A few years ago a friend commented that I was an optimistic person. My response was that optimism isn’t necessarily a question of personality, but can sometimes be a matter of choice. If I dwell on the things that concern me about the world, I can feel as pessimistic as the next curmudgeon, and sometimes have to make myself turn towards the bright and timeless things I believe in.
So I was struck by this idea, attributed to Vaclav Havel, that hope can also be more of a choice than a simple response to evidence. It can be rather a commitment to something you seek out and work for in the face of contrary evidence. Hope in this sense is less passive (‘things are looking good, so I feel hopeful) than active (‘this matters, so I refuse to give up hoping for and working towards it’).
Hope, according to (Vaclav) Havel, is different from optimism. It is a state of the soul rather than a response to the evidence. It is not the expectation that things will turn out successfully but the conviction that something is worth working for, however it turns out. Its deepest roots are in the transcendental, beyond the horizon.
Source: Seamus Heaney, Finders Keepers: Selected prose 1971-2001 (London: Faber and Faber, 2003), p. 47
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