Hopes and Memories
Edited by Miriam Zeghlache
Critique: Unfounded Hope as a Mechanism that will Catapult our Creative Capacities Forward
Many of us have encountered the notion that feeding into false hope is not only unwise, but also cruel. False hope is commonly understood as it relates to an unfortunate medical diagnosis and the inclination to expect a different outcome often when there is little evidence to support this stance. The notion that we should cling to hope as an avenue for positive results is highly contested. However, I want to bring this idea of ‘false hope,’ or rather for my purposes, ‘unfounded/ arbitrary hope’ into another light and consider that it is not inherently always a bad thing.
While sharing a bottle of wine with a couple of friends some weeks ago, we ended up discussing the idea of arbitrary or unfounded hope. Specifically, the notion that arbitrary hope could be the very reason for the progression of one’s ideas or a project that would’ve otherwise never taken off the ground. My friend mentioned that not going forth with your ideas or choosing not to try something new actually uses up a similar amount of energy as if you were to unwittingly go for it. The emotional energy is already being spent while you sit and agonize, wonder, or have second thoughts about that thing you never attempted and the what ifs of the liminal space it now holds. Though not inherently complex, I found this concept incredibly profound.
In that same vein, if the energy is already being spent - why not attempt to use it in a more positive sense and see what happens? This is what I mean when I mention arbitrary or unfounded hope. When it comes to a new project, there may not be any hard proof to believe in the progression of your ideas, so choosing to believe in them anyway might be the only thing that gets the wheels turning. It’s like following a path without any street signs: you don’t know what lies ahead, but by choosing to see anyway, you may end up in the most beautiful place you’ve ever been. One could argue that it may lead to a dead end, but then what? You turn around and try the next path instead; at least you’ve exhausted the potential and you can walk away knowing what lies there.
In order to understand this on a psychological level, I want to establish that ‘false hope syndrome’ is a model developed to understand the ebbs and flows of this phenomenon. Maltezou-Papastylianou claims that many experience this as unrealistic goals, and the expectation of achieving them with the accompanied deeper emotions of disappointment when they do not pan out as planned (2021). Often, many who struggle with FHS have a difficult time determining the root cause of the disappointment and it can turn into an ongoing and damaging cycle (Ibid).
Critics like Barbara Ehrenreich claim that hope can become a “quickly delusional” way of viewing the surrounding world - using it as a crutch to avoid responsibility or action (Schlosser, 2012, 173). Though I agree that hope alone will not change individual prospects, I do argue that you need both. Enrenreich posits that we are better off without hope (Ibid). When responding to a quote from Jesse Jackson’s speech at the 1988 Democratic Natioal Convention, “keep hope alive”, Ehrenreich states “Fuck hope. Keep us alive” (Ibid). I could not more wholeheartedly disagree with the second sentiment.
This ideal to me, comes from a perception of the world that assumes more power over our circumstances than we actually have. We only have SO much control - why not lean into hope when exploring new ideas, concepts, or a direction other than what we’ve known before? Deciding that the only thing that creates change is each of our meticulous, strategic decisions, completely sideswipes the fact that there are many things in our lives that we will never have a decisive choice over. This way of living that negates the value of hope completely - sounds both bleak and incredibly agonizing. Indeed, it is important to note that individual privileges do make this way of existing more feasible for some than others. Overall, I do believe that hope in the what-ifs as a positive is ultimately more productive then relegating ourselves to assuming nothing will come of our ideas outrightly.
In the book Experiments in Imagining Otherwise by Lola Olufemi, she says: “the structural limits of this world restrict our ability to articulate all that the imagination is capable of conceiving. Do not forget this” (Olufemi, 2021, pp 34). I find this compelling, as it is drawing our gaze away from the concepts of growth and success that may inevitably cause us to restrict ourselves for fear of failing in these same spaces. Rather, she wants to shift the reader’s attention to the idea that we can’t actually know what we are even capable of yet - the structures as they stand exist to confine our imagination and therefore prevent the expansion of our own capacities. Furthering this concept she states, “the future is not in front of us, it is everywhere simultaneously: multidirectional, variant, spontaneous. We only have to turn around” (Olufemi, 2021, 35). This notion of unfounded hope allows us a pathway to understand what’s possible when there hasn’t been an opportunity to yet define what we’re capable of.
Think about the turn of phrase, “one door closes and another one opens”. Now, what impact does this have if we never actually turn away from the closed door? Utilizing unfounded hope as a means of forward progression works in two steps: shifting our focus and using what others may view as arbitrary belief in our goals or ideas, but knowing when to pivot and try something new or take another step if at first we fail. We are trained to be afraid of the unknown, that failure is worse than trying. Therefore we may miss all of the other doors opening around us - beckoning us in - asking what the world can offer.
Taking this a step into the political: “For theorists such as Bloch and his more contemporary counterparts like Michael Lerner, Cornel West, and Robin D. G. Kelley, hope is anticipatory rather than messianic, mobilizing rather than therapeutic” (Giroux, 2004, 38). Contextualizing this further in the political arena, Zygmunt Bauman expresses that hope is part of the larger political system, that we must “keep the forever unexhausted and unfulfilled human potential open, fighting back all attempts to foreclose and to preempt the further unraveling of human possibilities, prodding human society to go on questioning itself and preventing that questioning from ever stalling or being declared finished” (Giroux, 2004, 39). It should be established that hope is not a crutch that one is to rest upon while the world passes them by; rather, hope is the shovel with which we use to dig up the motivation to keep going. The push to try something new, even if the pathway isn’t clearly lit for us, or when the unknown weighs heavy on us like fog as the sun descends. Hope rather, arbitrary or unfounded hope, is what we can utilize to seek a life worth living, for goals we have always dreamed of, for a more equal world.
Hope that is balanced with micro-goals, planning, and adjustment can actually be one of the primary ways to success for many who would otherwise let their creative inclinations sit forever (Tomasulo, 2022). If false hope rests upon issues of over-confidence, there are mechanisms we can place so as to mitigate the extreme lows and balance with more realistic highs. This can take shape as taking into serious consideration, “the difficulty of self-change, to establish realistic goals, to keep expectations reasonable” but I wouldn’t stop there (Polivy & Herman, 2000, 130). I think incorporating this is necessary especially considering that, “coping skills help us [be] content with the setbacks’’ but that also, we must employ unfounded hope as a means of pushing our own limits - more so than anything preventing the all-consuming pressure to limit ourselves as we phase through the unknown (Ibid).
In a world filled with what seems to be limitless creative expansion and effervescent unwavering social media personalities, it makes sense that many would unwittingly question their capabilities into oblivion. Though this can often be the case, I argue that arbitrary or unfounded hope can be the way in which we, more thoughtfully, take to the world’s potential offerings. That there is so much more for us in the world of having tried and failed than having never tried at all. I’ll leave us with a quote that truly rattled my bones a couple of weeks ago. At the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Tate Modern, I read a quote of hers that states;
“It would be futile and meaningless to focus on the shrinking time-frame before me, or to think of my limitations, I shall never stop striving to make works that will shine on after my death.”
Forward movement in the imaginative, the unknown, the uncharted, and arbitrarily hopeful is what will catapult us into lives we always hoped for. Steps toward understanding ourselves, our art, and the space we can occupy in this life comes down to our ability to conceptualize a positive out of unfounded hope - to give weight to the arbitrary belief that we can achieve something. Because if you don’t believe you can do it - who will?
Giroux, H. A. (2004). When Hope is Subversive. Tikkun Magazine. 19(6), pp. 38-39. https://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~girouxh/online_articles/Tikkun%20piece.pdf
Maltezou-Papastylianou, C. (2021). False Hope Syndrome: Let go of unrealistic goals or expectations. Medium.https://medium.com/a-cup-of-psyence/the-dark-side-of- optimism-false-hope-5da4ddf0fa2d
Olufemi, L. (2021). Experiments in imagining otherwise. Maidstone: Hajar Press.
Polivy, J., and Herman, P. C. (2000). The False-Hope Syndrome: Unfulfilled Expectations of Self- Change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(4), pp. 128–31. JSTOR. http://www. jstor.org/stable/20182645.
Schlosser, J. A. (2012). Hope, Danger’s Comforter: Thucydides, Hope, Politics. The Journal of Politics. 75(1). Pp. 169-182. JSTOR. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0022381612000941
Tomasulo, D. J. (2022). Getting Real: False Hope Syndrome. Psychology Today.
Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-healing-crowd-the- new-science-hope-and-the-power-learned-hopefulness/202209/getting-real-0
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