“You can observe a lot just by watching.” Yogi Berra
Writing a weekly column isn’t as glamorous as my editor described it when he recruited me to do this. Finding an idea worthy of 800 cogent and coherent words every seven days is not as easy as one would think. It’s like that homework assignment from hell: Write a three-page theme due Friday. No greater terror could strike the adolescent heart than those words.
At least those grammar-school writing assignments included a prompt of some sort. Not so with the Indiana Policy Review. I am on my own to identify and expound on a topic of my choice, assuming of course that it will demonstrate affinity with the foundation’s principles.
So I get my ideas from varied sources. I read a lot, both books and journal articles. These tend to get me thinking, sometimes resulting in a reaction to what that writer said. Usually these are positive commentaries but every so often one sets me off, absolutely requiring refutation.
But I can’t go wrong to follow Yogi’s advice — just observe or, in this case, listen to what people are talking about around me. Perhaps the most inspirational place for me to do this is my American Legion post. Let’s call it my muse, mixing Greek mythology with patriotic Americanism.
Last week I was listening in, let’s not call it eavesdropping, on a conversation at the table next to mine. These are friends so I wasn’t committing any social indiscretion by doing so. This is what I overheard:
“Hope is just the first step to disappointment.”
I could not but interject myself into this discourse.
Did the speaker actually believe this? Is his life history nothing more than a never-ending sequence of unwelcome disappointments?
I’ve known him for many decades so this surprised me. He is not by nature a negative or pessimistic person. Was this an off-hand comment tossed onto the table to get a reaction? Well, he got one from me.
One must admit that hopeful people can suffer disappointment on occasion. Does this stop them from hoping? I think not. “Hope springs eternal” as Alexander Pope claimed. Hopeful people are by their very nature optimistic about the future.
What is the tipping point for a hopeful person to degenerate to disappointment? Perhaps there are two levels of disappointment for these souls. One is only temporary; they soon rally by pulling from their nature or their religious faith or their determination the pertinacity to be happy. Attitude is after all a choice, as a former coworker was wont to say.
It is the second threshold, that one from which there is no return, that hopeful people have learned how to stop short before transgressing it. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” is one of the most memorable lines of Dante’s Inferno. Note though that this is posted at the third circle of hell. Not to put too fine a point on it, why not misread Dante and apply this saying to our own state of mind when disappointment looms and we resolve not to go through that gate while there is still time to turn back?
One anecdote, a personal one. I was fortunate to be a volunteer assistant coach for one of the most successful NCAA men’s volleyball programs of its era. In my nearly 30 years of doing this, we lost a lot of matches including a national championship in 2007. Yet, somehow, the sun came up the next morning after even the most bitter of losses. And we got a chance to play again, the next night or next week or next season. I tried to learn something positive from every defeat. Otherwise all those airline flights and bus rides home would have been intolerable, let alone going on court for the rest of the season.
I am reminded of the canard that an optimist sees the glass as half full while the pessimist sees it as half empty. A corollary to this has the skeptic wondering why they used such a large glass while the cynic demands to know who has been drinking out of his glass. There are too many cynics, skeptics and pessimists in this world. Call me naïve, but at least I am an unabashedly optimistic naïf.
Hope is something we should never lose. It defines us as Americans, descendants of immigrants whose ancestors believed in the American Dream. We owe them to remain resolute in our hope.
Recall the fable of Pandora’s Box. It was full of really bad things, things that would torment mankind forever. But the last thing to come out of that box was hope.
I move that we declare hope to be our motto for 2023. All in favor, say “aye.”
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.