Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Do We Fear Hope?

In this country many of us equate strength with the lack of emotion. The strong one is the one who can endure life without feeling. The weak one is the one who shows their emotions and thus are banished to a life of disappointment and tragedy. With the introduction of the political narrative of Barack Obama there has been a lot of talk about the word hope. I don’t ever recall this word being dissected to the degree that it has been during his unlikely run towards the White House. One would believe that no other politician has ever invoked the word in an election before. So what makes it so different today than say in 1992, when a young upstart politician challenged the status quo?

For his part, Bill Clinton organized his campaign around another of the oldest and most powerful themes in electoral politics: change. As a youth, Clinton had once met President John F. Kennedy, and in his own campaign 30 years later, much of his rhetoric challenging Americans to accept change consciously echoed that of Kennedy in his 1960 campaign.[1]

Or what about in 1960, when another youthful hope monger spoke so eloquently of hope for a new world while accepting the oath of office for President of the United States:

Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,"² a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.[2]

So if it isn’t that the concept of hope is something new to elections, what can it be? I remember being a child and towards the end of November I would be filled with hope of the coming season. I wish I could say it was because I looked forward to exercising the true “spirit of the season” and all the good will towards my fellow man stuff, but that wasn’t what filled me with joy. I would begin to have hopes of the new toys that I looked forward to receiving for Christmas. I would watch in excitement at all the commercials of the coming new and latest toys and I would mentally create these lists of must have gadgets that I was sure to see under the tree on Christmas morning.

There was just one small problem, my father was a selfish man who found it difficult to spoil his children. So for many years there was the promise and hope for all of these things only to be followed on Christmas morning by the stark reality that was less than I had hoped for. You see as a child I could not understand or accept that my father was the man that he was, you see I wanted him to be like me or who I thought I was. The truth was that he could only be the man he was, not who I so desperately wanted and maybe needed him to be. I would awaken on Christmas morning to small tokens and I would end up crying later. After a while, my hopes began to lessen year by year until they were replaced with the gradual numbing of reality. The reality that no matter how much I hoped there was always going to be disappointment. In the end, I just stopped hoping and came to accept the cruelty of life.

As my life continued, I came to the conclusion that my problem in the first place was that I had dared to hope, that I had dared to believe in anything other than myself. I decided that from that point on that emotions were my problem, I would no longer allow anyone the ability to control my emotions. In fact I would bury them, my hero became Spock from Star Trek because he had no emotions. For many years I lived as emotionless as I could. But after two broken marriages, addiction, and suicidal moments I realized the that the strength I thought I had found in having no emotions was actually my downfall and my weakness. What I learned was that true strength and power does not belong to the cynic or the emotionless, but to those who are willing to express their emotions and become vulnerable to disappointment and hurt. True courage is not to never be afraid, but to be afraid and go on anyway.

Barack Obama is not God or a second coming of Jesus and his supporters do not believe this despite the cult analogies. He is simply a man who dares us to believe beyond ourselves. He is not promising to solve all of our problems or that the Government can. What he is offering us is a chance to put behind us many of the things that currently divide us and to focus on the many more things that unite us. After all what really can one man, even the President of the United States do? Over the last few decades we have seen what the politics of division and win at all costs has wrought, a country so divided we are on the verge of breaking. There are many who say that the answer is to continue as we have, that the only way to succeed is to beat the other side to a pulp. Today we are refighting the Civil War only class has replaced slavery. Will it take a bloody conflict to resolve our differences? I don’t know. There are many who are placing their hopes and aspirations on him and those people will be disappointed, because he can do nothing against those forces without our help and our actions.

What I do know is this, if we are able to appeal to the common good in all of us shouldn’t we to avoid that bloody conflict? Make no mistake about it if we do not enlist their help to change this country are we prepared to fight to take it? If Barack Obama’s hope fails it won’t be because he failed, it will be because we failed. If it is to succeed it will require many of us to overcome our cynicism and partisanship to come together for the greater good. The reason he does so well among the young is because they are not as jaded as their older counterparts, they still believe in change. The question now becomes can we transfer that hope into action or will we sit and wait for the disappointment so we can say, “See, I told you so”. It is no longer enough to vote, the last midterm election should have shown us that. We must follow up those votes with action. Just as with any seismic change in America, it must be bottom up, not top down. Our biggest fear is not that we are doomed, our biggest fear is that our hero will be bested; that the things we cherish love, hope, justice, and kindness to our fellowman will not win in the end.


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