Hope is a Pain-Killer

Osama of GreenWhite.org tagged me on FaceBook to describe a metaphor that I would use for ‘hope’. I would have shied away from such an invitation, but since Osama’s objective is to “get people talking” (and hopefully, thinking and doing as a consequence), so I’ll bite and dump my thoughts on ‘hope’ here, but first, the disclaimer.

Disclaimer: These are my own raw and twisted ideas – unresearched, unrefined and uninfluenced by anything Obama (or Osama). I know Obama’s campaign revolves around Hope, but I have deliberately missed his speeches, though his book is in my reading queue.

My personal metaphor for hope:

Hope is a Pain-Killer

At its most basic level, I think hope serves as a harmless ‘filler’ between an action and its consequence. A pool player shoots and hopes that he makes the shot and wins the game. A poker player bluffs and hopes his bluff is not called. A professor teaches and hopes that his students change the world for the better. People doing their thing and then hoping their efforts are fruitful. This is what I call ‘positive hope‘ – a positive force and a good thing in any shape and size. It is still present and available around us in small doses, though very rare.

The rest of this post is about a couple of other flavors, shades and variants that hope comes in, variants that we sometimes mistake for this ‘positive hope’.

Opposite to the ‘positive hope’ is the ‘fantastic hope‘, which is actually a wish in disguise. It is the hope of a negligent student to get an A in the final exam, or the hope of an obese person to look slimmer without exercise. This kind of hope is responsible for selling miracle cures and forms the basis of many marketing campaigns. It is still hope, but the important thing missing is ‘action’, and that lack is something to watch out for.

There are millions of people in the world who have not touched a cricket (or baseball) bat or kicked a football in years, and yet they sit hypnotized in front of their large screen plasma TVs for hours to watch a match, or even go abroad to watch a whole game series if they can afford it. They root for their favorite teams (or their home country), wear the merchandise, talk for hours about the permutations and combinations, and passionately argue, fight or kill to defend the honor of “their” team… and to let corporations sell them “stuff”. They do it every other day, and they do it most of their lives. This is the most abundant form of hope that I see all around me, every day. I call it ‘cotton-candy hope‘.

We read about about how Romans used theater, arenas and gladiators as an energy outlet for their warriors in times of peace – I think that somehow, over the centuries, arts, games and sports have all devolved from a useful tool to keep the “warriors” alert and healthy into factories for hope-generating scenarios, and even though the “war” has changed its form, we have degenerated into hope-addicts. We hope our team wins, we hope the hero of the movie breaks out of the prison, we hope team X beats team Y and changes the standings table so that our team gets to play in the finals. We hope, and we hope because it feels good and because it generates a warm and fuzzy feeling in primitive parts of our brain, especially when our hopes are fulfilled.


Sometimes we amplify the effect of our hopes by putting up personal bets on ‘our’ teams, and experience small hits of joy when we win those bets. Some of us get so addicted that they start hitting casinos in the pursuit of hope – hope that starts from the time we insert a coin into the slot machine and lasts until the time the symbols come to a stop. This is the kind of hope that conditions us until we become the experts of ‘fantastic hope‘ – whenever things go wrong, we start ‘hoping’ them to get fixed by a miracle or some divine intervention, without any action to back it up. As we sink deeper, we wonder about all that is wrong with the world that we live in, and that gives us a reason for further hope.

Just like heroine, a painkiller that has turned into an illegal drug due to abuse, we get addicted to hope to the point where we start hoping that our hopes will materialize into solutions. Instead of using it as a relief from a headache, we start taking the hope painkiller as a panacea to all our problems, and instead of thinking of hope as an after-effect of action, we start idolizing it as the action itself.

Some people may define ‘hope’ as the opposite of fear, despair or a defeatist attitude, which is true too, but just as fear is the mind-killer, hope for its own sake is usually a progress-killer, almost as counterproductive as these negative emotions.

If we really need to select an emotional response to our circumstances and situation, we should try a bit of rage – there is a higher probability of (controlled) rage breaking the inertia and inciting us into action. Once we gain enough momentum through our actions, perhaps we will be able to switch to autopilot and let hope guide us from the backseat.