Hopetance – where acceptance and hope meet in a current situation to bring about clarity, wisdom and discernment. To have hopetance, the first step is to find the courage to look at the situation differently than you have been doing. Yes, courage. It takes courage to look at the situation differently. It takes courage to let go. We have trouble letting go because we feel there is something to be gained from looking at the situation from our perspective. What satisfaction do we gain? We have to be gaining something otherwise we would not be viewing it that way. Do we gain a sense of power or a sense of safety? Maybe we gain a sense of victimization. Yes, wanting to feel like a victim is what we sometimes prefer because then we don't have to take any responsibility for the situation. Having it be the other person’s fault is the payoff for thinking of yourself as a victim. We often choose to blame others rather than take responsibility. So it takes courage to make that transition to choose not to blame others. It is with responsibility that empowerment comes to do something about the situation instead of the situation doing something to us.
Sometimes we truly are a victim of unforeseen circumstances and even though there is no responsibility to take we can still find hopetance when we have the courage to find meaning in our suffering. Viktor Frankl, in his book “Man’s Search For Meaning”, tells the story of how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, which gave him the will to live through it. Frankl expresses in his writing a strong relationship between “meaninglessness” and criminal behaviors, addictions and depression. Without meaning, people fill the void with hedonistic pleasures, power, materialism, hatred, boredom, or neurotic obsessions and compulsions.
Frankl writes ‘In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. They offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate."
He continues, "The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity to add a deeper meaning to his life. He may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering. One could make a victory of those experiences turning life into an inner triumph or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners."
One time a prisoner was trying to raise morale and Frankl explains, "He talked about the many comrades who had died in the last few days, whether of sickness or suicide. But he also mentioned what may have been the real reason for their deaths, giving up hope. Whoever was still alive had reason for hope. Health, family, happiness, professional abilities, fortune, position in society – all could be achieved again or restored. After all, we still had all our bones intact.”
Yes, that’s what gave them hopetance, that their bones were still intact. They had nothing, and I mean nothing left other than their body, which was malnourished, cold, and in pain with a high chance of being diseased but they still had it. Think about the courage it took to find hopetance in such a situation in order to live another day or even another moment. Frankl’s writing is a perfect example of how the situation doesn't have to change, only the way you think about it does.
When in a challenging situation what do you do first? Does your mind go to worse case scenario? Do you go into denial? Do you blame others? The reason I ask is because it matters. The outcome of the situation depends only on one thing, how you think about it. What you think matters because thoughts lead to feelings. Feelings lead to actions and actions lead to the outcome. You may be in a situation you think you don’t have any control over but you do, you have 100% control over what you think. So why not be a tragic optimist? An optimist is a person who always believes in the good. A tragic optimist is someone who no matter how tragic the situation is believes that the higher power, Spirit, universal intelligence, etc. has a plan for all things to come to good who believe in such. Even if that coming to good is death, death does not have to be bad for it is the release of suffering. A tragic optimist has the ability to experience anything and in that ability is a power so great that it can change the world. Gandhi was a tragic optimist, so was Nelson Mandela and who knows where the world would be without these people.
To be a tragic optimist the key is to have enough discipline to stop and think before acting. We all get in trouble when we are reactive, which is acting without thinking. But it’s best to be active, which is to act with thinking. Thinking is the process of being in the now. Thinking allows you to take in all that you can in the moment to make the best possible choice. Whereas when you are reactive you can’t take in much at all because you’re too busy with what you are feeling. At times, emotions can get in the way of thinking clearly especially emotions of overwhelm, guilt, fear, grief, or anger. Make a pact with yourself now that the next time you are feeling these during a heated conversation take time out and recollect yourself and then try the conversation again when you can be more centered and think clearly. If we don’t take time out we act from our emotions and this reliance on our instincts tends to get us in more trouble. We do things we tend to regret and in this way we lose our own personal power.
The placebo effect is a prime example of how what you think matters. Research shows that taking a placebo, a sugar pill, actually makes a change in symptoms 33% of the time. That means that one out of three times if you believe it's going to work it will even if there is not physical reason for it. The same can be said for if you don't think it will work, and then no matter what it is, you are right. It won't work precisely because you decided it wouldn't. So if you have a choice in the matter (and you always do) why not choose optimism? Know that you always have a choice.