The greeting is frequent at New Year: ‘Hope that 2023 will hold good things in store for you and your family’. ‘Hope’ is a word which trips easily off the tongue. It is generous in intent but can seem a bit like someone with their eyes closed and their fingers crossed.
I had been hopeful, at least briefly, that the marriage of Harry and Meghan would provide the Royal Family with an opportunity to re-reinvent themselves a little. A more diverse and inclusive monarchy. This week with news leaking of Spare, Harry’s tell-all memoir (if that is what it is), has done much to destroy that hope with its many resentments and unresolved conflicts.
I was hopeful that rumours of a temporary ceasefire in Ukraine following a (cynical?) initiative from Putin might herald the beginning of the end of the awful atrocities being committed in that endlessly troubled land. Some small opportunity for negotiation. Nothing is emerging. The bombing continues. More lives are devastated.
I had been hopeful that the election of Pope Francis I might usher in a period of more generous social attitudes in the Catholic Church following the dogmatic and destructive strictness of Benedict XVI. It now seems that the latter and his supporters stifled many such initiatives.
I was hopeful, at least temporarily, about all three of these sagas which have been the focus of many news stories this week. Hopeful even if I was not terribly optimistic. So I began thinking about the difference, if any, between hopefulness and optimism. After all we use the terms interchangeably very often.
On reflection I think I had operated with confused understandings of the difference. Optimism was somehow more nebulous and hope more specific. Optimism was a general and positive thought pattern and hope more focused on things which directly impinged on my own life. Optimism was a vague desire that things would turn out for the best. Hope involved my acting, somehow intervening in the sequence of events.
Hope involved my own agency and so, come to think of it, I could not really be hopeful about the Windsors or Ukraine or the Church. They are all way out of my orbit. I could not intervene in any way at all. I could only be optimistic.
Is all this mere playing with words?
Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel Laureate came to my rescue. He said: ‘Hope is not optimism which expects things to turn out well, but is rooted in the conviction that there is a good worth working for’.
Now, that makes sense to me. Optimism is passive. Hope is active. Hope involves conviction. Optimism can be a spectator sport. Optimism can largely ignore reality. Hope refuses to distort reality for the sake of comfort.
So our hoping that our readers have a ‘Happy New Year’ involves ‘the conviction that there is a good worth working for’. In the case of most people, the only way we can do that work is at a distance and via this blog. By facing up sometimes to difficult realities. By somehow sharing what is of interest and concern to us in the belief that some of you share those interests and concerns.
So we do hope that 2023 will have some good things in store for you and your loved ones.