have survived when their deaths are near certainties.
By contrast letting go of hope often sets us free. To support this claim he refers to “recent research … suggesting that hope makes people feel worse.” For instance: the unemployed who hope to find work are less happy than those who accept they won’t work again; those in the state of hoping for a miraculous cure for a terminal disease are less happy than those who accept the hopelessness of the situation; and many become more active in working for change when they stop hoping for others to do it. Perhaps there is something about giving up hope and accepting reality that is comforting.
Reflections – I generally stress the importance of hope—that we should hope for the best, that life has meaning, that justice prevails, etc. Still Burkeman is correct that false hopes are futile, and lead to inevitable disappointment. If I hope to become the world’s most famous author or greatest tennis player, my expectations are bound to be dashed. Much better to hope that I enjoy writing and tennis despite my shortcomings in both.
So when confronted by the reality of the concentrations camps, Victor Frankl did not hope to dig his way out of his prison. That was not possible, and such hopes would soon have been thwarted. Instead, he controlled his own mind, and (probably) vaguely hoped for something realistic—that the war would end and he might be freed. That is the difference between false and realistic hope. The former is delusional, the latter worthwhile. Sometimes only fools keep believing; sometimes you should stop believing.