There is a pervasive myth in humanity that the best way to get through life is with hope of a better tomorrow. Believe in God so that you will get an eternity of streets paved with gold, hope that your retirement in Florida will be warmer and sunnier than your cubicle in Seattle, assume that you will get rewarded for following the script. Promotions, good finance rates, picture-perfect Christmas cards. If you stop believing in these things, they say, “Gosh, it would be hard to want to get out of bed in the morning if I didn’t have hope.”
This line of thinking may be the single worst thing for mental health and creative expression in the western world. Why can’t God be good because of the way ants work together to build their homes, because of the way sunshine feels on a spring day, because of how it felt the first time you kissed someone who will leave a mark on your soul as long as you’re alive? What is the point of missing what’s happening now so that your retired self can golf hedonistically in Florida at a cut-rate Mar-a-Lago? Who is to say what we should hope for, what will reward us best for this improbable miracle that is existing at all?
Being told that it must be awfully empty to not have hope is a form of individuality-shaming, forcing the bravely content to conform with the prescribed path towards generic fulfillment. It may be bravest of all to not believe that there is a miraculous edification across the bay of a human lifespan, blinking like Gatsby’s green light. To get out of bed, even if it takes a little longer than you’d like, knowing that the day will unfold fundamentally the same regardless of what you think about some day ten years from now. It is braver to be willing to be alone than to be nervously together, misunderstood or silenced solely to be included in someone else’s plans.
The world runs on conformity, fueled by individuals’ needs to fit in. Advertising makes us feel inferior without the goods it hawks, societal conversation implies things that are necessary for inclusion, and soon we are at home Googling discreet Botox doctors and selvedge denim and vintage guitars but only from the pre-CBS merger era. Something in our blood makes us thirst for approval, inclusion, confirmation that our choices are good and our very existence is as real as we fear it isn’t.
Even worse, we desire distinction within our conformity. We want to consume things our tastes have been shaped to prefer, while distancing ourselves from people with similar taste but dissimilar values. I want to love handmade bicycles but not be associated with many of the people who spew elitist rhetoric about them across the internet. We want to enjoy the mindless entertainment of something on the TV, but not be thought of as late-stage-capitalist-sheeple. We are all fundamentally the same, even though we are all different.
I have long believed that spirituality is much more beautiful without the assumption that it makes us immortal or saves us from conscious eternal torment. Does that not cheapen divinity and the universe it thrust us into? If we cannot be moved by the spiritual without the motivation of fear or reward, what are we really practicing? Apply this question to more prosaic decisions and the idea of hope starts to crumble.
Hope, the way many people practice it, is a copout. It is not hope for mankind or hope that, through civic participation and soulful expression we may better this chaotic earthly realm. It is hope that stacking away resources for a later date means we will live long enough to use them, hope that all of our finite conscious uncertainty will be erased in vague eternal perfection. Hope that with the right outfit and automobile we will finally fit in. To be sure, these are noble ideas. Isn’t it pretty to think so?
But what I hope for is not a comfy retirement or a yard full of kids playing in the sprinkler. It is not tidy salvation from the very realm we were brought into. To hope for the ends makes us compromise the means.
I hope to align my soul’s yearnings with my daily reality. There is no tidy plan for this, no incantation to repeat that will guarantee it, or even make me believe it’s guaranteed. You can always find someone to participate in the myth with you; finding someone who feels the same way and is on the same trajectory is by no means promised. Maybe you know what would make your soul feel fully expressed, but there is no guarantee that it will happen. Nobody promised that our genius would be recognized in our lifetimes, let alone ever.