To Hope is To Gamble


The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong. To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.

–Ernst Bloch, Marxist philosopher


[People] also ask frequently: “Where does your hope come from, how do you keep going?” Which seems to me a serious question, but composed out of insufficient evidence, a question having about it a certain immodest aura, which I’m being invited to stand under. (Should one stand under a light he did not kindle?) I like Phillip’s typically laconic answer: “Your hope is where your ass is.”

As in the case, I judge, of those who sit in. Or in another version: “Your hope is where your feet are” (as in the case of those who march). But hardly ever, in my experience, is one’s hope where his head is. Passing strange, to think of it, that those whose heads are presumably screwed on straight, should ask me, “Where is your hope today?”

Passing strange, and strangely true. Hope dwells in the posterior, or in the hands and feet. But hardly ever in that noblest of human members, whose functions, we are told, are to speculate and ponder and envision and calculate and predict and so all those things named by us, properly human. But in fact, so tragically and often: improperly inhuman.

–Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit priest


Causes and effects assume history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change comes upon us like a change in the weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.

–Rebecca Solnit, U.S. writer


To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

— Howard Zinn, U.S. historian


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