Oded Adomi Leshem
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Why hope matters now more than ever

Being optimistic doesn’t have to mean adopting an ‘everything will be okay’ attitude
Israeli volunteers of all ages collect, cook and deliver BBQ sandwiches free of charge for the thousands of reserve soldiers stationed in the Golan Heights, October 10, 2023. Photo by Michael Giladi/Flash90
Israeli volunteers of all ages collect, cook and deliver BBQ sandwiches free of charge for the thousands of reserve soldiers stationed in the Golan Heights, October 10, 2023. Photo by Michael Giladi/Flash90

Israel is at war. Some may find it inappropriate to talk about hope at such a time of hardship and unrest. Others might fear that speaking about hope necessarily entails empty promises about a wonderful future. In this short article, I will try to explain why hope is especially relevant during crises, why it does not require promises of a better future, and why, in fact, it does not depend exclusively on the belief that people will achieve their goals.

Many scholars, including myself, have tried to understand the psychological structure of hope, its significance in our lives as individuals and collectives, its unique power, and its inherent limitations. Erich Fromm (1900-1980), a prominent philosopher affiliated with the Frankfurt School, wrote extensively about hope. Fromm argued that the source of all hope is suffering. Hope’s relevance is marginal, even insignificant, when we are happy and content.

It’s in the darkest of times that hope gains meaning and becomes a critical force by which humans interact with reality.

Think of hope as a small candle flame. In a well-lit room, its significance is minimal. But when the room is dark, that tiny flame becomes incredibly meaningful. The darker the room, the more essential the candle’s light. Hope operates in a similar fashion.

Given the critical role of hope in times of crisis, people often adopt an optimistic and hopeful “everything will be okay” attitude. Yet, we must realize that hope isn’t solely dependent on the belief that our wishes will come true. Let me clarify.

Hope can be understood as a two-dimensional concept. The first dimension is the motivational dimension, driven by our wishes, desires, aspirations, and dreams. The stronger our desires and dreams, the more we hope they will materialize. The second dimension is driven by our subjective assessment that these wishes will come true. The more we believe there’s a chance our wishes will be fulfilled, the higher our hope.

When we think and talk about hope, we often focus on the second dimension, the dimension driven by our assessments of probability. However, we shouldn’t neglect the first dimension – the dimension driven by our desires, wishes, and dreams. History has shown that many social and political changes were fuelled by people’s firm and unwavering desires and dreams, regardless of the fact that the probability of realizing them was very low.

On October 7th, several hours after the horrific attacks, leaders of Israel’s grassroots pro-democracy movements declared that all of the movements’ vast infrastructure and resources would be rechanneled to support the home-front and the battlefront. Since then, tens of thousands of dedicated citizens have actively engaged in numerous initiatives orchestrated by the pro-democracy movements.

Their contributions have spanned from nourishing hundreds of thousands of reservists to assisting in the evacuation of citizens from the frontlines, setting up kindergartens for child evacuees, and disseminating crucial information to help locate missing people. To this day, the pro-democracy movements play a monumental role in putting Israel back on its feet. Remarkably, it has also succeeded in the realm of hope.

Numerous volunteers have rekindled a profound and resilient sense of hope. Strikingly, this hope doesn’t appear to stem necessarily from an optimistic assessment of the future. In fact, I would venture to say that most volunteers, both then and now, believe that the country’s circumstances remain dire, with an uncertain trajectory for improvement. In light of these bleak outlooks, what, then, accounts for the prevailing sense of hope among these volunteers?

Thinking about hope as a two-dimensional construct allows us to comprehend that hope isn’t solely contingent on the strength of our belief that “everything will be alright.” Equally significant is the intensity of our desires, wishes, and aspirations. When we engage in volunteering, these wishes and dreams take on a more tangible and concrete form. Volunteering amplifies the motivational dimension of hope; it breathes life into our dreams, consequently bolstering our hopes, even when the certainty of these dreams coming to fruition remains uncertain.

Active volunteering allows us to experience genuine and meaningful hope, whereas mere words and slogans about hope hold little significance. Declarations like “We Will Win” are often meaningless because many recognize that such statements serve as marketing catchphrases or straightforward political propaganda. Yet, even when sincere, slogans fall short of instilling hope. One crucial reason is that they fail to make our desires and dreams concrete.

Only through actions and active engagement can we forge genuine and enduring hope, which, in turn, can be translated into positive new realities.

About the Author
Dr. Oded Adomi Leshem is a political psychologist and a Senior Research Associate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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