Hope Dies Last
The nature of hope is difficult to determine; its genesis subject only to speculation. Despite this, we know it plays an important role in human psychology. That it has vexed poets, kings, and laymen alike for centuries speaks to man's struggle with this emotion as both liberator and jailer.
The miserable have no other medicine
But only hope
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick
He that lives upon hope will die fasting
- Benjamin Franklin
It is in this dual role that hope can both strengthen and weaken men. In situations where rational designs are necessary, it is anathema. An engineer cannot hope a bridge remains standing. A portfolio manager cannot hope his investments are sound. And parents simply cannot hope for their children's safety and comfort. These goals demand logical cost-benefit planning; they require some cortex employment. And that isn't easy.
It is easier, far easier, to rely on the limbic system from where hope springs. Indeed, when faced with situations of limited information, where judgments need to be made but cannot be made with a full appreciation for the costs and benefits of that decision, hope is what men default to.
When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat
Yet fooled with hope, men favor the deceit
Trust on, and think tomorrow will repay
Tomorrow's falser than the former day
- John Dryden
It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Are we disposed to be the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it.
- Patrick Henry
More interesting still than the fact that men would rather indulge in hope than in rational expectations is this: as information becomes more limited, as consequences grow more dire, man's embrace of hope grows stronger.
Hope, like gleaming taper's light,
Adorns and cheers our way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a brighter ray
- Oliver Goldsmith
And thus the paradox that hope puts forth. Hope remains a necessary adjutant in some of life's impossible decisions. Faced with conflicting and incomplete information but forced to make necessary cost/benefit decisions, a dollop of hope can go a long way. But the more one leans on its crutch, the worse things eventually become: true for bridges, portfolios, and parents.
Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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